Way back in 2003, I was minding my own business driving to work one morning, and got stopped at the same stoplight that managed to get me every single day, almost without fail. But it really didn’t bother me all that much. Many months before I discovered a way to “entertain” myself as my fellow commuters and I crawled along.
At the time we lived in a suburb of Denver, and I worked near the downtown area. I wasn’t real big on sitting at a dead stop, practically in park, on a major interstate with 83,000 of my closest friends. I was more of a “stop and smell the roses” kind of person. So I took advantage of back roads, neighborhoods, and residential streets that would get me to the same destination as the highway, just with a slightly lesser headache.
For some unexplained reason, as I made the drive I starting counting the churches I passed along my route. Thirteen. Every morning I passed thirteen churches of various sizes, shapes, and denominations. I found myself studying the buildings as I passed each one, imagining what the people were like, how many attended on an average Sunday, who the pastor was, and what message did they preach. Oddly, I started to notice how many of them had a marquee out front. Most of them, actually. I amused myself by reading each marquee, curious how the pastor might weave it into his message on Sunday, and waited anxiously to see what it would say the next week.
Our church didn’t have a marquee. It didn’t even look like a church, really. It was little more than a warehouse-looking building, in the middle of a former cow pasture, that had been built debt-free by the loving hands of so many people whose lives had been touched and changed by the solid, Word-based preaching we heard every week. Indeed, it was a “mega-church”. And we didn’t mind the 45 mile drive to church (each way) – we were being fed, nurtured, and matured. We were happy there, and our kids were growing up hearing all about Jesus and how much He loved them.
During my commute, one little church had found a soft spot in my heart. It was small, tiny really, probably not seating more than a few dozen people. From the street it looked old, tired and forgotten. The outside was in serious need of a new coat of paint, the parking lot over-grown with grass and weeds, two broken window panes had been replaced with plywood. It was heart breaking. Our church was so alive and full of activity. The only hint anything at all was taking place at this little church was that marquee out front. Every week, without fail, it had some new, catchy axiom. Otherwise, you would never know the lights still worked.
I’ve only heard the audible voice of God twice in my life. That fateful morning sitting at the stoplight staring at that little church, reading the marquee, was the first time. I heard – literally – the loving voice of God say, “It’s not what’s on the outside that will draw the people.” Instantly I knew exactly what He meant. Our church might not look like much on the outside. But there were very few in northern Colorado who didn’t know the place was always hopping on the inside. Ministry of all kinds took place in our building, to the children and youth, young adults, old adults, singles, you name it. It was all because the presence of Holy Spirit was invited – and welcomed. He was free to do whatever He wanted. And He did a lot. Lives were transformed. Marriages were restored. Bodies were healed.
Our church stood in stark contrast to what my family had experienced over the previous several months in other churches we visited. It started with the shocking suicide of my son’s 17 year-old best friend. Just a few months later, my mother-in-law passed away after a short and unexpected illness put her in a coma. Two funeral services full of people, one a group of lost, fearful teenagers wondering “why”, the other a group of close friends and family that had no comprehension death wasn’t the end. Two opportunities to share the love of a compassionate Father who grieved even more than we did. Two opportunities lost. Two pastors that had nothing to offer but “churchy” pretense. It broke my heart.
As the days and weeks passed, I was becoming increasingly aware of the sad state of affairs in the church. I had foolishly believed that all churches were as fired up as my church. I became painfully aware the “church” as we know it is asleep. There is no fire. There is no passion. There is no urgency. We go through the motions, but is there any fruit? The world isn’t beating a path to church services on Sunday morning because it recognizes the church is as broke, divorced, sick, depressed, and burnt out as they are. Please understand that when I talk about the church, I’m not talking about the building, denomination, or even the institution. I’m talking about the individuals who sit in the pews week after week after week.
It was on that day in 2003, sitting at a stoplight on my way to work, Holy Spirit lit a fire in my belly. I heard Father’s voice speaking to me. I felt Father’s tug at my heart. I perceived Father was asking me to do something. Church On Fire Ministries was born that day.
It doesn’t look the same now as it did back then. Like a woman who has conceived and is waiting for the time of birth, the baby is growing, developing, and preparing for life. So it has been with this ministry. Father “conceived” it in my heart, and it has taken time to grow, develop, and prepare. The details have evolved a little here and there, but the mandate is the same:
Allow me to clarify a few things. Everyone has a different interpretation of “revival”, but I’m pretty basic. Webster says it means to return to life and/or usefulness. Based on some of my experiences, the church has stopped “living” and being useful in our world as it was called to be. The other point I want to clarify is what I mean by “church”. It’s not a building, or a congregation, or a denomination. It is the body of Christ, made of up many individuals – each with a function. And it’s individuals I want to reach. We all were created for purpose. God chose us and called us for a purpose. The dictionary defines “purpose” as an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal. His intended or desired result is that none should perish. In order to reach those now perishing, some changes need to be made - individually.
Change doesn’t come quickly. It is something that takes time – to adapt and adjust, renew our minds, and break old habits and mindsets. But we have to start somewhere. The longest journey begins with the very first step. Not everything is going to be easy. Change never is easy. But if we want to live the victorious lives Jesus promised could be ours, then we have to get out of the boat, into the scary wind and waves, and allow our hearts and minds to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Once we do that, life returns, usefulness returns, and the world is changed. And that’s what Church On Fire Ministries is all about!