Our denomination was founded by people who were committed in sacrifice and prayer to build a powerful radio ministry. Today, Jesus continues to work in this church through people who are committed in sacrifice and prayer to follow wherever he leads.
We have had several difficult years — but we also have reasons for rejoicing. We praise our Lord for the assurance he gives us that our labors are not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Though the work is sometimes hard and it is not always easy to see where Christ is leading, we are promised that our labors will be rewarded richly.
We are being refined, and purity does not come from comfort and easy routines. We are growing spiritually, and growth comes from shouldering the heavy load — in our case, a load so heavy that we know we cannot possibly carry it on our own. The burdens we carry have driven us to our knees time and again, and the Lord Jesus Christ is helping us day by day to do the work he wants us to do.
In some ways, our "work" is smaller than it has been for many years. We have less money to work with — which means that each dollar is needed more, and appreciated more. We have made painful reductions in the number of employees at headquarters and, to a smaller degree, in the field ministry. We made the painful decision to close Ambassador University, and we trust God to provide the educational resources the church needs to work into the 21st century.
Our paid staff cannot do as much as it used to, and we rely more and more on volunteer workers. Even some of our pastoral work is being done by volunteer workers, who are being given training for this work. Our volunteer workers will broaden our ability to do the work that God knows is in our future. He is preparing us, training us for greater service to advance his kingdom.
We are growing in many important ways:
Worship — God is bringing new life to our weekly congregational meetings, helping us sense his presence and be energized by his Spirit to be vessels of his love throughout the week. This fresh experience of God's presence is not primarily a matter of any particular form or format of the service. It is a matter of an increase in faithful, praying hearts coming together ready to worship.
Prayer — as individuals, small groups, and congregations. There is so much more praise, confession, and seeking of God's help. There is a greater awareness of our dependence on God, and of his loving concern for us.
Bible study — God has give us a fresh framework for understanding the Old and New Testaments, and we are learning what Christ would have us be and do. In our sermons, in our small group studies, and in our personal study, we are beginning to hear more personally and more clearly what God is saying.
Fellowship. We have a wonderful tradition of lively conversation before and after our worship services. Small group prayer and worship along with a greater commitment to private prayer and worship are helping our conversations bring glory to God as they become more spiritually meaningful and minister God's grace and love to one another.
Equipping the saints. More pastors are becoming comfortable with the responsibility to equip and facilitate members in serving according to their God-given spiritual gifts. Members are being taught how to discover their spiritual gifts, and how to use their gifts to build up the body of Christ.
Ministry — not just pastoral work, but godly, edifying service in the name of Christ given by any member. This includes comforting the brokenhearted, helping the poor, serving the sick, making friends and bringing them to Christ, encouraging others in their particular ministries. Sometimes our ministry in Jesus' name is known by others, and sometimes it's done anonymously, known only by God, who will reward his saints. Some are serving by themselves in a small and love-filled ministry for which God has equipped them. Others are reaching out together as small groups or as congregations to make a difference in the name of their Master. And it's being done in unity, cooperation, harmony, and humility, to bring glory to God, not to bring glory to oneself or to seek admiration or to get control of something.
Evangelism. There is much that could be said here! God has given us such wonderful news and has filled our hearts with such thanksgiving and joy for his love, his mercy, his forgiveness and his great salvation that we eagerly share it. We are hearing the gospel in our worship services, discussing the good news in our small groups, finding ways to express how Jesus Christ has blessed our lives. And more of us are finding that there is no greater joy than sharing the amazing story of God's love and seeing another sinner come home to their Savior.
Baptisms. Each month in our denomination, more than 100 people are baptized into Jesus Christ. We rejoice with the holy angels for these new lives!
There is so much to be done, dear friends! Some of it requires money. Some requires talent or skill — spiritual gifts and godly inclinations. Some requires time. All of it requires a daily sacrifice of prayer — prayer of praise, thanksgiving, repentance, and seeking God's will and power in our lives. Only in such earnest and devoted prayer will we find the dedication and commitment, the self-sacrifice, and the power to be all that God wants us to be.
Growth does not come from comfort and easy routines. Growth comes from heavy loads that we allow Jesus Christ to carry through our lives.
We look forward to the future with great optimism that our Lord and Savior will lead us where he wants us to go. He is our strength. May we all commit to honor him more in the coming year.