Don’t Limit The Church Of The Future By The Way You Measured In The Past

GOD REMEMBERS

Zechariah was a prophet-priest after the exile to Babylon, living in the now ruined city of Jerusalem. The book starts by explaining why the unthinkable disaster happened, how God’s people had fallen so far; they repeatedly ignored the Lord whenever he said, ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ So God did what he warned he would. People were scattered, isolated, fearful and confused (sound familiar?) – could it ever be the same? Had God actually forgotten them? 

Zechariah’s name means ‘God remembers’ – and his book is also full of hope in the present and for the future because through a series of graphic night visions, God showed and promised that he’d do what seemed impossible (8:6), rescue his people ‘from the east and the west’ (8:7) and bring them together again to live in safety. 

Never has his picture of a city where people freely move and mix, where nobody has to shield – because they’re shielded by God grabbed me like it does now when I read it. As Joni Mitchell said, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” 

“Old men and old women will come back to Jerusalem, sit on benches on the streets and spin tales, move around safely with their canes—a good city to grow old in. And boys and girls will fill the public parks, laughing and playing—a good city to grow up in.” (Zech 8:4-5 The Message). 

God always has a rescue plan, his people would be ‘a symbol and a source of blessing,’ and a day of transformation was coming where there would be no ‘sacred and profane’ because everything from the horse’s reins to the cooking pots in the kitchen would be as holy as any item in the temple. A regathering was planned where people from all nations could come to worship him alone, “And the Lord will be king over all the earth.”

Surely that’s what every church leader wants to be part of helping to build? I would gladly live and give my life for that vision. 

But today God really spoke to me from what I was reading Zechariah 2 – here we go: 

Then I looked up and saw a man. He was holding a measuring line. “Where are you going?” I asked.

“To measure Jerusalem,” he answered. “I want to find out how wide and how long it is.”

That’s what leaders like to do. We measure stuff. Previously it was fairly easy to see whether you were doing okay with regard to ministry, because in a sad sick way that could be measured by bums on seats, bible studies attended, baskets with money in – and for church planters like me, numbers of sites you multiplied.

Hard work, but simple maths. If at the end of the year at the AGM we could say, “We’re solvent, we added staff, and some souls got saved…” then we were doing great. And if mine is bigger than yours… we might even sometimes got to speak to bigger groups at these things they called conferences… 

HOW DO YOU MEASURE?

So here’s this guy with literally a ‘measuring rope’ to check its width and length. I don’t know what standard of measurement you’d use to measure a whole city, but no doubt he has a vision or he wouldn’t be going to measure. 

It’s great to have a vision. Everyone has a visions, some people have a big one and others have a small one – and you tend to get what you see because according to your faith it will be done to you. As we try to build our churches or organisations we like to have a vision and plans so we look like a leader worth following even if we don’t really know where we are going, we want to be able to see it and have something to aim at, then we can start to gather people to help us, get the resources required and so on. 

That’s all good, it’s what leaders do. Until he gets stopped. Read on: 

3 The angel who was talking with me was leaving. At that time, another angel came over to him. 4 He said to him, “Run! Tell that young man Zechariah, ‘Jerusalem will be a city that does not have any walls around it. It will have huge numbers of people and animals in it. 5 And I myself will be like a wall of fire around it,’ announces the Lord. ‘I will be the city’s glory.’

Wow! As Zechariah and one angel are shooting the breeze and watching the measuring man, this leader going off to build according to his standards of measurement, another angel runs over to them and says ‘Go and stop him doing what he was planning!’ He has to be stopped in his tracks. His assumptions must be questioned about what he’s going to try to do and intend to build now. Why?

Because no matter how big that rope is, it’s not big enough!

What he wanted to build, however grand and from I’m sure the greatest of intentions and all for the glory of God (nothing to do with comparison or ego, we mature leaders never struggle with that), the standards he measuring by no longer applied to what God was doing and going to do when he brought the scattered people back together

A NEW THING

Previously the old city had walls, now they lay in ruins – and this young man was going to rebuild according to that former pattern. The angel ran to stop him in his tracks as quickly as possible before he got any further with that plan, because his mindset would only limit and restrict God’s radical new plan for restructure! The old walls did not need to be rebuilt. The old measurements no longer applied, because God is doing a new thing! 

6 “Israel, I have scattered you,” announces the Lord. “I have used the power of the four winds of heaven to do it.

If you looked at the news that day you’d say the Babylonians had scattered them. But Zechariah was told – it was God at work. God is always working, bringing good out of evil for those who are loved and called according to his purposes. And what the angel wanted the young man to know was that the tool he was holding was obsolete, useless, it would only impede progress if he used it, if he tried to rebuild the same way. 

Looking at our news today, you’d say ‘Covid scattered us’, but remember there’s a mystery to it but God is still sovereign over all things, and always at work. People everywhere are scattered, isolated and confused. We must have a vision of God bringing them back together – but he have to get it from him, for now and next – because it will not be the same as it used to be. 

That was much too small for the Lord. He’s got something much more glorious in mind and what’s falling down may not need to ever be rebuilt the same. I know it’s hard because our identities get caught up in those so-called measures of success in ministry, I get that because I’ve got that too! 

Will we let the angel stop us in our tracks today? 

It’s natural to try to rebuild what was and strengthen and protect its fortifications. But neither of those two things would now be needed. Don’t get busy, rushing to rebuild what God has knocked down just because you like it and invested a lot in it. God is able to do way more than that!

Some churches are reaching and connecting with more people than ever these days, we couldn’t fit the amount of people who are now ‘coming’ to Ivy in any building we own or could afford to hire regularly even if we wanted to and it was safe to do so. I’m glad we’ve bought a sports field too! 

We have to ‘look up’ like Zechariah did to see what God is building now and next and not be so quick to try to measure it, especially by the old standards or things that look like them (how many likes, views and clicks for instance). 

What a shock for that leader to realise while he was on the way to do what he thought was right to hear that his plans were no good because his perceptions were outdated and his measurement was according to a man-made scale (the earliest based on comparison with how long your own finger, hand or arm is). But God doesn’t measure by human standards in anything. 

He is the God of immeasurably more

What God was going to do next was way beyond, way bigger and way better. What God has in mind was immeasurable by our standards because it’s uncontainable and unstoppable – a work without walls. Not a bounded set but a centred set with his glory at the centre of it all.  This would no longer be about buildings, but rebuilding broken people, restoring broken community, in the hearts of the people in the heart of every part of the city. 

It feels a lot more fragile and vulnerable to us – we quite like our walls don’t we? But we don’t need them when God himself surrounds it all as it overflows all previous boundaries – he is our wall of fire. 

THE OLD MEASUREMENTS WON’T WORK

I’m not sure they ever did but we can get very caught up in them anyway.

I’m dropping my old tape measure, I don’t want to limit what could be and will be by what was, however great that was – it’s too small. I won’t just rebuild according to the old pattern,

‘Please Lord – I want to be part of the new thing!’

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