Could you be pursuing the right ministry for the wrong reasons?
I have come to love the people of the Hawaiian islands in the 27 years since we planted New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu. The warmth of the Aloha spirit in the islanders wonderfully complements the islands’ perfect temperatures. A unique blend of nationalities and languages here creates some of the most beautiful people on the globe.
Yet, at the start, much of my love was a choice. I didn’t always live here. I received my education and early experience in ministry in the Pacific Northwest. But it was a love for the island people that compelled us to come here and stay here. And no matter where I travel, that love has never left.
Love for people, even love for an area of the country, is mandatory for a church to succeed. A church God loves to bless is one that loves the people in its community as well as its call to reach them.
Have you considered what a powerfully motivating force love is? Second Corinthians 5:14 states that “the love of Christ compels us” (emphasis added). When we love someone deeply we serve with glad hearts. Our actions are characterized by a sustainable passion—one that does not flare up nor die down quickly.
What do you do if your church doesn’t have this type of love for its calling and community? I’ll answer with a personal story:
One day I met with a man who was considering relocating to Hawaii to start a new church.
“I serve with a denomination that has no representative church in these islands,” he said. “They are willing to invest a considerable amount of money to get one started, and they’ve asked me to move here and lead it. What do you think?”
“Let me ask you a question,” I replied. “Do you love the Asian and Polynesian people?”
“Oh, you can’t beat Hawaii! And my kids love the beaches.”
“I agree wholeheartedly!” I said, then repeated, “But do you love the people?”
“Yes, I just love the way they gather in families on the weekends at the beach.”
I wasn’t sure he understood what I was truly asking, so I again repeated: “But do you love the people here?”
“What do you mean?”
“The people here deserve to be loved deeply,” I said. “Do you know their customs? Do you know the history of the islands?”
He stared at me as if I were speaking a foreign language.
I smiled, then said: “Here’s my take, for what it’s worth: Don’t start a church just yet. First, put up a map of Hawaii on your wall and pray over the towns; walk down the avenues and learn how to pronounce street names. Take some time to get to know the people. Learn to love them for who they are. Love the foods they eat, the customs they practice and the way they live. The only reason to come to Hawaii must be to love the people in Christ’s name, not for the weather.”
The pastor did his best to comply with his denomination’s request, but three years later his church closed, and he returned to the mainland.
Before I went to Honolulu to plant a church, I put a huge map on my office wall. Every day for six months I stood in front of this map. In my mind, I’d walk down every street and pray for the people. In time, God gave me an empathy for what the people of that area were going through.
Let’s ask ourselves a few difficult questions: How would you gauge your church’s love for its community? Do you minister in a certain area from a deep love for Christ and for the people who are served by that ministry? Do you pastor your church because you love God and love the people there, or are you seeking to get something out of the church? Are your church’s programs and ministries for the community based in love?
Genuine love monitors our hearts and checks our motives. It transforms what we believe into how we live it.
Wayne Cordeiro is the founding pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, where more than 14,000 people attend weekly. He has planted more than 108 churches in the Pacific Rim and in the Western U.S. He is the author of 10 books, including Doing Church as a Team and The Irresistible Church.