As we turn a corner in to a new week, those of you following along know that our devotions are a couple of chapters ahead of the Sunday morning study in Nehemiah that I am leading. So I want to pause here and take a few days to go deeper into an exploration of the Advance 20/20 plan that we started talking about a few weeks ago.
This strategy is an aggressive focus on outreach and ministry expansion as well as a commitment to deepen our walk with Christ. The first point of the plan is simple: grow to an attendance of 2020 by January 1, 2020. We have long needed to move to this level but we (I) have not said out loud that this should be our focus and goal. We have on several different occasions seen 2,600 or 2,800 worshipers on campus for special events like Easter and Christmas Eve. But those are not normal days. I believe we should target that attendance number for a normal Sunday… and then maintain it going forward.
As we know, it is becoming more and more difficult and less politically correct to talk about our faith outside of “faith events” like a church service or other “religious” gathering. Russia, under Vladimir Putin, has made the sharing of faith apart from a church service or outside of a church building a punishable offense. This law threatens and intends to hamper the spread of Christianity as well as other “undesirable” ideas (as Mr Putin sees it).
None of us would argue much that we are living in dark times in our country as well. While it is not illegal to share our faith, it has certainly become a matter of social pressure to “speak no more in that man’s (Jesus’) name.” (Acts 4:17) So while we may experience pressures socially and be marginalized because of our belief in Jesus Christ as Lord, we are not alone nor are we the first. The Christian movement has always grown up and grown best where opposition is at its worst. While Russian Christians are now facing real persecution for their faith and Christians now in Turkey are facing the same reality, we in America are at the most being intimidated “not to speak in that man’s name.”
Interestingly, most people in our culture would welcome a discussion about their faith (or lack of faith) in God. Those conversations usually remain academic and non-volatile. But when we insert the name of “Jesus” in the conversation, suddenly the anger comes! Instinctively we know this. Therefore, unless we are wired to love conflict and confrontation (some are) we simply pull back and remain silent.
The earliest followers of Christ understood the volatility of the name of Jesus. They had watched or heard about the first Christian martyr, a deacon named Stephen, who was allowed to share his faith before a group of Jewish elders and leaders and spectators; and they listened until he brought Jesus into the conversation. The response was immediate: anger, rage and violence followed. And Stephen died with his face turned toward the One he had dared to mention in public. (see Acts 7)
My hope is that the worshipers who come to Fruit Cove, come to see and hear about Jesus. We believe there is no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved. We believe that His name… far from offensive… is WONDERFUL! We believe that Jesus is Lord. But will we dare to talk about it? Will we dare to speak it? Will we dare to share it?
Getting to 2020 is not simply an artificial, numerical goal. The 2,020 we would pray would come are people the Lord Jesus Christ died to save and loves. Numbers may not be significant to us but there’s a whole book in the Bible titled “Numbers.” Obviously, numbers are important to God! May He give us strength to extend the influence of the Kingdom in our community in this period of growth… and beyond.
FOR MEMORIZATION: As for us, we cannot but speak of the things we have seen and heard. Acts 4:20
FOR REFLECTION: Make an effort sometime in the week ahead to engage in a conversation outside of church about Jesus. Preferably, do this with an unchurched or unbelieving person. Ask God to honor that encounter, no matter what the external result may be.