By: Sarah Morrison
If you know us well, you know that Paul sometimes sleepwalks and talks, leaving me to figure out if he’s awake by asking him simple math questions (emphasis on simple). Imagine our surprise when we do some simple math (again, emphasis on simple), and we find that since our arrival in Parma, 70 percent of those who have been reasonably involved in our church have left. What I mean by “reasonably involved” is they were either members, going through membership, or closely considering membership. 70 percent have come, claimed love for the church, and then promptly departed. 70 percent have looked inside our doors, inside our hearts, and then run away. The odds and the numbers have never been in our favor.
This percentage has been swinging around in my chest like a pendulum for a few months now. The numbers are pretty unbelievable and hard to wrap my mind around. There was never a mass exodus all at once, the numbers just slowly and continually shifted through the years. As our church plant gets older, we see more people come, but we also see more people leave. And we don’t just see them, we feel them leave. Each time it’s a fresh wound, a sting I’ve yet to get used to.
Paul and I love the church. Yes, we love Grantwood Community Church specifically, but more than that we love the thousands of faithful local churches across the globe. We love her because she’s Christ’s bride. We love her because she is the body of which we are a part. We love her because Christ loves her, and He wants more for her. He’s given us His Word that we might know how to behave within the context of the church, and He’s commissioned us to care for His future wife. Tending her wounds. Binding her fractures. Loving her, serving her, building her up.
So, yes. It hurts each time. It hurts in a way that it humbles us continually, prompting us in self-examination, reflection, and repentance. Paul and I are very aware of our imperfections and dispositions toward sin. We recognize our faults, and we own them. Praise God that we’re able to do so with confidence through Christ’s blood.
We are a frail, fragile church. 70 percent have left, and it’s hard to not see hope float out behind each warm body that leaves through those double doors. We’re a body of 15 adults, and we’ve danced around that number for over three years now. It’s hard for me to believe that God can do anything with that small number. In the same vein, it’s also hard for me not to see a Christlikeness displayed in our weakness, in being unadorned, in being simple, vulnerable, and outcast. There are small hopes in the large cracks of discouragement.
I’m not berating those who’ve abandoned the work or trying to muster your pity. But I do hope to illustrate something that’s still working its way into my heart, looking to Romans 12, knowing that the faith that I have is allotted to me by God. It’s the cry of the centurion, “I believe, help my unbelief!” It’s keeping myself accountable to keep asking God for greater faith, for more of Himself. The work of church revitalization has been refining and sanctifying above all else, and I see my flaws and sins under a microscope because of it. I see my faithlessness firsthand every day as I doubt what God could be doing here. Romans 12 leads me to pray that God would heap faith on me, that more would be allotted, and that I’ll use this gift accordingly. From mustard seeds to the centurion to Hebrews 11—I’m pining for faith. I’ve prayed with reluctance because I’m afraid more faith with require more pain and thicker skin, and right now, all I want is for my calloused skin to have a break. But I’ve turned to Gideon. He knows a thing or two about 70 percent and impossible odds.
I like Gideon because I’m like Gideon. Far from a warrior, I am a doubter. I am an asker of God. I am an asker-again of God, just to make sure there wasn’t a miscommunication. Gideon does a lot of this between chapter 6-8 in the book of Judges. I’ve read of him over and over for weeks now. I’ve watched Gideon go from asking the Lord to speak through fleece to walking confidently into battle with just 300 men.
When the Israelites were oppressed, Gideon had 32,000 troops at his side. Immediately, 22,000 men were too afraid to enter the battle. That’s about 70 percent of Gideon’s soldiers gone in a blink. Of the remaining ten thousand, only 300 are chosen to go into battle. 3 percent. The sum of men that go with Gideon is less than 1 percent of what he began with. Spoiler alert: Israel wins.
I like to think that God chose Gideon for this specific task because of, not in spite of, his faithlessness in the beginning. God doesn’t seem to shy away from weak vessels, and He certainly works in ways that require dependence on Him alone. Gideon feared the Lord, continually obeyed, continually asked questions, and continuously grew. Maybe the litmus test for faith-filledness is simply the commitment to keep asking questions of God, and faith is allotted to those who don’t quit pestering for more of Himself. I want faith to come quickly, but it seems more like a process and less like a magic bullet.
It’s safe to assume that I’ll keep rereading Gideon’s story. That I’ll continue asking God for more faith. That I’ll keep looking to God to make sense of the impossible math that we’re up against. Right now, it doesn’t look or feel like God can do much with the little GCC can give Him. I’m just glad I don’t have to do the math, nor muster faith that only God can provide.