It’s my desire to share this message of hope and encouragement so that others may benefit from what I believe that God has shared with me.
I heard a story some years ago about a pastor that was out walking in the community. He came across three boys. One of the boys asked the pastor if he was interested in purchasing a lawnmower, and they showed him a little push mower that they had for sale. They explained that they needed money to purchase equipment that they needed to play baseball over the summer. The pastor thought that he might start a relationship with these boys and win them to the Lord if he helped them out by purchasing the mower, so he handed over the cash.
He then took the mower and began to try to crank it. He pulled on the cord and pulled on the cord to no avail. The pastor said to the oldest boy, “I can’t get this mower to start. Does it work?” The boy responded, “It works, but you’ve got to cuss at it to get it started.”
The pastor was taken aback! “I’m a minister! I can’t cuss! I’ve been saved so long that I don’t even think that I remember how to cuss.” The boy said, “Just keep pulling on that cord, preacher. It’ll come back to you.”
Trying to grow a church during Covid has been a lot like pulling that cord! It’s been enough to nearly make a preacher cuss! We’ve buried some of our members and watched many others drop out of church altogether. Some congregations have been cut in half or worse. Some of our churches have even closed. It’s been tough! Discouraging! Heartbreaking! It’s likely been the toughest two years of serving our churches that we’ve ever had.
I imagine that many of you have struggled just as I have. You’ve thought and prayed, “Lord, what can I do? What should I do? How can I lead us through this? Out of this? Where do we go as a congregation from here?”
Recently, as I prayed this way, I felt God led me to Zechariah chapter 3 and the Jewish people returning from exile tasked with rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. While a pandemic is undoubtedly very different than returning from exile, and while rebuilding the Temple is not the same as revitalizing or growing a local church, I do think that we can draw some parallels from this wonderful chapter of God’s Word. So there’s a message here for us.
And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord stood by. And the angel of the Lord protested unto Joshua, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou shalt also judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch. For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree (Zechariah 3:1–10).
Just as Joshua, the High Priest, the spiritual leader of the people, led God’s people to rebuild the Temple, I believe that we, the spiritual leaders of local churches, can lead God’s people to revitalize and build/grow these local churches. Our churches can prosper and grow, but we must overcome what Joshua overcame.
Joshua had Satan opposing him. In this vision from chapter 3, Zechariah sees the spiritual warfare taking place. We get a glimpse of the spiritual battle that’s going on behind the scenes. There’s a play on the Hebrew word in its noun, and verb forms here translated “Satan” and “oppose” that emphasizes that Satan is accusing Joshua, opposing the High Priest, the spiritual leader of God’s people.
The context suggests that Satan, the accuser, is accusing Joshua of being unclean, fifthly, sinful, flawed, and far from the perfect leader. This may have been true in some ways. We are all sinful people. We all sin and fall short. None of us are perfect leaders. We’ve failed at times. I know that I have failed many times. We are sinful people that mess up…just like the folks that we pastor, and Satan loves to remind us of these things. This sometimes leads us to feel inadequate to do the job that God has called us to do.
However, what we see in this passage is that God rebukes Satan! He cleanses Joshua! He forgives all his sins. He makes Him righteous, symbolized in the new clean clothes. He gives him power and authority, symbolized in the turban.
What we must always remember is that God equips us. God makes us righteous. God gives us our authority; however, God also requires repentance on our part. God demands holiness from His leaders. Local churches cannot and will not be revitalized until the leaders of these churches, the pastors, are personally revitalized. That’s what we see in Joshua. Before the Temple could be rebuilt, the man of God had to repent, be cleansed, change his thinking, in a way, be rebuilt himself.
Satan is that doubt in your head that you can’t do it, that you can’t lead your congregation to grow, that you can’t lead your congregation to reach your community. It’s just as with Joshua. Satan tells us that we can’t do it, but God calls us, equips us, and proclaims that we can! We can—if we repent, change our thinking, and be personally revitalized!
For me, this meant getting away and spending some real alone time with God, confessing my sins, failures, insecurities, and more. It meant me acknowledging my failures to lead as well as I could have led during COVID. It meant me making sure my heart and my life were one hundred percent right with God. Maybe it could mean the same for you?
Then, we come to the next part. We must be faithful to God’s command. For Joshua, the command referenced in verse 7 is the command to return home and rebuild the Temple in their homeland Jerusalem. Maybe for us, it’s the Great Commission? Isn’t that the overarching command that we should be focusing on?
Are we truly being obedient to Christ’s command to go and make disciples? Is your church doing any actual going at all? How about in your hometown? Are you building at home in your own community?
Even before COVID, most folks in our communities were not coming to our churches. COVID made it much worse. The days are long gone when we can expect folks to go to the local church. So, what if we actually took the church to them?
I thought about Acts 1:8, where Jesus tells the disciples that they will be witnesses first in Jerusalem, then in Judea, then in Samaria, and eventually on to the ends of the earth. They were to start first in Jerusalem, right where they were, in their immediate community. We, too, must start in our Jerusalem, in our communities. We will never be able to do much to reach other places if we do not first reach our communities. Far too often, we focus more on reaching foreign lands and neglect our backyards to the detriment and decline of the local church.
I’m not saying that we forsake foreign missions. Please do not stop supporting our foreign missions. I’m saying that we must focus more on reaching our communities first and foremost. If we can reach our communities, we will have more resources to reach other places, but if we continue to forsake outreach to our backyards, there will one day cease to be any foreign missions.
The key is that we must be obedient and faithful, just as Joshua was obedient and faithful. We must trust in the Lord as Joshua trusted in the Lord. If we will, what we see in this chapter is that Christ will give us the victory…just as he did Joshua. That’s what we see in verses 8-10. These verses are a prophetic word about Christ and His work that He will do when He comes. Verse 10 is a powerful verse that shows us the victory that Christ can and will give His faithful leaders. It’s a picture of peace and prosperity. The Temple was eventually rebuilt. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened!
Our churches can prosper and grow! The OFWB Convention as a whole can prosper and grow, but pastors—it must start with us. It must begin with us first being personally revitalized and leading our churches to reach our communities. Many of us remember well Dr. Burkette Raper’s reminder, “The church will only rise to the level of the pulpit.” Pastors, will you lead your church to reach your community for Christ? If you don’t, no one will. If you don’t start, it won’t begin.
In the next chapter, in Zachariah 4:10, we see that God rejoices to see the work begin, even at small beginnings. For us at Jackson Heights, we are going to begin a pray-and-go ministry of going to ALL the homes in our immediate community and praying for each and every home, and placing a door hanger on the door of these homes, letting them know that we prayed for them. We are going to include a handout that shares the gospel, invites them to church, and gives them some vital information about the church.
We will also start back doing our community outreach events in a similar way to what we’ve done in the past. We will set up various places in our community (a Piggly Wiggly, a local racetrack, and a park) and have gospel music, preaching, testimonies, food, bounce houses, and more. Again, we are going to take the church to our community. Until everyone in Jackson Heights has heard the gospel, our work is not done, our Jerusalem has not been reached.
Pastors, I want to encourage you to start something, some outreach ministry to your community. You don’t have to cuss at it to get it started; only trust in the Lord and have the courage and initiative to “pull the cord” on a new ministry to your community. Thom Rainer and his group Church Answers have some great resources, and I’m sure that our Church Planting and Renewal ministry would love to assist any of our churches. Pastors, we can do it! This is where we go from here. Let’s get to work!