The Heart vs. What Happens

Groundbreaking ceremony for the building that was never built.

Groundbreaking ceremony for the building that was never built.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned, and this is certainly true in ministry. I spent my entire ministry of nearly 40 years at one church. For the last fifteen of those years we worked on plans to relocate and build a new facility. This included buying land, maintaining that land until we could build, surveying the congregation and leadership so the building would meet our ministry needs, going through several sets of blueprints for the building, talking with a number of lending institutions, carrying out two major fund raising campaigns, and conducting countless (and I mean countless) meetings of the whole congregation and of various teams. I personally prayer-walked the land time and time again, envisioning the kind of building and ministry we would have there. The escalation of costs and the continual downsizing of the building to make the financial numbers work resulted in us scrapping the entire project. We even had a ground breaking ceremony, covered by the local media; the earth, I’m sure, has since healed the hole we dug with our shiny spade.

Under my successor’s leadership (a man whom I personally chose and mentored for over two years) the church has purchased an empty big box store and is in the process of renovating the building for their new home. I’m all for this new direction of having the church in such a marketplace setting and pray regularly that it will soon happen. But when I’m part of a conversation about God’s mysterious ways my mind can’t help but go back to the last third of my ministry when we actively sought to build on those 23 acres of land. I have wondered if I was misguided in sensing God’s guidance. I have wondered if I missed crucial times when I should have led us to act more decisively. I have come to believe that God has His very good reasons for us taking that journey, a journey that didn’t end up where we thought it would. I’ve come to a greater conviction that God is often more interested in the journey than the destination.

A scripture that has held great meaning for me is where King Solomon has the Ark of the Covenant brought into the temple he built for the Lord. In his speech the king references his father, the late King David. “My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to my father David, ‘You did well to have it in your heart to build a temple for my Name. Nevertheless, you are not the one to build the temple, but your son, your own flesh and blood—he is the one who will build the temple for my Name.’” (1 Kings 8:17-19)

I did what I thought we should do. I believe my heart was in the right place (and to the degree it wasn’t, I’m grateful for God’s grace and mercy to cover for that). I believe the Lord says to me, “You did well to have it in your heart…”

We can plan, pray, develop strategies, pray, cast vision, pray, call for commitment, pray and implement the plan, but we’re not guaranteed the results we want and which we think God wants. There will be times we are disappointed, even deeply disappointed, at how things turn out. I believe at such times the words God saw fit to put in our Bibles, the words He had for King David, are meant for us to take personally. “You did well to have it in your heart…”

 

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Holy Leading

Horse_mill_045493I’m reading a book by J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), the Anglican bishop of Liverpool, called Holiness. It’s a good book for any serious follower of Jesus, but particularly for those who lead a congregation as pastor.

He writes, “While some are satisfied with a miserably low degree of attainment, and others are not ashamed to live on without any holiness at all, content with a mere round of church-going and chapel-going — but never getting on, like a horse in a mill; let us stand fast in the old paths, follow after eminent holiness ourselves and recommend it boldly to others. This is the only way to be really happy.”

Ministry can seem to be an endless round of attending meetings, planning programs, and other such things to keep the wheels of the machinery of ministry going, like a horse going round and round in a mill, grinding away at the grain, as Ryle writes. We pastors give leadership to this, we lead the parade. We could blame our parishioners for not seeing the big picture, but sometimes we lose sight of it ourselves.

Ryle reminds the reader that holiness is the goal of the major work of sanctification and we pastors sometimes need that reminder ourselves. Ryle writes, “The Lord Jesus puts a searching question to His people when He says, ‘What are you doing more than others?’ (Matthew 5:47).” It’s easy as a pastor to judge the spiritual condition of our parishioners, but it would be good for us to ask ourselves if the process of sanctification is happening in us more than in our people. “Behold, the people are ahead of me. I must hasten after them, for I am their leader.” We should be leading the way!