WHAT KEEPS A CHURCH TOGETHER?
Farewell Speech, 12/04/2016
I very well remember how I felt as an emerging ministry leader in YWAM in 1992, when my long-time mentor and leader announced that, their family was going to leave to another city. My first reaction was, how could you just leave us like orphans and move on to another city! A deep sense of fear and uncertainty overwhelmed my heart and rest of the staff members. Several questions flood through my mind, such as, how am I going to survive? What is going to happen to the ministry? How can we keep the community together? Etc.
Initially I thought I could not make it another day in without my mentor, leader and spiritual father. During that tough transition, I learned some valuable lessons of trusting God, and not relying upon my own feelings and emotions. God gave me grace and strength to continue in ministry for the next thirteen years. As a base director, I led the ministry to the next level.
The truth of the matter is whenever there is a transition in leadership, it is natural that individuals, and families that are part of a community or a Church go through a sense of uncertainty. Whether we like it or not transition and change happens all the time. They are never easy at the moment things can get rough at times, however when we don’t give up on God, ourselves and one another, together with we will become stronger people of faith.
After having the joy of serving ECCOA for eight years, our family will be moving to Sharon to carry on our next assignment that God has entrusted to us. That opens up questions like, what is going to happen to ECCOA? How are we going to keep everything together? This morning I want to share with you some principles from the Apostle Paul’s farewell speech to the Church in Thessalonica. The title for my farewell speech, What Keeps a Church Together?
I Thessalonians 5:12-28.
I. RESPECTING THE LEADERSHIP OF THE CHURCH.
In recent months, there has been a hue and cry among the American Public that, the International community no longer respects the leadership of our country. We have lost our respect hence credibility. But the real question we must ask ourselves is do we respect our own leaders? Do children respect their parents, students their teachers, workers their bosses and the congregation their pastors and other elders in the church? Unlike in other parts of the world, my fellow clergy here agree with me that in the western world, respect for pastors is more and more on the decline, especially among the protestant churches.
Though we recognize God is ultimately the ruler of all, yet he established government, and the rule of law by which everything is governed. The Biblical History tells us, that he raised up leaders, prophets, judges, rulers, governors and kings who carried out his divine purposes on the earth. God expects us that we obey our leaders, because all authority is established by God. We are to respect them even though we may not agree with them on everything.
Coming back to our text, Paul wanted to make sure that the leadership or the elders especially those who work hard and admonish the congregation were to be respected and held in high esteem. When it comes to Church governance and order God has established fivefold offices and they are: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers. To equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
According to this scripture the work of a pastor is to equip the congregation to become all that God wanted them to be. Pastor and the elders are our leaders in the church, so they are to be respected. Paul while writing to Jewish converts urges them to have confidence in their leaders. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.” Hebrews 13:17-18
If you have ever been in a leadership position you would understand how hard of a task it is to lead, especially those who always appose and are unwilling to be led. Leadership can be a lonely place, where pressures, challenges and burdens abound. Unfortunately, some people in churches make it as their mission to give a hard time to pastors and elders.
My desire for you is that you too would respect, support, and encourage and pray for your elders and your next pastor, whoever they may be. Do not antagonize and make their task more difficult than it already is. Do not oppose them for the sake of opposing them without a valid reason. Doing so is not good for you. Disrespect of leadership, tears the very fabric of a church where is respect keeps a church together. More on a practical way, please support, and encourage James, and Arlene as they are carrying the bulk of the load during this transition. Cover the rest of the board members also in your prayers.
II. CULTIVATING SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES.
The spiritual health and numerical growth of any church depends a lot on how well the individual believers in that church take care of themselves, emotionally, spiritually and physically. When you come to church on Sunday mornings, and listen to your pastor preach you will only get broad strokes of or a partial revelation of a spiritual truth. If you want to grow in your spiritual walk with God, you need to go back home and do your own independent study. The Holy Spirit will lead you into all the truth and equip you to do every good work.
This sounds so basic and simple, and yet many of us have hard time cultivating spiritual disciplines. The apostle Paul laid out several spiritual disciplines and encouraged the Thessalonians to cultivate and grow in those disciplines such as: Esteeming hard work; encouragement; living in peace with one another; being patient with everyone; not to pay back evil with evil but pay back with good; to be joyful always; to pray continually; to give thanks in all circumstances. Can you imagine what kind of a church ECCOA will be when every individual believer not only practice these disciplines, but also teach others to do the same?
My hope for ECCOA is that, you would cultivate these essential spiritual disciplines and continue to grow in them. That you would not quench the Holy Spirit and treat prophecies with no contempt. You will test every spirit to find out whether they are from God. You will recognize false teachings as you will study the truth of God’s word. You will keep short accounts with each other, and not to hold on to bitterness but forgive one another as Christ forgave you and loves you with an everlasting love. As you desire the gifts of the Holy Spirit, may you also eagerly seek for the fruit of the Holy Spirit. All these things will make you a fruit bearing and productive Christian and keep the ministry of ECCOA together.
III. LIVING GOD CENTERED LIVES.
While preparing for my farewell speech, I read the farewell speeches of some leaders in the Bible, namely Moses, Joshua, Jesus and Paul. In their farewell speeches, they exhorted their followers to believe in God, obey God and live a God centered life. For example, Joshua an ardent and earnest follower of God, in his farewell speech exhorted the leaders with these words. “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness…But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:14-15
My journey with God began at age 18, as a young Christian I wanted to serve God only all the days of my life. Now after several years of following Christ, as Joshua said I will reiterate my decision one more time, “But as for me and my household we will serve the LORD.” Everything in life, begins with God, continues in God, sustained by God and ends with God. In his famous speech on the hill in Athens, this is what the Apostle Paul reminded the council of Areopagus, “For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.” Acts 17:28. Let’s be assured that all we have comes from God. Let’s live in the center of God’s will.
There is no greater honor and privilege on this side of heavens than serving our living God. Nothing can be compared with the Joy of serving our King, Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My prayer for each of you is that, at the end of the day you too would join Joshua and me, in saying, “But as for me and my household we will serve the LORD.” During this Christmas season, let’s come together and celebrate the Lord.
What does practically mean to live God centered lives? It means recognizing, acknowledging and honoring God in all matters of our lives. It means aligning ourselves to the standards of God’s word and not other way around. It means, seeking God and His Kingdom first. It means saying to God not my will but let your will be done and much more.
In closing, on behalf of me and my family want to thank you for letting us share our lives with you all. It has been a journey of learning. I want to leave you with this encouragement that you will continue to be faithful in serving God no matter where you are. My prayer for all of us is that, our gracious Lord who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. May the Lord bless us, keep us safe and let his face shine upon us. May we become fruitful, and productive as we endeavor to serve our Lord and build His Kingdom here in Quincy, and in Sharon even unto the ends of the earth. Amen