Monday, June 7, 2010
What's Really Important?
Each morning I read several devotional e-mails, and currently my favorite one comes from The High Calling of Our Daily Work. With the author's written permission, I am reproducing today's devotional in its entirety, as I believe it addresses an integral point of Christian and Church life.
by Mark D. Roberts,
Laity Lodge Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence
What’s Really Important?
READ 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. [1 Corinthians 3:7]
For sixteen years, I was senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, a moderate-sized church in Orange County, California. Compared to most churches in America, we were large. But Irvine Pres lived in the shadow of several megachurches, including Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, Mariners Church in Newport Beach, and the granddaddy of them all, Saddleback Church, where Rick Warren is the senior pastor. Thus it was easy for smaller churches in the area to feel inconsequential. Over the years, I found myself in many conversations with pastors who, motivated by envy and resentfulness, spoke poorly of local megachurch pastors.
How sad! And how inconsistent with the teaching of 1 Corinthians 3. In this chapter, Paul begins by rebuking the Corinthians for their spiritual immaturity (3:1-3). What reveals the fact that they haven’t grown up in Christ? They are jealous and divisive, based on their divided loyalties to their favorite Christian leaders: “When one of you says, ‘I am a follower of Paul,' and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,' aren’t you acting just like people of the world?” (3:4).
Then, Paul moves from rebuke to instruction. He helps the Corinthians—and us—to understand Christian ministry in a new light. Apollos (an eloquent Christian evangelist in the time of Paul) and Paul are not the point. They are merely “God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News” (3:5). They served different and complementary roles when they were present in Corinth: “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow” (3:6). This growth, and especially its source, is the main thing: “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow” (3:7). Those who participate in the growth process “work together with the same purpose,” God’s purpose as God’s servants (3:8).
The Church of Jesus Christ, and the individual churches it comprises, will be healthy only when we think of church and ministry in the terms of 1 Corinthians 3. If one church grows large while another remains small, there is not room for jealousy or gossip. Both churches, and the pastors who lead them, are part of God’s work.
As pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I was motivated by 1 Corinthians 3 to begin praying consistently for other churches in our area. In my private prayers and in my public prayers in worship, I would pray for our sister Presbyterian churches, as well as for other churches in our region, both small and large. Around the major holidays, I would make a special effort to pray for the megachurches and their pastors, because they were touching tens of thousands of people. If Saddleback Church added to their congregation after one Easter season as many people as Irvine Presbyterian Church had on our membership roles, thanks be to God! What was important was that God was making the seed grow.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Have you ever experienced divisiveness in church having to do with loyalty to different leaders? How does 1 Corinthians 3 challenge you to think, speak, act, and pray differently?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, today I thank you for the diversity of your church and its leaders. Though we emphasize different things, every church that preaches and lives your Gospel is part of your work in this world.
Help me, dear Lord, to see the church with your eyes. Keep me from petty jealousy and divisiveness. Help me to focus on what really matters, not who is doing the planting, but you and your work of growing your church.
I pray for church leaders today, that we would be unified in Christ and his truth, even as we differ over certain matters of theology or practice. Help those who shepherd your flock to do so with mutual appreciation and common prayer. Break down walls of division between churches and leaders. May we live out your calling as one people.
All praise be to you, O God, because you give the growth! Amen.
I find this devotional especially helpful today as I, also a Southern California resident, see the same attitude toward the mega-churches in the San Diego area: The Rock, Shadow Mountain, Journey Community Church, Horizon, Skyline, etc. I attend two smaller churches: Lake Murray Community Church with about 350 people (including children) and Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity with about 20-25 people, including kids, at each Sunday morning service. We attend on Friday mornings, and several shut-ins are unable to attend regularly, but it's still a very small church. While Lake Murray does much ministry: children's ministry, homeless ministry, ministry to retirement homes and County Mental Health, Alzheimers' homes, discipleship groups, Bible studies, etc., tiny Blessed Trinity offers the Free Teen Guitar Class--free guitar lessons to teens, taught by Father Acker himself--plus, they are very much involved with the other churches in Alpine through ecumenical Thanksgiving and Good Friday Stations of the Cross services, a community Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day, Easter services outdoors in the county park, and much involvement with the other churches in the community.
The few times I've been able to attend a Sunday service, I've noticed Father Acker praying for a specific church and pastor in the Alpine area. He's been quite involved in the monthly inter-church meetings among pastors in Alpine. Here is this little church praying for other churches. They get it: it's all about what is really important, or, rather WHO is really important: Jesus Christ our Lord and showing His love to others. And I really love that about this little group of Anglicans who gathers each Sunday morning in the auditorium of Alpine Elementary School. Not that Lake Murray does anything different or wrong; I guess the focus on the churches outside the home church is just more obvious at Blessed Trinity.