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What the Spirit is saying to the Churches
By Henry Blackaby
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2003 Henry T. Blackaby
All right reserved.
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you
and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit,
and that your fruit should remain."
On a cold Saturday morning-April 4, 1970-my family and I arrived in the city of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, Canada, where God had called me to pastor a tiny band of His people.
By most outward appearances, Faith Baptist Church was dying. It had been without a pastor for a number of years and had dwindled to only a handful of people. For months a For Sale sign had stood on the front lawn outside their small, white wood-frame building that was several blocks from any major street. Inside the building was a tiled-floor sanctuary where, on Sunday mornings, the walls echoed with the scooting noise of a few metal folding chairs. Mostly empty Sunday school classrooms were below, in a basement prone to frequent flooding. And in the month previous, total giving to the church amounted to only ninety dollars.
But we were sure this was a strategic congregation. A cross-denominational mission study group, Outreach Canada, had indicated that Canada desperately needed 10,000 more church plants immediately just to keep up with population growth. Our denomination (the Southern Baptists) believed that we must do our part-while praying that God would use others as well-and we knew we had our own unique assignment from God. Faith Baptist was our only church in Saskatoon, a city of 135,000 people. In all of Saskatchewan-a province of 950,000-we had as yet only one other church, a mission to North American Natives more than ninety miles away. And in all of Canada, we had no work or presence among two-thirds of the country's 24 million people. We therefore saw Faith Baptist in Saskatoon as a church on the cutting edge, an assembly with a great responsibility for expanding ministry throughout Canada.
For the remnant of people at Faith Baptist, however, thoughts about the future must have seemed about as exciting as the drooping overhang that kept the church's front door from fully opening. The horizon before them indicated little if any evidence of great expansion.
A few months earlier, the ten people who had been hanging on, trying to keep this church alive, had called a meeting to consider disbanding. It seemed impossible that they would ever be able to secure a pastor. As they went to their knees in prayer in that meeting, they thought God wanted them to close the church's doors. But while kneeling, God touched their hearts. They got up saying, "God wants us to try one more time."
And with the possibility of my coming to serve them-I was ministering in a church in Southern California at the time-they told themselves, "If Henry will come to be our pastor, we'll know God isn't through with us yet!" And God wasn't.
Prepared by God
That cold Saturday morning when we arrived in Saskatoon was a moment God had long ago prepared me for. I grew up in the small city of Prince Regent, British Columbia, on Western Canada's north coast. I had heard the heart cry of my father and mother as they longed and prayed for an evangelical church in our community. During World War II, my father, a businessman, started a church in a dance hall. He preached, my mother played the piano, my older brother ushered, and my younger brother and I were the congregation. It was eight months before we had our first adult visitor. We continued faithfully and experienced slow growth. With much prayer, we were able to see a pastor come to lead us after eight years.
During those growing-up years, I also became aware of many other towns and villages that had no evangelical witness and often had never had a church. This left a deep impression on my heart that was continuing to shape my life as I responded to God's call and returned to Canada.
But the Blackabys weren't the only new faces to show up at Faith Baptist on that April Saturday in Saskatoon. On the same morning, a car with five men pulled up to join us for lunch. They had come from Prince Albert, a city of thirty thousand people ninety miles to the north. These men had been meeting regularly for Bible study for almost four years and had become convinced God wanted to use them to help start a church in their community. Not only that, but God had laid on their hearts a burden for the numerous other towns, villages, and North American Native reserves in our region that had little or no gospel witness. From their study of the Scriptures, they could foresee God establishing many churches in these places, filled with people of one heart and one mind and one soul, people who would release their lives to Him for the reaching of the unreached.
When these men heard I was coming to Saskatoon, they began to pray. They became convinced God wanted me to be their pastor too, driving up to Prince Albert twice a week. And they had come down to Saskatoon that morning to share with us this "word from the Lord."
Suddenly, Faith Baptist Church was faced with an enormous and immediate spiritual challenge.
A Major Decision
As a church, we had to decide if this was God's way of speaking to us. It was clear that the yearning in the hearts of God's people in Prince Albert was due to the activity of God. He had clearly led these men to come to us for help. These were things only God could do. Did this mean God was showing us a ministry He wanted us to undertake? Were we to start a mission church in Prince Albert?
Was this our "Macedonian call," like Paul's experience in Acts 16:6-10, when he saw the vision of the man in Macedonia crying out for help? Was our response to be as Paul's was- "Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them" (16:10)? It appeared that what God had done in the Scriptures was now happening to us!
Another truth was also present. Almost twenty years earlier as a teenager, I had told the Lord, "If You ever call me into the ministry, and if there are people anywhere within driving distance who want a Bible study or a church, I will go." This commitment had grown out of my experience growing up in a remote area of British Columbia and seeing my parents' faithful commitment to ministry there.
My heart had been fashioned by God to do His will. If people asked me to come, I felt I could not say no. So I, too, was now faced with a major decision. Would I keep my vow to God that I made earlier in my life?
This was a crucial moment for our little church. God was obviously at work among us. But we felt so helpless and alone, so very weak. And we were so small in numbers.
Faith Baptist had never sponsored a mission church, and I had never pastored a church that pursued this means of ministry. We were certainly not bringing to this situation our strengths, our skills, or our expertise and experience in starting mission churches.
Moreover, some of the people at our church said to me, "Henry, have you ever been in a Saskatchewan blizzard?"
When I said no, they replied, "You can't promise those people you will drive up there twice a week."
All I knew to say was, "The God who could still a storm on the Sea of Galilee can still a storm in Saskatchewan."
As their pastor, I knew I had to help open our people's eyes to the ways of God by leading them into His Word. As I did, they began to see that what we were experiencing agreed with the witness of the Scriptures.
God had shown us where He was at work. The very reason He had revealed this to us was because He was inviting us to join Him in His work. We had to decide if we believed Him, if we were willing to adjust our lives to Him, and if we would trust Him to guide and provide for us as we obeyed.
We realized that this was God's pattern in the Scriptures. We saw it most clearly in how Jesus would conform His actions to whatever activity God the Father was revealing to Him. Jesus explained it this way: "For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does"; Jesus therefore was doing nothing on His own, but only "what He sees the Father do"; and whatever God the Father was doing, "the Son also does in like manner" (John 5:19-20).
The Father's activity determined the Son's direction and motivation. The Father took the initiative to show the Son what He was doing, and Jesus then joined Him. And so it should also be for us, we believed.
He Is Able ... and He Will
During this critical time for Faith Baptist, a simple, clear word came to us from the Lord as we lingered before Him: "Our God whom we serve is able ... and He will" (Daniel 3:17). This confident statement would become an anchor to our souls through the continuing unfolding of God's invitation. It would be our motto in all we were to do in the months and years ahead.
God had spoken. With such assurance, we saw God's assignment for us. We knew God had taken the initiative to come to us, and we believed He would continue to reveal day by day what He wanted to accomplish through us.
How new and different such an approach was to the church! It helped us realize that it did not matter what capacities or abilities our small band of believers possessed or what we thought we could do for God. We sensed rather the truth that God had "chosen the weak things of the world ... and the base things of the world and the things which are despised ... and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
Could we, as such a small church, sponsor a mission church? We sensed that this was the wrong question. The right question was this: Had God revealed His will for us? And if so, would we believe, obey, and trust Him?
We answered by saying yes. God was at work and He was letting us see what He was doing and how He wanted to work through us. We were ready to experience in a new way His presence and power working through us to reach others.
Over time we came to be convinced that God would indeed use us to accomplish His purposes. And I would learn that a church's name can mean so much. The months and years before us would prove that the word Faith truly expressed this people's character. When a church realizes it all depends on God, not them, and will together yield their lives fully to Him, God begins to work. It doesn't depend on numbers, status, skills, or even resources. The future depends on God and on His people who will hear Him, believe Him, and obey Him.
Excerpted from What the Spirit is saying to the Churches by Henry Blackaby Copyright © 2003 by Henry T. Blackaby
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.