The average dieter puts all his weight back on plus five percent more. Why is that? One reason is that most diets are not maintainable in the long term. The “eating deficits” created now result in binges and cravings later. One diet is all protein and no carbs. Another is no fat and all carbs. The result: Americans weigh more than ever.
On the other hand, those who make permanent, moderate, maintainable lifestyle changes to their eating habits (like measuring ice cream, cutting down on simple carbs) or exercise regimen (taking stairs instead of elevator) may not lose as much weight—but they are more likely to keep off the weight they lose.
The same principle applies to the Christian life. If we aim too high, aspire for too much, we usually end up tired, frustrated, discouraged, and develop negative attitudes.
Rather than trying to change the world, let us aim to faithfully and consistently make a positive difference for the Kingdom of God. Let us aim small but stay the course.
1. Let us do a better job at being who we are, the godly version of “us.”
We should recognize that we have our unique gifts and calling, and that the combination of gifts and calling in our church is going to influence our church’s direction. Outsiders should not be telling us what to do. Individuals with agendas may try to squeeze us into somebody else’s mold (usually denying this even to themselves), but it simply will not work. New folks who come into the Body influence who we are, and folks we lose to death or departure influences who we are. We are always in flux. That is why we have “eras” in our church’s history.
Years ago, Marylu’s cousin invited us to join him on his small sailboat. We had to run to this side and lean over to that side to keep the boat from tipping over. “This is supposed to be fun?” I thought to myself. Church ministry is similar. To focus on one area, we are required (by reality) to lessen our attention to another area, running from one focus to another. The law of displacement is inescapable.
Like dieters going from one fad to another while losing ground, the Christian community’s quality in the realms of relationship and conviction seems to be declining. That is what happens when we try to be somebody other than who God meant us to be. Perhaps it would help if we knew who we are instead of letting others make the choice for us.
At the same time, we must be the godly version of “us.” The Christian life is about growth, and growth involves change. We are to do a better job of loving God and loving others. But if we are extroverted, we do not need to become introverted (and vice-versa). We are different parts of the body, and each individual church is, in a small sense, the Body of Christ. Yet each is different.
Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each of them, as he chose” (1 Corinthians 12:18). This is precisely why it is so wrong to try to coerce a congregation into surrendering its unique niche and morph into the mold of another. God orchestrates this, but we try to wrest the baton from His hand. This is why the quest for uniformity is a foolish quest.
2. Let us take pride in our church.
We have experienced declining numbers here at HPC, but declining numbers and decline are two distinct concepts.
We have always been a small church, but in the 1990’s and 2000’s, we experienced probably the best years numerically (averaging 203 in 2005) in our history. If we had not taken measures, we would have had few places, if any, to sit week after week. In the 1990’s, we took advantage of extra pews (that had been in the parlor) and added a row of seats to the front of our auditorium. Then we added a row against the back wall. In 2000, we began our early service, and that reduced our 10:30 service by about another 20 or so.
Those were great years in many ways, but, despite some great times of blessing, all was not rosy: we experienced repeated bouts with significant conflicts, factions, and a spirit of perennial discontent. We are smaller now, but have grown in love, warmth, and a family-like atmosphere. We had much to offer in the past, and we have much to offer now. They are different offerings, however.
I am very proud to be the pastor of Highland Park Church. I am proud of what this church stands for, proud of the full-time ministry professionals who have come from HPC, proud that we have a congregation that welcomes deep Bible teaching (including Jewish Roots) and values biblical wisdom and firm convictions. I am proud that almost all of you are involved in some sort of ministry here. I am proud of ministries people have initiated themselves (like the Good News Clubs, the Children’s Choir, or the exercise class, to name a few recent ones). I am proud that I can be me, and you can be you, and we do not have to pretend to be someone other than who we are. I am proud that about three fourths of you do something particular in our morning services in the realms of music, reading, praying, drama, sound/video, ushering, greeting, or other related ministry (Children’s Church, nursery).
We are unique. If we were just like other churches in Kokomo, we would have no reason to exist. I hope you are proud of HPC, too!
3. Let us aim to influence one person
When it comes to evangelism, many of you look for and use opportunities to share the gospel with lost friends and workers. We do not see a lot of people come to know the Lord, but we do see some. And we see some discipled and growing in the Lord.
Why is this more important? Because the Great Commission is about making disciples, not tallying up converts. A disciple (learner/student) has made a profession of faith in Jesus and is reading, studying, and being taught the Word, both in content and in life (doing). Many professing believers have no intent to actually study; serious disciples are crucial for God’s Kingdom to thrive.
My challenge to you is to look for one person you can reach and help disciple. Take them through the 4 Spiritual Laws or even the “How to Be Saved” article on our church website. Lead them to pray to accept Jesus by faith.
The person you have in mind may have already made a profession, but has never gotten into the Word or doctrine. Challenge that person to attend church, Sunday School, Bible studies, listen to Moody Radio. Perhaps offer a plan. Try something like “Let’s read through the New Testament this year and get together once a week to talk about what we have read.” Or, “Let’s memorize a verse a week for this month.” Or, “Let’s get together to pray once a week.” Or, “Let’s study a book of the Bible and read Warren Wiersbe’s commentary along with it.”
Instead of trying to reach the world or the community, aim for one person. Remember the lesson from the dieting example up above!
4. Let us focus on the simple basics: Bible, prayer, fellowship, loving Jesus and others
The early church had no sound system, no pews, no video projector, and no bulletin. They did have the things that mattered most. These other things do matter: do not get me wrong; they are simply not the most crucial.
Acts 2:42 reads, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
This verse breaks up neatly into four parts.
Regarding teaching, we need Bible. Charles Spurgeon said of the Puritan John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim’s Progress), “Why, this man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere; his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him.”
Wouldn’t that be great if such a thing could be said of us?
We need to pray. Peter Roussakis did a fine study with us on the Lord’s Prayer, and his book, “United in Prayer” is good reading indeed. Praying the Lord’s Prayer as an understood prayer is a great blessing, but the prayer also serves to guide us in our own personal prayer lives (in contrast to intercession alone).
We need fellowship. We need to be a spiritual family that encourages one another. This also provides a great context for the above.
And we need to break bread. This can refer to eating together, but probably refers to the Lord’s Supper. The implication, of course, is that we must constantly remind ourselves that we have been bought with a price; we are out to serve Jesus by loving Him and others.
So my advice is to think small. Small, manageable habits over time can accomplish much for God’s glory! What we accomplish may not always show up numerically in our particular church, but will make a difference in God’s Kingdom.
Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.