I’ve been reading through the book of Acts and continue to be amazed at how the early church was planted. Early on Paul and Barnabas would go into a foreign town and share the Good News. Some would respond positively, others negatively–sometimes even stoning the guys! They’d stay only so long, they’d bless some elders–to whom they gave the oversight of the fledgling church–and move on.
One of the realities of church development is that leadership is key to any church planting or revitalization effort. And we on Indiana’s UM Church Development team know how challenging it is to find and train good leaders. It’s because of this that our team has devoted so much energy the past few years to leadership development. For example, through the Fruitful Congregation Journey process, the team, along with many others, have trained leaders from over 200 congregations! This training hasn’t been a simple workshop either but a series of sessions, workshops, and coaching consultations that take place over the course of several years.
Yet, back in Acts, Paul and Barnabas are appointing elders in towns like Lystra, Iconium and Antioch and then leaving these “baby church plants” in the hands of newly converted Christians. If this were to happen today on our watch, we’d probably call this downright reckless! So, how is it that this seemed to work?
A colleague on our Church Development team, Sergio Reyes, reminded us just yesterday not to forget the power of prayer and fasting. On closer study of Paul and Barnabas’ ministry, the scriptures say that they would pray and fast and commit their new leaders to the Lord (Acts 14:23 for example). There certainly appears to be a reliance–through prayer and fasting–on the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit.
So what about us today? As we raise up leaders in our churches, for our committees, our chair persons, to what degree do we truly believe that God is with us–Emmanuel? To what degree do we truly believe that, as a result, God will help us raise up the leaders we will need to do the ministry we’re called to do in 2014? Is the practice of prayer and fasting an active part of our leadership development and discernment process? Is God a part of the process or have we put God on the sidelines as we try to do our best on our own. If not, maybe we need to take some cues from Paul and Barnabas and let God lead our leadership development process by practicing prayer, fasting, and discernment.
So as we celebrate Jesus Christ–Emmanuel–this Christmas, let us remember that God is with us in 2014 as well. God will provide us with the leaders we need–if we simply trust in God.
Have a blessed Christmas. — Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development