Sunday, March 7, 2010

I am Thankful for the Day of Little Things

When God called me to preach His Word my frequent prayer was for an anointing and to be a “soul winner.” I specifically asked to not be called upon to serve in denominational leadership. I promised I was willing to do whatever He wanted me to do and to go wherever He wanted me to go, but I preferred to be involved in the ministry of the local church. My early dreams were to plant a church that was thoroughly committed to holiness and the fullness of the Spirit. I envisioned going somewhere in the mid-section of the USA, planting that church and staying there for my entire ministry.

God had other plans for my life and ministry. I had always assumed I would eventually do a doctoral degree, but that graduate school would be spaced out over a career. As I moved toward graduation from Lee I had a growing awareness God was sending me directly to grad school. I agreed but grumbled in my spirit the whole time, “Lord I want to pastor.” I had a constant inner ach to preach. As graduation from Wheaton grew close I was approached by to Bible colleges, Emmanuel in Franklin Spring Georgia, and Northwest in Minot North Dakota, to teach. I wasn’t desirous of either. I felt too young at 22 and too inexperienced to teach, but I knew enough to pray about going to one of them. It became clear we were to go to North Dakota. While there we were blessed to simultaneously serve two wonderful but tiny congregations, the Butte Assembly of God and the Kief Baptist Church. As we entered our third year at the Bible college and pastoring, we again felt the nudge to go back to school for our doctorates. I agreed by silently grumbled. In 2003 while still in my doctoral program I got to serve the Middletown Church of God as pastor for one year. We were then led by God to Cleveland where I served as Minister of Education at the Westmore Church of God, hungering to pastor the whole time.

In 1989 we planted the New Covenant Church of God in Cleveland. Cleveland was the last place I wanted to plant a church but that’s another story. Our dream was for a church that was faithful to our Pentecostal faith and experience and cutting edge in ministry. We wanted to be diverse (ages, socio-economic, racial, etc.), covenantal/relational, and intentional. It was important that children and youth know they belong and are given voice. I envisioned becoming a church of several hundred but not a mega church. I wanted to grow to the place where we would plant churches. I have always been critical of ministers who are driven by statistical increases. Mega churches have their place, but I suspect they are handicapped when it comes to authentic Christian community. Wonderful expressions of the Body of Christ can be found in all of them, but you have to work to find them and work even harder to become a part of them. Smaller churches force people into “know me” encounters. Honesty dictates that I on occasion dreamed otherwise and strategized on what a large church with authentic community at its core would look like, but those were fleeting dreams.

Growth to even a medium size was not God’s plan. We began with an emphasis on helping people find healing. Very early on it became clear that our dual roles at the church and the seminary were going to put us in a special place to receive students and send them out. It also became clear that these two ministries were not well suited for church growth. It takes a lot of time with people to help them find healing. It also takes a lot of time with people to help them become equipped to go out into ministry.

I was frustrated with putting so much into ministry and feeling stuck at around fifty to sixty people. God was not moved with compassion to end my frustration. Instead he sent an evangelist/prophet, Faye Whitten. Fay, who is now retired and a member of New Covenant, preached several revivals for us. Her special gift is in personal prophecy. I have seen God use her to speak powerful, precise, revealing words to people. Once we had a van load of students from Columbia Theological Seminary stop by on a trip. These were Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other mainliners. Fay gave a word to two of them that included “You have said to yourselves…” I watched the two of them burst into tears. Afterwards they shared the word from God included exact words from their conversation in the van earlier that day.

Fay’s words were almost always encouraging words with promises, except to me. In every revival she would call me out and speak a word that addressed the innermost struggles of my ministry. They almost always addressed a conversation Cheryl and I had shared that day and began “The Lord says, despise not the day of little things…” Through her our Heavenly Father reminded me that He had raised New Covenant up for His purposes and that we were to be a place of healing and equipping.

Today we are a congregation of about 100 if everybody shows up at the same time which is rare if never. We have members of our little church in ministry in Zambia, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Germany, and many other places. Dozens call us home who are scattered across this country as well. I have come to know that it is in the day of little things that God digs deep foundations. He does not require success, just faithfulness. In the day of little things He gets the glory.

Minneapolis, Minnesota
March 7, 2010


Derek said...

Little thing?! You've got to be kidding me.

Someone asked me to read a Christian novel when I was in high school (I think it was called "The Presence"). I got a few chapters into it but never finished. But I do recall one story from that book about a small church that had a steady stream of people coming in and going out. The church had never become a large church but it was suggested that a couple thousand people had come through its doors and been trained and equipped for ministry. So that while the local church was not big; there were numerous places where its ministry was continuing to impact the world through the lives of the ministers it had blessed and sent out.

I don't know how many different people have come through New Covenant's doors, but I do not know of ANY church whose ministry extends so globally and so effectively as that which New Covenant has done and continues to do--giving voice to the voiceless, exemplifying true community, preaching the gospel, teaching the faith, loving all people and working for justice locally and abroad. This ministry is spread abroad in the lives of those who have come through the doors of New Covenant.

Lots of churches have hundreds of people come through their doors. But many of them who leave do so hurt, wounded, disappointed in church (and in the faith). I would guess that the largest percentage of those who have "left" New Covenant have done so with a "blessing." While Katherine and I experienced a meaningful, literal "blessing," New Covenant's ministry continues to be a blessing and standard in our own lives (as I am sure it has been for many others).

There is in many Christian circles (not so much the ones I run in up here in Toronto) an interest in re-examining doctrines within their ecclesial contexts {exploring ..(fill in the blank).. as a Christian practice]. New Covenant, I think, is a model church which lots of people are going to look at in the near future because in the turn to "church practices" New Covenant is an example of the love, justice and power of God that is present when a local church embodies the PRACTICE OF THE CHURCH (Zizioulas might speak of the "ecclesial way of being"...the covenantal, self-limiting practice that is central for faith identity and formation).

You guys rock! Be encouraged...and I still believe the dream you shared about 6 years ago is going to come to pass. So forgive me if I "laugh" at the thought of New Covenant being a little thing. Even if it used to be, that is not the case anymore.

Jackie Johns said...

Thank you Derek. You and Katherine are such a blessing. We are proud of you both.

Phil Hoover, Chicago said...

New Covenant is a wonderful, wonderful place! If had been smart and "really listened to the LORD" while I was in seminary, I wuold have made NEW COVENANT my church home...

Great people...great church...great mission, and a GREAT GOD.