It's time to take the first step: Ask

The writer is pastor of the Active Bible Church of God, Chicago, and coordinator of the Student Christian University Bible Association at the University of Chicago. He is a 1971 graduate of Ambassador College, Bricket Wood, England.

By Mike Linacre

CHICAGO, Ill.--"We are God's fellow workers . . . You are God's building" (1 Corinthians 3:9). How much labor is each of us doing to build up his own congregation? Are we laborers together with God? Do we rely on others to do the construction work? Is there any building going on at all? Is the building crumbling, disintegrating, falling down, fast becoming a pile of rubble?

Our commission is to evangelize the world. Our starting point is the local congregation. An impossible task? No. A journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step.

Yet, as the Marquise du Deffand remarked: "The distance doesn't matter; it is only the first step that is difficult."

The right people

One reason is that every step is the first step from wherever we are. For many of us, the first step is to change our perception of reality.

We have been brought up to believe that the "work" must be done by others more spiritual, more experienced, better educated, better dressed, more eloquent than ourselves. Our own puny efforts will go nowhere and may even be counterproductive.

Wrong! The most profound remark I ever heard spoken by a COG minister was uttered by Loren Chamberlain at a Church of God International ministerial conference several years ago: "We don't trust God to call the right people."

Is your congregation weak? Is it ignored, or even rejected, by your local community or those you perceive as important?

Take heart. God doesn't call the mighty to confound the mighty. He calls the weak. His strength is made perfect in weakness. It is the stone that the builders reject that becomes the head of the corner.

How does this work in practice? We all have talents and abilities, but we tend to hide our lights under bushel baskets. We think that self-effacing humility is the Christian thing to have.

And it is, up to a point. No one wants a congregation full of pushy braggarts. But we are called to serve, so we must allow others to recognize in what ways we can serve.

You shall receive

At a small Feast of Tabernacles site in England, we had a music problem. Everyone was there for a hymn-along, except our one and only pianist, hugely talented and highly reliable. Everyone took him for granted, and no one had checked to make sure he would be there. What were we to do?

It was then we discovered a secret technique that's been used successfully ever since. Here it is: Ask! Ask around in your congregation, not just a polite question in casual conversation (though that's the way it often sounds), but the probing question of a search for knowledge.

Sure enough, God had called the right people. From among the group wanting to sing, Sheila Sabapathy (now in Toronto) admitted that she played the piano, though somewhat rustily. In fact, she used to be pianist at a Baptist church.

We pressed her into service accompanying old standards from the hymn book, and her fingers were soon flying across the keys.

A cappella from memory

A while back Mark Marino, a member of our congregation, brought his fiancee, Sandra, along to Sabbath services. It was all new to her. She was a little nervous. She wasn't familiar with the hymns we sang. We asked after services, in the course of conversation, if she knew any hymns.

Mark didn't know. Yes, Sandra conceded, she could sing "Because He Lives." We said we would join her in singing it and hurriedly tried to assemble song sheets, a singing group and an accompanist.

Sandra said that wouldn't be necessary. She could sing it a cappella from memory.

So the crowd quieted, her hymn was announced, and she began. In a superb, strong alto voice the words "God sent His Son; they call Him Jesus" resounded throughout the room.

We were amazed and inspired. When the hymn concluded, the applause was spontaneous and enthusiastic. Sandra's hymn contributed to making that Sabbath a delight. And all we did was ask.

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