I am not a biblical numerologist who uses numerical patterns to find hidden messages within the Bible.
I am certainly not a Gemarist who assigns numerical values to Hebrew letters and words to find hidden meanings and connections in the Bible.
I have not read books or seen movies on biblical codes and those who hunt for them.
RELATED: Check out more stories from George Bullard here.
Yet when I see numerical patterns in the Bible informing the journey of endurance and zealousness in churches, I pause to see what we can learn from them.
Two passages intrigue me. One is in Genesis 41 where Joseph interprets the dreams of the Pharaoh, in which God declares seven years of abundance will be followed by seven years of scarcity.
The other is Leviticus 25 about the principles of taking a sabbatical every seven years and observing a year of jubilee every 50 years.
These two passages suggest a pattern for life and ministry that churches should observe.
‘Spiritual and strategic journey’
Enduring and zealous churches are on a spiritual and strategic journey. They willingly take a fresh look at their journeys during a sabbatical every seven years. Then every 50 years, they observe a year of jubilee.
During each seven-year period, they intentionally build new capacities and highlight disciples who are dreaming about the seven years that will follow the coming sabbatical. Building new capacities during their years of abundance is a priority.
They are characterized by a zealous and passionate commitment to the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus.
Their commitment is evident in all aspects of the church’s life: worship, disciple-making, care for one another and sacrificial local and global missions engagement.
The day every new church is launched, it should make several commitments about serving as an enduring and zealous church. Their spiritual and strategic journey should be based on the pattern in Genesis 41 and Leviticus 25.
They should launch with a clear sense of God’s mission and an empowering vision for them. No substitute exists for a movement of zealous followers of Jesus Christ on mission in their setting.
They should journey toward the new thing God is in the process of doing in and through them. Every day they are following God’s lead as He goes before them into the world.
Throughout their lives they soar with faith and strive to reach their full Kingdom potential. Good enough is never good enough. God is always pulling them forward and they are eagerly responding.
Sabbaticals, jubilees and interruptions
Every seven years they engage in a sabbatical year to take an in-depth look at their spiritual and strategic journey to see how it can be strengthened.
They project their future with greater boldness and sharpen the clarity of God’s empowering vision for their churches. They realign their programs, ministries and activities for the best quality fulfillment of God’s empowering vision.
They declare that their current spiritual and strategic journey will end in 50 years and that the church will then engage in a year of jubilee.
Hinge points or interruptions may arise if a major contextual or church change takes place or if God speaks dramatically into the life of the church about a new focus for its journey. These interruptions may not follow the sabbatical and jubilee pattern.
For other churches
What about the churches that are not new church plants but are plateaued and declining? They are nonenduring and nonzealous churches without readiness for transformation.
They are hurting churches that denominational leaders want to save. As squeaky wheel churches, they are always asking for help. Nothing seems to work for them.
These churches are not likely ready for a sabbatical or jubilee. They may be spiritless and struggling churches.
Since this is an ongoing column, let’s wait and look at these churches later. Readiness is a key issue, and there are ways to address it.
A thought for associations and networks
In an association or network, the goal should be to engage 15% of churches in a sabbatical each year. The ideal is for all churches to take a sabbatical every seven years.
With this pattern the association transforms every seven years.
(Note: Previous columns complement the ideas presented in this edition. See them HERE.)
EDITOR’S NOTE — George Bullard spent 45 years in denominational ministry. He served on the staff of three associations, was a key staff person working with associations in two state conventions and served on the association missions division staff of the former Home Mission Board of the SBC. He retired in June 2022 as director of Columbia Metro Baptist Association in South Carolina. He has led strategic planning processes in more than 100 associations and has written extensively in this area. Bullard now serves as a strategic thinking mentor for Christian leaders through his ForthTelling Innovation ministry and a correspondent for The Baptist Paper. To request permission to republish this article, email email@example.com.