I often tell people that I share a similar story to that of Samuel. I was only a few weeks old the first time I came to church. If the doors were open… my family was there. Much like Samuel, I was raised in the church. It’s impossible for me to think back on my childhood and not be bombarded with memories of sitting in the second row of pews on the left had side of the sanctuary. I remember Pastor Greening, preaching all the stories of the “Saints of old”. He had a rule of thumb he followed, “preach in a way that 10-year-old would understand and you’ll catch everyone else older as well.” I loved listening to his messages. They were always a balanced mixture of stories of Biblical heroes of the faith and modern day heroes we called missionaries.
The first Bible verse I learned was John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The second verse was Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” From a very young age I learned how simple it all was; God loved us so much he sent us Jesus and now we’re supposed to take him to the ends of the earth. I knew Satan was real and this message we carried was the most powerful message on this planet and with it we could defeat Him. We (the church) were God’s army behind enemy lines. We were to never forget that our enemy roamed this earth and controlled just about everything we could see.
In the seventh grade, I read the book Through the Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot and knew from that day on my goal in life was to be one of those missionaries tromping through the Amazon basin delivering this message of hope to a broken world. This goal led me to stay in the best possible shape. I played three sports all through school. I enlisted in the Army National Guard at age seventeen. I went to Bible college and traveled on mission trips to nine countries including the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Through God’s sovereign hand he led me out of the jungles and into the local church. I’ve served in churches with a weekly attendances of about eighty as well as in churches with several thousand on any given Sunday.
I have to be honest though, after 20 years of ministry, I now find myself wishing it was all as simple as when I was a kid, “God loves us so much he sent us Jesus and now we’re going to take him to the ends of the earth.” I’m not really sure how I ended up where I am, but I’ve seem to have found myself where most pastors my age have found themselves; spending a lot more time “doing church” than “doing the work of the church.” The pastors I grew up with led the charge up each hill. They were front and center as we stormed the gates of Hell. Most pastors today seem to be more of referees for the righteous than they are leaders on a battlefield. Too many churches seem to be sitting in the rear, no longer waiting to be called to the front. If there’s one thing I’ve learn in the Army it’s that an Army sitting idle gets into trouble. They become self-centered. They fight and bicker with each other. They snipe at one another and find ways to discourage instead of locking arms and moving as one.
I find myself thinking like when I was kid… daydreaming about an “Army of God” behind enemy lines. I think up stories in my head about men and women carrying this powerful message of hope with them everywhere they go in their backpacks, briefcases, and suitcases. What would that church look like? What would it look like today to have a church, the whole church, focused on making disciples of all the nations? What if everyone was sold out to the mission given to us by God Himself. The church I dream about is an army sold out to this mission. They’re selflessly abandoned to the the task of making disciples of all the nations. They teach these things diligently to their children and are committed to raising up a younger generation of Spiritual champions. They care for one another, love one another, and sacrifice for one another. This church is known for locking arms and storming the gates of Hell. They’ve committed all they have to this mission. A 10% tithe is the floor to their giving not the ceiling. Their worship is uninhibited and unbridled. They’re the movers and the shakers of their community and their immense compassion for the broken is noticed by all. Their leaders, lead from the front and everyone carries his or her share of the load. They love mercy and seek justice.
This is the kind of church I dream about.