Monday, March 31, 2008

Saddest Meeting of Ministry

Yesterday evening I had perhaps the saddest meeting in my 16 years with this ministry.

Background

In 2004 our team of Steve, Joe, Taylor and Wallace worked in El Quior. Over 120 people prayed to receive Christ. They did not have a place to meet, so they asked new believers to host Bible studies in their homes. 7 new cell groups started that week.

About 8 months later I returned to Santa Cruz. I heard that the 7 cell groups had multiplied to 11, so we visited on a Saturday afternoon. They had just gotten permission to meet in a school in return for a promise to paint some classrooms.

On that surprise visit I saw some wonderfully surprising things. About 40 adults were doing discipleship lessons in the shade of the school building. 100+ kids were involved in various activities under the trees. The church was alive and healthy.

Bad News Last Night

Yesterday I was eager to revisit the church. In the evening we were close by, so we stopped by the church. It was dark, but we could see the outline of a huge building. The building was dark, but the light in the pastor’s house at the back of the property was on. We knocked on the gate.

As we sat down to talk, sadness rolled in like a damp fog. “This morning we had 2 adults and 15 kids in our service,” the pastor replied to our questions. “And in the afternoon service we had 9 adults and 20 kids.”

What Happened?

Only God knows. But I have some questions.

The church was planted with the vision for focusing on discipling new believers. No building? No problem! The discipleship continued in homes. It even multiplied in homes even though (or maybe because?) they had no place to meet.

At some point did the focus change to a building and programs? On that second visit, I met a missionary couple. They had not been present during the first 6 to 8 months of that new church—they were on furlough back in the States. They were not there when the 7 groups grew to 11 home groups.

After that visit, I began to get their newsletters. They asked for money for a building. They told what programs they were leading. No mention of discipleship. No talk of equipping local believers to do the work. Did the vision change?

Last night the pastor shared how they started to give out food every week. Then they implemented membership cards to control who got the food. Then they added more rules to stop people from bringing multiple cards to meetings.

Buildings and handouts are not bad in and of themselves. The question I have is “did the church die because the vision died for obeying Christ’s command to make disciples?”

4 comments:

George said...

That is sad. Thanks for sharing though because it's an important reminder to distinguish between that which is commanded in the Scripture (make disciples) and that which is not (dedicated church buildings and membership rolls). May God show grace and build the church - even if its outside the "church".

Geoff said...

The fruit that should be considered with the people of this little church is not just growing attendance but also the fruit of the Spirit that was planted into the hearts of these believers through your earlier ministry. No botched program or misguided missionary can remove the "lasting fruit" the Holy Spirit placed in their hearts through your Spirit Filled efforts. The enemy may have won a battle but not the war. We "abide in the vine", He produces the "lasting fruit". Keep being faithful and doing your good work and thanks for following up on this pastor to remind him that God's call on his life is to be a disciple maker. Geoff

Talsy said...

Thanks for sharing even what it seems bad news. We pray that this may be used by our Lord to bring glory to Himself and to learn from this, to stick to the what was commanded.
it is unavoidable to have programs but when the vision is changed then there is danger to go away from the basics.
This pastor will need help to go back to the basics, it would be good to hit the area again and and together (the pastor and the ministry) to rewind the cassette and help him come to his own conclusion and help on the way where everything was started.

Talsy said...

Thanks for sharing even what it seems bad news. We pray that this may be used by our Lord to bring glory to Himself and to learn from this, to stick to the what was commanded.
it is unavoidable to have programs but when the vision is changed then there is danger to go away from the basics.
This pastor will need help to go back to the basics, it would good to hit the area again and and together (the pastor and the ministry) to rewind the cassette and help him come to his own conclusion and help on the way where everything was started.