The Uncomfortable Challenge of Growth

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What are the two most exciting and joyful aspects of your life? For me, they would be experiencing (either personally or vicariously) new birth and growth. As parents of four amazing children, Shannon and I have seen both up close. The birth of each child was simply miraculous and precious. Every developmental milestone since then, from infancy to young adulthood, has provided innumerable reasons for gratitude and celebration. From Aria’s first “song” (that passionate newborn cry) to Alina’s most recent concert in the Southern Adventist University Symphony Orchestra, Shannon and I have been so proud and grateful to God as we have seen all four of our children growing into what God has created them to be, providing a great analogy of our church planting experience in its different phases.

In our ten years in Khon Kaen, we have seen this church in its “infancy” phase, where members could do next to nothing by themselves. They were totally dependent. The perks of leading such a young church plant were that it was small and intimate, everything was new and exciting, and just about anything went; ideas or programs that our pastor and missionary team suggested would be accepted eagerly. Of course, as a young church, it was very fragile.

In time, the members grew in knowledge and experience. Thus, it entered an organizational “childhood” phase when members began participating enthusiastically but were still largely dependent on the leaders to help organize and guide them. This phase was full of “proud parent” moments with delightful developments as members became increasingly skillful in using their spiritual gifts or talents. Generally, they still respected and followed their leaders. Yet, they knew how things were going and didn’t question much.

Now, it seems like we are in a spiritual “adolescence” phase. From a leadership perspective, things are getting very interesting, exciting, and even a little uncomfortable. Church members who have grown and taken on leadership roles are beginning to question and think more for themselves. They are less dependent on the pastor and missionaries for guidance. Sometimes, they question how to do things better or more efficiently. “Why?” or “Why not?” questions are asked more frequently in elders’ meetings and board meetings. This has led to frank discussions about the nature and importance of foundational principles and traditional practices — fundamental beliefs — and the variety of ways these beliefs might be expressed in everyday life and various church and cultural contexts.

Recently, our elders and church board met to discuss how to improve the quality and effectiveness of our worship experience, focusing on the following objectives:

1) Maximize an understanding of God (Christ) and His Word through simple, practical teaching.

2) Maximize interest (i.e., sermons and activities that are not boring nor excessively long but appropriate, powerful and relevant for all age groups).
3) Maximize participation (providing more opportunity for everyone to use their spiritual gifts).

4) Maximize connectedness with God (providing time and opportunity for prayer, contemplation and application of God’s word).

5) Maximize connectedness with each other (providing time and opportunity to visit, counsel and pray for each other).

6) Maximize reverence for God (maintaining an atmosphere of reverence, appropriate quietness and timeliness).
7) Maximize preparation and planning (for smoothness and efficiency).

One of the elders suggested an idea that we have seen working well in other SDA churches — one that should certainly make it easier to achieve the first five worship objectives above. He said we should consider moving away from our current bi-lingual worship programs and instead have two simultaneous mono-lingual worship services, one in Thai and the other in English. Regardless of how much our international and Thai brothers and sisters love each other, the fact is that by translating (i.e., repeating everything spoken, preached or sung), our services have either tended to run twice as long or our sermons go only half as deep as would otherwise be the case. However, having two single-language services would greatly help the above and provide twice as many leadership and service opportunities. We believe that this will result in greater joy and growth as more people discover that “talents used are” indeed “talents multiplied.”

When the elders presented the idea to the church board, they voted unanimously in favor. We have been meeting separately for a month, and the result has been very encouraging. There is more interest, increased attendance, and much more participation, just as we desired. Praise God!

Another area of growth is that in 2024, we will have an evangelistic series that will not require any guest speakers. Our local pastor and elders are up to the challenge, and we will be the main speakers and participants. We are expecting several baptisms. I am excited by this personal and organizational church growth, as challenging as it is. Thank you for your ongoing interest, prayers, and faithful support for God’s work here in Khon Kaen, Thailand.

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