21 September 2016
Does what we do on Sunday mornings and in our activity during the week show any resemblance to the Early Church? Does it matter?
I have never had 3000 people eagerly respond to any of my sermons, the way they did in Acts 2. But to be perfectly honest, if 3000 people showed up to worship next Sunday at Montreal Citadel, where I am the Corps Officer, instead of our usual 150, I’m not sure how we would handle it!
We translate our service into French and Spanish. How would we manage if there were more languages that needed translation? We already have two different worship teams and a brass band. How would we accommodate musical preferences for that many? We gather in our fellowship room for coffee after the service. There would be chaos as we tried to have friendly conversations without spilling coffee on our new friends in the jostling mob.
On the other hand, it’s often tempting to ask if the gospel really works. We know that it has changed our lives, but it seems to take such a long time for others to respond.
One of my favourite heroes in Christian history is George Muller. He ran orphanages in Britain and never asked for financial aid from anyone except the Lord. He was a great man of prayer. He had a strong desire to see five of his friends embrace faith. He decided to pray diligently for these five people. After many months one of them placed his trust in Jesus. It was another 10 years before the next two of them came to faith. Twenty-five years after he had begun to pray, the fourth friend became a believer. Then Muller died. Shortly after his funeral, the fifth person accepted Christ into his life.
In my experience, the George Muller model is more common among us than the Acts 2 model. Yet the change in one person can be just as encouraging for those who seek to share faith. Let me give you a few examples from our own congregational life.
I began praying for a little boy in our corps when he was five years old. We moved away for several years, but when we returned to Montreal in 2008, I was sad to discover that he no longer attended church. I prayed that the Lord would give him the desire to return and that he would discover God’s love for him. He started coming back off and on. I continued praying. Today, he has found his place as part of our congregation and contributes to worship through music.
I think of a woman who came to our church when she was struggling. A divorce and problems with her daughter had shaken her faith. But while she attended, she was able to get back on her feet emotionally and spiritually. Then she returned to her community, where she made a difference in the lives of others by sharing her faith in practical service.
Other examples include a young couple who returned battle-scarred from Afghanistan. While part of our fellowship, they came to experience God’s grace in their lives. That grace is healing them and increasing their love for and understanding of each other.
We see young adults realise that in the midst of uncertainty and confusion, they can rely on God’s grace as they make decisions about the future. We see parents who find they can trust God to communicate his love to their children, in spite of their awkwardness. We see seniors who find that God is there when they face loss. We see immigrants and refugees find a home among us, their faith in God nurtured and their confidence in his provision strengthened, whether or not they are able to stay in Canada.
What we do matters.
Colonel Eleanor Shepherd is the corps officer at Montreal Citadel.
Article first published in the Canadian Salvationist.