Planning and programmes need presence first
Looking towards the future with a strategy can be exciting, but before rushing ahead we need to seek the presence of God first, urges Duncan Clark.
In the Old Testament book of Zechariah, chapter eight, there is a passage of Scripture which was declared by the prophet in around 518 BC. He is speaking when the people have returned from exile in Babylon, but haven't yet completed the rebuilding of the temple.
So, as Zechariah releases these words to both rebuke and encourage them, he is encouraging the people to roll up their sleeves and keep building.
One of the ways he does that is by encouraging them to imagine what their future might look like, to visualise what their lives and what the city might look like if they returned to the Lord.
There is a glorious future ahead of them... they would just have to do a number of things to step into it.
These are some of the words Zechariah speaks, "The word of the Lord Almighty came to me. This is what the Lord Almighty says, 'The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.'
This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, "Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going." And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.' This is what the Lord Almighty says: "In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, 'Let us go with you because we have heard that God is with you.'"
At one of our National Leadership Team meetings, Chris Cartwright pulled out a flip chart and wrote four words on it.
Position - asking where are we before God?
Partnership - asking who will we be working with?
Perspective - asking how will we look at the Movement with fresh eyes?
Purpose - asking what are aiming for?
As Chris outlined his thoughts on these words he returned to the first 'P' and he pointed to it and I jotted down what he said, "It is important we don't rush towards purpose until we identify our position s before God."
We must first prioritise the pursuit of God's presence. The reason I scribbled those words down is that they reflect something God has been doing in me and the church in Coventry over the past years.
As a leader, I am someone who loves to plan, organise, strategise and set goals, but in recent years I have discovered there is some emptiness in that approach to leadership and ministry.
I started to realise there were some things in our scheduling that should have been our servants, but have become our masters. I started to realise that purpose and programmes mean very little without presence. A couple of years ago my position changed, as did that of the church and we decided we would be presence-led rather than programme-driven.
We have been learning as a church how to come together with no other agenda than to simply worship God. We've been learning how to pursue his presence and create spaces where an encounter with him is the only goal.
For some of you, this may not be a radical thing, but for us, it was quite a radical change. I love the image Zechariah paints for us right at the end of the text, he speaks to a people who he is encouraging to roll up their sleeves and get really busy with a building programme, but he doesn't imagine these people will be known for their building programme.
He imagines they will be known for the presence of God; they will be people of presence, to such an extent that people who don't even know God will grab hold of their coats and say, "Let us go with you because we know God is with you."
Zechariah imagines a people so full of God, so close to him, that people will grab hold of them - they don't even have to explain anything, people just know God is with them.
Zechariah imagines a people whose primary position is that of people of presence. It would be fair to say that change of posture hasn't always come easy for me. I have been trained to work for God, rather than walk with him.
There have been times when we have been in his presence as a community and I have felt incredibly lazy. I have turned up to meetings with no plan at all, but have just organised somebody to lead us in worship. That is a difficult thing if you are a control freak.
I have struggled with this sometimes, this change of focus hasn't always felt missional enough - we have been praying and worshipping as a church more than we ever have, but sometimes I have questioned whether that was to the detriment of our mission.
Then something happened that gave me greater clarity on this. Some people have never been on a course or studied a programme, but have encountered the presence of God - hear my heart, I'm not saying we shouldn't nave programme, but I have come to learn there is no substitute for presence.
What I love about our Pentecostal heritage is that we have this belief that if we make the space God will come and meet us in power and the lost will be saved and lives transformed. What I love about the Zechariah text is that he sees a people so full of the power and presence of God they become like a magnet for people who want God, but don't yet know him.
Then, have you noticed in the text, the different kinds of people that are hanging onto the robes of that one Jew? It says there are people from all language and nations. So Zechariah is imagining a people of diversity.
In a foreshadowing of the day of Pentecost Zechariah paints this picture of people from multiple nations, speaking multiple languages coming to Jerusalem for the sole purpose of seeking the presence of the Lord. Zechariah imagines a God-hungry diverse group of people.
It is the job of every leader to identify the season their church is in - right now we are more diverse than we have ever been as a Movement.
Diversity is supernatural, it is a reflection of the Father's heart - that all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved and that his Church would be a house of prayer for all nations. I believe it is a reflection of heaven on earth as we gather with people of all tribes and tongues and all join together to sing songs to our Saviour.
What we are experiencing as a Movement is not something natural, but a supernatural expression of Jesus' desire - that everyone, people of all nations, would encounter the love of the Father and come home to him.
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