Last week, around the Eucharist, our community was praying the following prayer. An individual would say: Jesus – with regard to my ________, I submit to your obedience. And then the whole community would respond with Jesus’ words in the Garden “Not my will, but thine be done o Lord.” I said something about my desire to excel in academics. I could have said other things as well. In the process we were all putting to death our own desires and pet dreams to follow in the obedience of Christ so as to be raised into new life. I have found this spiritual discipline to be absolutely essential for staying grounded in the work of church planting and my ministry of teaching. I think it’s a discipline essential for all church planters who wish to flourish in post Christendom.
As Lent moves to the finality of Jesus’ obedience in Gethsemene, I have to constantly remind myself of this call to submit the day’s work to God and His Mission. From the smallest things that are so important (like a visit to someone’s bedside, or an administrative task, or the making arrangements for a breakfast) to the big things I have committed to that seem to get squeezed out from getting done. If I let my large grandiose goals take over my life, and see everything else as frustrating them, I become worthless and depressed. These too are the lessons I learned in church-planting: daily little seeds are planted – they are nurtured in the smallest of ways. And over time they are what God uses over time to grow something marvelous. But most often I’m afraid this takes many many years of consistent gardening. It’s wonderful work if you like gardening but you have to continually die to self aggrandizing visions of grandeur. For me, I have had to regularly return to the Lenten turn to obedience that happens on Palm Sunday.
I recently saw the following prayer (HT Ben Sternke) originally attributed to Oscar Romero. I first learned of Romero through the work of William Cavanaugh. Romero was the Catholic priest who protested the torture regimes of El Salvador and was shot while performing the Mass. Ironically I don’t think he actually wrote this “observation,” but instead was written in his honor. It is an appropriate reminder for all church planters, pastors and leaders .. and all Christians as we enter these days of Holy Week. It is kind of like a prayer I think well suited for me in the final week of Lent, for Holy Week. For it reminds me of my proper place in the Kingdom, and that I must serve out of a certain posture of humility tiwards God. Lord knows I need this again and again. So I offer it to especially to all church-planters, missional community gardeners everywhere. Many blessings on your of walking the way of death and new life with Christ during this Holiest of Weeks.
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Archbishop Oscar Romero