The Lord has led us to do some pretty radical things in our church family. One of those things is to allow everyone to spend time with their families and friends on fifth Sundays. There's only four months in the year that have a fifth Sunday, so we use them as a time for rest and rejuvenation.
We realize this goes against many church traditions, but we recently came across some statistics that might explain why the Lord is leading us this way. Check these out: * 80% of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastors’ children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents. * 33% state that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family. * 90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands. * 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job. * 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started. * 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend. * 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month. * 33% confess having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church. * 50% have considered leaving the ministry in the last months. * 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years. * 94% of clergy families feel the pressures of the pastor’s ministry. * The profession of “Pastor” is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions. * Pastors are listed just above “car salesman”. * Over 4,000 churches closed in America the year this survey was made. * Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month that same year, the numbers were similar last year. * Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause. This has been happening every year in this new millennium. Our conclusion is that IF WE KEEP DOING THINGS THE SAME WAY, WE WILL CONTINUE TO GET THE SAME RESULTS. We believe the Lord is giving us practical things that we can change in order to break these negative results. One of those changes is to simply give all of us an occasional Sunday away from the church setting and allow everyone to spend that day with their families. So, ENJOY YOUR 5TH SUNDAY FAMILY BREAK and realize these Sunday breaks, along with many of our strategies, simply mean that GOD is giving us the wisdom to do something completely different. HE is not going to allow us to become another one of these statistics.
***Did you know that today marks the 9th anniversary of the weekend in which we went public with our ministry in this community? We initially started in September of 2004 with weekly prayer and church-planting training and preparation. But we didn’t go public until March 25-27, 2005.
Before that public opening we were already ministering in Harrisburg. We ministered in a weekly food outreach, providing praise and worship while a team from another local church, distributed food to the people who gathered. We also participated in various prayer gatherings and even ministered in a couple of churches. All the while, we were preparing our team to minister to the hearts and homes of Harrisburg. We met weekly in a leased facility in uptown Harrisburg. Meanwhile, another congregation was preparing to unite with us as our ‘opening day’ approached.
However, we weren’t ready for the spiritual warfare that was about to be unleashed upon us. Even as we were purchasing equipment, furnishings, chairs, carpet and flooring, the demonic forces over this community were preparing their weapons and sneak attacks against us.
By the time we went public on the Easter weekend of March in 2005, the other congregation had been manipulated by its interim leader into voting against uniting with us. Within our own ranks, there was division as we fell into disagreement. We didn’t handle it very well. Since then, we have all been reconciled, but at that time, we were overwhelmed.
We held our first public service on Good Friday and the place was completely filled with people from the community, including one pastor who brought his entire congregation to welcome us to the city. Our first Sunday service was filled with well-wishers and visitors. We were feeling pretty good about things, in spite of the relationship strains and the broken promise from the other congregation. Little did we know that this weekend was the start of what was to become a pattern of warfare and opposition over the next nine years.
Six months later, in September of 2005, our Bishop and overseers came to Harrisburg to officially install and appoint us in our new roles as senior pastor and first lady of the new church. This took place exactly one year after our initial launch in September of 2004. Many powerful exhortations and words of wisdom came forth, as several pastors from the community joined together to unite with us in the spiritual battle over this region.
But, just three months after that, most of our small congregation was gone. Our initial team was gone. Miraculously, someone paid off our final two months of our lease, and we moved out of the facility, placing all of our church equipment and furnishings in storage a couple days after Christmas. It was the saddest and most depressing moment of our lives.
The first thing we had to do was look for jobs and start the transition from full time ministry to full time employees in someone’s company or organization. God graciously gave us both jobs with the state of Pennsylvania.
We tried to keep the church family together, as we met in a hotel for about four weeks before shifting our meetings to our home. A few more of the members dropped off at that point.
One of the local pastors, who befriended us, offered the use of a room within their church. We took him up on that offer and we began meeting in one of their classrooms on Friday evenings. On one of those Friday gatherings, a new family started coming to our church. So we just began to focus on ministering to them.
The years that followed were nothing short of hell on earth. We were simply crushed with one disappointment after another. It became too much to keep trying to meet in a public setting so we shifted our weekly gathering to our home. We continued to meet on Friday nights for several months. The Lord ministered healing to us, even as we ministered healing to those who attended faithfully.
After almost a year, we moved back into the public, returning to a hotel on Sunday mornings. Then we returned to the church of our pastor and friend. We met on Saturday evenings until the Lord opened the door for us to move into the United Church Center in December of 2009.
Since moving into the United Church Center, we have been able to stabilize the ministry and provide consistent teaching. After a couple years, the same old attack pattern of the devil came against us again. This time we had to fight through satan’s attempt to get us kicked out of the Center and that fight led to an open door for our own meeting space.
As we sit in our new office or walk into our meeting space, we’re incredibly thankful to God for His presence. We’re so thankful for our church family. Even though people have come and gone, we have been able to stay on track and establish a foundation for rebuilding, restoring and renewing hearts and homes.
All of this, and so much more, fills our thoughts as we reflect upon the significance of this week. It simply causes us to proclaim the goodness, mercy and faithfulness of God.
Please receive our testimony and story as confirmation that God will sustain you through anything. This is the reason why we declare, “You cannot lose unless you give up. So don't give up!.”
In spite of our disappointments, failures and fears, God has brought forth the fulfillment of many of His promises to us. This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.
***We believe that one of the lessons the Lord is teaching us is to trust Him even when He doesn’t answer our request in the way we desire.
This month just so happens to mark the anniversary of a profound event in the life of a missionary who is not well-known in many urban communities in America. In his blog on Church History, Dennis Alan Ray presents the story of a missionary named Amy Carmichael:
When Amy Carmichael was a child in Ireland, her mother told her that if Amy were to pray then God would answer. Amy had dark hair and brown eyes. Since she didn’t like her brown eyes she prayed for God to give her blue ones. The next morning Amy wailed in disappointment. It was a while before Amy would understand that "no" was an answer, too.
Even though the “no” answer disappointed her, she never lost her faith in God. Service to Him became the passion of her life, leading Amy to start classes and prayer groups for Belfast’s many poor and homeless children. Her Sunday classes were also attended by factory girls who were so poor that they could not afford hats to wear to church and wore shawls instead. Unfortunately, most “respectable church people” refused to have anything to do with them.
In the years following her father’s death, the Carmichaels found themselves in tough financial circumstances. Amy's mother decided to move to England and work for Uncle Jacob. Amy and another sister joined her. Uncle Jacob asked Amy to teach his mill workers about Christ and she threw herself into the work, living near the mill in an apartment infested with cockroaches and bed bugs. Amy was constantly sick with neuralgia and had to lie in bed for days at a time. Her bad health eventually forced her to give up that ministry for the mill workers.
When she announced she was going to be a missionary, her friends thought she was being foolish and predicted that she would soon be back in England. Nevertheless, in 1892, she answered the call to the mission field and made her way to India.
In Dohnavur, India, Amy Carmichael was mightily used of God in what we, at Urban Life, call STEALTH MINISTRY.
According to local custom, young girls were often abandoned and left on the temple steps to be dedicated to the Hindu gods. They were forced into prostitution to earn money for the priests. Amy heard about a five-year-old girl named Kohila who faced just such a fate. Dressed in a sari, her skin stained brown, with her dark hair, and because of her brown eyes, Amy could pass as a Hindu. Disguised in this way she rescued the little girl and gave her shelter.
Now she understood why God had given her brown eyes. Blue eyes would have been a dead giveaway!
When the child’s guardians discovered what had happen, they demanded the child’s return. Amy refused to return the little girl to a life of certain abuse and arranged for Kohila to "disappear" to a safe place. Technically that made Amy a kidnapper.
Over the years, the brown-eyed, dark haired Amy would rescue many other children, often at the cost of extreme exhaustion (due to her illness) and personal danger.
Eventually, charges were brought against Amy. She faced a seven year prison term. However, she did not go to prison. A telegram arrived on February 7, 1914, saying, "Criminal case dismissed." No explanation was ever given, but those who worship Amy's Lord have no doubt that He had a hand in the decision.
Amy would continue her mission for the next fifty years until her death in 1951. Her mission and ministry is still operating today. Her first under-cover mission, to rescue little Kohila from the temple, happened on March 9, 1901 — 113 years ago this month.
Through the lives of countless Believers and Christians like Amy Carmichael, we have seen faithfulness and perseverance that puts many American Christians to shame. These are the kind of stories I grew up hearing as a child. This is the legacy that has been passed down to us. This is the way we are to see the Urban Life ministry in this community. We must have hearts, like Amy Carmichael, to rescue families, even at the risk of our own lives.
Now it’s our turn to serve God in our generation. Now it’s our turn to say ‘yes’ to God, even when His answer to our personal request is ‘no’. We must trust that He knows where He is leading us and trust that He is working His plan and purpose through our hearts and homes.
***In one of my daily devotional readings last week, the writer (Oswald Chambers) talked about what it really means to follow God. He rehearsed the story of Paul’s friends warning him to not go to Rome because he was going to face suffering and imprisonment there. But Paul said, “None of these things move me.”
Chambers went on to talk about how many Believers simply will not follow God into seasons and places of suffering. Once they truly realize the price they are being called to pay, most of them will retreat from the call of God and settle for a simple, comfortable, American-dream working life. They refuse to believe that God will actually SEND them out to go through life-altering trials, live through seasons of poverty or in places that are like war zones, and suffer through pain, loss and disappointment. But it’s really true. YES HE WILL!
After Jesus was baptized by John, the Bible says the Holy Spirit SENT HIM into the WILDERNESS to be TEMPTED BY THE DEVIL. Many Christians today feel that, "GOD CANNOT POSSIBLY EXPECT ME TO GO HERE, GO THERE, LIVE HERE OR LIVE THERE!" But we can tell you from experience: YES HE DOES!
We recall some of the things we have suffered in our quest to follow Jesus. We have lived in horrible places, in dangerous neighborhoods, and even had to work through some life threatening situations in overseas missionary travel. Sometimes, when we tell bits and pieces of our story, we are smiling, so it can give the impression that things were not really that bad. Listen closely: They were bad. Sometimes, things were far worse than we can put into words.
However, we had to learn to not turn against one another and to not turn against God. At the same time, we could not back away from the call of God and the people He had called us to serve.
You see, the goal of ministry is not to someday become famous and rich. The goal is not to someday live in a big mansion and drive fancy cars. The CALL of God is not a career and it's not like a job. It does not have a guaranteed salary with health benefits. It does not have performance-based promotions with automatic pay increases. You can’t just pick up and move anytime you want; although we have certainly felt like doing that on countless occasions. The goal has always been, and still is, to follow GOD and lead others into a solid relationship with HIM through Jesus Christ.
For now, we have a nice comfortable lifestyle, but our daily living is very different from what appears on the surface. Sleep is almost nonexistent for us. We are always in warfare and intercession. Most nights we get about 3 or 4 hours of sleep. Our weekends are filled with ministry preparation and ministry work. That’s why we don’t meet on fifth Sundays. It’s because fifth Sundays give us some personal time to rest and recover.
Please know that we are not complaining. It’s just our reality…. NO, it is our joy! We would not have it any other way if this is what it takes for Christ to come forth in our church family. Comfort and security are not our goals. Our only desire is to be obedient to God, no matter the cost. Now we understand why Paul wrote, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you..." Galatians 4:19
The day may come when we can meet more than once a week. We desire this expansion only because we want to provide MORE OPPORTUNITIES for families to gather and get to know one another, to worship together, and to experience the Word of God together.
In the meantime, God is beginning to bring people from the north, south, east and west to Urban Life. He is forming a unique family of Believers who will fulfill the mission that has been assigned for us: to rebuild, restore and renew hearts and homes.
***Can you believe it? We have moved into the third month of the year. My how time is moving forward. It is a constant reminder to not take anything or anyone for granted.
So far this year, a number of famous entertainers have passed away. There have also been a number of not-so-famous people who have died, too, but they were very dear to their loved ones.
The year has also begun with lots of bad tidings. With all the winter storms, accidents, incidents, negative medical diagnosis and family trauma, this year has started off with great shock and sadness for hundreds and thousands of people.
It’s a far cry from all of the high expectations that were carried into the New Year. Just think back to when we approached 2014 with all kinds of positive and Biblical quotes about new life and open doors.
However, for many, this year has brought debilitating shock and grief. So far this year is causing many Believers to stop and take inventory of their lives and to reevaluate their understanding of God’s word and some of those promises for 2014.
As you know, we also started the year with the bad news of Pastor Chris’ mother needing heart surgery. Since the operation, we have been monitoring the progress of her rehabilitation through family members.
This kind of drama, along with the past years of disappointment, had driven us to the point where we hated to see phone calls with the Missouri area code. We were hesitant to hear what might have happened next. Somehow, the Lord has given us His grace to keep pressing forward to minister to the Urban Life family no matter how we were feeling.
We have learned, through the years, how vital it is for us to develop faith that perseveres and presses through the difficult seasons of life. Even if we weren’t pastors, we would still feel this way.
We learned, as a young couple, how to follow hard after the Lord. We had to learn how to pursue Him in good times and bad times. We had to learn how to follow His voice, even when we couldn’t see our way. We had to learn how to praise God, even when tears of disappointment were streaming down our faces.
Sometimes we feel a little weird preaching here in Harrisburg because our message does not promise that everything will always turn out okay when we follow God. Sometimes you can do everything that the Bible tells us to do and still get hit with an unexpected trial. You can follow the voice of God and still have your heart broken.
But God promises us in His word: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—“ 2 Corinthians 4:7-9
This means, the treasure that is within you is not only revealed in good times, but it is powerfully revealed in these difficult seasons.
The reason we gather every week is to bring more attention to Christ who lives within you. We want to remind you of the greater one who lives within you. We want to remind you, just one more time, that you’re going to make it.
No matter how hard this life gets and no matter how forceful the warfare comes against us, we still win! The only way you can lose is if you give up.... so never, ever give up!
Speak these words to yourself: Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? HOPE IN GOD, for I shall yet praise Him.... Psalm 42:5, Psalm 43: 5
***This week's webcast concludes our overview of the spiritual influences that attack our families and then shifts to deal with reasons why many families feel they cannot be rebuilt, restored or renewed.