For those of you who wondered, why did they really take four weeks off!? Well in part we did it for a break, for some time with family. The first week I spent more time with my Dad and brothers than I have in fifteen years. It was wonderful. We laughed together, cried together, prayed together, and just enjoyed one another’s company reminiscing over old memories while making new ones. The second and most of the third week Debbie and I took the kids camping and shared four days of it with Bill and Shirley doing things we should have done a long time ago, (namely crappie fishing!) This final week we stayed at the cabin. I could bore you with details but most of them will come out in sermons down the road. There are some major spiritual matters that we have been considering though and that is what we would like to discuss.
First, the present conditions at Shiloh. Over the past two years we have watched a gradual decline in several areas. We have seen our attendance dwindle somewhat especially compared to three years ago. We have seen baptisms drop to a record low this past year (3), and our giving has decreased as well at a time when our expenses have increased. Many people rightly say that we cannot be focused on numbers and that we shouldn’t let them affect us so. However, I know for myself, and I believe for the majority of us, our heart’s desire is to see a much greater number of souls coming into the kingdom, and a greater level of passionate commitment to serving Him. We all know that there is much greater potential for God’s glory at Shiloh than what we have been experiencing. We know this because of the Goodness of our God and what He has put in our hearts.
What, Lord, are we not doing? What do we need to do differently? Are we doing some things we don’t need to be doing? Are we just impatient and concerned about things that we shouldn’t be concerned about at this point? Are we right where we’re supposed to be, and if so, what is next? We are not in a desperate situation by any means. As a matter of fact, we are in a better position for solid stable growth now than we have ever been before. Yet we still seem to be teetering on the edge, just maintaining, holding our own, but sitting still.
God didn’t make us for sitting still. I know he says in Psalm 42 “Be still and know that I am God.” But that is not the stillness we are speaking of. The purpose of that stillness is to know Him, to know His heart, to know His will, so that we might most effectively give Him glory by loving Him with all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our STRENGTH. That strength is the strength He gives us to serve Him with. Many of you have said, “I want to do something!” But I have become quite concerned that some of us may be quite content doing nothing or at least very little. And some of you seem to be saying “I want you to do it!” All of this clearly says to me that spiritual leadership is crucial to the health of the church. In all honesty there have been several times over the course of the last few months that have caused me to question my effectiveness in leading the church. So, I began to pray and ask the Lord if all this meant it was time for new leadership at Shiloh. This should surprise no one. It is only logical for me to ask that question, but thankfully, the church doesn’t operate solely on logic. We know too that the scripture teaches us that “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it” and that it is “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord”! So why this intensity? Because God is beginning to stir our hearts and we want His will and what is best for His church at Shiloh.
There is another factor in our lives which most of you are not aware of that we have had to give serious prayer and consideration to recently. For years we dreamed of serving the Lord in a particular area of ministry and this past summer an opportunity arose for us to do that, full time. Doors began to open and questions began to swirl in our minds and our hearts as well. We have always enjoyed going to other churches from time to time, preaching revivals, singing, doing camps and conferences. When we first came to Shiloh we shared this with the pulpit and personnel committees and received gracious support. However, during our first couple of years here we began to sense that some felt threatened or neglected each time we shared somewhere other than Shiloh, so we tried to be sensitive to that. Eventually the invitations slowed down and almost came to a halt. It was God’s timing I am sure. Our family was growing, there was plenty to do here, and still is. God was melting us all together to become the church family that I feel like we all are now and creating within us a deep abiding love for His church here. Many people have come into our family over the past seven years, some of whom have become key workers in this church. Many simply came and went. At a time when we weren’t able to keep up with all of the ministry needs of the church we made a decision to add another full time position to our staff. Much has changed, and much is still to come.
In the midst of this present decline the invitations for me to preach have increased. When we realized the opportunity before us for this ministry to open up again our hearts burst with excitement, yet we were torn. Our love for and ties with this church are now stronger than ever. While the pull of the opportunity for using our gifts in the area of evangelism are very strong, the thought of leaving this church in order to do that does not seem right, nor does it seem necessary at this point. We strongly feel like this is something God has gifted us for and called us to, but our commitment to the welfare of his church at Shiloh must be first priority, and for us it is. If our work outside of this church is going to be detrimental to Shiloh, then we will simply have to make a choice, a choice we are not quite ready to make at this time. But in thinking of this we have realized something else about this church body, ourselves included. The problem with the church feeling neglected by us when we minister elsewhere is still of great concern and may be indicative of an unhealthy mentality we have within the church about what we are called to and a misunderstanding of the biblical role of pastor and the work of the kingdom.
We live in a competitive culture, but in a kingdom that is not competitive. Churches in general, and Shiloh in particular, seem to have slipped into the competitive mentality of the world in the way we think of ourselves first. The term we use for that is inverted, turned inward. While praying this month about the future of the church the direction the Lord seems to be giving us has a lot do with our need to look outward rather than inward. We must be compelled to find ways to give to and to serve others, even if that giving and service doesn’t appear to directly benefit us. Jesus said that “he who loses his life will find it, but he that keeps his life will lose it.” We are also instructed and promised “give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down shaken together and running over will men give into your bosom.” This applies to us all in several areas of church life.
Debbie and I would like to assure you that you need not be concerned that our commitments lay elsewhere. What we desire more than anything else is to bring glory to God as we do all that He shows us to do. There is the possibility that I have been unduly sensitive in this area but it is extremely important to me that you understand where our hearts are and that we are all working together in unity for the glory of God. I would invite any input you might have concerning this and need your express honesty in order that I might clearly hear from God concerning what we need to do. Let me share with you a little more about exactly what I am talking about.
I have spoken with Bro.Wallace about the nature of his ministry at Trinity and the churches mentality concerning his evangelizing. I also spoke with our Director of Missions Bro. Verne Wycliffe and sought the advice of several pastor friends. They all came back to me with the same response with which I strongly agree. The healthiest model for evangelism in this situation is to use it as an extension of the church’s ministry for the kingdom. Most of these pastors were in awe of the kind of support you have shown us in your willingness to let us be away for four weeks. Most of them doubted their church’s willingness to support them that strongly. To me that is a sad commentary on the relationship between pastors and their churches. These churches and their pastors need help. I’m not sure what we have to offer them but this I do know, our goal cannot be merely to build up Shiloh. That is far too small. Our calling is to serve the King for His kingdom, His church everywhere. If our mentality centers on serving “our” church, then we are simply serving ourselves. We have been called to serve our King in all that we do everywhere He calls us to, for the advancement of His kingdom. If Lifehouse Church wins, we win. If Faith wins, we win. If Mandeville wins, we win. We win because He wins, He gets glory. His IS the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.
I am not asking for permission to leave you more often to go do revivals. I am inviting you to share in a ministry to His church with us as God gives us opportunity. There are several creative ways you could help with this ministry to make it a beautiful extension of the ministry of Shiloh. Not only this, but there are already a few other ministries that God appears to be opening up for the church as well. Our blacklight ministry team has the potential to be a great encouragement to churches in our area. There are some ways that a few more of us could be useful and helpful in this ministry as well. God has also opened a door for one of our members to become involved in leadership in the ministry of the Fishers of Men bass tournament series. This could potentially be an excellent outreach and kingdom ministry opportunity for some of our men who may not feel qualified in other areas. It may also be a tool we could use to reach out to some of our own men who have become disengaged. There are many opportunities for ministry in the area of women’s ministry which through the years has been one of the strongest ministries of the church. The list could go on, from more opportunities to help at Life House, to involvement in the city wide 10/10/10 prayer movement for revival, but the key thing is that we not focus mainly on what we feel like we need, but what we might have to offer. My prayer is that we find our place as the church that God uses to strengthen and encourage other churches, and that we are the givers God wants us to be. It is not that we are not concerned about our own personal growth as a church, but that we first be good stewards of the gifts, abilities, and opportunities he has given us already so that after we have been faithful in little, He might give us more to be faithful with.
As for the immediate state of the church we feel that our greatest need is a genuine Holy Ghost reviving. But in stating this I am not suggesting that we beg God for some big event and sit back and passively wait for it to happen. Rather, I would like to suggest that we commit ourselves to consistent prayer; continual, faith-filled expectant prayer, which is the only real thing we can do of ourselves that might affect the kind of outpouring we would hope for. Furthermore, I would like to suggest that we not be foolishly satisfied with asking God for a one time event, but for consistent fruit-filled Christ-exalting demonstrations of His life changing power and grace on our lives and in our services. And as we ask Him for these things, that we might believe He has heard us, and begin to expect these things, but never quit asking. When God shows up powerfully today, we will thank Him, then not taking that for granted we will acknowledge that it was Him, and will turn around and pray for his graces again for tomorrow. Since it is God and God alone who has the power to bring the conviction and faith for repentance that brings people to salvation, the first thing we should do if we desire to see more people being baptized is to beg God to save them! As we pray in this way must simultaneously become more and more aware of God’s calling to us to be faithful in sharing the gospel in every opportunity He creates and trusting that He will do the rest knowing that this Gospel of Christ of which we are not ashamed is the power of God unto Salvation.
I believe as well that a few years ago when we baptized so many, we likely put several people through the water that were not really ready to be baptized. I’m not certain what has caused this decline we have seen in people being saved, there are several possible answers. I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on this matter, but confess also that we know God is the author of all saving faith, and is quite capable of saving souls in spite of our weaknesses. Therefore our first need in this particular area is great prayer that God would move powerfully in our midst to save souls, and that the Spirit of God would bring the evidence of fruit in their lives as well as the consistent fruit and use of spiritual gifts in ours.
As the focus of this church moves to prayer and selfless kingdom minded work we must be careful not to neglect the needs of the individual members of Shiloh. We have not given up on the future expansion of the church building either. It is obvious that this is not God’s timing for the building of a new facility, but the groundwork has been laid and when our Lord is ready He will let us know when to move on that. In the meantime we will continue to worship as and where we are until we reach the consistent level of fullness in the sanctuary that requires us to move once again to two services. I look forward to that day and believe as well that God will bless the ministry mindset we are adopting with new souls, new families, and new life.
Finally, I would like to share a few thoughts about our family and our feelings regarding our home. Some of you may have a hard time relating to this but as your pastor I feel a certain responsibility to be available to you. I suppose it is for that reason that I struggle to ever go to our “cabin” without a certain measure of guilt. I may be overly sensitive in this area as well, but I feel that it is important for the church to understand how we feel about the “cabin”. In 20 years of marriage we have never lived in any place that was our own. We have never owned our own home, and the cabin has very much become home to us. When thinking of our children we realize that in a very short while they will be grown and moving on to start families of their own. The cabin is not just our place to escape from life, it is the place our children call home, and it is the place they will come home to. For that reason we cherish the time we get to spend there. When we go the cabin, in a real sense we are just going to our house. In the last year we have spent very little time there, but we hope to spend more time there as the Lord allows. Please understand that we are very appreciative of the parsonage, but in our cabin we are merely creating and enjoying a place for our kids to call home.
Thank you for your gracious spirit and for allowing us to serve you in this capacity. We are looking forward to what God has in store for us all in the years to come. Please feel free to respond to any of what you read here and to be as honest as you would like! Everything for His glory, Todd and Debbie Reed & family.