Last Thursday’s post reminded me of a great work of fiction I discovered several years ago by the incomparable Francine Rivers. No, it’s not speculative fiction, but And the Shofar Blew is a powerful and (dare I say) prophetic story for the church in America.
The tale centers on a dynamic young pastor (son of a mega-church pastor) whose passion to build his small, dying community church into a modern model of success is realized. Under his leadership, the church flourishes and grows into the thousands, but, as we’ll soon learn, the cost of kingdom building comes a terrible price. As the church becomes a more “professional” organization, the pastor’s own family is neglected. He bullies his son and wife because everything is for “the church” – a noble cause, right? Elders who don’t see “eye to eye” with the pastor are quickly silenced and removed from leadership – a necessary part of changing vision, right? Members and ministries that have faithfully served in the church for years are minimized and overlooked in pursuit of greater numbers – the true measure of church effectiveness, right?
The character development which lingered a bit in the front half of the book paid off well as I soon found myself deeply invested in nearly every character of the book. As readers, we relate to the passionate desires of this well-intentioned young pastor who is torn between “growing the kingdom” and shepherding his own family. We grieve with the lonely wife and the expectations placed on her to put on a happy face through it all. When loyal members who have given so much of their life to the ministry of the small church are belittled, we feel the weight of betrayal.
My heart ached while reading this book. Like any good work of fiction, the tension builds to a powerful climax that is both satisfying and terrifying. But this book is much more than simply a good story, it is a warning to today’s church. Where is the brotherhood? Where is the unity? Where is God?
On a personal note, And the Shofar Blew “found its way” into my hands following an extremely painful moment in life. After 15 years of enjoying and serving a growing ministry of a local community church, my own family found ourselves suddenly and undeniably called to leave a model of church leadership that cared more for professionalism than people. No, there are no “perfect” churches, but God graciously lead us to a smaller church where his Word was boldly preached and the Love of Christ was evident in the brotherhood of its members. That church has grown considerably for all the right reasons. We’ve since been honored to serve as part of that church expansion through a church plant to a nearby city.
God doesn’t need us to “build his kingdom” (I’m pretty sure he’s got that part covered), but he does want us to read his Word and live his love. And the Shofar Blew isn’t just a warning for pastors, it’s a warning to us all.
Whose kingdom are you building today? Are you building your life on a foundation designed to elevate yourself or Christ?