@robertkwendt || lead pastor
This past weekend, we had the opportunity to welcome one of our ministry partners to Fellowship. In the days leading up to him sharing with the church Sunday morning, him and I were able to connect, discuss ministry, and share what God has up to in our different spheres.
Nick and his family moved to France over ten years ago. In that time, they've lived in a communist township, had their kids get in trouble at school for wearing Christian symbols, and have seemed to be up against all odds. In a country that was once a hotbed for Christianity, there's seemed to be a void, an opposition—not much hope.
Yet, Nick and his family knew that God is bigger than any political system, ideology, or challenges that would lie ahead. They remained faithful.
After all this time, the two of us were able to connect and really talk through what ministry is like now in France. Here are some things that became clear to me. These are some principles that I truly believe can give us hope as Americans in a quickly changing political climate—a society that is heading much more in the direction of France than where we were 50 years ago as a nation.
1. god is always up to something.
Nick sat in a denominational meeting. It was during that meeting that he was brought to tears. These were happy tears.
The Christian faith had once been just for the old saints who had persevered through all of the societal changes. As the culture continued to progress further from one centered on Jesus, the churches seemed to be aging and closing. In America, we're living out that trend right now. Here's an excerpt from a LifeWay article published in March 2017:
Today, half of American pastors are older than 55. In 1992, less than a quarter of pastors in the U.S. (24 percent) were that old.
It is hard to argue against the fact that the face of the Christian church in America is changing. For those who have been in the church for numerous decades, this can be extremely scary. For those who are young in the faith, this can make one feel very uneasy.
Yet, it's important to remember that God is alive. He's bigger than our fears. He is doing something.
France experienced a very similar situation; yet, the church persevered. Missionaries like Nick have continued to work diligently. They never gave up. While it was hard to see any progress, God was doing something.
That brings us back to what led Nick to tears. As he sat in a room full of pastors, he found himself (one in his early 40s) as one of the oldest in the room! It was a room full of native pastors in their 20s and 30s. In fact, the stats they looked at even showed that the evangelical churches in France are growing! The hard work is beginning to pay off. People are beginning to give their lives to Jesus more and more!
As Americans, it can be very easy to embrace the doom and gloom of change. However, as I heard from Nick firsthand, it's much better for us to focus on what God is doing. He is always up to something!
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6 ESV
2. the pendulum always shifts.
Solomon, known as one of the wisest men to have ever lived, wrote these words:
"What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun."
(Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV)
We naturally want to believe that we are making new waves. We often think that what is happening in our society and neighborhoods around us is groundbreaking and new. However, the reality is that the pendulum is simply shifting back to the other side.
Our political culture in America is seemingly changing on a daily basis. This can be scary for some and exciting for others. Yet, what's key is not our political structure, but the church's influence in the lives of individuals.
Jesus and his disciples did not have any political clout. They didn't have political influence. Yet, the church grew rapidly. The good news that Jesus shared spread like wildfire. This was because Jesus followers had to be moved to action.
When we rely on others to meet the needs of the people around us, we're sure to be disappointed...no matter what the political ideology is.
In France, the government is not meeting all the needs of people. In fact, there are currently 'yellow vest' vs. 'red scarf' protests as we speak.
When the early church took off, the Roman government was not perfect for the people either. That is why all political change is not something revolutionary, but rather it's just a pendulum shift. It is our Christian duty to share the never-changing love of Jesus in a society that will always be shifting from one side to the other.
3. it's time for the church to be the church.
In Rome, it was culturally acceptable treat people very poorly. In fact, deformed or unwanted babies would be left on trash heaps. The poor were left to fend of themselves. There was quite a disparity between the rich and the poor—the "deformed" and the "normal." Yet, the early church did not rely on a government to make changes.
They simply saw an opportunity to show love...and they did. Here's what Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of Rome, wrote:
“These impious Galileans [Christians] not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape [love], they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes . . . Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. Such practice is common among them, and causes contempt for our gods.”
-Epistle to Pagan High Priests**
Nick explained how they don't need to wear Christian symbols, bring a Bible to school, or even force political change. Rather, they've seen that their calling is simply to love those who need to be loved. This love extends to everyone! As they've loved the people around them, they've watched more and more people want to know more about who this Jesus is.
For us, we are called to do the same. There is hope. It's time for the church to rise up and answer our call!
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:33-34 (ESV)