President Obama famously said while campaigning in 2012, “You didn’t build that,” as a way of emphasizing the role of government in the success of various business ventures. While seeming to undercut the value of risk-taking and initiative, the former president did stumble upon a biblical truth that everyone in the church needs to keep front and center.
I have the privilege of working cooperatively with pastors from numerous churches in my area, and it is always a great temptation when meeting another pastor to ask him about his congregation. We feel a subtle pressure to take responsibility (or credit) for the size and health of our congregations – as if we built them. The Lord Jesus reminds us that it is His church and that He alone can build and sustain it. This does not excuse us of mismanaging our time and resources, but it does check our temptation to pride if things are going well or to despair if they are not – as if it is all up to us.
I have the privilege of serving in a congregation that was founded in 1821 by a group of Scotch-Irish immigrants, who left Chester County, South Carolina to plant a church in southern Indiana – a place where their radical, anti-slavery stance would be easier to maintain. The Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA) came to Bloomington one year after the new state seminary (today Indiana University) was opened. In God’s providence, our congregation continues to preach and teach the same biblical truths that our forefathers did nearly 200 years ago. Surviving as a congregation for two centuries is rare, but maintaining a commitment to the Bible and a love for the gospel for that long is nearly unheard of in the Christian world. It is tempting to think that, in some way, we built and/or maintain our congregation, but we do neither. The Lord Jesus does it, and we are greatly blessed to be a part of His work.
I had the honor of giving a presentation on the history of our congregation to the local historical society a few months back. Although, I find it difficult to watch myself on TV, some of my friends, who have watched it, have encouraged me to post the link to the talk. If you are interested in seeing one example of how Jesus builds and maintains His church over a long period of time, you might enjoy watching below.