Strategies: Celebrating Milestones in Your Ministry
Carolyn Tennant, Ph.D.
Carolyn Tennant, Ph.D.Carolyn Tennant, Ph.D., is an Assemblies of God minister and retired professor of English at North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is currently writing, speaking, and teaching doctoral classes at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri.
Sometimes we get so into the work of the ministry that we forget the importance of celebration. Perhaps we feel that the party mentality is for the young and immature, and we don't have time to bother with such nonsense.
God, however, knew that we needed to stop and celebrate. He created us that way, in fact! In order to be sure we did it, He commanded it as part of the Old Testament law, explaining to the Israelites that they needed to follow through on keeping a number of feast days.
Leviticus 23:1-2 states, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: "These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies."'"
In all there were seven feasts of the Old Covenant that were held each year: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles. The first two were right after each other and lasted for a total of eight days. The last one also lasted for eight days. The final three that were held in the fall followed in quick succession of each other, much like Christmas and New Year's does for us.
These festivals and seasons of celebration were long enough to allow for relaxation and enjoyment by the people. The feasts weren't just slipped in as an after-thought; they were stretched out so the festivity could be brought to a climax. Jesus himself participated in the various feast days and even in other festivities set by men.
Celebrating highpoints in our ministry should help us and everybody else to remember what God has done!
What does all this have to do with celebrating milestones in our ministry? Well, actually, all of the feast days were really celebrations of highlights in God's ministry to us. They have to do with important events that the Father saw as significant: Christ's dying for us, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Christ's second coming, and so forth. Celebrating highpoints in our ministry should help us and everybody else to remember what God has done! That is really the main purpose of the commemoration.
If we want to celebrate for selfish or prideful purposes, we may have good reason to think that it would be better to neglect the event altogether. But really, celebrations are a time for us to recall what God has done in our midst. We can rejoice in how He has used us and celebrate His work through us. We should not be shy in allowing others to commend our lives, nor should we neglect teaching our people the importance of celebrating ministry milestones.
When the church is ten years old: celebrate! When it is 100 years old: commemorate that! When we have been in ministry for 50 years: honor the fact! When a church is finally finished: dedicate it! When the 500th member joins the church: rejoice! When we have been pastor of a church for 30 years: acclaim it!
We are good about eating at a church, but perhaps what we are lacking is a theology of what happens when we all come together for a common purpose to celebrate. There is something about the laughter that arises from old pictures and shared memories. Things we had forgotten are brought to light again. God's faithfulness is highlighted, and we are reminded of the time He healed us, changed us at the altars, fulfilled prophecies, and called us to dream dreams that are now a reality.
This sense of shared purpose must be taught by the leader and instilled in the people. The reasons for our celebrations need to be planned into the time of rejoicing. God's feasts are always purposeful. In fact, that is the difference between just any secular celebration and Christian celebration. The latter focuses us on God. It takes us into His presence and is a balm to our souls. It is a reminder, a faith builder, and a hope promoter. We are not just getting together to party like the world does; we are assembling because there is meaning in it.
If Christian celebrations become times of merely raucous merriment, then we have joined the world's perspective of thinking about Party Time! This kind of celebration is immature and ultimately meaningless. However, when the observance takes us into God's presence and allows us to enjoy the other members of the body of Christ, this is deep. We grow in our understanding of who God is and how He works in our world through His body, the church. This is the expansion of our theological understanding!
We need to explain the goodness of God to the next generation. They need to know their history, and we need to remember ours.
We dare not shut down celebration, even when we are shy, because people want to share with us special personal and church milestones. Always, however, we should lead them to the higher ground of purpose. We should teach people to put God and His work at the center of the feast. Then we can gladly rejoice as the laughter rings forth and the old folks chuckle and the children run away and say, "Mommy, what is this all about?"
Perhaps that question there makes the whole thing worthwhile. We must pass on our heritage. We need to explain the goodness of God to the next generation. They need to know their history, and we need to remember ours.
Recently I was in Argentina. Waves of revival have swept across this country in recent years, making it perhaps the country most blessed by revival historically, with the possible exceptions of Wales and Scotland. I have visited Argentina to minister many times in the last several decades, and I was there when the last wave of revival was at its peak. But this was 20-25 years ago now, and this new generation now does not know their heritage. Instituto Biblico Rio de la Plata (IBRP), the Assemblies of Bible school in Buenos Aires, invited me as a guest, and they announced a special day of prayer and fasting for the school and gave the day over to me. I had a number of hours to teach and preach on any topic. What?
As I considered it, I felt led to discuss their revival heritage. I went back to Captain Allen Gardiner, a British ship's captain who died when he came in the 1800s to share the gospel with the natives of Fuego de Terra (land of fire). I discussed the waves of revival when IBRP was in its original building in City Bell, and God moved mightily so they suspended classes for days to pray and weep over their country and the world. The students were described as standing in puddles of their own tears. I moved to 1954 when Tommy Hicks came in and a healing of President Peron led to Hicks being given a huge soccer stadium where thousands were saved and delivered. The field was full of people on cots brought by ambulance who subsequently got up and walked away, entirely healed.
Then there was 1984 when evangelist Carlos Annacondia came to AG pastor Alberto Scataglini in La Plata and the crusades that ensued saw many more who were saved. So many people got healed that the witchdoctors converted when they realized that folks they had worked with and not been able to help were healed by the power of God! In the most recent wave of revival, Claudio Freidzon and other churches grew exponentially with people standing for several hours in long lines waiting to get in to one of the ten or more services per week. The presence of God was palpable.
The students listened to these stories, most of them for the first time. I felt like I was digging out ancient wells. Tears threatened to spill over as they realized what God had done in their country. These were events that they had not seen directly; they were too young. But the special day we spent in prayer and fasting opened their eyes to how God works. As I came to an end and waited in God's presence, one of the students started to wail and pray. The students then poured into the altars, asking God to do it again.
Yes, it pays to teach the young about what God has done before they ever arrived on the scene. Furthermore, it is important for us to recall His goodness and faithfulness. In short, let's not neglect our feast days and our special days of observance. Let's celebrate! Let's never forget!
Scripture quotations are from HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com.