“The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds our ancestors recounted to us … ”
Like many denominations, the churches in our fellowship are experiencing decline in all the areas that used to matter. Smaller budgets, fewer regular attendees, older members, smaller staffs (if they even have a single full-time staff member), and the albatrosses of buildings they cannot afford.
I see many congregations acting like Gideon in Judges 6. They are paralyzed with desperation and unable to move forward, despite God’s hopeful call for them to join him in mission. The band, Colony House, has a song titled “Waiting for My Time to Come.” The second verse puts into words the agony many feel:
I’ve tried, I’ve failed. I thought I gave it my all, now it’s hard to tell. Is this the end of a dream I’ve lost or just an introduction to how much this may cost?
I like the way the final question puts trials into perspective. What if ministry actually costs us something? This is not something we like to hear. It cost Gideon 31,700 troops before he faced a vast army with only 300.
When we first meet him in Judges 6, Gideon is hiding in a wine press (essentially a hole in the ground), savoring what little grain he has, when an angel of the Lord arrives and calls him a mighty warrior. God can see the potential in us even we cannot see it in ourselves. Gideon responds like many of us would, “Who? Me? Surely, not. In case you haven’t noticed I’m nobody special.”
This is the attitude many in our congregations feel. They are at the end of their abilities. They have sacrificed their entire lives for the sake of their congregations and now … well, now it seems there is only a small, sad remnant of what should be. They have tried everything they know to do; they have called in experts, read books, and downloaded the latest program but to no avail.
The greatest moment for Gideon comes in Judges 7 when he assembles a great army to fight the Midianites. But God has Gideon reduce his army from 32,000 to a mere 300 before going into battle. That night God caused great confusion amongst the Midianites, and the small band of commandos won the day. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes it takes a reduction in our own abilities for us to begin to really trust God. Sometimes a small group is capable of more effective ministry than a large one. It takes courage for a small church or small association of churches to work together in order to accomplish great ministry.
Gideon’s commandos used torches, horns, and clay pots to defeat their enemies. That’s like going into battle with a flashlight, paper bag, and kazoos! The church that answers the call of God will have to act just as irrationally in our modern world.
I am encouraged when I see congregations take the courageous leap forward out of the winepress. Despite their small number, they invite God to use them in the most surprising ways. These congregations share space in their buildings, exchange volunteer services for goods, partner with non-religious non-profits, use volunteer leaders instead of paid staff, sell buildings or repurpose them, and many other examples. From the uncomfortable safety of a winepress onto the vulnerable hillside with a torch, this is the risky business God calls us to join him in.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What areas do we need to reduce in order to be more flexible and ready to move with the Spirit of God? What individualistic dream needs to die in your life so you can follow the leadings of Christ? What will following Christ deeply cost you and your congregation?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, we fear the unknown. Give us the courage necessary to journey with you into the hard and difficult places of ministry. Help us understand that ministry might cost us more than we ever imagined but that the victory is always yours. Thank you for our many struggling congregations. Guide them, give them wisdom, and the courage to be the mighty warriors you know them to be. Amen.