“The Church . . . Disciples in Transformation!”
Lady Allen and I are pleased to be here with you to share in this the opening night of your biennial four-day congress. This is the 25th Anniversary of the Congress of Evangelicals in the Caribbean and it is certainly significant that you have chosen Jamaica as the venue to celebrate this important milestone in the history of your Organization. You have come full circle, as it was in Jamaica that the inaugural conference of the organisation took place in 1984.
I offer my congratulations on this achievement and wish for you success as you seek to tackle the difficult issues of the role of the Church in the Caribbean. The wide array of delegates present is evidence of the bridges you are building. I am confident that your Organization will only get better as the years go by.
The theme of the Congress this year, “The Church. . . Disciples in Transformation“, is an intriguing one. Your gracious letter of invitation provided further insight in explaining that the Congress will provide an opportunity for ‘wonderful fellowship, and empowerment especially to leaders concerned with understanding the times and what the Lord of the Church would have us do in our generation.‘ These two (2) main thoughts I submit will engage and prevail in your discussions, presentations, workshops and courses over the next four (4) days. The questions I would ask are:
- How do you understand the times?
- How can we be disciples in transformation?
THE ISSACHAR FACTOR
As Israel’s King David sought to solidify his kingdom, the valiant men of all the tribes came to assist him. The contingent of the tribes varied from 1,000 to 50, 000 with three tribes having a combined strength of 150,000. The tribal representatives possessed varying degrees of weapon strength. However, it is the small band of 200 men of Issachar who grab our attention. Tucked away in the catalogue of the line-up of the tribes in First Chronicles 12 is a short verse (32) which describes the two qualities which marked these men of Issachar and the special contribution they made. They were: “The men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
1) They “understood the times.” What a powerful statement! “Understanding the times” involves spiritual discernment. These men of Issachar had accurate perception and penetrating analysis. They understood the natural and ceremonial times. They also understood the political times, public affairs, the temper of the nation, and the imperatives of the present events.
2) They “knew what Israel should do” – they were gifted with vision, and shaped their vision into a coherent strategy. These men had passion, energy and enthusiasm. Because of their action and David’s extraordinary leadership, Israel became a strong nation.
What are ‘the times” here for us in the Caribbean, and more specifically Jamaica? Do our Church leaders understand the times? And if they do, are they responding appropriately, and do they know what to do?
If we are brutally honest, we may have to plead the “5th Amendment” and not answer the questions as the responses may be incriminating. But these critical questions must be answered, and answered honestly if the Church is to make a difference and be a vehicle for transformation.
I have had the opportunity of being on both sides, as a lay person and a clergyman. Regrettably, I know the foibles of both all too well. Too many times both have been found wanting.
I believe the time has come for the Church to go rapidly beyond the state of receiving to giving and enriching the lives of others. Both clergy and laity must throw more of themselves into the ministry as the Lord would require.
Understandably in this severe economic climate, financial stability and viability is foremost in our minds. And indeed, it is our Lord’s wish that we prosper and be the head and not the tail. However, there are times when the church tends to get carried away with preaching the doctrine of Prosperity and Wealth Creation to the exclusion of other weightier matters such as the critical role of the family in society, the need for meaningful outreach projects that go beyond the physical walls of the church building, meeting persons at their point of need, and carrying out our Lord’s Commission as true disciples. Issue ‘knee jerk’ statements from time to time on issues may not be sufficient to demonstrate an “understanding of the times.”
The Church has a critical role to play and it must clearly define its role and carry out its God-given mandate and mission. The men of Issachar knew what to do. Likewise, we must seek the wisdom of the Lord, in what to do and how best to do it, as well as what to use to further the gospel, in a unique way that is appealing to all. To use modern-day methods and technologies that does not distract from the message, but rather enhance the message of the Gospel to appeal to all generations.
Among your activities in the near future will be the conduct of “research in each Island that will allow you to understand the extent of what the Church has achieved and the scope of the unfinished task.” The result of this research will “be used as the basis for developing strategic thinking and planning regionally.” I commend you for this initiative, and I look forward to seeing the results of your research.
For many persons, these are often very disturbing, frightening and even potentially despairing times, but the fundamental focus on properly understanding the times is a steady, growing understanding of God and His Word. Just as in the ancient time of the men of Issachar when Israel had to make hard choices, the nations of the Caribbean stand at a cross roads. Do the Church and its leaders possess the perception, vision and passion modelled by the men of Issachar to live by the values of faithfulness, unity, Godliness, teamwork, and radical dependence on God? How will the modern-day men of Issachar in the Congress of Evangelicals in the Caribbean contribute to the national development and transformation of their island states? These are critical, penetrating questions on which we must thoughtfully reflect and seek answers.
We are told that the men of Issachar engaged in their enterprise with a ‘perfect heart’ and were united for the perfect good. I believe that as you spend the next three days in discussion and prayerful contemplation, you will be united in your quest to further develop your gift of spiritual leadership.
The Church, your nation countries, and your God are waiting for you to be, in deed and action, men of Issachar and disciples of transformation.
Thank you for inviting Her Excellency and myself to share with you. Again God bless you and may you have success in your deliberations.