In a previous InDepth post, you heard from Master of Divinity student, TJ de la Garza (click here to watch his video). I invited TJ to share an update to his story as we continue through this series on stewardship.
“We hath now a greater dependence on the grace of God than we had before…”
The twenty-eight-year-old preacher Jonathan Edwards made this proclamation in a Public Lecture given in Boston on July 8, 1731, two years before revival, now known as the Great Awakening, would break out in Northampton, MA. The sermon’s, titled “God’s Glorified in the Work of Redemption, by the Greatness of Man’s Dependence upon Him, In the Whole of It,” though long by today’s standard, bold declaration argued a truth that is a subtle hallmark of the Great Awakening in reflection. That truth: God is glorified in human weakness.
If I may further this point, God can only be glorified in weakness. While the marketplace looks to find a formula to produce production as a means of defining success by capitalizing on strengths, and while spheres of governmental powers attempt to posture themselves for the benefit of their own citizens through power brokerages, the living church of Jesus Christ, historically and globally, seeks a city (inviting all and any to become citizens) whose builder and maker is God. This may be foolishness to the wise protecting their own while guarding a fixed system of identification, and a stumbling block to those who have one foot in historical religious tradition and another in the temporal cultural milieu.
Yet it’s here, at this intersection, in the middle of these frameworks, that the church offers a way that is wholly other. The church, weaknesses and all, is to be a visible living parable of the kingdom of God on earth. This can only be accomplished by not hiding our weaknesses, much like the marketplace or geopolitical systems, but by being loudly transparent about our need.
Because of the opportunity to continue my education at Winebrenner (of which I will finish in the Spring ’22 Trimester) I have been allowed to teach at some, very small, institutions. That opening has allowed me to step into a space of dialogue with others of differing backgrounds and denominational traditions in various regions in the world. It has also allowed me to engage, challenge, and anger student’s pre-conceived Christian framework to, hopefully, force them to glory in their weakness more so that God may be glorified greater, rather than seek to make oneself or tradition bigger.
For myself personally, I’ve found a movement from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence through my classes, teaching, and continuing to work on my own formation in my local church context and envisioning where God may use me locally to continue the long historic global reach of the church. If I am pressed to be asked, what am I stewarding, it’s this blaring conscious incompetence whereby God will be glorified, because of this weakness. It is embarrassing, frustrating, and humiliating. In this, it’s main function is to not try to mimic a model focused on numerical growth seeking to attract the right audience, but to faithfully shepherd whoever is simply present while being uncomfortably myself.
While others seek to move to a bigger platform for a bigger audience, I am learning the local church context is where the church’s frontline resources are desperately needed. Mega-people, not megachurches, are needing to be desperately built and filled. Saints in the congregations not Satellite campuses across disconnected locations are needing to be broadcast into the world. While one may look the part, the other has God’s heart. To do this, the only motivation is Edwards’ words, I need Grace more now, than I did at the beginning.
This is the message I am stewarding. Being a graceful voice of disruption in my own local denominational sphere. Not by words, but Presence alone for it is Presence alone which is disruptive. I am stewarding dependence wholly on God locally and leaving the end up to Him. In this way another patriarchal image comes to mind, “By Faith, Abraham went…not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8.”
I am stewarding a temple of living stones, in which Christ is the chief Cornerstone. This is the call of a Pastor. There are two sides of stewardship. One is stewarding the faithful search of the discovery of identification in the development of becoming the people of God. The other, is simply stewarding faithfulness while living out that calling against any wind or wave and not giving in to doublemindedness. Where the first takes a grace, the second needs a continued grace somewhat more needed than the first. Winebrenner has helped me confirm step one while empowering me to live in greater dependence as this lifelong stewardship of faithfulness get underway.
– TJ de la Garza, Master of Divinity Student