June 2nd Italians celebrate La Festa della Repubblica, which celebrates the founding of the Republic in Italy (1946). Like any good holiday it means a day off. Our church took advantage of this Monday off and had a two day “weekend” (Sunday & Monday) at a local Augritorismo, a beautiful piece of land with a villa just outside the city (only 20 minutes from our house).
Sunday mornings in Italy are just like they are in the States. There are several people you want to talk to, and often feel a bit rushed in conversations, trying to greet other passersby. Weekends like this are a great chance to relax a bit as a group and have some extended discussions. These opportunities to catch up came between sessions of study, discussion and prayer. The focus fell on the church’s desire to see other local churches raised up in the city and the need to pray and evangelize in that light.
The saints at Berea are a close knit group of folks. They love to be together, are hungry to hear the Word and are glad to talk of the things of Christ. We were grateful to be a part of the weekend, helping where we could. We are learning once again that it takes time to really become a part of a local body, and weekends like this are certainly a step in the right direction.
These two days left me reflecting on the importance of the local church, specifically its importance in our lives as new missionaries to Italy. The following reflections are specific to the opportunities we have in Italy, and therefore wouldn’t necessarily apply to every context in exactly the same way. Read these thoughts as reasons we are grateful for Berea, and some thoughts on why our time with Berea is so important in this season of preparation…
- Let’s start with the super practical. We are in Italy on religious visas. To obtain this type of visa you have to be invited to be here by a preexisting ministry. Normally this preexisting “ministry” is the Catholic Church. There are very few protestant churches that are recognized by the government. In the Lord’s perfect providence, Berea happens to be one of these churches. The elders kindly provided me with a letter, which played a large role in helping me obtain my visa.
- Our desire to plant a church in the future doesn’t exempt us from the need to continue to learn how to observe all that Jesus commanded now (Mt. 28:20). During this season of preparation, our conviction about the centrality of the local church expresses itself in commitment to a real local assembly with qualified leaders who preach the Word of God and administer the ordinances (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). The church is how God shows his “manifold wisdom” in the heavens (Eph. 3:10).
- We need the church. Our use of subjunctive verbs in the Italian language isn’t the only thing that needs work. We need other believers around us encouraging us, and pointing us to Christ. Our hearts long for the ministry of faithful leaders that Christ has given to His church (Eph. 4:11), Christ intended it to be that way. The faithfulness with which we practice the “one anothers” needs to continue to grow. Though each new season of the Christian life carries with it new challenges, our need for the Word of God and the people of God remains constant.
- Some places have no church. Italy isn’t one of them. Should Christ use us as some of His Servants to build His church in Italy, it will be a continuation of the work He is already doing (cf. 1 Cor. 3:5; Matt. 16:18). We are benefited and better equipped by getting an up close and personal look at what Christ has been doing here. We aren’t the only ones who have the Holy Spirit on Italian soil, therefore we want to learn from those who have the same Spirit and have been here far longer. We honor Christ by honoring those who have come before us, and being a part of a church gives us opportunity to do that. Surely this is an extension of what Paul says in 1 Thess. 5:12-13: “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.”
- I turned 30 this year. As old as that sounds :), I’m still young with a ton to learn. Attending Berea gives me the opportunity to grow as a shepherd, learning from men who have been doing it much long than I have.