I have been in Christian ministry for 19 years now and I have seen the battle between preserving what was already built and growing something that needs to be built. This is more than just a choice of traditional or contemporary. God knows, churches have split over the color of the carpet, but I mean a personal choice to grow something daily. I woke up this morning recalling some weird dreams with my wife and a great call to simplify.
So I headed over to my office and began my normal devotional routine and my Bible Reading plan was so complex that I decided to simplify it and reset with a 30 Days with Jesus Plan. This felt good, so the word kept me moving in that direction, and I was reading Psalm 22 and then I came upon verses 29 to 31. It hit me like a ton of bricks, Jesus cannot lose! Of course not, but somehow that truth became so real for me. Here is what the verses say:
All who prosper on earth will eat and bow down;
all those who go down to the dust
will kneel before Him—
even the one who cannot preserve his life.
30 Their descendants will serve Him;
the next generation will be told about the Lord.
31 They will come and tell a people yet to be born
about His righteousness—
what He has done.
To make it simple, this Psalm refers to Jesus (prophetic) and these verses state that everyone will kneel before Him. The power part of the passage was “Their descendants will serve Him”. How much time have I and pastors around the world, worked hard to preserve the church as if it needed our preservation. The Scriptures are clear about the next generation and it is valuable to revere and preserve teachings and writings, but often the fight for preservation negates our ability to cultivate.
If we focus on preservation, we are bothered by change, we want things to be the way “they should be.” For the Christian, preservation is about keeping traditions and focusing on the church walls inward. There is no room for the Great Commission because that requires us to go outside the walls of our own comfort that we worked so hard to preserve. The life of preservation focuses on self and how change affects self. Events, messages, and philosophy of ministry is centered on the church itself. You can tell when preservation mode hits, there is a lack of vision/mission, the members take on a mantra of being persecuted, they look at growing ministries and think some compromise has to be happening. Preservation is the last step before extinction and we must be careful to not find ourselves there personally and organizationally. If a person or organization lacks vision, purpose and a mission, the fail-safe becomes whatever is comfortable to self.
I became a youth pastor rather quickly after giving my life to Jesus, so I was always a risk taker early on. I grew up in the church as a kid, but I never took notes or thought I would need them. The first year that I was in youth ministry, I was just glad to have survived a lesson or message I gave. Before I ever went to Bible school, I shared a message on a Sunday Morning while our senior pastor was out of town. I prepped in my own way and lacked the knowledge for the subject I was teaching on at 22 years old. I then talked about Paul, the 13th Apostle, and NO ONE corrected me then or afterward. I got encouragement from my wife’s grandmother, telling me that was a really good “first message” and better than many others she had heard. Later I felt like an idiot, but the moment I needed cultivation, I received it. The current me would probably run up to the younger me and let him know he goofed privately, I needed that too.
Cultivation is about giving life away, a ministry or life that cultivates is concerned with others first. (Philippians 2:2-4) It seeks out people who need hope, and because of that desire to love and cultivate, changes happen organically so the mission and vision go unscathed. Loving people requires letting go of our natural tendency to preserve.
I got this overwhelming comfort that I nor anyone else will preserve the church because Jesus does that. We can read that clearly in Isaiah 53:12
Therefore I will give Him[i] the many as a portion,
and He will receive[j] the mighty as spoil,
because He submitted Himself to death,
and was counted among the rebels;
yet He bore the sin of many
and interceded for the rebels.
Jesus is “Him” in that passage and “the many” is the church, the people of God. My job is the Great Commission and I must choose to be a cultivator, not a preserver. Jesus did all the preserving needed.