This past Sunday marked one year since we launched Radiant Church. This time last year my head was full of raw emotions, thoughts, questions, doubts, excitement, and anticipation. Looking back over the past year I can see without a shadow of a doubt the faithfulness and power of God. More than I could have ever believed I have seen God move in the hearts of people through Radiant Church.
Just to be clear, I believe God has moved not because Radiant Church is good, but because He is good!
But now that a year has passed, I find myself now in a position to answer a question that I received as we were gearing up for launch. For all the excitement that occurred as we were in the last phases of gearing up for launch, I had a couple of people ask the question:
“Why another church in Middle Georgia?”
No one asked that question with any ill will or hostility mind you. I believe they just simply asked why would someone want to start another church in the most over churched city in America. It’s not a secret that Macon, and Middle Georgia for that matter, is flooded with multiple churches at every corner.
And outside of the standard answer of “I felt God told me to.” (which is true), I honestly have to admit that the question posed to me during my launch season is a valued one.
– Why does Middle Georgia need another church?
– Why does Macon need a Radiant?
After a year of wrestling with this question, I finally feel like I have come to the answer. That’s right, it’s taken me a full year of doing church to be able to answer this question thoughtfully and with integrity. I couldn’t have answered the question a year ago outside of some standard quips and motivational jargon. But now I can.
But it starts with understanding the biggest temptation I have felt in my one year of pastoring Radiant.
When pastors talk of temptation, most people might think they are going to talk about sexual immorality, or deception, or even a lust for power. While those things may be true for some, I found a very different temptation present my first year as a full time pastor. A temptation that I didn’t see coming.
It was the temptation to make my church all about the things that matter to the human eye instead of the things that matter to God.
See, while God loves people so very much, people tend to want to take the things that matter strictly to man and spin them in such a way that they take priority over the true things of God. Churches in North America have done a horrible job, in my opinion, of doing just this very thing.
We take small things and build them up over the priorities of God. We turn church into something that looks good, but is so very far from God, His heart, and His priorities.
We have fancy signs and technology but don’t have true compassion and outreach for the poor.
Our talks / sermons / messages are polished but we preach them to people who look exactly like we do.
We have slick marketing campaigns, fancy mission statements, million dollar buildings, and programmed music. But do we have a heart for the city, a love for people different than us, a presence in helping to solve the practical problems in our communities, and a passion to see justice and freedom available to all people?
And there lies my temptation……..
Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT a church basher. I’m not one who believes that just because a church has lights, timers, slogans, and good looking websites that they automatically have the wrong motives and can’t be used by God for good. In all truthfulness, I have seen God move in some incredible churches both locally and nationally that have all of those elements I just mentioned above. In fact, my church has a lot of those things in it. So I’m not against it at all! When used with the right motives, those incredible tools can be used to reach people for Jesus Christ.
I’m just here to admit that in those fancy things there is a temptation for me. A hidden temptation that I have to fight.
The temptation lies not in those things, but in me looking at those things and placing them above what truly matters to God.
Because I am learning very quickly that the right tools done with the wrong motive makes the right tools the wrong tools. And if I don’t watch my heart, I can very easily fall into the trap of looking at the lights, slogans, fancy messages, and slick marketing and somehow think God is impressed.
What God is impressed with is not “things”, but the heart to use those “things” to serve and reach people.
To put it in His words:
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
See, I’m learning more and more that if I use the websites, fancy mission statements, resources, lights, messages, etc as a tool to bring about justice for those who need it, embrace love for those crying out for it, and in doing so keep myself humble them I’m good.
But the moment that I look at those elements with a source of pride, thinking that they and they alone can make a difference in people’s lives because they will be impressed with my man made labor as opposed to being impressed with the goodness of God I have then left walking humbly with my God. I then have ventured into the dangerous territory of pride. Pride that is allowed to exist in a person never ends well.
So despite the temptation, I have to be vigilant about reviewing my vision and checking my heart. I find myself, as a pastor, looking at the tools for what they are: just tools. I find myself constantly checking my motives to ensure that my church is not about the tools, but about justice, and mercy, and walking humbly with God.
So why does Macon / Middle Georgia need another church? Well, it depends on the motives of the church and the pastor leading it.
If the pastor has the motive to impress people with his / her “stuff”, then what he will find is an uninterested community that will not show up to his inward focused Sunday performances.
But I have to believe that if the motive of a church, it’s pastor, and the people is truly to embrace justice in the community, be so absolutely crazy about mercy and showing it to people who least deserve it, and no matter what comes to stay humble with God then that kind of church can belong in a city a million times over. That kind of church will leave the city, and the people, better off than when they found it. That kind of church can have multiple ones just like it and the people will embrace it at best and at least respect it at worst.
That kind of church is exactly what Jesus Christ intended.
So where am I? One year into it, my church planting experience has come into focus even more so than when I started. I’m not discounting the “stuff “ that Radiant is so blessed to have, I’m just in a season of checking my motives and lining up everything we have and everything we are with what God values.
Because I believe that the church that truly makes a difference is one that is constantly lined up with what God values.
So here is to helping to bring about justice and fairness in our community.
Here is to loving mercy and providing it to those who least deserve it.
And here is choosing to walk humbly with God, knowing that He is the source of all life.
To one more church……….