Today’s guest blogger is Tim Rowland, senior pastor of River Oaks Community Church in Goshen. On June 1, 2014, River Oaks held an enormous 25 year anniversary celebration. Part of the celebration consisted of Tim reflecting on his very first message which came from the book of Nehemiah.
Both back then and today, Pastor Tim asked the question, “Why the book of Nehemiah?”
Read more of Pastor Tim’s reflection below.
25 years ago, today, on the 1st Sunday of June 1989, around 70 people gathered in the cafeteria of Mary Beck Elementary School for the very first Sunday service of what was then The 1st Evangelical Free Church of Elkhart, soon to become River Oaks Community Church.
• We welcomed all the “first-time attenders,” which was all of us.
• We sang a few songs out of our brand new hymn books.
• And when it was my turn, I began a 9-week series in the book of Nehemiah.
In my introduction, I explained the background of the story in Nehemiah: 140 years earlier the Babylonian army had leveled the walls around Jerusalem, which led to the 70 year Exile, but even with the Jews back in their homeland and living in Jerusalem, the walls had never been rebuilt. Nehemiah, a Jew living in Persia, working for the king of Persia, had a burden to see the wall rebuilt, so he got permission from the king to go back and rebuild the walls…and in 52 days the wall was rebuilt.
I asked the question, “Why this book? With 66 books in the Bible and hundreds of topics to choose from, why start this ministry with a study from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah?”
Build the Church
My answer that day was “because Nehemiah is a book for builders.”
Back then their focus was on building a wall. Our focus was on building a church.
Then I explained that it was a story about leadership, courage, about dealing with setbacks, disappointments, and discouragement, and about persevering until the job is done.
…And then I told the group that I couldn’t think of a better place to begin a church than Nehemiah.
• We have a lot more than 70 people attending.
• We are in our own facility.
• We have no hymn books…
… and we can look back on 2 ½ decades of building a church for God’s glory…
…of building people who are committed to Jesus and go to the lost,
…are growing in their faith,
…and are showing compassion to the poor.
Pray for the Church
The topic of the first message from the book of Nehemiah was on prayer.
The reason I began there was because that is where Nehemiah began. After he was informed that the walls were still broken around Jerusalem, it says in verse 4 of chapter 1, “When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.”
For several days, among other things, Nehemiah prayed that God would open the heart of his boss, the king of Persia, to allow him to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. God graciously granted Nehemiah’s request, in every way!
At the end of the message, I gave my very first challenge to this church, back then we called it a “life response”…(and I am quoting from my manuscript of that 1989 message):
“Over this summer I challenge you to pray for this church. Pray for wisdom for leadership as they make some critical decisions, pray for protection of this young and vulnerable church, and let’s all pray for the unchurched of our community and those we know personally.”
Given what happened that summer, I think it is safe to say that the congregation responded!
This challenge seems appropriate today for every church. Let’s join together and pray for:
• Your church and other churches in the area;
• Wisdom for the leaders in your church as they make critical decisions;
• Protection of the younger generation;
• The unchurched, both those we know personally and within our communities.
Thanks, Pastor Tim, for sharing. The challenge you suggest is very relevant and appropriate for today, more than ever. Let’s lift every church in our community up in prayer.