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When a Cloud Isn’t a Crowd, by Daniel Brown

Pastor Daniel Brown talks about being led by God in contrast to the persistent nagging to follow the crowd.

Where God leads isn’t the same for everyone.

On a recent trip to Norway, I heard of a newly married couple who spent their honeymoon with in-laws building a small chapel in eastern Europe—using materials they had purchased with the “wedding gift” cash they requested instead of toasters and bath towels. Their home church was pioneered by a friend of mine in Oslo, far away from the doctrinal preoccupations in North America and seemingly unconcerned with the prominent locations where we are told God is moving.

Whenever I learn of sacrificial ministries like the young couple or my friends who have labored to build a church in post-Christian Scandinavia, I have a mixed reaction. Mostly, I celebrate their obedience to their calling and enjoy the thought that I’m a relative of theirs—much like my daughter’s friend who wore a big smile the week after her uncle, Mike Holmgren, won the Super Bowl.

My other feeling is sometimes one of doubt. Marveling at others’ ministry causes me to second-guess the legitimacy of my own. I don’t mean that I am especially tempted to compare my labors with theirs in terms of whose is greater—maneuvering for carnal bragging rights—though that is an occasional trap set in my mind by a vain question: Whose work for God is better? But that question isn’t the one I am primarily tormented by as a pastor. There is another question that I really do care about: Have I missed what God had for me?

A Sincere Question

It is a question born of sincerity, not insecurity—a desire to be and do everything God has in mind for me. The less my ministry resembles the details of another’s testimony, the more I wonder if I am wasting my time or missing the boat. I try to remember the cloud of witnesses—spiritual patriarchs and matriarchs who accomplished so many different types of things by faith (see Hebrews 11). I know we receive both God’s approval and a testimony by obeying His unique set of instructions to us. Not everyone gets told to build an ark.

But when I hear about someone building an ark, I secretly wonder if I should, too. When I go fishing, I want to find out what bait everyone else is using. Maybe it’s normal to think others know better than I do.

I suspect church and ministry leaders everywhere face the pressures of that nagging uncertainty. Because we know our labors are vain unless they correspond with what God is building, we are desperate to know what He is building. We want to get it right. So we seek and pray and study and look for any clue that will help us align our hearts and hands with His. That’s why books about God’s will for your life are so popular, and why we attend so many seminars about church. We want to discover His will for our ministries and for ourselves.

When I re-entered the U.S. after my Norway trip, I waited in a large room with several hundred passengers from various other flights while the customs agents checked passports. At one point there was a commotion on the far side of the room, and everyone turned to see what was happening. That’s how crowds work. Individuals spontaneously respond to the movement of the crowd. If the crowd starts going in one direction, most everyone goes along. Crowds have a natural momentum.

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Category: Living the Faith

About the Author: Daniel A. Brown, PhD, planted The Coastlands, a church near Santa Cruz, California, serving as Senior Pastor for 22 years. Daniel has authored four books and numerous articles, but he is best-known for the sorts of resources that help local church leaders excel in their spiritual assignment. For more about Daniel Brown, see his ministry resources website: CTW. Facebook. Twitter.

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