For those who dislike Paul, your cure may be today’s reading. This is a man who is completely dedicated to the task at hand. His commitment to Christ almost brings tears to my eyes.
Not only does he “rejoice in [his] sufferings” but he offers an image of complete surrender: “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.” He sees his life, not as his own, but that of the Church’s – the body of Christ.
As I walk the halls of First Presbyterian, I encounter many who have poured their heart and soul into building up the body of Christ. It is overwhelming some days. To me, it is a sign of the resurrection. I think of people like Matt Trei, Angela Parks, Sarah Chancellor. Folks like Helen Wood, Dodee Weibel, Virginia Bosworth, Jennie Slade, Martha Pat Upp. I too have poured my heart and soul into that church and am sad to see it come to such an abrupt halt.
But it is those saints that have gone before me like Matt Trei that really get me. The dedication, the commitment, the submission to Christ that I saw – it gives me hope in the human race, and in Christianity for the 21st Century.
It is strange for many to think that the church is growing my leaps and bounds in South America and Africa, for it has been declining in North America. And it may surprise many to know that it is not the “happy, clappy” churches that are growing down there. It is the Roman Catholic Church. It is the Orthodox Church. It is the Presbyterian Church in Africa that is growing. Pentecostalism is on the rise – hardly an expression of the emergent church phenomena we see in America. Joel Olsteen is not the face of the growing Church in Africa, it turns out. (Joel Olsteen as it turns out is not even Christianity by the church’s standard, or mine – oh well – best of luck Joel – try again.)
I believe much of the growth in Africa and South America has to do with their unfettered commitment to the Holy Spirit at work. We have a culture that simply does not value submission and dedication, like they do. We don’t like to follow. We like to be in control. Our culture is often built on individualism, adventure, and the taking of personal risk. This has little to do with submitting to the body of Christ, or building up something other than one’s self.
So when I reflect on the decline of some of our churches in North America, I don’t get too upset. Perhaps God needs to prune us a little. Perhaps the wheat and the tares need to be separated a bit. It also becomes a fair challenge that God has given us. It is not a time to lament, but a time to work – and submit – for the Holy Spirit.
I have seen that happening at First Presbyterian Church for most of my ministry.
It is no accident that we have been growing the last few years. Two of the last three years with net growth! And that is in an interim time!!! Wow. That is what happens when a church commits deeply to the Holy Spirit’s work in its neighborhood, and the lives of its members.
My prayer is that FPCOKC will continue to DARE – not necessarily with bold new initiatives, but with submission and selflessness. That is my prayer for this whole presbytery – to DARE to be servants to one another. If we embrace that, we will see new ministries planted and growing and thriving. When I see servanthood, I see the Church.
I am thankful for those who consistently put themselves second, and dedicate and commit their time and talents to something greater – God’s commission and the mystery of Christ’s revelation to the world. It is the Matt Trei’s of the world that have led us deeper into Christ’s servant-spirit. Let’s honor them by living the same.