When we first came to Boston in the 60’s, we had a hard time finding spiritual vitality. All around us were decaying, historic church buildings in which mere handfuls of discouraged believers met. There was little spiritual vitality. Paying the heating bill was often the most pressing issue the deacons faced. It seemed that too many churches were simply trying desperately to survive, and had long since lost a vision for either evangelism or social responsibility. Outside the doors of these churches was a city with pressing needs: Poverty, drugs and alcohol, crime, racial tension, inadequate housing, and hopelessness. The Church seemed impotent to help. Where was the Church of the New Testament? Where was Jesus in all this?
For me, insight came at a time of feeling very low, walking the streets in my neighborhood. I walked by a Hispanic storefront church that I had seen many times before, but I suddenly saw it in a different light. Here, I realized, was a place that indigenously was delivering people from alcohol and drugs, a place where individuals and families worshipped together every night in one makeshift room, a place where Christ was real and radical Christian commitment was being nurtured. That early experience of seeing the vitality of a storefront Hispanic church began to change my image about what real ministry in the city was.
As we learned to expect vitality to exist in our neighborhood, we began to discover it where we often least expected to find it. Soon we saw that it was all around us! Finally we learned how to participate in it and nurture it wherever we could, and with whatever relevant resources we could find. For example, when Spanish churches were driving to New York to get Bibles and Sunday School materials, we opened a bookstore that served not only their community but the broader Christian community for 30 years.
We have spent much of our ministry time looking for what God is doing and then seeking to nurture that. This can be done in a local church or in the broader Kingdom.
A long time ago when our own church was a small and struggling group, a church planter told us that every local church has all that it needs to be a vital, mature body. “You have all the gifts you need,” he said. At the time, Judy was trying to get out of being the treasurer, because she did not think she had the abilities needed for that task. But, as she assumed the role for the time being, soon God brought the person with the real gift, and she could step back let him take over!
Sometimes nurturing vitality is stepping up and nurturing the vitality within ourselves, but it also involves knowing when to step back and make room for the vitality in someone else!
The main thing about looking for vitality is that we have to believe that it is there. It is often on the periphery, unnoticed. It may be a grandmother that young people seem to enjoy talking to, or a new Christian who is full of joy over new-found faith. Or it may be a large but unnoticed and nebulous movement of many believers to our shores, quietly beginning churches of their own people but also filling the pews in our churches.
Look for vitality, nurture it and give it room to grow!