I always find the country refreshing. Early on in my 4-week Naracoorte placement, I visited some friends in Mt Gambier. They too enjoyed being out in the country. One thing we all appreciated was the encouragement and unity of the churches. I usually like to find a home church for my short time in a country town, but this time I also had the opportunity to visit many different congregations. Each was so different, with different gifts and assignments, yet they were united in Christ, and they encouraged each other in the Lord’s work. It wasn’t about their church or their mission, it was all about God’s vision. It’s something I’ve just seen more clearly in the country.
I remember what the Lord told me once about how He works with His church. When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, they set to work rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall. Nehemiah 3 describes the working together of the people to build this wall. Sons, daughters, and families from every tribe worked in their individual capacity side by side to build their city. Some repaired segments of the wall, some were goldsmiths, some worked on the doors, others laid the beams. Each worked on a different segment, yet they worked next to each other, and they worked for the same purpose – to rebuild Jerusalem, the city of the living God. This was the picture of the worldwide church that God showed me, and it’s a picture I have never forgotten. His church works side by side, with Him as director and head. His church works together in united purpose – for the building His kingdom. Each congregation may work on a different part of the wall, or the kingdom; each church may have different strengths, weakness and ministries, but there is no division into “more important” or “less important”. It’s all part of God’s work, seeing His will being done. Matthew 6:33 says, “…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. His kingdom and His righteousness are found in Christ [Isaiah 9:6-7, Romans 3:21-24], and so, when the church works from a foundation of seeking Christ first, they are united in His kingdom and righteousness.
A New Family?
People seem to look for different things when they search for a new church home – the age group, children’s ministry, worship, teaching. At the root of all this analysing, we want to find a place that glorifies God, where the people truly love Him and live this out in their everyday lives – that’s what I wanted anyway. The focus is not on the outward appearance of the church, but on the heart of the people. The outward appearance is simply the evidence of what is going on behind the scenes. Sometimes God leads us somewhere to teach us something, sometimes He wants us to give something, and often, it is a mixture of receiving and giving. When I was searching for a new church in Adelaide, I learnt to understand how God sees “church”. People said so many things about going to church – “we need accountability”, “you need people your age to walk with you”, “you need mentors”, “you have to feel like you can grow in your spiritual gifting”. There are so many things we can consider, so many things about a church we could analyse, commend and critique. However, in the end, it all comes back to our relationship with God. “Lord, where do you want me? What are you doing right now? I want to walk in step with your Spirit.” I don’t mean that for everything you ask, God will give you an exact answer. He didn’t specifically give me the name of a church to attend, but He taught me more about who He was, what the church meant to Him, and how I could relate to His people. He showed me what was in my heart, and gave me His sight and His vision. I’m not going to my current Adelaide church just because it is feeding me best, or best allowing me to express my faith. These things are good, but ultimately, I am attending this church because I believe this is where God wants me to be right now. Now, a year and a half later, I am only just beginning to understand why, only just beginning to make out the plans and purposes He has for this season in my life.
There are multiple churches in Naracoorte and Mt Gambier. I have attended a few different services and found each church to be unique, yet firm in their foundation. On this trip, I’ve visited an AOG, Lutheran and Presbyterian church. I’ve also been able to spend time with some members of the Uniting Church. I loved listening to the individual testimonies of all these people, and I loved hearing the sound of God’s joy in their words, the sincerity of their faith, and the echoing ring of God’s love in their hearts. I’ve noticed a change in my heart as I visit different congregations now – I come with an attitude of wanting to hear God and as I do, He shows me what He is doing and assures me of His faithfulness. It will never be by my strength, but by God’s strength that His purposes are fulfilled. My role is to submit to Him – I allow Him to show me His heart and His plans. It completely changes how I feel when I walk into a new church – no apprehension or frustration, but instead a sense of excitement and anticipation to see what God is doing. Perhaps the pianist plays a dozen wrong chords, or the pastor just reads the sermon, or the stage is exploding with a dizzy myriad of colourful lights. Perhaps it is a service that is “more my style”, but perhaps it is run in a completely different format from what I’m used to. It doesn’t matter, because I’m not at church for self-gain, I’m here because God has shown me how He sees His church and how He sees me – He loves us, and has built us together on the foundation of Christ.
[Ephesians 2:19-22] – “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
The Common Denominator
The common denominator for the church is not tradition or opinion, but Christ. “Do you really love Jesus, and do you truly believe He is who He says He is?” I’m not saying everything else is trivial. However, the traditions and opinions that have divided so many churches stem from the heart – how much of God’s word do we believe is true, and how willing are we to fully submit to Him? We might not be perfect, and we might not understand everything, but are we willing to pursue Him, to be tested and refined, to run the race set before us with endurance and to always look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith [Hebrews 12:1-2]. As we journey like this, we will learn to discern, to live lives that are set apart for holiness, yet overfilling with love, and grounded in reality. We will learn to build up, instead of destroy, and to speak with words seasoned with grace, but also with truth.
One Sunday in Naracoorte, I decided to visit the local Lutheran church for their morning service. I learnt that there was a little Christian bookstore in the town and that, like many other little stores, it had run into a bit of trouble lately. Yet, first on the action list was a day of prayer, a day set apart purely for prayer. The shop would be open, but no goods would be sold. It was open purely for people to come in and band together in asking the Lord was His plan was for the little shop (which He had already blessed so wonderfully!) and for the town of Naracoorte. I was really looking forward to joining God’s people in prayer and I really enjoyed the time we spent seeking the Lord together! It wasn’t a chore, it was a privilege and delight to “take it to the Lord in prayer”. Here were people living out a paradigm of “seek first the kingdom of God”. They trusted Him and declared His will, not theirs. They submitted to Him and wanted to know how they could fit in with God plans, rather than God fitting into their plans. In Isaiah 66:2, the Lord says, “…But on this one will I look; on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” Some of these people live in Naracoorte and the Lord is actively listening.
It makes such a difference when the church is focussed on God’s agenda, rather than their own. It doesn’t matter if a person goes to their congregation, or to the one down the road, as long as they are being brought closer into relationship with Jesus. With this attitude, there is no resentment and no competitive spirit. Instead, there is a desire to band together, to bless each, and to always point towards Christ. They are not afraid, nor reluctant, to point someone to another congregation if they feel another church may be better equipped to support them at this particular point in their journey with God. These are churches who know each other’s resources and giftings, who seek first God’s kingdom, and who practice humility in the way they partner practically, with God.
Bless One Another
[1 Thessalonians 1:2-4] – “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.”
How can we bless one another in Christ? 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4 has some suggestions:
1. Give thanks to God for each other
- Thank God for the encouragement a brother or sister has given, for their partnership with Christ in His work, for their service to others, for their joy etc. Ask the Lord how He sees others and thank Him for the inherent qualities and testimonies He has given to each individual.
2. Pray for each other
- Pray for revelation, for greater understanding of God’s love, for specific situations, for mission etc. Listen to prayer requests, and listen to God’s requests.
3. Continuously remember the following through words of encouragement (affirmation of a brother or sister), practical giving (contributing to their needs) and prayer (giving glory to God). I have given only a very limited explanation for each point listed below, but I would encourage you to expand of these – to ask the Lord Himself, and to discover what this looks like practically, and in your own life/circumstance.
- Works of faith
- Trusting God in obedience, even when the end-point is uncertain, or the reward is not seen.
- Labours of love
- Service to one another from a heart of love.
- Patience of hope
- Enduring in the knowledge of Christ, knowing that He is our hope and that He is coming again soon.
4. Encourage each other in pursuing Jesus, and in knowing our identity as God’s beloved children.
- This is fellowship, as we strengthen and support each other, knowing that Christ is our one sure foundation, and the lover of our souls.