I need to tell you about a preacher I know. A young guy. When he was just four months out of preacher school the area leadership where he was to serve sent him to pastor a distant, remote, struggling little church in a town of 900.
When it came time for his first sermon he stood up to see how many there were in attendance. Eight. And this was a bigger-than-normal crowd, he would learn, because they knew the new preacher was coming to town. He looked out across the congregation and he remembers thinking something like, “God, did you know about this?”
The next week there were four. “Hmm,” he thought, “they must not have liked my first sermon.” He would discover that four was above average – normal was three. And not one of them was younger than 70. Not much happening here. There was a nice church building, but the congregation could have met in his car. No one could remember a baptism for at least the past fifteen years. True story.
Monday morning he went to the little office in the church to spend some time praying before he set out to attack the “Things-I-am-going-to-do” list he had compiled before arriving. Then maybe meet the mayor; contact the editor of the local newspaper, stop by the radio station, visit some of his members. But when he finished his prayer time he had the strong sense that God was not releasing him into the community yet, that he and God had some more work to do together. That maybe God wanted to talk with him about his to-do list.
He spent the rest of the day in the little office, praying. In fact, that was his schedule for the first month. All day. Every day. He reflects now that this was his “time in the wilderness” experience that, like Moses, prepared him for what would come.
The next step he sensed God moving him to take was to invite the church to pray. So he announced it… Following the example of Jesus who often arose to pray before sun-up they would meet at 6:00am every Tuesday morning. Same three people showed up. But how they prayed. For themselves, for their church, for the community, for the mayor, the newspaper editor, the folks at the radio station. Before long they heard about an interdenominational prayer group that met once each month and the pastor began to attend. A few weeks later he was asked to lead it. The response of the people in the group was, “If this man can get his little church to pray at 6:00 on a Tuesday morning, maybe he can help us.”
Within the next few weeks church attendance inched up to ten, then a dozen. At last report a typical worship service might see fifteen or eighteen, of all different ages. Some young adults; a family or two with kids. In the first ten weeks of this year the church received five new members by baptism. Amazing grace.
As I heard his story I reflected: (1) He made sure his own connection with God was strong, (2) He got the church committed to pray, and (3) He got himself and his members involved in the community. Simple. Powerful. Effective. The details will look different in every setting, but I believe the principles are universal and timeless. Agreed?
By Don Jacobsen