By Stan Friedman
IRVINE, CA (June 23, 2012) – Entreating a gathering of worshipers to not “jump the shark” would seem a wholly unnecessary exhortation, but Gary Gaddini pleaded just that – multiple times – during his sermon during the Saturday evening worship service of the 127th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church.
It would seem especially absurd in a sermon that focused much of the time on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After all, there are no sharks to jump in the landlocked African nation.
But the pastor of Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City, California, explained that the phrase in popular culture has come to mean the “moment when something that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity.”
The phrase references an episode of Happy Days during which the Fonz jumps a shark tank on skis. After that, the show was never the same, say those who often use the phrase.
While a television show resorting to “jumping the shark” is bad, Gaddini suggests it is equally troubling when a Christian no longer impacts the culture, or a denomination is no longer consumed by pursuing the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations.
Gaddini shared from Matthew 9:36-38 – “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
He urged his listeners to continually ask four questions as part of their regular spiritual discipline so that they will always be found faithful to the call of God on their lives and never descend into irrelevance.
First: “Do we see what Jesus sees?” Jesus was able to see the larger mission, the larger vision.
It was the same kind of vision that birthed the Covenant mission to the Unbangi region of the Congo, said Gaddini. Titus Johnson ventured into the region in 1922, and in 1923 he sent a written report to the conference of the Swedish Free Church, pleading for funding and missionaries, saying there were “1,200 miles without a single witness to the Lord.”
Second: “Are we feeling what Jesus felt?” Jesus was moved by compassion to help those who were like sheep without a shepherd. Quoting Bill Hybels, Gaddini said, “You better know what wrecks you … because chances are that it is wrecking God, and he wants to remedy the injustice through you.”
Culture often encourages people to squelch the dissonance between how the world is and how it should be, Gaddini said. Rather than serve the needs of others, we try to escape our responsibility through busyness.
Gaddini shared that when he was at a conference for pastors in Gbadolite, Congo, one of the ministers admonished him, “You Americans, you all have watches, but none of you have time.”
Third: “Are we praying the way Jesus prayed?” Gaddini emphasized the passion with which Jesus addressed his father, noting that we are to do the same. Such prayer comes from people with broken hearts demanding answers and then willing to work for the kingdom, people who are willing to be the answer to their prayers.
“We’re praying for workers – not slackers,” declared Gaddini, who is on the pastors advisory committee for Covenant Kids Congo powered by World Vision.
“The type of prayers we offer determine whether we stay relevant to meeting the needs of others,” Gaddini said. “Maintaining table-turning passionate prayers for the nations is critical to preventing shark jumping. I would even go so far to say that our passionate self-centered prayers are a key lagging indicator of the fact that we have jumped the shark.”
Fourth: “Are we doing what Jesus did?” Gaddini noted that in scripture, God voices his concern for the nations more than 500 times.
“As a pastor, if I can’t link my local mission to the Great Commission, our ministry has jumped the shark,” Gaddini said.
During the service, President Gary Walter installed Garth McGrath as Great Lakes Conference superintendent and Mark Novak as executive minister of the Department of the Ordered Ministry.