Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Today I was part of a team talking to one of our more fragile parishioners who's gotten into a bad place because they believed God was calling them to dream big dreams. It's largely self-inflicted, and we had to tell them that.

This is not a task I enjoy. Situations like this are some of the most difficult things about ministry.

What saddens me is how often the church itself has a share of the blame in how people get themselves into these messes. So often fragile people seek out churches because they're looking for something to hold on to, and the idea that all they have to do is believe strongly enough in Jesus for prosperity to come to them, or for God to use them in a big way is very appealing.

Often these folks believe God is calling them to take big risks and step out in faith with no safety net.

It's easy to wag the finger at "prosperity Gospel" churches that seem to specialize in such messages. But how many times can you recall hearing this kind of thing from guest speakers brought into your local church? We listen to countless stories of daring: missionary miracles; businesses that no one believed in but themselves and God; the person who quit their job, gathered up all their savings, and headed out like Abraham for parts unknown.

These modern-day stories of faith rewarded are standard fare. And there are biblical examples that seem to support this kind of theology. Even though the biblical characters were in extraordinary circumstances, we often use their examples as what we can normally expect God to ask of us.

What even our best-intentioned churches don't seem to follow up on, though, is how to make sure you are hearing God clearly enough. You need to be able to discern whether what you think you're hearing is what you're hearing.

Absent this kind of safeguarding, I've noticed that some of our most fragile folks think they're hearing from God when they're not. And when they take reckless action in response, disaster often results: financial, spiritual, and relational.

I've come to the conclusion we should never present a Bible study, a guest speaker or a sermon about an extraordinary step of faith without also including information on discernment. Whenever we do otherwise, I believe there's the potential to "cause one of our little ones to stumble."

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