The story goes like this. Moses sends a delegation of spies into the land that God promised. They go and spend 40 days scouting things out. They study the people. They take soil samples. They carry back some crops. Their report back to Moses is, “Woah, this is the place! But …”
“Buts” are always getting in the way. People tend to think with their “buts.”
It was no different in this story from Numbers 13. The delegation of spies return blown away by how great the land is. But 8 of the 11 think with their “buts.” They admit the land has everything they could want but that there are big, warrior guys living there. Sure, they’ve been following God and watching water come out of rocks, pillars of fire, food from sky and an escape from Pharoah’s army but they’re scared of the guys they call giants. They’re so scared they start telling people scarey stories and get the people all wound up.
Two guys, Joshua and Caleb, see things differently. They give the same report except they aren’t derailed by the big guys. In their thinking, if God is sending them and telling them to go, He’ll do what He does to make it work. Caleb is jazzed and wants to rush right out and take the land. Joshua is more of a planner and recommends waiting until God gives the green light. The rest of the spies, with their big “buts,” start working the system to derail the plan and even get it to the point where the people want to kill Joshua and Caleb.
You’ld think things might have changed in the faith world in a few thousand years. But, no. It’s the same.
God calls us to go and make disciples, trust Him, take risks. We get a few people who want to do that in our churches every now and then. We spiritual types say these folks feel “called.” When they start getting ready to go, it’s often the same 80% like in Moses day who start thinking with their “buts.” It’s especially true of starting new churches.
* But our church isn’t full.
* But it will be too expensive and we need new siding.
* But we’ll lose leadership people if they go to plant
* But it will hurt our church
* But there are too many churches around here already
* But it’s too close
* But they are too radical
Why are we thinking with our “buts” rather than following the Great Commission. I think I know how Joshua and Caleb would have responded. Caleb would have wanted to charge out and just get started and do all the planning later. He would have been pumped. Joshua would have been pumped too but would have stepped back to put a team and a plan together to follow God in His timing.
The American church must face some tough realities. While it has withdrawn to its brick and mortar fortresses offering a variety of programs for other Christians to enjoy, each generation is less and less likely to encounter Jesus. Churches have been closing their doors at a rate of 3500 per year and new church plants have not put even a dent in affecting the growing population of the US.
Here in Portland, Maine, 43% of people admit to not having attended a single worship service in the last six months. That’s even with the “halo effect” where people tend to exagerate religious involvement for some reason. That’s second lowest only to San Francisco!http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/435-diversity-of-faith-in-various-us-cities
What does that mean? It means that at least 1 out of every 2 people you meet in Portland is totally disconnected from a faith community. Really, it means that upwards of 7 out of ten people are not actively involved in a faith community.
It’s time to stop thinking with our “buts” and start trusting God. It’s time for the churches of America to grab hold of a pioneering mindset once again and actively plant churches in every community. It’s time to call men and women to follow Christ with everything. It’s time for the American church to rewrite its mission statements to include sending, planting and building in neighboring communities.
I recently heard of a historic church that had dwindled to less than a dozen people. They made the difficult choice to sell their building and give all of the money to their network’s church planting fund. The funds they provided planted five new churches meeting in schools and shared spaces. Three years later only one of those churches failed to survive. The other 4 have a combined attendance of approximatly 250 people and are growing, winning and baptizing. Do the math. From 12 people making a painful, kingdom-minded decision to 250 people now gathering to worship because of their support. Three of those churches are actively planning plants of their own. I am so thankful for the faithful example of that dozen senior citizens moving to build the kingdom rather than continue their own.
Maybe you’re a Joshua too? A Caleb? Let’s walk by faith and not by sight.
Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, members of the scouting party, ripped their clothes and addressed the assembled People of Israel: “The land we walked through and scouted out is a very good land – very good indeed. If God is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land that flows, as they say, with milk and honey. And he’ll give it to us. Numbers 14:6-8 MSG