What I am going to share is fact, not hypotheticals. I could never have expected, prayed for, believed for or walked in faith for this. In fact, everything in me says that this isn't the way it should be. But when I actually got quiet with the Lord, I discovered that this totally unexpected thing is totally biblical. It is totally God.
Before I can share this, you need some background and context. So here it is.
I came into the ministry late in life after a career in technology. For most of my adult life I have served the Lord in local churches and ministries in a wide variety of areas including teens, adults, marrieds, divorce recovery, evangelism, street aids, men's, home groups, and seniors' ministry. All of it good. To get the full impact of my transition to ministry and how God worked it out see How my layoff led to my second career and calling (at 69!).
In 2016, I found myself along with my wife Dianna in an intense full-time focus on a new ministry startup called Hunters of the Harvest. It is truly a God-ordained endeavor that is dedicated to reaching and restoring dropout believers to the church – the Body of Christ. There is no similar, laser-focused ministry like this elsewhere today. It is a divine biblical strategy for the engagement, restoration and reconnection of dropout believers to the church. See www.Huntersoftheharvest.org .
I soon discovered that this disturbing trend is unique to the church in America(indeed, the church in the Western hemisphere) today. The recent article in Outreach Magazine highlights this. Pastors and church leaders in America and beyond are aware of this phenomenon. I discovered that active Christians are also painfully aware of this reality because they all know dropout believers in their own circle of influence – family members, friends, neighbors, and work associates. The Barna Group has released a study in 2016 that says although seven of 10 Americans identify with the Christian faith, only three of 10 are in church. That means four of those seven are dropout believers – defined as those who have willingly disconnected themselves from any meaningful relationship to the local church – the Body of Christ. As the Holy Spirit continued to reveal this pressing need, we moved forward with this ministry passion with a vision from God, a strategy and plan to execute.
Part of our original strategy included a plan for financial support that we would receive from - who else? – active Christians and churches. Why? Because churches are aware of this issue and struggle with it; and active Christians agonize over family, friends and coworkers who have drifted away from the Lord.
Now back to the above theme: "A Totally Unexpected Thing Happened on the Way to Ministry."
Here is the totally unexpected thing that has been happening "on the way to ministry" since we have begun. Well, actually two totally unexpected things:
1. Churches and active Christians have not been among the significant contributors to this ministry, at least not up to now. (I exclude a few close friends and active Christians who have been a wonderful support).
2. Dropout believers (whom we have been ministering to personally), that have actually been impacted and restored by God's love and grace to the church, have been the major and most significant financial supporters of this endeavor!
I came to this realization by accident as I was discussing the current status of our ministry fundraising efforts with a board member. I shared the fact that churches and active Christians were not being responsive. But dropout believers WERE being responsive! They were, on their own initiative, without knowledge of our financial situation where we are believing God for survival day by day, knocking on our door coming and giving thousands of dollars! And still do!
I must clarify: we have not, nor would we have considered a dropout believer as a source of support for this ministry. They are the ultimate recipients and focus of God's love in this ministry. We never asked nor hinted, nor would we expect such outpouring of generosity from dropout believers (some former, some still "along the way to restoration"). We definitely haven't reached out to these individuals in our partner/fundraising efforts. In fact, I would have considered it a form of manipulation on our part to expect or seek financial support from these individuals.
But God showed me His truth that really changed my understanding on generosity: who has it/who should have it/who doesn't have it. Here's what Paul says:
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.
God has taken those who, in their deep joy of restoration to the Lord, have overflowed in their hearts with gratitude and just have to show it by giving! They give to us. They give to the church upon being restored. They give to others out of this deep joy of restoration to the Lord and the church! I could tell you a dozen stories of these right now.
You see, "He who is forgiven little, loves little; but he who is forgiven much loves much!" (Luke 7:47)
Yes, it's just like the lost who, upon receiving such a great salvation, just overflow with joy and generosity.
Like Paul, we had not expected this – at all!
But "...God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen..." to accomplish His purposes. And so, we continue this ministry in faith that God will provide.
Through all this, I just can't help thinking that maybe some churches might have better response to financial needs not by focusing on their existing congregation, but by actively pursuing dropout believers (as well as the lost) who are "out there."
Just a thought.
Louis Posthauer is the executive director of Hunters of the Harvest Ministry and author of Hunters of the Harvest: A Biblical Strategy for Restoring the Dropout Believer. He has been actively involved in the local church for 38 years and currently serves as a lay leader and teacher at Living Word Church of the Nazarene in Houston. For more information: HuntersOfTheHarvest.org
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