Isaiah 54:2 “Expand, Stretch, and Strengthen”
Last week was one of those “Holy Smokes! Now What?” moments.
It was the moment when a cold bucket of reality hit our leadership as we realized that in January of 2018, we would no longer be worshipping together on 4104 Legato Road. Making the decision to relocate our congregation has not been an easy one. It took three years of praying, thinking and planning. It also took bold decisions and tremendous sacrifice to lay down the plans to build on the current property which had been talked about for over ten years.
But that decision was a piece of cake compared to the next three years of steps we will have to take. Now we have to answer a series of complicated questions in order to move forward. You can’t just announce one Sunday, “Hey, next week we’ll be meeting in a rented hall across town.”
However, there is one question we don’t have to answer, and that is the “why” question. The answer is simple: Because people in Fairfax need to hear the message of Jesus, give their lives to him and join The Body of Christ. This means that we will need to be more proactive to engage people where they live, and our current facilities are outdated and inadequate to house the ministries and people we want to reach. When we answer the “why” question, every question after that is simply a matter of strategy.
So my prayer today is similar to my prayers last July but with more intensity: “Lord, what is the word you have for us? Give us a word to base our future on, something solid and undeniable. Something, that, when the going gets tough and our bones get weary, we can come back to and say, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’”
Early one morning near the end of our fasting, God answered my prayer through His word found in Isaiah 54 which contain two elements: an amazing promise and a difficult challenge. The promise requires faith in God in order to trust Him for our future. The challenge requires making decisions about what we are to do in order to prepare for the promise.
Without going too deep into the background, it is important to note that this passage is about the restoration of Israel after living as captives in Babylon. God speaks to the nation about restoration and expansion. God, in his love gave them a promise to remind them that their discipline would not last forever and the chapter is one filled with national promise and one that God also gives us today.
Describing the nation as a barren woman without hope who now has reason to celebrate sets up the passage. Isaiah 54:1 says, “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD.”
A barren woman was often despised and many times divorced. This is how Israel felt at the moment – barren and without hope. The Babylonian exile and captivity meant more than oppression for Israel; it meant shame, disgrace, and humiliation. But in the middle of it all, God says to “Burst into song, shout for joy”. In other words, “Rejoice, your present state is about to change.”
The passage then moves from promise to preparation: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.”
The "tent" is a symbol and representative of their dwelling-place. God was saying that Israel was about to expand and they needed a larger place to house the people He was about to send them. This is about capacity for hospitality.
In ancient Israel, hospitality was not merely a question of good manners, but a moral institution. The biblical customs of welcoming the weary traveler and of receiving the stranger in one's midst was the matrix out of which hospitality developed into a highly esteemed virtue in Jewish tradition. Biblical law specifically sanctified hospitality toward the stranger who was to be made particularly welcomed. Foreign travelers, although not protected by law, could count on the custom of hospitality. [www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0009_0_09260.html]
In prophetic language, God was telling them to stretch out in order to receive even the Gentiles.
Simple application: If Centerpointe is going to be a place where we will welcome the weary traveler, we need to get ready to be hospitable to more people. God is telling us to stretch out in order to receive those who have not yet received the Good News of Jesus Christ.
If we are going to widen the tent, we will also need to lengthen our cords and strengthen our stakes. In other words we are to:
Expand in order to receive more people into the Kingdom.
Lengthen our ability by making stronger disciples.
Strengthen the systems; making sure everything is attached to the foundation of God’s word.
Each piece is important and there must be a balance in priority, but the problem with older churches is that the older they get, the more likely they forget why they exist in the first place and the needs of lost people become less of a priority.
The need for prioritizing reaching the lost is illustrated in the book, The Insanity of Obedience by Nik Ripken who creates three models concerning a philosophy of missions with different focuses. I am borrowing from the models and adapting them in order to show how churches tend to focus on a particular area and miss the mark when it comes to lost people.
Model One: The Individual
In the individual model, the focus is primarily inward. The highest values are security, lifestyle, convenience, “our” children, education, comfort, absence of conflict and happiness. As these things take center stage, the decisions we make revolve around making people happy which means that success is measured by feelings.
Model Two: The Institutional
In the institution model, the focus is still primarily inward, but the highest values revolve around structure, identity, image, policies, committees, administration, Roberts Rules of Order, budgets, reputation, etc. People who are caught up in this model try to advance in the institution in order to gain power. Decisions are made based on keeping the institution alive. Decisions are safe so as to not lose anyone because that impacts the bottom line. Success, then, is measured by numbers: attendance, buildings and cash.
Model Three: The Needs of the Lost
In this final model the focus is turned outward. The highest values become: the lost need to hear, believe, be baptized and gathered into The Body of Christ. Decisions that are made revolve around adding people to the Kingdom of God and success is measured by The Great Commandment: “Go into all the world and make disciples.” When the lost is your highest value, words like, “network”, “prayer”, “fasting”, “advocacy”, “strategy”, “sacrifice”, “persecution” become common words.
Ripken goes on to suggest that in order to examine what model we use, we need to ask three questions:
- Based on your budget, calendar, energy, and human resources, what matters most?
- How many spiritual conversations are we having?
- How are we measuring success?
In an attempt to answer the first question, I looked at Centerpointe’s 2014 year in review video we created. I also know our budget pretty well and where we have spent most of our energy over the last four years. My discovery was eye opening and heart breaking. Since I have been the pastor for four year now, I can no longer blame the past, nor can I blame the people. I have to own this.
Looking at the calendar, I realized that out of the many things we did in 2014, there were only seven things that we did to reach our community on a regular basis compared to over 40 things we did to take care of our people and the institution, and the seven things we do to reach our community only involved a small portion of our people. Furthermore, there was only one message that was created where we focused on bringing unbelievers to the church.
Some major changes need to be made in the next three years if we are going to be all that God has called us to be.
With all of this said, our first priority in the next three years needs to be:
“Developing a culture that prioritizes building disciples that reach lost people.”
Here is what this means in practice.
It means first that the church calendar will have intentional times of outreach to our community, and as we move forward we will strengthen our partnerships with ministries already making a difference in the Fairfax area.
Secondly, we will train our people to live with an ever-present awareness of lost people and help them share their faith with others. In every thing we do, there will be encouragement to include those who do not yet know Christ, whether it is a church-wide event or a small group meeting.
Thirdly, we are adding to our staff in order to not only make our church more child friendly and safe, but increase our outreach potential to families. Last week Brandon and Hannah Horst accepted the position of Kid’s Pastor and will be joining us later this month. We are excited to have them on the team.
Finally, among our activities, we will intensify our seasons of prayer for the lost and believe God for the miraculous.
I believe God is doing an amazing work among the people of Centerpointe Church. He is calling us to take new steps of faith that will make a difference in the Kingdom of God, and I am so honored that I get to be part of the story.
Love and Prayers,