So with the exit of 2020, we launched out to start a new church.
The first two weeks were tremendous, with new people showing up out of nowhere. We had a highly visible location, though parking and seating were limited. While I worried the first Sunday’s crowd was a fluke, the second week we had even more people. But we were out of room and needed a new location.
A local church graciously offered us their sanctuary, but the only time available was Sundays at 5:00 p.m. I knew it wasn’t ideal, but we didn’t have any other options. So the next week we moved to the church at 5:00 p.m.
That Sunday, our crowd dropped in half. Some Sundays, it was even less.
After five weeks of struggling, I decided to try an experiment. We put a large ad in the newspaper to announce our church. Our website blew up with hundreds of people checking us out. By conventional wisdom, we should have had at least a percentage of those people come to visit us.
But that Sunday, our only visitors were people brought by our church members. No one else responded to the ad. Zero. Absolutely no one wanted to come to church at 5:00 p.m., not even me!
So what do you do when it’s clear God has changed directions?
Honestly, I don’t like it when God does this. I’ve started to notice he does it quite often. He sends me off in one direction and things start going smoothly. Life gets in a rhythm, and the days are filled with predictable routines and ease. We, humans, are relentless creatures of habit.
Then, everything shifts. The winds change directions, and you can’t keep going in the same direction anymore. Your easy downhill stroll looks like it may be replaced by an uphill climb again.
So did you do something wrong? Not necessarily. Very often, God starts us going one way only to suddenly shift and change directions. Often, we may not understand why. But our job is to pivot and head up that hill after him.
The disciples knew just what that felt like. When they were traveling south to Jerusalem once, he took them on a detour through Samaria. That area was supposed to be off-limits for a righteous person, but Jesus walked them right into that forsaken land. Why? Because there was a sinful woman coming to Jacob’s Well in the heat of the day to avoid human contact. Their encounter, recorded in John 4, changed her life and the lives in her village.
It all started when Jesus decided to change directions. And when he changes direction, it’s usually to help someone.
Though the disciples were confused, Jesus just can’t help himself when struggling sinners are involved. His amazing love sends him down forsaken side roads and far out of his way. We end up being dragged along for the ride.
Then, later on, Jesus was headed through Jericho toward Jerusalem for his final visit there. Soon he would complete his earthly mission and die on the cross. He was a man on a mission and his mission was in Jerusalem.
So what does he do in Jericho? He delays his mission and invites himself to dinner with a despised tax collector named Zacchaeus. Again, the disciples must have been wondering what had gotten into Jesus. But once again, Jesus is leading with his heart to help someone.
We need to remember that when God changes direction on us, it usually involves helping someone else.
What we see may only look like detours and delays. But with God, they are always done on purpose, with a purpose. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) If we really know his heart, then we know his heart is leading the way.
But sometimes when God changes my direction, I always wonder if it’s my fault. Did I misunderstand when we moved to that church building at 5:00 p.m.? It seemed like our only option. Now, what if I make the wrong choice and start heading down the wrong road?
Clearly, both the Woman at the Well and Zacchaeus had done just that. Both were sinners in rebellion against God. They’d not just made mistakes, they had knowingly taken the wrong path.
And yet, who do they run smack dab into? Jesus! Even with all their wrong choices, every bad turn had led them straight into the arms of God!
God wants to remind us that even if we misunderstand, even if we go the wrong way, and yes, even if we walk away from him, his love is so amazing. He can straighten our crooked path and lead us straight back to him! My job is not to be perfect, but to listen as best I can and follow. Perfection is something he takes care of, in spite of my imperfection.
I’m also learning that when God changes directions, he’s planning something better.
The children of Israel got used to their morning meal of manna every day while wandering 40 years in the wilderness. But when it was time to cross over to the Promised Land, the manna abruptly ceased. It had been God’s temporary provision for them, but it was not what they needed long term. It was a bland staple keeping them alive until they were ready to step into their true destiny.
I’m sure they were scared when it suddenly stopped one morning. But it was an indication God was about to do something new. And that’s where my new little church is today.
Today, we met in my home. There was no sanctuary, no sound system, no screens with song lyrics. The doors were wide open as people sat on my lanai and spaced throughout our home. It was a Sunday morning, and people we hadn’t seen since those first two services showed up again! Best of all, God showed up in a palpable way.
As I spoke, I noticed tears in some of their eyes. We talked about options for our next steps forward, and people enthusiastically expressed their support. Instead of insisting on their own preferences, they said wherever we ended up they’d be there! They didn’t care about the location, they believed in what God was doing through this new church.
So God has changed our direction. He’s delayed us from reaching a permanent home, but that’s okay. The new direction and delays are actually signs he is leading. They mean he’s preparing us for our destiny and giving us manna to sustain us on the way. His redirection is no doubt to put us in the path of some folks Jesus wants to reach. And even if we mistakenly go the wrong way, God will track us down and catch us down the road.
Today it’s Monday, and our church already has several amazing options for where to meet next. But I’m taking my time, listening to God, and waiting for him to speak to our church’s people as well. Even if we make the wrong move he’ll get us back on track, even better than Siri when I miss my turn.
We don’t have to worry about where we’re going. When the road turns in unexpected detours and delays, that’s fine. All that matters is Jesus knows where we’re going. He sees the end already. So all we have to do is trust God’s course correction, and then sit back and enjoy the ride.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.