By LeAnne Blackmore
For the past 16 years my husband, Ron, and I have led, taught, cast vision, and ministered to many in our city megachurch, First Christian Church, Johnson City, Tennessee. From college ministry to missions, greeter to elder, we have stepped into roles as variegated as the fall foliage on the Blue Ridge Parkway. By man’s standards, we experienced great successes and toyed with the temptation to take the credit. But God, in his grace, also allowed us to face colossal failures. In merging the two extremes, and through immersing ourselves in the Word, a mutual mind-set surfaced. God’s design—his calling on our lives—centered on obedience. We are learning the truth of God’s spokesman whose words are recorded in 1 Samuel 15:22: “To obey is better than sacrifice.”
This idea has been put to the test recently.
Several months ago, two of Ron’s patients presented him with an unusual request—come preach at our rural church. Evidently, the previous preacher wore a bivocational hat as well, practicing law throughout the week and ministering on the weekend, so this plea seemed perfectly logical to Ron’s patients. We, however, had a different take:
• First, Ron is not a preacher . . . he’s a physician.
• Second, the church falls under the authority of an extremely liberal denomination with which we disagree doctrinally.
• Third, the Limestone community is a 45-minute drive from our home—one way.
• Fourth, the congregation is small in number, very small.
• Finally, ministering there would require us to leave the friendships and comfort of our home church.
Initially, Ron told them no, but said we would pray about it. So we did. Within a matter of days, and against all reason, we both strongly sensed God’s leading to leave our big church and head to the country. Good-bye city life!
That first Sunday, the total attendance was 13—about one-sixth the roster of the Sunday school class we led back home. Additionally, all those present were at least 20 years older than us—and we’re no spring chickens! What had we gotten ourselves into? We spent the 45-minute drive back to Johnson City in stunned silence, save the occasional “Recalculating!” of the GPS due to our utter lack of familiarity with the winding, country landscape.
The next few Sundays we saw attendance numbers wax to 23 and then wane back to the mid teens. But in between our weekly rural treks, Ron received phone calls and visits from random strangers who had interesting connections to our country congregation. Not realizing Ron’s ties to the church, they shared their stories—stories that seemed too coincidental. Could God be orchestrating something grander than we anticipated?
Lord, Are You Up to Something?
Not even two months into our new stint, we held a meeting with the leaders of the congregation. Desiring to ease them into some possible changes, Ron handled the session with grace and gentleness. The group responded positively—so much so, that one of the main voices put forth a request: would it be possible for this little congregation to secede from their denominational governing board and come under the realm and authority of our big church? Seriously? Lord, you are definitely up to something!
We are still very early in this process, and our numbers continue to be minimal, but we recognize God is at work and he has called us to be obedient to him. Our calling is not to a church or career or ministry or location—but to God. The measure of success isn’t in our numbers. Don’t misunderstand, numbers matter—because each number is a soul—but they don’t measure success. You can have large numbers, but completely fail in obedience, and therefore be unsuccessful. Or, you can have small numbers and bring great delight to God by listening to his voice. Here’s the bottom line: obedience is success.
So here’s one of the lessons we’re learning from Limestone. Each one of us is unique. We bring different personalities, gifts, talents, levels of energy, and resources to the table. While God may open distinct doors for each individual, collectively we all are called to a uniform response—walk through the doors he has opened. Say yes to God. That, we’re finding, is the measure of success.
LeAnne Blackmore is an author and women’s retreat and conference speaker living in Johnson City, Tennessee. She and her husband, Ron, have two grown children.