This past Saturday was the fifth birthday of our church. Ten of us (five with the last name Hoover) gathered in our living room on September 21, 2008 to sing, open the Word, eat cookies, and talk of what we hoped God would do in our city. To see those hopes realized and to have been a part of it from the beginning is a joy and a difficulty-wrought blessing.
It was fitting, I thought, that during the service yesterday, one of our pastors told us to look at those sitting around us and say, "Happy Birthday!" We are the church and, as we have held fast to our Head, from whom our whole body is nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, we have grown with the increase that is from God.
It was also fitting that my husband soberly reminded us that we are only five years old. A five-year-old can write her name and say her ABC's and perhaps color within the lines, but a five-year-old has a lot of growing and maturing left to do.
In some ways, I didn't want to be reminded that we're a five-year-old. In my opinion, church planting can be counted in dog years. Five years feels like at least double that, and it's added wrinkles to my face and gray hairs to my husband's head (which I love by the way). If I'm really honest, as we've approached this five-year mark, I've found myself considering the possibility of coasting from this point forward. The hard work is done, so I'll just kind of settle in and enjoy the spoils.
I don't believe coasting and ministry go hand-in-hand, at least if we're discussing biblical ministry. I do believe, however, that perseverance and ministry make a very fine and fruitful couple.
That's what I gather from Paul at least. This summer I read through 1 & 2 Timothy and I'm seeing now that it was important reading for my soul. In those books, as you likely know, Paul wrote to Timothy, a guy he left in charge of the church plant. It seems, poor guy, that Timothy was in need of some encouragement and direction, and perhaps also a little boldness. Paul, never one to mince words, is like, "Yep, you're probably experiencing some difficulty and people are probably leaving the faith and there are all kinds of things that are discouraging and wearying you." Because that's the way it goes. He doesn't say it, but you get the sense that he wants to come out with it. Because that's the way ministry goes, Timothy.
This part wasn't good for my soul, other than to affirm that, yep, there will be discouragement and weariness. What made my heart stand at attention was this: Paul's choice of words to encourage him.
Specifically, he says this:
Continue to be faithful with the stewardship God has entrusted to you.
Endure like a soldier endures on the battlefield.
Persevere in sound doctrine.
Be diligent with the Word and with your work.
Continue in the things you've learned and been assured of.
Continue to go forward with boldness, remembering that God has given you everything you need to fulfill this ministry He's called you to.
Here I am standing at the five-year mark and I think to myself, "How did we get here?" We took a step forward. We continued. And then others joined in with us and, as a group, we continued in the Word and in the working out of the Word.
How will we get to year six and year fifteen? How will be able to follow the Lord in faith if He calls us to do this again? How will we see the Holy Spirit produce fruit and bring lives to salvation? How will we reap a harvest?
We continue with our eyes on Him, our finish line, with steadfast hope in our hearts.
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.