Let’s Talk About Coinci…I Mean the Spirit

Growing up in a mostly typical baptist church and having spent all of my life in a baptist setting, it seems that more often than not the real trinity worshiped has been the Father, Son, and the Holy Bible. Sure, we might actually say the Holy Spirit, but we don’t know what to do with it. If we know a lot about the Father and the Son, the Spirit is more like the second cousin in that we know there is some relationship to be acknowledged, but it is hard to actually explain how it all works. I say this not to mock or discredit or devalue the importance of scripture in our lives, but instead to point out something many of us lack in how we pursue kingdom work. 

There is a word that I’ve used consistently for most of my life that perhaps shows my own participation in this injustice: Coincidence. Things happen in my life that are eerily related, the timing works out perfect, and I just throw it up into the category of “well what are the odds?” and move forward. I am, sometimes to my own detriment, practical by default. I like to explain logically how and why things happen as it gives me some form of control. It makes me feel better to have a reason to know the ins and out of how things work and when I can’t I just go ahead and chalk it up to coincidence.

GABP to Church
4.9 miles from FBC Fort Thomas to Great American Ballpark.

For example, many years ago I would drive up to Northern Kentucky on my way to a Reds game and on multiple occasions I would point out churches that were on the way and joke with Jenni about how cool it would be to serve at a church that close to Great American Ballpark, but nowhere seemed like a logical fit so I assumed it was a pipe dream. A few years down the road, at a time when I least expected it, I received an email from a church in a place called Fort Thomas, Kentucky asking if I would be interested in being considered to serve as pastor. I didn’t realize how desperately I needed it at the time, but the church ended up being exactly what my family and I have needed at a pivotal time in our lives. Yes, being close to Reds baseball is great, but it is the church that has me excited for the future. I believe God has called us to do something transformative and we are positioned to do that. It just so happens that along the way I get to spend time doing something else I love at baseball games. 

For most of my life, I would have chalked it up to coincidence. Now I realize that it is the work of the Spirit.

A few weeks ago I got a call from our administrative assistant telling me that our utility bill had gone through the roof and we were on pace to spend way more money than we ever imagined. With a smaller congregation and a…umm…vintage building, I immediately felt an impending sense of doom. We feel called to this place, but the gas bill might do us in. For about 45 minutes I sat at Fort Thomas Coffee dejected and defeated. 

churchwarm
Our beautiful, old, leaky building.

Then, I saw an email arrive in my inbox. A generous individual who works with energy conservancy reached out to let me know that he was coming to the church two days later to help us walk through the church to figure out how we can make the church more environmentally friendly and lower our bill along the way. This person had no idea that our bills had just skyrocketed, but had felt a calling to help churches using his giftedness. We had talked about doing this work a few months prior, but up until that moment nothing had actually materialized. When I read the email, I knew that help was on the way and the burden was lifted.

For most of my life, I would have chalked it up to coincidence. Now I realize that it is the work of the Spirit.

I have no idea how to grow a church. I have theories. My social media feeds are filled with pastors that provide “300 Easy Steps to Quadruple Attendance and Budget” that might help generate their personal revenue, but aren’t practical to my current ministry context. I am interested in experimenting and seeking out new models for churches to thrive but most days I feel like I am left with more questions than answers. With that said, I am increasingly convinced of is this:

If we do not acknowledge the work of the Spirit in our lives and in the lives around us, any and all of our efforts will be a waste.

paperstack
What people assume bylaws look like and what I hope to avoid.

Our church is embarking on a process to rework our bylaws and imagine what it might look like to do church in the years to come. The danger in doing this work is that we sometimes trick ourselves into believing that it is up to us to create the perfect structure to get the type of results that we desire. If only we do this, this, and this, then we’ll be successful. If we can just do what other successful churches do, then we’ll be fine. If only we go up to those not involved in a church and say a few basic sentences, they’ll immediately believe. We seek the silver bullet of programming, the next sure-fire thing that has been boxed up and is ready for us to explore.This is dangerous thinking.

Pastor and author David Fitch speaks often about the goal of “opening up space for the Spirit to work.” Structures are fine, but only if they push us to constantly be open to where the Spirit is leading. When we see the Spirit at work, we join in. When we feel the Spirit nudge, we follow. 

To get there, I have to change the language I use. For the past year I have encouraged our folks to do something that I am working on as well: stop talking about coincidence and start talking about Spirit. By doing this, we remind ourselves that we have a great power working in and through us and that none of the results will truly be up to us. It’s still a challenge for me. I’m not mystical by nature and part of this is practicing things I largely still don’t understand (how’s that for a faith statement?). 

But…it’s exciting. Because I acknowledge the Spirit leading the way, the outcome is going to have better moments that I can possibly imagine. There is freedom because instead of creating to control, I am only charged with being faithful in the moments where I feel God’s call and with creating rhythms in my life that leave me open to see where the Spirit leads. There will still be heartache and defeat and days where it feels like there is impending doom. There will be times where I think I’m following the Spirit but it’s really just my own mess. But, there will also be great moments where things line up perfectly…where things happen with the kind of timing that simply make me laugh.

And where I used to say coincidence? Well, that’s the Spirit. Thanks be to God. 

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