In this season of social distance and uncertainty, it is also a time to continue to reflect on places that God has been at work, is at work, and will be at work. The following is another article composed by SDB General Council Member Patti Wethington in collaboration with her daughter Jenna. I hope that you find joy and hope in hearing this story of authenticity and intentional church revitalization. Thank you Patti and Jenna for listening for the stories of how our churches are actively advancing God’s Kingdom in their community. Before you soak in the following article, I will also note that the SDB Center in Janesville has been closed for the time being to be compliant with Wisconsin guidelines. All SDB Center Staff and Directors are continuing to work remotely and are continuing in their respective roles.
Grace and peace, Carl Greene, Executive Director, SDB General Conference
Authentic. A word that transcends space and time. It shifts from generation to generation, clinging to the few souls who dare to stare into its unpredictable existence. We have all met those people who embrace each person they encounter with reckless abandon. The daring few who pull down the mask to reveal their true colors, with little fear of how they will be perceived. The unpredictable piece of authenticity is that the one who embodies this character of gold is willing to expose parts of their heart, in order to relate to each individuals circumstance. I cannot think of a more worthy example than Darwin Steel. A man who knows how to put aside his own concerns and step into your life, if only for a brief moment.
In regard to maintaining the theme for this series of articles, I feel that Pastor Darwin’s story is essential (helpful) when considering how to be a light in our communities. The Bell Church of Pennsylvania may not be large in size, like many sister SDB Churches, but His leadership perspective is unique and inspiring. Pastor Darwin has determined that although it is necessary to actively take part in reaching out in our communities, it is equally if not slightly more important to build a solid foundation within the walls of the church. But what does that really look like in real time?
After seeking God’s heart over the matter, He was led to assemble a team of 6 prayer warriors. This team’s specific goal is to pursue God in how to build a solid infrastructure to grow their church. This reminds me of the story of Jesus and Peter. He encouraged him to cast his nets on the other side of the boat and it was through his obedience that he pulled in an overwhelming number of fish. If their nets weren’t prepared for the weight of the catch, the act of throwing the net back out would have been pointless. Just the same, through specific leading of God’s wisdom, we are able to make sure the nets of our spiritual lives and congregations are strong enough to handle the weight of the “catch” in our communities. We all know they are out there, hurting, broken people. People who strive to find joy in the things around them or people who have lost hope. But you and I have the only antidote that will ever satisfy their hearts cry. Jesus. The fish are out there, waiting to be caught in the nets of God’s grace. The only question is, are we ready for them?
As God leads them through this process of pressing in for divine wisdom, they began to ask powerful questions to move toward a sustainable momentum of action. “Where are we today? What are our strengths? How can we move forward knowing we don’t want to destroy our resources to move forward?”. He also shared that they have been asking God to show them how fast to go. A critical perspective when considering that burnout and fatigue are real issues in the world-wide church. Our hearts are so eager to be the change in the world, that we move in a pace that is not sustainable. I am sure we have all been there and understand the value in this wisdom.
Although prayer and patience have become the bedrock of this churches focus, they have still maintained healthy connections to the world around them. The Bell area is extremely blessed to have a strong partnership interdenominationally. The Ministers often take turns in filling in for each other during their absence. What a beautiful picture of the family of God supporting each other in love, despite our differences. They even unite to seek opportunities to meet the needs of the people in their area. A great example is the Bell 5 K Run. Pastor Darwin’s church participates by prayerfully seeking a family with unique circumstances. Through promoting and supporting the race, they are able to bless the family that God put on their hearts. The church respectfully accepts that even though they are not currently able to head up the outreach, they can still make a powerful impact in people lives by participating in whatever capacity God leads them to, from year to year.
Being a small church is not always easy. But there is still hope, even in small numbers. God has a way of moving powerfully through the unexpected. Just a few loaves of bread and fish, an army of 300 or a boy against a giant. It was simple acts of obedience that opened the door for God to do amazing things in the world around them. Pastor Darwin has determined to press in toward their yes and listen for the soft call of our amazing Gods leading. The church has even agreed to take part in the Pulse Program, as their leader has so beautifully exemplified, being vulnerable to evaluate the health of their church. The purpose of the Pulse Program is to help identify old patterns and to create new patters for growth. To be authentic with who God says they are as a congregation and what they currently have to offer to the community around them.
What a powerful ability to accept your limitations and allow God to illuminate your strengths. I have no doubt that God has already done and will continue to do amazing things through their willingness to be tender to God’s leading. “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Philippians 1:3-6.