This morning I was reading the Scriptures from the Daily Office Lectionary and felt like God encouraged me with one of the passages from Haggai. I also felt like it might be an encouraging word for others out there who are planting new expressions of church. So if you’re doing the slow work of rooting a community of faith in discipleship and mission, this one’s for you!
The context is the rebuilding of the temple after the exile, and the Lord has “stirred up the spirit of the whole remnant of the people” to work on the building the house of the Lord, a place for him to dwell on earth. They begin in earnest, excited about the vision and expecting great things.
But pretty soon discouragement sets in. The work is hard. They are remembering the good old days of the former temple. They’re really not sure anymore if it’s going to be worth it in the end. So God sends them a word from the prophet Haggai:
“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong… all you people of the land… and work. For I am with you,” declares the Lord Almighty… “And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory… the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house… and in this place I will grant peace.”
I think it might be a message for discouraged church planters, too. Those who are trying to plant churches rooted in discipleship and mission are often discouraged at the immensity and slowness of the task. It would be far easier (in some ways) to gather a crowd of eager consumers and give them what they want each week. When people are leaving and finances are tight, it’s hard to resist the temptation toward spiritual feudalism, where we as leaders act as providers of goods and services in exchange for a better paycheck and more people.
We are trying to build on an entirely different foundation (discipleship to Jesus). The foundation is the most important part of any structure, but it’s slow, messy, difficult work that doesn’t yield a lot of visible progress at the end of the day. If we’re discouraged about “results” the temptation will be to cut corners on the foundation.
So the encouragement for me this morning (and maybe for you) is simple, and straight from Haggai:
“Be strong and work, for I am with you.”
Though it doesn’t seem as impressive as other ministries or what you were involved in before, be strong and work, for I am with you, and my Spirit remains among you. You are digging deep and building strong foundations for a house that I can dwell in, a community I can live among. And while things look small and insignificant now, the glory of what is coming will be greater than the glory of what was.
Keep building the foundations of a house for me to live in, because this is ultimately what the world needs and desires. When you build with discipleship and mission, you are building on the unshakable foundation of my kingdom, and it will stand. I will fill my house with glory in time – for now, be strong and work, for I am with you.