About two years I was going through a tough patch of discouragement. Little was happening, and our discipleship/church planting ministry was stuck in neutral going nowhere.
During this period of little fruitfulness, I was asked by a small church to come share our materials on a Sunday night. I accepted, but had little enthusiasm. My excitement decreased further upon arrival to see only a handful of bored people sitting in a tiny hot room that served as their auditorium. My alloted part in the service turned out to be, not a two-hour training of the church, but only the "sermon time." There was no intention of putting into practice the COSECHA (Harvest) materials I had brought to share. I was only "pulpit filler" for that week.
Afterwards as I was driving home and feeling pretty low, I stopped at a red light only to see a huge gymnasium on the corner that was obviously being used as a church. What was amazing is that this mega-structure had been built in less than 30 days time, and now was filled to the brim with people. Praise choruses roared from the loud speakers clear out to the highway.
By then I had just about had it. It was like the fulfillment of the "if you build it they will come" from the movie Field of Dreams. How was it possible that in less than 30 days this church had been able to build this huge structure holding thousands of people, and fill it to the brim with excited worshipers? They were obviously doing something right, and we were somewhere far off in left field with all the stuff we were trying to teach.
As I stared at that red light, Satan stormed in and began taunting, "you are a total failure...wasting people's time...nobody is interested in simple church or anything you are trying to teach...you'd be better off pulling in and sitting on the back row and learn a thing or two from people who are getting the job done...the mega-churches are the only ones reaching people...throw in the towel and go home!"
The light turned green and I drove on home feeling sorry for myself and totally defeated.
Fast forward 18 months to May 10, 2008...
The mega-gym-church on the corner invited us to come train them with our COSECHA materials. Yes, the same church that Satan had taunted me with and had felt so inferior to only 18 months prior! It is the little things like this that God does that strengthen our faith and renew our passion for Him and his Kingdom. Here was the "successful mega-church" calling on little old us to help them. I felt the affirmation and smile of the Lord. I guess He isn't finished with us yet!
I arrived a few minutes early to talk with the pastor and learn a bit about the church before doing the two week training. Boy was I surprised!
The church that I had seen filled to the brim eighteen months prior was not the congregation that normally meets there. The gymnasium had been built 18 months prior by the largest evangelical church in the country with some 10,000 members. This "mother church" was needing an extra large auditorium for conferences since there was no space downtown for such an edifice. The "gym-church" was the downtown mega-church's conference center!
The actual church that continues to meet in the gymnasium during the week is a church of less than 200. Most of those 200 are members of the downtown mega-church who find this satellite congregation more convenient to attend. The night I had seen the gym full, I had assumed they were all new converts of a new church plant. The reality was they were having a special conference that night and all the church members had been bused in from across the river for the special event.
The actual pastor is a lay pastor. He and the church are eager for help in training them how to reach their community, and how to go about planting new churches in homes. They realize they have not been making disciples and want very much to turn the church around in this direction. They were thrilled and honored to have me. I was treated like royalty last night. I couldn't help but smile at God's goodness, and my whole misunderstanding of the real situation.
What I learned is that Satan is a liar. He is always distorting the truth to try to discourage, distort, distract, diminish or divide God's servants. That night 18-months ago, he hit a home run with me, but it turned out to be all lies.
We should learn to trust God and not judge things by their outward appearances. We are nothing more than servants. "A test of how much a servant you are is how you act when you're treated like one." (Mark Chase) And, "We have no right to judge where we should be put or to have preconceived notions as to what God is fitting us for. God engineers everything." (Oswald Chambers). God, in his goodness, allowed me to be invited personally to see the real situation and to affirm me as a servant. What a humbling experience, but one I truly rejoice in.
As I returned home from the training there was another song playing on my car CD player, Chris Tomlin's, "How Great is Our God"--indeed He is!