Everyone loves change, right? Somewhere a wise person once said, "The only thing constant in life is change!" Transitions and changes in life can be at the same time engines for growth and major sources of stress and anxiety. Sarah and I are walking through a time of transition and are preparing for another simultaneously. Sarah started her new job as Executive Director of Mission Shawnee this past week. We are also preparing to welcome our newest baby into the world at Christmastime!
Our church is walking through some transitions as well. Over the past few months due to graduations, people getting new jobs out of Shawnee, and a few other reasons, we have lost 25-30 people who were regular attenders, active participants, and dearly loved family members within our congregation. Not only that, Brandon Dyer, our beloved Associate Pastor of Youth and Families, is headed on a new adventure with his role as Executive Director of Community Renewal International starting August 1st.
It's comforting for me to know that we are not the only church to deal with transitions. In fact, the New Testament is filled with churches in transition. In Acts 1, Jesus ascends to the Father and tells His disciples that "You will be my witnesses when the Holy Spirit comes upon you in Jerusalem and in Judea and in Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). That very sentence suggests a church in transition (from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth)! How would the church handle the transition - through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, it was completely evident of what the church should do. For instance, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes down and indwells the believers in the upper room. Peter preaches his famous Pentecost sermon and that day 3000 people became believers. The church had gone from 120 to 3000 in a day! An instant mega-church! The believers very quickly were organized into groups that met in each others homes to pray, listen to the apostolic teaching of Jesus, and of course to eat with one another. The way Acts describes this transition is almost seamless.
Then the church expanded even more. Pretty soon, Gentiles (non-Jews) were coming to faith in Jesus, and displaying the fruits of the Holy Spirit. There was a problem, however: Jews, even Jewish Christians, were prejudiced against Gentiles. Gentiles were unclean and idolaters. Many Gentiles had oppressed the Jewish believers or their ancestors. Now these hated Gentiles are coming to faith in Jesus - how will they live? Will they live as Jews - being circumcised if you are a male and keeping the Jewish festivals? Or will they be able to keep their Gentile identity? This was a huge issue in the earliest church! Acts 15 describes a different way of dealing with this particular transition than the transition of Pentecost. The earliest church had a committee seek the Lord about it! When the committee drafted a letter they wrote, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us ..." (Acts 15:28). In other words, they submitted their own prejudices to the Holy Spirit, and let God guide them through the transition. (Praise be to God for their willingingness to submit to the Holy Spirit because I love bacon)!
How will we handle the transition we now face? I was talking about this with one of our former pastors who God has blessed to be in our congregation. He said to me, "Ray, you can look at this two ways: 1 - Oh my gosh, we have lost 25 people; how can we replace them and their tithe, volunteerism, etc? or 2 - We've lost 25 people. I wonder if there are 25 lost people in Shawnee who need FBC to be a witness to them." The choice is up to us. Will you join me in seeking to submit this transition to the Holy Spirit?