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