The Church of the Nazarene does not belong to us. It belongs to God!
Our mission is working!
A pastor came to me with a worried look on his face. I had just completed a "Good News Report" at one of the U.S. district assemblies and had given a few exciting statistics about what God has done in the Church of the Nazarene over the past five years. He rejoiced with everyone present when I reported that we had seen a net increase of 513,000 in global membership. He wept as I told stories of sacrificial efforts to reach the lost in so many of our global mission areas. When I reported on the fact that there were Nazarenes who had been killed because of their faith in Christ, he joined all of us in grieving those losses.
As I shared inspiring stories of courageous witness by Nazarenes in challenging social and political environments, the pastor responded with a loud "Amen," joining others in an affirmation of God's work through our wonderful global family.
But when I reported that our total membership was over 2,140,000, with only 660,000 of these Nazarenes living in the U.S. and Canada, he was stunned. I noticed that throughout the remainder of the message he was pensive, silent, and clearly troubled.
Following the message, we took a short break for transition into the organization of the assembly. The pastor made his way directly to the platform, obviously needing to speak with me. When we greeted one another, he got right to the point.
"Did I understand you to say that two-thirds of the members of the Church of the Nazarene live outside North America?"
"Yes!" I responded. "Isn't that exciting?"
His immediate response was, "Aren't you afraid they will take over?"
I responded, "God willing!"
Now I was stunned. For the first time I realized that some fear that growth in the church outside North America could be a threat. We have been driven by a passion for mission from the very beginning of the Church of the Nazarene. We have sent out our best and brightest people as missionaries: some for career-long service, others in short-term missions. Adults have made mid-career shifts in their lives, offering themselves as volunteers, uprooting their families, and moving to other nations, other cultures, other languages, in order to follow the leading of the Spirit of God.
Now, from many other nations and on many other continents, Nazarenes are offering themselves as missionaries, as volunteers, as emissaries of the kingdom of God. At the 2012 General Board meeting, two new world areas were officially approved: Southern Sudan, a newly-formed nation in the Horn of Africa, and the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean.
In the Turks and Caicos Islands, a Nazarene family, who had just been transferred from another island, began looking for a Church of the Nazarene. Discovering that there were no Churches of the Nazarene there, they did what Nazarenes around the world are doing. They started one! Soon they had a growing congregation and made contact with the Mesoamerica Regional office. There is now a thriving work in Turks and Caicos, where more Church of the Nazarene congregations are already being formed.
That is the nature of people formed in holiness and committed to the evangelization of the world. You cannot keep them from finding lost people and creating a new center of holiness evangelism and worship.
"Aren't you afraid they will take over?" Actually, that is the point. We want them to take over, to do the work of evangelism, to preach and teach the Word of God, to spread the message of heart holiness, to take the initiative in giving themselves unselfishly to the work of mission. But we also need to remember that they are us! We are not divided or separated. The mission does not belong to any one nation. This is the Global Church of the Nazarene. We are all engaged, involved, giving, and going! This has been characteristic of Nazarenes everywhere from the beginning.
We do not give to the World Evangelism Fund to control the mission. We give because God has blessed and provided for us, and we have an opportunity and an obligation to respond to that blessing with generosity and with grace.
So, let's pray fervently. Let's give generously. Let's go courageously. And let's let go. The Church of the Nazarene does not belong to us. It belongs to God!
Jesse C. Middendorf is general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, September/October 2012