Fourth in a series reflecting on the firestorm that occurred in our family of churches and told as a parable of the Great Chicago Fire and lessons from Scripture. To read the entire series of articles, see After the Fire.
Lessons From the Fire: Part 3
4) Grace: Not Everything Burned
Two years after the firestorm began, we were privileged to show one of the first Disciples Today videos to the New England Christian Conference. It was the first time those churches had met for such a conference in well over a decade. A few people approached me joyfully commenting how happy they were to see news from disciples around the world. They thought the only churches left in our movement were in New England and Europe. The no-news vacuum is usually filled with bad news.
If everything burned, why are there still around 500 churches spread throughout every continent of the world? How did over 100 churches get planted among us between 2003 and 2007? Can that really be due to the power of men? If everything that was built in our movement was built by the power of men with wood, hay and straw, how did so many people become Christians?
Obviously much was built using "silver, gold, costly stones." The DNA of the disciples in our churches is deeply spiritual and biblical. We are not ashamed that we made Jesus Lord and Savior of our lives, repented of our sins and were baptized into Christ, raised from the deadness of our old life, washed of our sins and made into temples of the Holy Spirit. We joyfully serve God and ask him to use us to change the world. We hold the gospel to be of first importance. We believe the Bible and are committed to building our homes on the Rock of Jesus, weaving his words into the fabric of our lives, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Today over 90,000 in our family of churches gladly deny themselves for God and joyfully sacrifice for him and others. Since the fire, about 100 churches have been planted. Relationships have been strained at times, but disciples are still deeply bonded to each other and finding new ways of keeping old relationships and creating new ones. We know we have to figure out how to build mature churches that are still making an impact in a lost world. But we are in it together. Repentance is becoming a lifestyle and not just an event.
Prayerfully we have learned not to be disciples sold out to human ambition. We renounce building with cheap, quick materials in an impatient, immature attempt to make our mark on the world. We passionately beg God to use us as weak vessels of the Holy Spirit to build Jesus church and honor God's name. We are committed to use new methods to preach the original, authentic gospel of Jesus.
Our churches are definitely aging. The resurgence in our campus and youth ministries is evident by the increasing number of summer interns. 500 disciples energized the very first International Conference of Youth Ministries
in Boston last month -- a new milestone in turning our focus to family ministry centered in the cross. 1,000 attended the International Campus Ministry Conference
last year on the UCLA campus and more are expected this year in Boston. Students are beginning to take the One Year Challenge
to serve God however and whenever he needs them. The Hong Kong Church
recently started an exchange program for teen disciples. Churches are seeking evangelists, campus, teen and family ministers and looking for God to raise up more elders and teachers. More ministers are seeking deeper training in the Scriptures.
The preaching, teaching and buzz at these conferences is about renewing our faith and vision to love God and take the gospel into all the world. The International Leadership Conference
may be the clearest vision of a leadership that has progressed from hesitant hugs in 2003 in Dallas to recommitting ourselves as set apart by God in 2006 in Virginia to the 2007 theme "For All Generations"
in Los Angeles. An international worship conference has begun. Relationships are being reconciled. Former ministers are being invited back to speak. Baptisms are not where they can be, but they are increasingly more frequent. The losses may be slower than they have ever been.
Most all churches give a significant amount to missions. Members are paying their own way to visit and encourage churches in other cities and countries. Churches that lost missions support are raising their own funds and planting churches. Some leaderships are beginning to make bold plans for the future. In most areas of the world, regional church relationships smoldered but didn't burn and are growing. Many are asking for input.
Singles events a
re booming around the globe. Healing ministries are freeing people from past abuses and addictions. The world continues to increase recognition, funding and reliance on HOPE worldwide
projects to serve the poor around the globe though the organization is drained and strained from the reduction in ICOC church funding. Churches are communicating more consistently and freely through the web and other media. Disciples Today is trying to keep the family connected with inspiration and information including www.DisciplesToday.org
, DToday videos
and the church locator
continue to publish books, CDs and DVDs.
In just under a year, about 350 churches committed to working together through the Unity Plan
. Many others expressed a desire to cooperate but don't feel comfortable signing at this point. Others have not signed. We acknowledge our weaknesses much quicker and are more sober and humble about our strengths. Maybe we are learning how to mutually respect one another.
To read the entire series of articles, see After the Fire