Joshua 14:1–15:63; 2 Corinthians 11:16–23; Psalm 54:1–7
Our church is considering a church plant, meaning we will begin a new congregation in another part of our city. This involves research into the right place, the cost, the feasibility of every aspect, including what other churches might be in the area. Rather than go into a place that already has good churches, it would be wise to find a location with a need.
In reading about the land distribution in Canaan after God gave it to His people Israel, I’m thinking about the people of God today. Christian churches proliferate in some areas, particularly the south USA. The town in Canada where I was born had less than a thousand people, but eight churches. We used to laugh about this, but doing the math, if everyone went to church, there would still not be enough pew space. Church allotment was not as high as it looked.
In those days, “The people of Israel did as the Lord commanded Moses; they allotted the land.” (Joshua 14:5) This seems like a good pattern for the church. Instead of overlapping territories, Christian denominations could map out their space and neatly manage their allotment. But it isn’t going to happen. For one thing (at least in this part of the world), the people choose which church they will attend and it might not be the one across the street. We once drove 45 minutes to the church of our choice, even though others were closer. There are good reasons to support a ‘local’ congregation, yet this may not be the best choice for some situations.
Yet one problem with overlapping ‘territories’ is the ease which our sinful natures fall into competition. If that were not bad enough, sometimes the church next door is one of those “We are the best” or “We are right and everyone else is wrong” varieties, or full of extremists and even false teachers. Paul had a problem with that kind of pressure in his ministry. People were putting him down as nothing. He talked to them about their so-called advantages using words they would understand, telling them his ‘advantages’ in words that he was ashamed to say. . .
“To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.” (2 Corinthians 11:21–23) I sense this man’s frustration.
David had a problem with opposition too. His prayer in Psalm 54 could easily be Paul’s prayer and the prayer of any of God’s people whose ministry is invaded by those with no respect for others, and who bully for position. . .
“O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might. O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen against me; ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before themselves. Selah. Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. He will return the evil to my enemies; in your faithfulness put an end to them. With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.” (Psalm 54:1–7)
These thoughts add substance to my prayers for my church, and for other churches in our city. They also motivate a firm stand against those who measure success by their history, nationality, hard work, trials, and even their size, or the identities of people who attend. God allots us our place and He determines the scope of each ministry. Working together to glorify Him is far more important than measuring ourselves by worldly standards, or falling into ridiculous competitions. In Christ, we are one body serving one God – in different ways and in different places, but hopefully with a deep attitude of care for one another and for those not yet in His kingdom.