In July of 2007, I began my career in ministry. So not too long ago I celebrated my fifteenth anniversary of being a pastor. But even though the journey of ministry has led me in a lot of different directions over the years, I still remember what it was like walking into my first church office for the very first time.
I remember arriving at the church early one Monday morning with my car loaded with boxes filled with everything I thought I needed in my new office. I remember the sweat dripping down my face as I lugged box after box into that office on a hot July day. I remember cranking up the AC in the building once everything was unloaded. And I remember all the time it took to get everything unpacked from the boxes and arranged just right in the office.
Now since I was just starting out in ministry, I didn’t really have that much stuff. Over the last fifteen years, I have accumulated hundreds of books, dozens of commentaries, and a really nice set of Bible dictionaries. But back in 2007, I had a few dozen books that were mostly required reading for some of my college and seminary classes.
But even though I only had a few dozen books, I spent at least a couple of hours meticulously arranging them on the bookshelves that lined one wall of my new office. I arranged and rearranged them over and over again to try to make my meager collection look larger than it really was. But even after I had done everything I could to fill the empty bookshelves with the few books that I actually owned, the shelves were still pretty empty.
So it was time to break out some of my personal mementos. Now, again, I was just starting out in ministry. So I wasn’t prepared to fully embrace my inner geek and scare the congregation that just called me to be their pastor. So I didn’t have any action figures sitting on the shelves behind me. I put plenty of pictures up instead.
Once I was satisfied with my new bookshelves, I grabbed a hammer and a couple of nails and got to work hanging up my college diploma and ordination certificate right behind my desk. I figured that would remind anyone who stopped by my office for a chat that I had some idea of what I was doing.
And after all of that was done – after spending hours getting everything just right – I plopped down in the swivel chair behind my desk and took it all in. And, as I sat there surveying my new office that I had spent all day decorating, I decided that it looked like I belonged there...behind the pastor’s desk in my new church office.
The truth is, that day was the culmination of a dream that had resonated throughout my life, a dream that became concrete about a decade before. On that night, back in 1999, I was sitting four rows back in a sanctuary that I had practically grown up in. That night my childhood church was celebrating Boy Scout Sunday by recognizing one of our local troops. When it came time for the sermon to be preached, the pastor spoke of the Boy Scouts' value of service and the way it aligned with the Kingdom of God. But the more he spoke, the more I realized God wasn't just speaking to the handful of scouts in attendance...God was speaking to me.
As soon as the invitation was offered, I came down the aisle and told the pastor that I felt God was calling me into ministry, calling me to serve the church. It wasn't long before the service was dismissed and a few dozen people made their way down the aisle to shake my hand. Time and time again they affirmed my decision, saying that they knew God was calling me to this.
So I spent the next four years of my life studying religion at Georgetown College, and I had begun working on my Master of Divinity degree at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. Along the way, I spent two years serving as a Youth Minister at a small church on the outskirts of Scott County and 6 months as their interim pastor. But now, eight years after I heard that concrete call, I felt like I was finally able to fulfill it. I was finally ready to be the pastor of a church...or at least I thought I was.
I had spent years of my life preparing for this moment. I had sat through classes that walked me through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and covered everything in between, and through them, I developed my own theology. In other courses, I learned about things like church history and church administration, and I learned how the body of Christ had worked for all these years. I had prepared sermons and written Bible studies. I had stood behind the pulpit in nearly a dozen churches and proclaimed God's word for each of those congregations. I had served communion a few times along the way and even performed a baptism or two.
And now that I was on the cusp of beginning the ministry I had only dreamt of, my mind was swirling with the possibilities of everything that God could accomplish through me. I imagined preaching sermons that inspired and challenged everyone in attendance. I envisioned quiet conversations of comfort around hospital beds. I anticipated opportunities to help people along their journeys with God. I visualized baptisms, communions, weddings, and funerals.
As I thought about all of these possibilities, it felt like every moment of the last eight years had brought me to that point. And now I was ready to spring into action. I was ready to change the world. I was ready to start my ministry. But all I actually did was spin in my new desk chair and stare at my bookshelves wondering: What now?
You see, even though I had been preparing myself to become a minister for years, and even though I was absolutely ready to begin serving in my very first church, I was still entering a new era in my life. It was uncharted territory for me to actually lead and pastor a church. So all I could do was wonder: What am I supposed to do now?
And we’ve all had these kinds of moments when all we can do is wonder: what now?
We’ve had them when we’ve climbed back in our car after a trip to the grocery store when we’ve turned the key but the engine just wouldn’t start. And as we’re standing in the parking lot, looking under the hood of the car while our ice cream’s melting in the trunk, we’ve wondered, “What now?”
We’ve had them happen when we’ve gone on a dream vacation and safely arrived at our final destination only to learn that our luggage didn’t make it there with us. And as we think about the possibility of spending an entire week in a tropical paradise without a change of clothes or a drop of sunscreen, we’ve wondered, “What now?”
We’ve had them happen on the first night our newborn baby comes home and we can’t figure out how to get them to stop crying. We’ve had them when our kids start calculus in high school and we can no longer help them with their homework. We’ve had them when the whole family is on their way over for Thanksgiving dinner, and we just burned the turkey.
And if we’re being completely honest, I think many of us here at Melbourne Heights are having one of these “What now?” moments right now. In less than a month, we are going to be moving forward as a church as we move into our next church home. And even though we’re all feeling every bit as excited about moving into our new church home as I felt when I moved into my very first church office fifteen years ago, we’re not exactly sure what we’re supposed to be doing.
So what are we supposed to be doing? Well, to help us answer that question I want us to take a closer look at a time when Jesus’ closest followers – his disciples – were having their own “What now?” moment. Now the disciples “What now?” moment happened in the aftermath of Easter, right after the women had gone to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty because Jesus had been resurrected…because Jesus is alive.
In the Gospel of John, or John’s biography of Jesus, we find the disciples hidden away behind locked doors because they were afraid. And you can just imagine them looking around the room at each other wondering, “What now?”
And then Jesus appears to them. Jesus shows them that he is alive and that he’s at work in our world. He reminds them of their calling to follow him and encourages them even as they’re trying to wrap their minds around everything that’s just happened.
So when Jesus ascends to the heavens forty days after the resurrection, you’d think the disciples would know what they’re supposed to be doing – just like you’d think that spent eight years preparing to be a minister would know what to do on his first day in the office. But you’d be wrong.
And, if you’ll grab your Bible and turn with me to the book of Acts, I’ll show you what I mean. We’ll be reading from Acts 1 and we’ll start in verse 1, and just listen to what Luke – the author of Acts – tells us the disciples do. Luke writes:
1 Theophilus, the first scroll I wrote concerned everything Jesus did and taught from the beginning, 2 right up to the day when he was taken up into heaven. Before he was taken up, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus instructed the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. 4 While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: 5 John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”
7 Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
9 After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. 11 They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”
Acts 1:1-11 (Common English Bible)
In this story, the disciples are with Jesus. They’re sharing a meal with him, asking him questions, and listening to him teach. And you get a feeling that they expect Jesus will be there with them forever – that’s why they ask if he’s going to restore the kingdom of Israel now. But then Jesus isn’t there anymore. Jesus ascends into the heavens. He returns to the right hand of God. And the disciples are left alone…staring into the sky because they have no idea what to do next. They’re wondering “What now?”
But here’s the thing – even though Jesus had just ascended into the heavens, even though Jesus had just returned to the right hand of God, even though the disciples were left alone – they still knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing. And they knew what they were supposed to be doing because they had just spent the last three years of their lives following Jesus. So they had sat at Jesus’ feet and listened as he taught them about the Kingdom of God. They had watched as Jesus performed miracles that gave glimpses of how the world is supposed to be. They were there when Jesus was crucified, and they saw him raised from the grave. So they knew what they were supposed to do because Jesus had already told them.
So even as the disciples were standing there staring at the sky, wondering “What now?”, they already knew the answer. They were supposed to:
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.
Matthew 28:19-20a (Common English Bible)
And that’s what the disciples did. They stopped staring at the sky. They stopped wondering “What now?” And they moved forward. They went from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria. They went as far west as Rome, and as far east as India. They went as far north as modern-day Georgia (the country not the state) and as far south as Ethiopia.
And when they went, they made disciples. The book of Acts tells us that after one of those disciples, Peter, preached his first sermon, about 3,000 people were baptized and added to the church. But they don’t stop with baptizing. The disciples also started churches in every town and city they ministered in. And even after they left, they continued to teach the people there everything that Jesus commanded them by writing letters that make up a portion of the New Testament.
But what does all of that have to do with us? Well, on October 23 our church is moving forward. We’re moving into our new church homes. And many of us are wondering what now? Or how do we move forward? Or what are we supposed to do next?
Well, the good news is that we don’t have to answer any of those questions on our own. Whenever we wonder what’s next for our church, God wants us to hear the same thing the disciples heard from Jesus.
What are we supposed to do now? We’re supposed to go and make disciples. And that mission hasn’t changed in over 2,000 years. That’s what the church is and will always be about. It’s not about where we worship or what our building looks like. We, as a church, exist to make disciples.
We exist to make disciples.
And that’s never going to change. So that’s our “What now?” We are supposed to go and make disciples. So let’s remember that. Above everything else, we are here to make disciples. And that’s what we need to focus on as we move forward.