This is a blog that I have been meaning to write for quite some time now. Somehow it has not felt quite right, until now, as sufficient water has passed under the bridge! It concerns one of the ministries that I am involved with leading. From start to finish in this story there has been a trail of miracles as God has worked out His purposes. I would, however, have to acknowledge that while there is much that could be said, there are some things that should not be said. Therefore, I have tried to be as constructive as I can, and concentrate on the areas where I believe that I have seen God at work!
This ministry is a discipleship school based out of our local church which has been running for the past 10 years. Approximately 190 people have participated in the programme over this time. It has gradually evolved as we have worked continually to make it, and keep it, fit for purpose. Having survived the pandemic we had a stellar crop of 15 students on the programme last year (2021-22) and it had been a very exciting year watching them grow and develop. However, fruitfulness often attracts opposition! Every year it seems that there are questions raised about its continuance and renewal. So when this year’s (2022-23) renewal process coincided with some major changes in leadership and relational dynamics at church, it was deemed by some to be dead in the water, for the coming year, at the very least.
I find this a very curious phrase – the meaning of which is as follows according to the Cambridge Dictionary: “If something is dead in the water, it has failed, and it seems impossible that it will be successful in the future.”
However, as so often happens throughout the life of the church, God raises up people who He uses to bring about His purposes. In this case God saw fit to use me in making the case for this ministry to continue. Indeed, between January and March I penned over 6,000 words in a series of reports to the leadership. A period of hefty transition is, however, rarely an easy time to envisage the way forward. So perhaps unsurprisingly, it was a rocky road to finally get the best people onboard and the green light to continue.
Vision: Prepared for works of Service
For me the Spring was full of meetings and communications with key people, but what was particularly surprising was how quickly the mood shifted from hopeless to hopeful and back again! What could God be doing in all of this I reflected? Did it drive me to give up? No, in fact it drove me to action.
One Sunday there was a sermon on Ephesians 4:11-16, which is about how God gave people in specific roles to prepare God’s people for works of service. This reinforced my strong belief that this ministry was vital in playing a role of equipping others to move on towards maturity, and in preparing others to serve. I saw this vision as the all-important issue, and it tied in well with our Church’s mission statement about making and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ. So, I passionately made that case to the Leadership. This is what the verses in Ephesians say:
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 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. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.Ephesians 4:11-16
God’s Ways are above our ways
Soon after I was blogging on the life of Paul & Lydia following a talk I had heard the previous week. The talk focused on Paul’s realisation that certain doors were closed to him for a time. He had wanted to enter Asia and Bithynia, but God led him a different way. As I prepared the blog, the following words I had written really hit home and seemed so relevant to my questions about the ministry.
“Sometimes God will shut doors in order to take us in a different direction. In Isaiah 55 God says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (v8). God always has His reasons, but will not necessarily make them clear to us. The challenge for us is to submit to where He is leading us however painful that might be.”Excerpt from Inspiring Lives 6 on Lydia and Paul
So, on the one hand, I had this renewed sense of purpose and vision, while on the other hand, God was reminding me that He was in charge, and I had to submit to His leading. One morning around that time I read 2 Samuel 10, which is about how the Ammonites made themselves obnoxious to David. He then sent the army into battle and Joab (his military commander) said the following.
“The Lord will do what is good in his sight.”2 Samuel 10:12b
This verse was a clear reminder that God was still on His throne and works out what is good in His sight. What was that? I reflected at the time that only God knows what is good in His sight, but my job was not to manipulate the situation to bring about my chosen ends, but to submit to where God is leading. However, I also reflected that sometimes God gives us great faith to see the way forward even when others cannot – that is part of leadership. God works out His purposes through people like us.
Putting the plan into motion
The situation got somewhat prolonged by various delays, but in the end we received the green light around Easter time to proceed and put into motion a plan to run the ministry again this year. At this point we began recruitment in earnest, but further clarification regarding our ministry team meant that it still could not be all systems go. That came later on, but meanwhile recruitment had been particularly slow. This has often been the case with this ministry, but after all that we had been through, it felt quite discouraging. Further still, we spent four weeks away this summer – three working in Norway, followed swiftly by a week in the Lake District. How nice it would have been to have had sufficient numbers before we went! However, it often feels like God likes to opt for the hard way! At this point it really felt like there was every chance that the ministry would fall flat – even at the final hurdle!
We had a great time away, but at the back of my mind the clock was ticking. We needed a minimum of 12 people signed up by the end of August in order for the ministry to run. At the start of August we had just three, by the 19th August we were up to 10 people and it wasn’t until 31st August that we passed the minimum number. Given that the 31st August was the final deadline, that was cutting things rather close!
We are now preparing to get back up and running after a week off for half term and we are thrilled that God provided a superb bunch of 15 people to participate in the programme this year. What is even more interesting is that there are 10 countries, from all over the world, represented within the group! Not only is the ministry alive and kicking, but it is having an impact right over the world.
What I am learning is that with God, nothing is ever dead in the water. He can, and continues to do, the impossible, time and time again. This journey has been a series of miracles and I marvel at the ways that God has used me, even in a small way, to bring about His purposes. I hope that the next time I am facing this kind of situation, I will return to this blog and be reminded that nothing is impossible for God. I pray that you too will be encouraged to step out in faith and be a part of God’s means to bring about His appointed end. Praise be to God that He grants us the privilege of being woven into His purposes!