Conclusion The Process Matters
Our church is going through a "strategic planning" process. We are examining the ministries we have, our circumstances as a large urban church, and even our spiritual health. The goal is to set vision for the coming years, to discern what should be our priorities as we make decisions about how to use our facilities and spend our resources wisely. This is a good idea. It is wise for every generation in the church to take stock of where it is and where it is going. But understand this maxim: the process matters as much or more than the decisions made. This is a truth for the church and for every Christian as he or she ministers and relates to others.
So I get the ministry started that I am convinced is God's will for the church. But I badgered and intimidated and grumbled my way to getting it. Is God pleased? Will he pat me on the back for getting the job done, and never minded the wounded spirits left in my path?
I am convinced that the present state of thousands of denominations and independent churches has little to do with doctrinal differences and much to do with failure to obey the commandment of Ephesians 4:1-3: "...walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
The manner in which we walk is what testifies before the world the worth of the gospel. What does it matter if we have five or fifty ministries if we do not show that the gospel makes us humble and gentle and patient? What does it matter if we get all the space we need to accommodate our activities, if space really is the source of friction? We are not made better disciples of Christ by keeping space between ourselves.
We take pride in our adherence to orthodox theology. It is necessary to hold to right doctrine. But understand that many Christians do not adhere to Reformed theology because of what they witness in our conduct. We trumpet the Doctrines of Grace while living graceless lives, exhibited through our own forms of legalism or lacking charitable speech. Quite frankly, in our so-called zeal for truth we are being nothing more than rude, and that is what other Christians see.
How important is right doctrine? It is so important that we should walk in a manner that shows how that doctrine transforms our lives. How important is it to determine God's will for the church and for each of us? Important enough that we should be diligent in obeying God's clear will for daily living so that he will give us vision. Do not expect God to reveal his secret will when we take lightly his revealed will.
The manner in which we walk reveals the worth of the gospel to ourselves. A week does not go by when I do not hear from some Christian questioning God's love for him or her; wondering if his faith is real; questioning whether his fail is real or the gospel can make a real difference. These doubts come not because of some argument they have heard that shakes their beliefs, but because of sin committed against them and they have committed against others. And much of this sin is not some deep rooted, addiction; it's relatively small stuff – getting easily offended, making a snappish remark, being tired and showing impatience. We would do well to sweat the small stuff, realizing that the small stuff creates the big stuff of division and burnout and despair.
Think about this. You will be happy or gloomy today mostly on the basis of small things. You get on the bus see only stolid faces looking away; you feel a little gloomy. You are driving on the road and someone swerves in front of you; there was no real danger but his rudeness irks you and begin to stew over it (even though he is oblivious to your anger); by the time you get to work, you are moody and a bit curt to your colleague who greets you. He now is offended and acts cold to you, which affects the project the two of you were to work on. Maybe you were on your way to do ministry. Besides the rude driver, you have trouble finding parking and now are running late. Your frustration shows as you greet your ministry team and your tone of voice is a bit sharp. Now everyone feels a bit deflated. Perhaps you were going to teach a Bible study. The text is a bit tricky to interpret and others take a different position from you. Normally, you would have a good discussion, but that driver is still on your mind and you are worried you may get a parking ticket. So you end cutting off someone's comment and insisting that you are interpreting the passage right. The others take a different view, not because of anyone's clear reasoning but in reaction to hurt feelings. This happens all the time in theological debate. People will clutch tightly to heretical views if the feel their integrity or intelligence or sincerity is being questioned.
A common response is that Christians shouldn't let small stuff bother them. But we do! It does us little good to look at problems and say they shouldn't be problems. It is not helpful for a mechanic to look at my car and conclude that the car shouldn't be having problems starting. It is very helpful for him to fix the trouble and then point out to me the simple things I could be doing to avoid the same problems again. It's usually the small stuff like not changing the oil or the coolant that causes the big problems of the motor shutting down.
The process matters as much or more than the decisions made. What builds the body of Christ so that we "grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Ephesians 4:15). Speaking the truth does, but it must be the truth spoken in love. Each part of the body working does, but each part must work properly. Being unified in one faith and hope does, but our unity must be lived out with humility and gentleness and patience. We must walk in a manner worthy of our calling.
Looking back over these messages, there are two critical activities that receive little attention. One is the act of forgiveness – both extending it and asking for it. As Christians we know the importance of forgiveness even when we are reluctant to ask for it or give it. Others have written more extensively on the subject, and one book I recommend is Ken Sande's The Peacemaker. But understand these messages as presenting means to foster forgiving spirits and avoiding conflict. If we listen well, ask good questions, and restrict criticism to behavior and not motives, then forgiveness will often occur seemingly without effort. Attention to the small stuff can not only avoid big bad stuff from happening, but be powerful instruments for good stuff to take place.
The other act that needs noting is prayer. Reading these messages, you may more than once have sighed, "I wish I could control my tongue; I wish I could do the right thing." As Christians we know that our trouble is not so much that we don't know what to do, but that we lack the character within to do it. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. But let us remember that where the Holy Spirit is willing, the strength will be there; and will our Father deny our prayer requests for the fruit of the Spirit to be manifested in us? For everything advocated in these messages are simply the outworking of the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22).
Pray for such fruit without ceasing. Pray daily throughout the day. As you start the day, pray that you will show the Spirit of Christ in whatever comes your way. When the phone rings, pray for wisdom to handle whatever the call may be about. As you get online, pray that you will react well to whatever email you will read. When you get in the car, pray for safety and for your attitude. One prayer I never make is, "God, give me the opportunity to witness for you or serve you." Rather, I pray, "God, make me aware of the opportunities you are always giving me to witness; prepare me to serve you well in each event and with each person you will bring my way."
In closing, know this: now is the time to serve God to the fullest. If you are a student preparing for the future, know that now, as you go about being a student, is the time that matters. If you study theology without that theology impacting how you live now for God's glory, then you are laying seeds of future frustration. If you are planning an event for the church, know that the very manner in which you carry out the preparation now is laying as significant a foundation for the church as the event itself. What you do now matters. You may not be able to teach deep doctrine now or perform some great act of ministry, but you can and must speak the truth in love to your brother and sister in Christ now.
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