In early December of this year (2016), Jason Abbott (my co-pastor) and I are launching a book. It’s called, More People to Love: How the Bible Starts in a Garden and Ends in a City and What That Means for You. Below is a sneak peak at the preface I wrote.
How Can I Help? First, we’ll need a dozen or so “beta readers”—people to read and comment on the manuscript before it’s published. Second, we’ll also need people (hopefully quite a few people!) to promote the book on social media. If you want to help with either of these, please send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org or click here).
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Jason Abbott and I are teaching pastors at Community Evangelical Free Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Our church is not large, by any means, but we are growing. And the growth is putting a strain on our current building facilities. We’re like a toddler with a onesie that’s getting snug—we can make it a little while in our current outfit, but soon we’re going to need a bigger one. Nevertheless, finding and buying a larger building, as well as selling our old building and moving, is a challenging prospect.
In addition to this, we feel called by God to plant other churches. This probably won’t happen for a few years, but we need to plan for it now. It, too, will be challenging.
Oh, and as if these prospects weren’t enough, our church needs to grow in diversity. Our congregation is not nearly as diverse as our surrounding community. We’ve prayed and talked about this for some time, but now we need to address it in a less passive way. And that’s also going to be hard.
These potential changes (along with a dozen others) while exciting, are also scary. People don’t typically like change, and pastors are people too.
Despite all this, we’re not at the place of despair. Far from it! We’re full of hope. But, in order to see why, it might be helpful to back up. Somewhere in 2012, another pastor sent me an email that said simply:
More people to love.
This email changed things for me. When I received it, the church I was serving was growing rapidly. Someone needed to evaluate the current trends and create a plan to accommodate the growth. So I drew from my former career in engineering, opened up Microsoft Excel, and took a hard look at our attendance data. I created pretty graphs and conservative growth projections for the next few years, and I sent them to the staff and elders.
At that time, I was primarily viewing the new people as more of a problem than a blessing. As the pastor who was charged with overseeing the connection of newcomers to the church, I viewed new people as new problems. The line on the graph representing attendance might as well have been labeled “Benjamin’s workload.” For every fifty new people, could I really keep adding five hours to my workweek? At some point, simply trying harder wasn’t going to solve the problem. (Again, there’s that word, “problem.”)
Then, just a few minutes after I sent my concerned email, I received John’s reply: “More people to love.” That’s all it said. I remember staring at my computer screen. The contrast between my approach and John’s was stark. He was ready for adventure, ready to see his story and the story of our church in light of the Big Story of the Bible. I was not.
Following the sting came repentance.
That was four years ago. Now, in the providence of God, I’m at a new church. And the situation is similar: a growing church, a growing workload, and growing fear.
Then I remember John’s email, and I’m encouraged, even excited. It reminds me that the Big Story of God is about the love of God growing and expanding. John’s email reminds me that what started with two in a garden ends with a multitude in a city. And while faithfully living inside this story, God’s Big Story, has always been hard, it’s also always worth it—because God is worth it.
The following seven chapters are about this Big, Always-worth-it Story. These chapters have been adapted from a series of sermons Jason and I preached at our church. But they aren’t simply about our church. Yes, we preached them to prepare our congregants for a potential building change. Yes, we preached them to prepare our local church for the challenges of church planting. And yes, we preached them to prepare our fellowship to grow in its ability to love our surrounding community. But these chapters are about something more fundamental than these objectives. Foundationally, they are not about our church at all. They are about God’s plan, as revealed from Genesis to Revelation, to “make [his] name great among the nations” (Malachi 1:11). In short, this book is about the Big Story of God and seeing our stories in light of his story.
Four years ago, when I received that email, things changed for me: the glory of God in his mission to love more and more people softened my heart and opened my eyes. As you read this book, Jason and I pray that it’ll do the same for you.
* Click here to read the Table of Contents.
[Picture by Jared Erondu / Unsplash]