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The First Decade
By Steve Sjogren

We recently celebrated our tenth year together as a church at Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati. As part of our celebration, it seemed only appropriate to assemble some of the greatest lessons I've learned as the founding pastor of this fellowship. I summarized my top learnings in this decade in what I call, "Ten Convictions in Ten Years." As I see it, a conviction is a truth that is held onto that guides us through life in spite of rigors we encounter.

Conviction #1. Small things are the main things
For the better part of my twenty years as a Christian, I have sought to do a big thing for God. In my mind great love for God meant stepping out to do big things. That thinking makes sense in one's youth, but youthful energy has a way of evaporating eventually. I believe now that the call of scripture is an invitation to walk in faithfulness to small things. My belief now is best captured in our mission statement: "Small things done with great love will change the world."

Soon after I began planting this church on the north side of Cincinnati, the Lord spoke to me about serving in practical ways—what's come to be known as Servant Evangelism. In the early days, I went on Saturday mornings to serve the community. Often it was difficult to get anyone to come along with me. But I stuck it out, and eventually many began to do small things.

Conviction #2. It really is better to give than receive
Though it is contrary to human nature to be "otherly", the most dynamic changes come as we give of ourselves. In an age that understands little of this sort of thinking, we must be careful that the culture's way of thinking doesn't encroach on us.

Conviction #3. Our backyard is the entire Cincinnati area
If we are going to change things around us, we will need to see in far larger spheres than just neighborhoods, single suburbs, or just portions of our cities. God wants to include every single person in our cities for Christ.

In the past church leaders have typically had such small goals that after a short time of ministry they felt they had done their fair share in reaching out. The first step in reaching out is to see the largeness of our aim. I believe it is helpful if we look at our cities and feel at least a bit overwhelmed. If more leaders were overwhelmed, we would be praying along the lines, "God unless you empower us, we are destined to be ineffective. Fall upon us with your power that our lives will make a difference!"

Conviction #4. Kindness wins battles that strength cannot
I once thought that winning arguments with pre-Christians was equal to winning them to Christ. Not necessarily so. Apologetics are appropriate for many who are coming toward Christ; but more often than not, it's the power of God's kindness that makes a deep impression on outsiders.

A letter I received recently from a grateful lady who had her parking meter filled wrote —

"Today was my birthday; and for the first time, my husband forgot my birthday, my children forgot my birthday and even my parents forgot my birthday. But God didn't forget my birthday. I am not a churchy person, but today God got my attention through your act of kindness. Thanks."

Though that woman wasn't fully converted by our act of kindness, she seems to be on her way.

Conviction #5. God's love is better caught than taught
This is not the day for speaking more words, but the time to live out the will of God.

Conviction #6. People need each other
Those who don't see their need for healing or their areas of brokenness in life scare me. If we can't name specifically where we are damaged goods, then we're living in denial. Only when we see our weakness can we open our hearts to receiving help from others.

Conviction #7. Worship changes people like nothing else
When we gather together in celebration services, it is vital that we worship enough that those gathered — Christian and pre-Christian alike — become aware of God's immediate, dynamic presence. I am sometimes asked, "How long do you think worship should last in a service that is seeker sensitive?" My answer is always, "Worship should be long enough for those gathered to figure out that God is present with you."

Beyond God's presence, our goal is for people to enjoy themselves. My motto is "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is fun!" It seems to be a universal truth that as we enjoy God, He is liberated to do His work among us.

Conviction #8. Christians live out the Bible
I have diligently read and studied the Bible for over two decades now, and I intend to continue that practice all my days. But there is no substitute for obeying the Bible. I would always rather do the message of the Bible than acquire more knowledge without acting on its truth. "To obey is better than sacrifice" 1 Samuel 15:22 (NIV)

William Hart in his book The 100, sets out to list in order the most influential people in all of human history—a difficult if not slightly arrogant task. I found it interesting that Hart places Jesus not at number one, or even two, but lists Christ as the third most influential person in history. Jesus, according to Hart, follows Mohammed at one and Sir Isaac Newton at two. Hart apologizes with this explanation; "On His own merits Jesus would definitely be the most influential person ever. The problem is his followers. They have done a relatively very poor job of carrying out His message. The sentiment of 'love your neighbor as yourself' is a great idea. To date in the Christian world, that's not yet been tried."

Conviction #9. Appearances don't always reveal that my friends need God
In spite of appearances, most around us are lost. Never before have lost people looked so comfortable and at ease. The truth is all is not as well as it seems. Jesus had the gift of seeing beneath the veneer. "When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd." (Mt. 9:36). Jesus could see — really see — down to the core of souls. We need the same gift if we are going to be effective for Christ.

In my early years as a believer, I had a strong awareness of the lost condition of those around me. At times this discernment became a bit overwhelming, so one day I asked the Lord to free me from that. And He did for a number of years. The past couple of years, the gift of seeing the lostness of people has returned.

Conviction #10. The best is yet to come
Paul was aware of the rigors of ministry. Like most of us, he had been through significant disappointments when people acted like humans. Yet he was able to stay motivated by looking beyond the stress of the here and now and see beyond to the bigger picture of what God would eventually accomplish through his life. His reflection was, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor. 2:9 NIV).

Life is tough. There are many easier ways to live than to be in Christian leadership; but in the end we will look back at the investment of our lives and realize, "My life counted for something."