Beth and I moved to Croatia on 28 February 2017, ONE YEAR AGO TODAY. Wow; it’s been an amazing time.
We have spent the past twelve months in prayer, study, and discussion, trying to figure out what I’m doing here. The sense of calling developed quickly, from the moment I arrived in Zagreb in October 2016. But the specifics always take time to develop; at least, they do for me. (I am jealous of people to whom God gives clear, specific, detailed visions and plans.)
Here’s what I understand now.
At Biblijski institut, we are about serving the churches of Croatia and our region. From the beginning, our measure of success has been whether we were having a healthy, beneficial impact on the churches. If we are helping the churches of Croatia grow stronger, then we are successful.
Since the summer of 2016, when we began praying about the opportunity in Croatia, Beth and I have been asking: “What is the goal? What are we trying to achieve? What are the needs of the Croatian churches, and how can our gifts and experiences match those needs?”
The easy answer would be to say, “The goal is to make the churches stronger.” But stronger in what way? What does “stronger” look like? And how do we get there?
God keeps bringing me back to Ephesians 4.7, 11-16, where Paul describes the thriving church. A thriving church is one where the members are empowered and equipped to use their gifts to serve, to “do the work of ministry.” When that happens:
- The church is strengthened. (4.12)
- The church is united & becomes more and more like Jesus. (4.13)
- The church is able to see through spiritual trendiness and false teaching. (4.14)
- The church is more completely joined to Jesus, and more filled with love (4.15-16).
The leaders of evangelical churches in Croatia have accomplished amazing things in the past fifty years. They built a strong, dedicated movement in the face of formidable obstacles.
- One obstacle was communism, which made the people fearful of expressing faith, fearful of outsiders, and afraid of change.
- Another obstacle was Croatian Catholicism (Croatia is 85% Roman Catholic), which is very different from American Catholicism. Croatian Catholicism is aggressive and sectarian. Most Croats look at evangelical Christians the same way that American Christians look at Hare Krishnas.
Still, the church leadership culture in Croatia needs to overcome more obstacles.
- One is that, in the Balkans, leadership is customarily authoritarian and iron-fisted. There are few pictures of gentle servant leadership.
- Another obstacle is a history of economic hardship, which often caused family life to be harsh and angry.
- Another obstacle is the way that Catholicism deepens the divide between clergy and laity, which creates a very passive church culture.
Add these obstacles together, and (with some beautiful exceptions) it is hard to see thriving churches in Croatia. There are too many examples of the OPPOSITE of what Paul envisions in Ephesians 4. Too often, there is division, jealousy, and territorialism. Too often, church leaders would rather rule over their own personal kingdoms of 25 or 30 people than be part of a larger movement of God. Too often, church leaders are themselves immature, spiritual toddlers leading congregations filled with spiritual infants. Too often, church leaders become enamored with the spiritual “flavor of the month”.
The emerging generation of leaders can be different. Generally, they have had more nurturing family lives and less severe economic hardship than the generation before them. They have a better understanding of what servant leadership looks like. At earlier ages, they are learning the stories of Jesus and his example of sacrificial love, sacrificial leadership.
Biblijski institut is perfectly positioned to help the Croatian churches make vital progress, by helping Christians discover their gifts and calling, and by training leaders who will lead like Jesus led, who will empower their congregations to do the work of ministry.
The leaders of the previous generations overcame enormous obstacles to lay the groundwork for biblical Christianity in Croatia. Now the Body of Christ is ready to mobilize. Now is the time for the Croatian churches to thrive.
The work of the past was made possible by the sacrifices of those who came before us. The work of the future will only be possible by the generosity of people like you. Would you please consider a financial gift to support God’s work in Croatia? If so, go to www.cecef.net and donate today.