I recently was invited to attend another church’s leadership council meeting to present the needs of MainStreet as we move into the next phase of launching this new church. These dear “mission friends” have embraced our little MainStreet team with a big bear hug, reaching into their pockets to support us, letting us use their printer/copier, giving me some office space, giving the proceeds of their fall Harvest Dinner Fundraiser toward our mission, inviting me to preach a couple times and invite individuals to prayerfully consider getting involved in our mission. They are even throwing Keri a baby shower this coming Saturday!
On this occasion we came together to discuss and further define the nature of our growing partnership, to discuss the level of support they’re feeling called to provide moving forward, and how to communicate this to the entire congregation.
Leadership in the church, or any volunteer organization, is largely about mobilizing enough people to meet all the needs around us. The needs seem to always outnumber the number of volunteers willing to take them on. There never seems enough to go around — enough money in the budget, enough volunteers, enough days in the week, enough energy in the tank, and so on. But in the “economy of God” we must have faith that God will constantly be working behind the scenes to miraculously provide what is lacking in order for us to accomplish the ministry tasks He has given us.
This kingdom principle is illustrated vividly in the story of the loaves and fishes. Here’s the situation:
1. The disciples recognize an enormous need facing them: thousands of people need to be fed. They are overwhelmed and don’t believe they can possible meet this need before them. Can you relate? As the leadership team and I sat in this room talking about all the needs we’re faced with in fulfilling each of our church’s calls, we could easily sympathize with the disciples. This church could easily have concluded that “there’s no way we can possibly support another church when we’re busy enough trying to keep up with our own ministry load.” So, faced with this overwhelming need of thousands of hungry people in their midst, what solution do the disciples recommend?
2. WORLDLY ECONOMY: Let them help themselves. “Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat,” the disciples tell Jesus. This sounds like good common sense. This mindset gels beautifully with the American way of capitalism. “No free handouts.” “God helps those who help themselves.” This is a proto-Darwinianism solution: Let those who can fend for themselves survive. As a church planter at the mercy of other people’s generosity, and overwhelmed with the enormity of the task before us and not knowing where we’re going to find enough people and resources to survive, I sat in that meeting hoping our partner church would not choose this option. “Sorry, Jeremy, we can see that your needs are overwhelming (like trying to feed a crowd of 5,000 people with only a few loaves and fishes), but we’re going to have to send you away to provide for yourself. Good luck!” This was NOT how our friends responded.
3. OVER-SPIRITUALIZED ECONOMY: Let God meet their needs without us. Another option for the disciples, which they could have prayed for, was for Jesus to simply feed them all with the snap of his divine fingers. Like manna from heaven, Jesus could have rained down enough food to feed everyone without even getting the disciples involved in the process. How often do we see the suffering, pain, injustice and poverty around us and simply pray for God to do something? Many of us even grow bitter toward God because he doesn’t seem to care about the suffering in this world. But could it be that when we pray, “Lord, why don’t you do something about world hunger or the sex trafficking problem?” God is looking back at us and saying, “I did do something; I created the church and have called them to go be my hands and feet to these people in need. Why don’t you roll up your sleeves and do something about it?” Churches are not immune to this over-spiritualization, this fairy tale wishing upon a star for God to magically provide for all our needs apart from any human sacrifice and involvement. But God blesses churches and works mightily through people who are willing to participate in God’s economy, which involves following the way of self-sacrifice and radical faith. This leads to what Jesus does do in this story.
4. GOD’S ECONOMY: Place what little you do have in Jesus’ hands and watch it multiple. So, our two churches sat their talking about all the exciting things God wants to do through us. We recognized the enormity of the needs before us in order to accomplish the task, and didn’t downplay the sacrifice it will entail. But they didn’t send me away to another village to find help or help myself (worldly economy). Nor did we just hold hands and pray for God to magically provide for our needs without asking us to sacrifice (over-spiritualized economy). Rather, we reflected on the rest of the story of how Jesus chose to feed the massive crowd. Here’s what we concluded:
(a) Jesus asks us to be part of the process: “But [Jesus] answered, “You give them something to eat.”
(b) Jesus takes our focus off of what we don’t have, and asks us to focus on what we do have to offer: “They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
(c) Even miracles involve organization, leadership and a ministry plans: “Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties….Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.”
(d) God provides when we place what we have into his hands. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, [Jesus] gave thanks and broke the loaves.”
(e) God provides in abundance, with some left over. “They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.”
And so we had a rich time of discussion and fellowship, trying to move and act within God’s strange economy. I’m overwhelmed with joy form being surrounded by such faithful leaders all seeking to trust in God’s economy, and believe the apostle Paul who promised that “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). I can’t wait to see how exactly God multiplies our loaves and fishes, but believe he will according to his will, for the advance of his Kingdom, and for the glory of his Name.