When Mirela and I loaded up our belongings and headed to the northwest, we were filled with an incredible blend of expectation and zeal. We knew something major was happening, and God was going to let us be part of it. We didn’t have a grand plan. We just had a genuine desire to serve and to start a church in Portland. It was a big adventure and we were felt like pioneers on the Oregon Trail. As we crossed the Walla Walla mountains in eastern Oregon, we listened to Rich Mullen’s song, “You’re on the Verge of a Miracle.” We couldn’t wait to see mass revival in Portland.Read the rest for five lies that we tend to believe.
God placed us in a remarkable church planting team team. We’ve seen lots of evidence of God’s grace in our lives and in the church. He has continually provided for our small church plant. We are thankful for many things. From the outside, it looks pretty good. Church planters come from all over the world to learn about what we are doing. Our missional communities multiply every year. We even have a cool website.
The reality is: life lived on the frontier is hard. We have seen only a handful of people come to Christ and be baptized. Church conflict is constant. It seems as though every time someone joins our church, another person leaves. About a third of the missional communities we start fail. All the while, our city continues to be desperately far from knowing the riches of the gospel. My neighbors constantly reject the good news of Jesus despite our best attempts to demonstrate and proclaim it to them. The city is not flourishing in the peace of salvation, but struggling in the chaos of brokenness. It doesn’t feel like the ‘miracle’ is happening. We sometimes wonder: “When will the revival come? Will we be around to see it?”
LESSONS FROM CHINA
It reminds me of the church in China. No, not the Chinese church of today, where thousands are baptized daily and they can’t print enough Bibles or equip enough pastors to keep up with the rapid multiplication of the church. Not that movement. I am reminded of the Chinese churches of Hudson Taylor, Robert Morrison, and the Cambridge Seven. They spent the best years of their lives laboring with little or no fruit. Despite decades of evangelism and service, they only witnessed a few conversions and a few new churches in their life times. By the time Mao banned religion, many, even within the missions movement, assumed China was ‘unreachable.’ These missionaries had seemingly wasted their lives.
However, the house church movement that began to erupt in the 1960s and continues today was built on the foundation of these missionaries. The converts they baptized became the backbone of today’s movement. The few disciples they made, made more disciples, and they made disciples, and so on. The revival those missionaries prayed for came. It was just decades after they had died. The pioneering missionaries never saw the packed house churches or the all night baptism services. They didn’t see their prayers answered. Yet, they faithfully served, at great personal cost, for years. They obeyed the call to go and make disciples without knowing their impact.
THE REWARDS OF OBEDIENCE
What do you get for all your anonymous and resultless faithfulness? Nothing short of God. “Discipleship,” as Bonheofer writes, “means joy.” The reward is Christ himself. Often we get confused and think the rewards for obedience are big churches, lots of twitter followers, and the approval of our peers. We miss the promise of Christ.
How sick are we when we lust for the results of Christ’s work, thinking it could belong to us? When we prefer convert stories to Christ? Sadly, many of us will hope more for ‘success’ than we will hope for Christ.
If you follow Jesus, you may never see revival. Though you love your city, you may never see it transformed. But if you follow Jesus you are guaranteed this one thing: Jesus. Your fruit is the joy of obeying Jesus. Nothing else. The baptisms and church plants belong to God. Those are God’s work, not yours.