In my church planting efforts in Oshawa, Ontario, I’ve been confronted these last couple months with a mistake I made. A mistake that feels like it has the potential to derail our whole mission, if I were to allow it to fester. What, exactly, that mistake was is relevant, but not completely necessary for the rest of the story, so I’ll leave out the details for now. But, essentially, I began our time with my new Core Team casting a vision that success for our church isn’t about “butts and bucks” but about how we are faithful in listening for God’s voice and following where He calls. Our success wasn’t going to be measured by growing to a Sunday morning congregation of 2,000 people - or maybe even 200 for that matter. Rather, our success was to be measured by our faithfulness in living into the abundant Life we know in Christ and trusting God to draw others into His body. And then, without realizing it, I fell into the trap of measuring success by numerical growth.
I’ve spent many hours in the middle of the night pouring over this mistake, wondering how I had gotten there and how to get us out. And I spent many of those mid-night hours in prayer, asking God to show me how to set us back on the right trajectory as a new baby church again. What, exactly, is success for our new church?
And this is what I heard: We are God’s people, and our job is to listen to God’s voice and follow where He calls. And, ultimately, each of us are called to embody hope.
Our calling as God’s people is to embody hope. To embody His kingdom. To share the abundant Life we know in Christ with all those with whom we come into contact, and to do so in a way that invites them into that Life with us.
We are a people who embody hope. So what is this hope that we embody?
Often, when we speak of hope in our everyday conversation, it’s used as a sort of wish. “I hope the Leafs win the Stanley Cup,” we might say. Or, “I hope my preschooler doesn’t catch this cold going around.” Or, “I hope this cake I’m baking turns out alright.” It’s something we wish would happen. It’s a looking forward to an end result that may or may not turn out.
But when we talk of our hope in Christ - when we talk about Biblical hope - it’s not a wish. Our hope in Christ is what we know to be true. We know that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. We place our hope in that truth. Our hope is in our shared future, that Jesus Christ will come gain to make all things new and set all things right. That He will, as it says in the Jesus Storybook Bible, “make all the sad things come untrue.” So, if this is our hope, success is embodying that hope in all the places we live, work, study, and play. Success is living in such a way that displays that hope now - in ways that seek to make all things new, by living in peace, justice, love, grace, and mercy with one another.
If our hope is that one day, God will wipe away every tear - how are we wiping tears now? If our hope is that one day there will be no sickness and no death - how are we bringing healing and life to those around us now?
So, for our church, the main question is not how we can grow in number. It’s not about getting more people in our worship services so that we can have a bigger budget and do bigger things. Rather, the main question for us moving forward is how do we embody hope in Oshawa? How do we add value to our neighbors; how do we make Oshawa better? How do we live in a way that showcases God making all things new?
May we always live as those who listen to God’s voice and follow where He leads. May we always be His faithful ones who embody hope.