I’ve never been able to remember what an “Ebenezer” is. It always bothered me when a song leader would say something about “raising an Ebenezer” in the middle of a worship set and confuse 90% of the congregation (much less the outsiders who are visiting that day).
I don’t think I’ll ever forget what Ebenezer means again.
Samuel and Ebenezer
I want to briefly share two stories. One is a recent experience of God’s faithfulness to us and one is a story of God’s faithfulness to a group of Israelites who were huddling together in fear in a town called Mizpah nearly 3,000 years ago.
With the threat of attack by the Philistine’s, Samuel the prophet reminded the Israelites to abandon their worship of other gods and to worship and serve the One True God.
I’m a big advocate for giving through the local church. Beyond that, I try and support other causes and ministries that are important to me. With our giving we can build wells for people without water, we can advocate for modern day slaves, we can feed hungry children, we can translate the Bible, etc.
But there’s one group of people that need our faithful support even more than others. They need it because they are the ones who are building the wells, rescuing slaves, and translating the Bible. They are the ones who are sharing the gospel with those who have not heard.
Who am I talking about? Missionaries.
I’ve been thinking about the benefits of sponsoring missionaries recently because I’ve been sending out some fundraising letters of my own. I’m a church planter in Queens and I rely on the prayers and gifts of others to bring the gospel to a place that has very few gospel-centered churches.
As William Carey said to his financial supporters, “I’ll go down into the mine, if you’ll hold the ropes.”
But what’s in it for those who give? What’s in it for those who hold the ropes?
Starting a church is like starting a business.
The only difference is that in this “business” the “business partners” won’t be getting a financial return; the “employees” pay (tithe) the company for the privilege of working for free; “customers” are asked to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus; and the “product” is a message that is offensive to 90% of the people who hear it.
That’s why I’ve come to a few conclusions about what it takes to start a church:
- It takes an act of God to start a church.
- That act of God always involves the people of God.
- It’s up to God to get the right people in the right places at the right time.
- God mobilizes some people to go down into the mine and some people to hold the ropes.
An Act of God
Our journey to start churches in New York City proves that it takes an act of God to start a church.