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.
Good words Ben. Much truth to what you wrote.
Thanks for your comments, ben. As I come from the exact background you're talking about, but now leading a very similar start for a church based on mission and discipleship and founded on missional communities, this is a great encouragement. I shared this morning on the words of Jesus in Matthew 7 when he wraps up the Mount talk by speaking of foundation in terms of both information and imitation, or hearing and obedience. As we try to lay a foundation at LifePath of not simply giving out information (the typical crowd gathering approach) but instead trying to put the words of Jesus into practice with a small group of people learning to be on mission together, I'm often tempted to want to go back to my much bigger and flashier (and easier) background. And yet, as I walked away from our own missional community gathering here in Delaware this evening, I couldn't help but think, "something about this feels so right." I believe that's probably the whole "I am with you" promise of God giving us that sense. Thanks for the reminder that we're not alone in this journey.
Ben Sternke says
Thanks for your comments, Keith, and blessings to you on the journey!
David Cooke says
Much encouraged by this and it was a timely insight for me. Thank you.
John Maher says
Thanks for this, Ben. I tend to find it much easier to look for results, such as how many are in a huddle, is there a new missional community near ready to start, etc. You are reminding me that it is better to look for the Spirit of God who is always there rather than the results which are likely to be much slower in showing up.
Just what I needed to hear this morning. I seem to get discouraged the most on Saturdays. Today is Saturday. Thanks!