I love the “church as lampstand” image from the book of Revelation.
“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man ….the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Revelation 1:12, 20
The apostle John describes Jesus as the one who walks among the lampstands–who is personally present with the churches that are faithful to him. The greatest warning offered to any of the churches is that their lampstand would be removed from its place before the Lord because of turning away from Him. As a church planting ministry, and as a future church planter myself, this image is full of faith-building insights as we plant new churches.
We are reminded that our church plants exist before the presence of the Lord. This reality is both comforting and sobering. Our light of gospel witness and faithfulness is not unnoticed by the Lord. The same God who calls physical light into being, who has shone into our hearts the spiritual light of the gospel, has given us the ability to shine into the surrounding darkness of our world with His Word. This is true despite our perspective that a church plant’s witness often seems to flicker. At times the newness and inexperience and weakness and vulnerability of a church plant doesn’t seem like a strong, brilliant light. At times on a church plant, it seems that the slightest gust of trial or conflict could make our light go out. But since our Lord is among us, we have confidence that he is tending to our flame. He is ensuring that our witness will be faithful, will be preserved. He has committed himself to the faithfulness of His church, and church plants stand under His watchful, loving, protective gaze. Remembering His nearness helps me as I contemplate the weaknesses and vulnerability of my ministry and of a new church plant.
Yet the image is also sobering–because the same Lord who called our church plant into being is observing our faithful witness to His gospel, His truth. Our Lord is not willing that any of his lampstands, however new, however inexperienced, should succumb to the darkness of compromise. Neither our message nor our example should blend into the darkness of a world seeking to hide themselves from the gaze of the Lamb. We should be warned that his gaze is what we are living for–not the appearance of social prominence in our community, nor the popularity of large numbers, nor compatability with the pluralistic message of our culture. We live for the gaze of the Lamb, it is His approval of our lampstand that defines our success as a church plant.
And we look forward to gospel success with great confidence since, “what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:5-6
The same Lord who has shone in our hearts and created our lampstand, the lampstand of each church plant, will shine his light through our witness into the darkened hearts of unbelievers. His gospel will be successful even as it sounds forth from our stammering lips. His light will shine brightly even from our trembling hearts.
May the Lord give us faith to keep planting new lampstands—comforted, sobered, and emboldened by His presence among us. And may His gospel light shine more brightly into the world with the message of grace.