To the angel of the church…
These four admonitions were modelled after the letters to the churches in Revelation 2–3 given to delegates at the 2011 B.C. MB convention, “Hearing the Spirit speak to the BCMB churches,” Apr. 29–30, 2011. Click here for convention coverage.
Pemberton (B.C.) Christian Fellowship (MB) pastor Paul Cumin wrote and presented the first missive.
These are the words of the One who strides across peaks and whose Spirit rolls through valleys.
By some standards you are small, but by mine you are large. You have held the course through difficult terrain and have become stronger. You welcome the stranger and embrace the newcomer.
I am with you. And I am pleased with you. Remain faithful to me and I will remain faithful to you.
There are, however, two things I hold against you:
I hear what you are saying but I also see what you have refused to do.You sing and preach and pray with your mouths but your feet and hands are too quiet. I love those you do not notice and I look quickly past the things that hold your gaze.
You borrow against my plans for your tomorrows to fill your homes today. The false fullness has shrunk your souls and the excess has made you heavier and slower than you realize. Now comfort and ease stalk you like confident predators. I advise you to re-evaluate.
Do not let your faith land short of the target. The Bible is my gift to you for knowing me; be sure that it does not become an idol that distracts you from its purpose. Misplaced zeal is worse than none at all.
I am the One Who Saves you. This is also true for those who trust in a nameless God. Do not mistake a puddle on the path for the Ocean at the end of it. You have pitched your chairs too soon.
I am the Way. Get up! and continue the journey.
Listen carefully; is the Spirit speaking to your church as well?
Urban Journey, Vancouver, church planter and pastor Rebecca Stanley wrote and presented the second missive.
This is the message from the One who brought you – as a faith community – into being out of nothing, and who walks among you, both while you are gathered together, and while you are scattered throughout the city of Vancouver.
I know all the things that you do. I have seen how you have taken huge risks to start something new in a neighbourhood that does not revere my name. You have given up the comforts of larger churches, loved one another deeply, and served your community with honesty and generosity. You have relied on my Spirit to guide you as the church has evolved relationally, not always knowing what would come next. You have created a place where people can belong before they believe, where they can hear and see my Word at work in your lives.
You are drawing on the riches of your Anabaptist heritage while at the same time “shining like stars” in a vibrant, urban centre. Your true heart’s desire is to live as a simple, uncluttered community of Jesus – followers that invite people to respond to the One True God, their Creator, Sustainer, and Saviour, the One who is calling them by name. And I love that you are nurturing the faith of the many young children I am bringing your way.
But I have this complaint against you: Living in the midst of an urban setting, you have allowed your lives to reflect the harried, hurried pace of the culture around you. Slow down, practice Sabbath, and enjoy this earthly life. Remember, enjoyment cannot be selfish. I give you leisure and wealth for the purposes of renewal and generosity, not to create a world that revolves around your personal pleasure.
Your knowledge, the opportunity you have to study and be well-educated – this is a gift meant to expand my kingdom, to bring shalom here on earth, not so you can practice well-sounding arguments or puffed-up theologies. For as much talking as you do about who I am, do as much listening to my Spirit. For as many papers as you write, do as much dialoguing with your next-door neighbour. And don’t forget, that all you have is mine; whether you have much or little, entrust it to me, and demonstrate your faith with your actions. Don’t short-change me.
But this is in your favour: you have started this journey together well and I will be with you for all the years to come. Though the road ahead can be unclear, remain in me and I will remain in you.
Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious, I will give true wisdom from above, richness our city does not recognize, strength for the long journey ahead, and a deep well of love and joy that never runs dry.
Dan Unrau, pastor at Fraserview MB Church, Richmond, B.C., wrote and presented the fourth missive.
These are the words of him who holds faith close to the truth of living Scripture. I know you personally. I have watched you inside and out. I know how you think. I know your heart. I know your deeds.
I love that you are so human.
I love that you are unpretentious.
I love your honesty and your compassion.
I love your heart for this community.
I love that, while you are the church, you are not churchy.
I love that the clock is less important than people, even when things have begun around you.
I love that, while you are quick to speak up, even on Sunday mornings, you are so non-judgmental of people, so accepting even of your pastors and your leaders, warts and all. You know that the church needs to be edgy, that ministry is messy.
I love that you are like a sponge, so openly curious about Jesus, about what it means to follow him in this world, that you know beyond a doubt that loving God means loving your neighbour.
I love that you know that following Jesus means full engagement with the world, that your mission is to make a difference for him here. You will not hide; you are not afraid to get dirty.
But I have this concern. Sometimes I fear you have, as someone has said, leaned over so far to accommodate the world that you have fallen in. You love the world, but do you love it like God does? Is it a love that you could sacrifice what is most precious to you in order that they might know? Or is it a love that just plain loves the world and its ways, a compromised love that allows you to blend in and not be noticed as different? Being curious about being a follower of Jesus is something: being a follower is everything.
Remember Moses? His face shone when he talked with God. Remember Nicodemus? He was told he must be born again. Radically changed. You must be too. And so must the people be with whom you come in contact.
You may be their only Jesus connection. Remember the woman at the well? She knew many men but meeting Jesus was different. His knowing her set her soul free and she ran to tell her world that she had met a man like she had never met before, and though they had probably heard her say that before, this time they believed her in spite of her reputation, and then, lifting their skirts, ran back with her to meet him.
And I have another concern. You love to be together, you happily greet one another, but are the visitors, and guests, and the sojourners made to feel as welcome as your friends? Once a week you come together by the hundreds, but when it is time to pray: only two, or three, or maybe 10 are praying. Have you moved beyond a surface friendship, even deeper than the skin, that allows you to want to pray together, laugh and cry together, to share hopes and hurts, build the vulnerability to weep for one another, and one another’s children, and the people of our city together, crying out for God to rescue and save, reform, renew, and transform? Are you willing to lay down your life a little for Jesus, mind, body, soul, money, possessions, friends, family, rest and relaxation?
Study the Word, seep it in, be filled to the brim with it, until its truth drips out of you everywhere. Pray unceasingly. Become a pray-er alone and with others whenever they gather to pray until the most of what you do is pray. Don’t give up meeting with one another; make Jesus’ Kingdom your home as he makes his home in you.
Grow in faith, and keep that faith. I will raise you up in victory. Put up. Endure. The world’s glory is a lie. I will come. Sooner than you know. It will seem to have been so short.
Brad Sumner, pastor at Jericho Ridge Community Church, Langley, B.C., wrote and presented the third missive.
The One who himself became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood has this on his heart to say to you.
I love your love for people – all people: people who differ from you in ethnicity, history, culture, language, politics, age, creed and almost every possible way. Your doors are open to the vast diversity of my family, and it is wonderfully expressed in your midst.
I love how this empathy stretches you into areas of justice and compassion on a global scale. This heart for every language, tribe, and tongue, and not just your own people or kingdom, brings me great pleasure.
I love your generosity of spirit, that you are willing to partner with many parts of my body to see it strengthened and built up. To watch you actively pursue peace and unity with brothers and sisters who differ theologically and methodologically fills my heart with joy.
But as you are engaged in mission, don’t lose sight of the goal. In your pursuit of many noble ambitions, I have two charges to bring against you:
First, I grow increasingly concerned that you are learning to love distinction instead of dying to self.
There is a danger that lurks ever-present beneath the surface of apparent external “success.” The danger is that you are growing to love being first and being known. I want to remind you that distinction comes with a downside – for you and for me. When you love novelty more than sacrifice, when you pursue prominence and notoriety more than the way of the cross, I can’t walk with you down that path. My hopes and dreams and plans for you are much grander and wider than you will ever know if you insist on loving distinction. But know that if you do, you will grow small trying to be great.
Secondly, I grow increasingly concerned that you are trusting technique instead of the movement and whispers of my Spirit.
I have been clear with you that to whom much has been given, much is required. And to you and your tribe, I have given much. You are well-resourced with leaders and facilities. You have fantastic institutions and education, top-drawer technology, sensational strategic plans and much more.
But sometimes it saddens me to see you rush to these things instead of resting in and listening carefully and patiently to me. You love Twitter and texting and trends and innovation. But I rarely show up on Facebook or in the middle of a public gathering that has been so pre-programmed and over-produced that I couldn’t speak to my people even if I wanted to. There’s nothing wrong with best practices or innovations or any of this…except when you begin to trust technique so completely that my gentle whisper can’t penetrate and even upend your carefully laid out plans.
So here’s what I am asking of you.
Before you ever utter the words “strategic initiative” again, I’d like a private, personal, and searching meeting with you.
Before the launch of another church plant or before another missionary is sent or dollar given, I need you to forsake a reliance on technique and your love of distinction and find my heart again.
Know that when you do, you will grow deep and wide as you learn to be still and to know that I am God. Because I will be exalted among the nations and I will be exalted in the earth. Let that spirit of anticipation and hope drive you forward.