Hope City, the church I have the privilege of leading, will celebrate her third birthday this December. And while I do look forward for the upcoming celebration, I can’t help but reminisce how God brought us this far.
Three years ago, my entire family of three received an unexpected call from God, “Plant a church.” And honestly, we were hesitant about it at first because we know what lies ahead once we said yes. We don’t have any members, we don’t have any money and we are without any facilities. And adding more insult to the injury was the fact that I don’t even know how to start a church! I mean, my few years of pastoral experience gave me an idea what pastoral ministry is like but starting a church from ground zero is like me dreaming to fly a rocket-ship to the moon. I love the idea, but I don’t know where to start and even if I do start well, reaching the moon’s surface would be the ultimate question.
Many times I said this to God, “You got it wrong this time for I am not the guy you are looking for.” But banking on His grace and trusting his heart for my life, we said yes to him. Me, my wife and my then two-year old son agreed with God. Without any members, no support from any church, no money and no facilities, we launched that step of faith and planted what would-be Hope City.
Hang on, We have not landed yet
I can easily admit that we aren’t there yet. It’s so obvious that we don’t have all the things put together. Yes, we can see God’s hands are upon us since day one. We’re now blessed with a lot of things. And our congregants are growing. But like any other aircraft, we also experience turbulences along the way. Problems and hardships arise. The focus of this article however, are not the turbulences made by foreign objects that come our path but the problems caused by the cosmonaut himself.
For almost three years, I am pastoring the church very wrongly. And I only came to see it when God hit me hard in one of my quiet times. “Rich, your motives are not right. You love crowds more than you love people. You are wearing people out. It seems that you don’t know that I died so people would have life and not your programs. So, stop what you are doing and begin shepherding the church the way I will do it.”
The way he will do it
That quiet time made me very uncomfortable not just because of the harsh words I received but because I didn’t know exactly what God meant by them. So I meditated on it very slowly. When it became clearer, I noticed that it was of two parts. The first part was a description of my failing ministry and the last was about His ministry. It then led me to asking, “What is a Christ-like shepherding? If Jesus were in my shoes, how would he pastor this church?”
And this became a turn-around for me and my ministry. I realized many things. I realized that by constantly asking people to serve, it sucks life out of them and wears them out. And as their pastor, I should be the source of strength, encouragement and inspiration to them. Ironically, there were times that I even became the source of just the opposite. I also felt that I treated people as machineries to further my so-called “spiritual and pastoral” aspirations.
The things above are not easy to admit. God’s grace is powerful though. Thankfully, God made me see that it is all about people. And my mission became clearer to me than ever. As a pastor, I have to help people become more Christ-like. Good programming is good. But it is not the main point. The goal is to help people be conformed into the image of Christ.
I was so determined that night that I prayed for and develop a plan. And the plan was to meet all of them to personally say the following words : Thank you, I’m sorry & I love you. It is not as easy as it appears though. Common challenge in Dubai is scheduling, our small church has 40 volunteers already and I cannot meet them all at once as it will destroy the purpose. Relationships! Building relationships is the key and building relationships is the goal. I cannot rush. So I have to meet some people one-on-one, some by twos and others by-groups. It required a lot of time, but it is all worth it. Because those people are worth it!
Thank you. Sorry. I love you.
I thank them for being good friends. I thanked them for their ministry and what they are doing in the church. I really believe they are a gift. And I thanked them for their support and for sticking with me – this one is big because I am aware that there are many other churches in Dubai where they can easily be a part of, yet they chose to commit to this very young church.
And I apologized. For many things. I apologized for the countless times I hurt them, for not taking good care of them, for not appreciating them well enough, for making them feel that they are easily replaceable, for not praying for them, for bad decisions, for having an attitude, for being immature, for causing troubles more than causing solutions. The long list went on and on and on. Now, you have an idea how grateful I am that they stayed!
And the last part was to say I love you to each of them. It is just the words “I love you” without any explanation. The idea was to let them know that I really love them, that I really care and I am willing to change. Honestly, this turned out to be the most awkward among the three. It was not easy. And the feeling was worse saying these words to the gentlemen! Haha!
When I finished, I saw smiles in everyone’s faces. And I think the gesture triggered their happy hormones to be released. I didn’t see that coming! Some of them even said, “Thank you din Pas, sorry din Pas and I love you din Pas.” All the while, I thought this won’t bring much impact to them but it turned out the otherwise. They were actually longing to have these light and meaningful conversations with me. So, we made a deal that we will do this more often. I must say this is one of the best days of my ministry life. And that’s not it, before we went home, we agreed that we will pay the gesture forward to someone else.
Since then, we sensed a different atmosphere in the church. The church which many people say is very welcoming became more welcoming. The volunteers became more motivated to serve. It feels like the high morale is back. And our recent service is a living proof that everyone is on board. Things are getting better. I wish you could come this weekend!
Let’s heal the world
Because of that exercise, I learned to appreciate the value of those phrases. Thank you, I’m sorry & I love you. Yes, they are short words but very very powerful. And I believe this world where hatred is more celebrated than peace needs to hear those words more often. Very simple act, yet they carry massive healing impact.
I hope you can join us in this movement. LET’S HEAL THE WORLD!