Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Church Growth Plan


The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Stand in the gate of the LORD's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’
            “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
            “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, declares the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.
(Jeremiah 7:1-15 ESV)

At the end of the street I live on, right at the corner of US 4 and nearly in the center of Northwood, stands a beautiful white New England church.  The building is a classic of the type.  It was built around 1880 and the sanctuary is on the second floor, with dual staircases ascending from a small entry lobby, behind which is the fellowship hall, a small kitchen, and a couple of classrooms.  I think it seats about 200 people.  On the building, just at the left front corner as you look at it, there is a small bronze plaque you have to actually walk up to in order to read.  It says, “First Baptist Church, Northwood, NH, 1884.”   The building underwent a face-lift last summer, and was completely repainted.  It is really beautiful.  But here’s the problem: There is no First Baptist Church of Northwood, NH.  The building is kept in perpetuity by a committee of three “trustees,” I’m told.  But the church died several years ago.  You can rent the building if you’d like.

This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.

As much as we’ve all heard horrific stories of Church splits, generally that’s not how churches die.  Actually, more churches are begun through a church split than are ended that way.  Generally, when churches die it is due to a lack of interest.   But look at what Jeremiah says.  “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.”   Can you imagine a church where people were so desperate to be with God that they literally changed how they lived in order to have the high privilege of entry into his Sanctuary?   I can’t.  As long as I’ve been alive churches have struggled to advertise for new members, and today most are in crisis mode simply trying not to hemorrhage any more.  They are more concerned about how many members they have lost this year than about how to come before the Lord.  The ad campaigns continue though…

This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.

The best ad campaign the church could possibly run, the tactic that would produce the most bang for the buck, and would assure that people would be beating down the doors of the church just to find out what we’ve discovered here, is this: to “truly execute justice one with another, not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, [and] not go after other gods to your own harm.”  What if the whole program of a local church was geared around these six priorities:

A.     Executing Justice
B.     Practicing Hospitality with Strangers
C.     Teaching Men to stick with their family obligations
D.    Offering Practical help to Single Mothers
E.     Maintaining Biblical Unity (I will not stab my brother/sister in the back)
F.     Worshipping God single-heartedly

Churches that do these six things always grow.  And they grow exponentially in response to how seriously they take these priorities in order.  Oddly, Jeremiah doesn’t start the list with Worship.  That’s where he ends.  How come?  I think it is because he knows our very human tendency to use worship as an excuse not to enter into servant ministry.   

It is far better for most “small group” ministries to begin with a purpose and plan based on the first four things on the list so they can look outward.  Invariably the result is that the oppressed begin to have an advocate, the hurting have a helper, the stranger finds a home, meals and groceries magically appear on doorsteps, warm socks and sleeping bags end up in the hands of homeless people, AND churches gather in praise and adoration and thanksgiving, privileged to be where God is.

THIS is the temple of the Lord.

Jon





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