Derek felt the breath of a chill breeze encroaching on the darkening stillness of the forest clearing. Then it seemed to pause—as if checking its coup-de-gras options for putting the dying campfire out of its misery—an apt physical mirror of his internal churning.
“The fire’s not all that’s fading Ted,” he muttered to his long-time friend and mentor. “My ministry looks finished.”
As they sat on the logs that encircled the fire-pit, flames seemed a distant memory. Stretching their legs towards the fading warmth, they stared into the embers, occasionally poking them with a stick. Sporadic conversation was punctuated with long silences that needed no eye-contact.
Ted’s heart was heavy for his younger protégé, whose church had been transformed over the ten years of his ministry. From facing imminent closure, it had grown in morale; in attendance; in the depth of its internal discipleship; and in a generosity of spirit that was shown in an increasing scope of practical and creative ministries to the community.
He’d been thrilled to see all this growth.
He had been just as dismayed to learn from Derek that the leaders had met—during his vacation—to abort a property development that would have enabled the church to expand its range of ministries and accommodate worshippers. All because of blackmail from a small group who threatened to leave unless their demands were met.
Returning from his break, Derek had been eager to resume the prayer and planning with his leaders; to step up to the plate for the anticipated development. Eagerness dissolved when he received written minutes of the meeting that outlined charges against him in a trial to which he’d been subjected during his absence.
Derek’s next few weeks were a whirl of confusion at the betrayal he’d felt, for he’d made every effort to keep them alert to his concerns as well as how he’d sensed God’s invitation to explore the possibility. To all appearances his ministry continued; but it felt like a kind of robotic, automatic pilot towards a destination he no longer knew. But who could he talk with, on suddenly discovering that the leaders no longer trusted him?
Time with Ted seemed his best option, which prompted this time at the retreat centre.
Ted broke a long silence.
“Derek, beware of allowing the accuser to influence how you see yourself, and these leaders you have loved and shared with. They haven’t become oxygen thieves, nor have they suddenly sunk to a life-form you could only detect with a microscope. They’ve spiritualised the fear that has blinded them; as if God has suddenly become too weak to guide them.
“Moses trusted twelve men to spy out the Promised Land, but ten of them were so scared that they drowned out all of Joshua’s and Caleb’s anticipation. Moses spent forty more heartbreaking years leading the results of that fear, until only Joshua and Caleb survived. You don’t have forty more years of ministry, so we have to face the gut-wrenching likelihood that your pastorate is now untenable. For while you may forgive them; they have opened a back door to complaints that they could open again at any time.”
Derek gulped; then murmured: “It’s like I’m living out Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares—where false seeds were sown into a good crop. Any protest I make at the injustice will only hurt vulnerable, younger members who trust our leadership; and none of the leaders will admit to being deceived. But where do I go from here?”
“To be a step ahead is to lead. To be a prophet is to be five steps ahead; but to be ten steps ahead is to risk becoming a martyr,” Ted replied. But remember Tertullian’s statement from early church history–the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church?
“While this betrayal has stifled your present ministry gifts, God will use it to open wider ministry—frees from the constraints of other peoples’ fears. I’d love to know when, but God knows his own timing.”
Just then they felt the chill breeze reactivate with fresh energy, seemingly convinced of a new-found capacity to extinguish the embers.
And simultaneously, to embody the irony of Ted’s quote from Tertullian, that same icy activity actually fanned the embers into new flame.
Suddenly, as warmth returned, Derek realised that God had not left him out in the cold.
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