This week our church ministered alongside First Nations musician and evangelist Cheryl Bear and her family, and I watched God answer our prayers that through their ministry and presence the Kingdom of God would become a little more visible in the Cowichan Valley. The fulfilment of that prayer was especially obvious Wednesday evening on the Native reservation. Food. Music. Games. Friendship. Laughter.
All night, the gospel was spoken, sung, lived out, and set in motion.
Cheryl and Randy Barnetson (Bear is Cheryl’s clan and stage name) and their sons Paul, Randall and Justice, are prophets to the church and priests to the Nations. As prophets, they speak God’s blunt truth. As priests, they disclose God’s tender heart. Cheryl and Randy shared on Tuesday night, at our church, that many of our assumptions about Indigenous people are completely erroneous and have contributed to our impotence in reaching them. Then Cheryl spoke on Wednesday night, on the rez, about Jesus’ deep deep love for all people and his power to save and to heal. Afterward, men and women and children crowded around her and Randy and the boys to meet them and hear more.
Cheryl said something that simultaneously encouraged me and devastated me: that in the over 400 First Nations communities they have visited in the past 3 years, only in the Cowichan Valley has she seen the church present on the reservation. I am thankful that we have walked through this door. But I am heartbroken that so few others even attempted it.
But it took us this long to get this far, and we have a considerable distance to go yet. I pray all of us grow in our understanding that the gospel is for all people – every tribe and tongue and nation, as the Bible frequently puts it. And that we are sent with good news, not merely asked to caretake it. God has made us ambassadors, not custodians, of the gospel. God sends us out to “preach good news to all nations.”
None of us are exempt. All of us have a role.
Are you setting the gospel in motion?
The church is the greatest volunteer organization on earth. So vital are volunteers to the mission and ministry – indeed, the very existence – of the church that any church that loses them soon stalls, folds, and dies. Ministry simply can't get done without you.
Volunteerism is so much the heart of our church, New Life, that we make it a condition of hiring: we unapologetically ask every staff member to work beyond their paid hours. On average, each staff volunteers at the church 5-10 hours a week. The little speech I make when we hire someone goes like this: "The ministries at New Life rise or fall on its volunteers – on good people willing to give gladly and generously of their time, talent, and money. We're asking you to do the same – indeed, to go first and set an example. If you only want to work for a paycheque, this isn't the place for you."
I was struck this week by the thought that Jesus was the ultimate volunteer. He willingly came to earth to do the redeeming work of his Father, and received no earthly reward for it. He gave up first heaven, and then even his day job, to undertake a messy and massive task that cost him everything. He wasn't paid for it. He wasn't forced into it. He wasn't even thanked for it.
He volunteered to do it, and he did it all with joy.
That's whose example we follow, however modestly.
Every church needs volunteers. Quite simply, we can't do church without them, without you.