On the front page of the Knox Leader newspaper there was an article which really interested me.
And its opening paragraph read:
RELIGION is booming in Knox with people flocking to weekend services and the city’s biggest churches looking at major expansion plans to cope with demand. Knox’s CityLife Church is creating a new $11 million centre in Wantirna South — paid for by its congregation. Senior minister Andrew Hill said more than 5000 people attended services each week.
It then spoke about another Knox Church:
Hillsong is proving so popular it is set to move to Knoxfield after outgrowing its Bayswater home. It plans for a church for up to 900 people at 557 Burwood Highway, and as always I look at myself and ask: what am I doing wrong.
Once again I fall into the trap of judging God’s work on outward appearances, something that God time and again went against. It’s not saying that big isn’t good but big isn’t the only indicator of where God is working. I think it’s great that these churches are expanding and that they have had the media coverage but we mustn’t fall into the trap that God is only working there and not here. Like so many people I couldn’t be a part of something that big. I like the small and close intimate surroundings when it comes to worship, so where would I go if that was the only way that God operated.
So often we see God going against what we perceive he should do to show he is active and succeeding, like in our Old Testament reading when it came time for Samuel to find a replacement for Saul as King of Israel. Samuel looked on the first-born of Jesse’s sons Eliab and thought – this is him – first born, handsome, tall: but the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” One by one Jesse’s sons are rejected until he finds out the youngest hasn’t been presented – he is out looking after the sheep – considered the lowest of positions in the family.” He would become King David, the most successful and beloved King of Israel.
So often we see God intentionally choose the lesser – the 2nd born: Abel was chosen over his older brother Cain.
Jacob was chosen over first born brother Esau, Joseph’s son Ephraim over his brother Manasseh. And even in choosing Israel as his chosen nation and people we hear: “The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! But it was because the LORD loved you. (Deuteronomy 7:7,8).
It’s interesting that David’s grandfather, Perez was the 2nd born also but it was how he was born that is interesting.
His brother Zerah was born first with his hand coming out of the womb. A scarlet ribbon was tied around his hand and declared the first born. But his hand was pulled back into the womb and Perez came out ahead of him. (Genesis 38:27-20)
Even in the New Testament we read that God chose his disciples specifically in mind what others wouldn’t: St Paul says: think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1;26,27).
It’s not saying that God doesn’t choose big or seek worldly success in churches but it’s not what WE should be looking for as the only signs of God’s work. But that’s what we do. We see small churches as not as successful when we look at the thriving churches around us. God works in unexpected ways which don’t always seem that glorious or spectacular.
Who would have thought that spitting on the ground and putting mud on a blind man’s eyes and telling him to wash in the pool of Siloam would be the way to do such an amazing miracle? Surely he could have done it in front of the 5000 he fed as a huge spectacular act. Why didn’t Jesus just say – open your eyes and see – like he did to the crippled man – get up and walk – or “stretch out your hand” or “get up” as he said to Jairus’s daughter – an opportunity to amaze the crowds and achieve more followers. Just as Jesus used different ways and means to achieve God’s mission so too as Lord of the Church Jesus continues to use different ways and means to achieve his mission in the world.
I can think of any number of people that would walk away from church if it was huge and successful in worldly ways because that’s not what they are looking for. That’s not how they connect with God spiritually. The Great Commission wasn’t “build it and they will come” but Go into the world and make disciples.
So our constant challenge is to keep looking at our mission that God has placed before us. And we have that mission in our mission statement: At Ringwood it is: Living the Word: a people formed by God to be his presence to those around us. The focus is in the sending out into the world to be God’s presence in the world. At Knox it is: Called to worship; chosen to serve. Again the focus is outward – serving. But in both cases – being God’s presence and chosen to serve begin in the church to be equipped. Formed by God to be his presence – Called to worship –chosen to serve. The purpose of the church is not to be built up but to build up. To build up the people of God; and that’s why at Knox we are called – the house of the church. The people are the church. It is the people that we are building up. Sure, we’d love to see our church building overflowing. We’d love to see our children and grandchildren filling the pews. We’d love to see visitors coming and staying. But we need to be clear that our vision doesn’t become about building up OUR Kingdom but God’s Kingdom.
And I’m not saying that is what the bigger churches are doing but recognising that the church comes in all shapes and sizes and styles; just as Christians come with different strengths and callings.
King David would go on to be the greatest of Israel’s kings and from his line would come the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ. But what made David so great was not the success he had in leading his Kingdom but in that he let God lead him.
David would fail the humanity test – committing adultery with his neighbours wife and covering it up by having him killed in combat. But his heart would always follow God and led him to write the most beautiful and famous of Psalms – Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd – I shall not want. And so too that is where our greatness will come by allowing Jesus to be our Good Shepherd and leading us to where he would have us go.