Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
So begins St Paul’s beautiful correspondence to his friend, Timothy, and I couldn’t think of a better greeting to send my new brothers, sisters and friends at St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church. My family and I are overjoyed that the Lord has chosen to draw all of our paths together.
Paul’s letter contains much excellent advice for a church minister. It’s a portion of Scripture that I intend to explore thoroughly as part of my preparation for coming to St A’s. However, as I’ve prayed and reflected over the last week or two, I feel that the Lord has led me to a different part of the Bible: specifically, to the Old Testament and to the story of Solomon.
The book of 2nd Chronicles begins with an arresting description of Solomon worshipping at Gibeon. After making one thousand offerings, Solomon is spoken to by God Himself. God’s words present Solomon with an amazing opportunity, He says: “Ask what I shall give you.” I’m sure that anyone with a little knowledge of the Bible knows what happens next. Solomon doesn’t ask for possessions, wealth, honour, vengeance or longevity; instead, he asks for wisdom and knowledge, that he might be a better leader of God’s precious people.
It seems simple enough and I’m certain that anyone who is appointed as a Christian minister – or leader of any kind – would want to echo Solomon’s prayer and say, “I’d like to be a wise and knowledgeable leader of God’s people!” But, that’s not all Solomon says…
2 Chronicles 1:10 reads as follows: “Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” The words that I’ve put in italics really puzzled me. What on earth does it mean to ‘go out’ and ‘come in’ before people? Does it mean I have to sprint out of the door before anyone else leaves after morning services, but get in first to make up for it? I sincerely hope not – I’m looking forward to a Fairtrade coffee and fellowship after the services!
I believe I found the answer in Numbers 27:17. This passage uses the same ‘going out’ and ‘coming in’ phrase, but in a clearer context:
“…who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.”
At last, it seemed to make some sense. At the beginning of the day, a shepherd would, indeed, go out before the flock and lead them from their place of safety and shelter. At the end of the day, he would lead them back in, by coming in himself.
How might this have any relevance to my calling to St A’s?
I consider the three great callings of all churches to be evangelism, worship of God and the nurture of those who have committed their lives to Christ. Evangelism is our response to the Great Commission of Christ: we must go out and make disciples of all nations. Worship, in all of its guises, is necessary to complete our joy and our relationship with God, through Christ. Nurture is the essential task of loving and caring for each other, by which shall all people know that we are Christ’s disciples.
Perhaps our call to evangelise our world is represented by ‘going out’? Perhaps our call to worship God and nurture each other is represented by ‘coming in’ – literally, ‘coming in’ to His Presence and each other’s?
These three callings have been highlighted repeatedly throughout the years in various sermons and writings. Compare the modern writings of people like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren with these words written by Hezekiah Harvey in 1879:
Membership [of the church], therefore, involves a personal obligation to promote the objects of the body as expressed in the covenant. These objects are three: 1. The social, united worship of God… 2. The perpetuation and diffusion of the gospel… 3. The sanctification of its own members… The church, thus comprehensive in its scope, looks upward to God, outward upon the needs of a lost world, and inward to the processes of sanctification in the souls of its own members; the neglect of any one of these grand objects of its organization imperils its whole design.
I’m sure that the Lord keeps reminding us of these grand objects because they are so important. The last thing any church wants is to have its whole design imperilled!
If, in some way, the Lord can use me to be a part of leading St A’s in ‘going out’ to proclaim His Good News and in ‘coming in’ to His Presence and to each other’s, I rejoice at the privilege and the prospect.
I wish you all grace, mercy and peace this November.