Category Archives: Ministry Uprising
I use computers quite a bit, and I’ve noticed something over the years. Maybe you’ve noticed it, too. When a computer is brand new, I’m always amazed at how fast it does things. But within a couple years, its processing speed starts to get slower and slower, so that basic functions seem to take forever. From conversations I’ve had, I think this is a pretty common occurrence.
When this happens, there are a couple of options. Some people just accept the slowness, figuring that their computer is “getting old” and the sluggishness is to be expected. Some take the computer to get repaired, but with the age of the machine and the price of computer technicians these days, getting it fixed can cost more than the computer is worth. Others skip the repair step and just chunk their old computer and upgrade to a new one.
I’m not one to accept slow speeds from a computer when I know it’s capable of much more, and I also don’t like throwing good money down a hole. So I’ve done some digging and figured out how to restore my computer to running like it’s new again. It takes a little time, but it’s really not that hard.
The first step is to open the “add/remove programs” control panel – which lists all the software that has been added to the system over time – and remove all the unnecessary programs. I’m often amazed at how many there are. Some came installed on the computer and were important at the very beginning but have no use anymore. Some provide fancy features that simply aren’t necessary. Other programs were ones I added over the years for a specific purpose but are no longer necessary. There are usually others I know nothing about – I don’t know how they got there. All of these had some good purpose at one time but are simply not relevant anymore, and by remaining in my computer they serve as a drain on the system. After removing these unnecessary programs, I restart and go on to the next step.
Step Two is to run a virus scan. It’s surprising all the bad things that are out there that can get lodged in your computer. Computer viruses can sneak in through a “back door,” they can come disguised as something good, or they can come attached to something that appears to be safe. Whatever way they get in, viruses infect our systems with potentially harmful programs and slow down their performance. After locating and removing all the malware, I restart again and proceed to the final step.
The last step of this process is to “defrag” the hard drive. The hard drive is the internal storage disc that holds all the data on a computer. Each bit of information on it resides at a specific “address.” With all the adding and deleting over the years, and then all the stuff removed by this clean-up process, the data on the hard drive can get quite fragmented, with bits and pieces of it scattered all over the disc, and so it takes the system extra time to call it up when necessary. The defrag process re-organizes the data and brings it all closer to the center of the disc, so it is unified and easy to access.
After one final restart, my system runs at like-new speed; it was not obsolete or beyond repair after all! This whole process takes time, tough decisions to figure which software to keep and remove, and humility to admit that I’ve let the bad guys plant viruses on my system. But it’s worth it.
So… what does all this have to do with the subject matter of my blog?
It’s simple. I’ve found this computer renewal process is a perfect metaphor for the job before us as the Body of Christ.
While none of us have first-hand experience of when the Church was brand new, we have perfectly clear records in the Bible which tell us that the Body used to function at a much higher level of performance. And, like an old computer, the level at which we function today is pathetic compared to what it’s supposed to be.
Because of this, some folks simply resign to the fact that our faith is obsolete, or that what we experience today is the best we can expect. Others throw money at the problem, and others simply trade in our “religion” for a newer, more “relevant” belief system. But none of these options is good!
Instead, there’s a process we must undertake, which can restore us to the performance of the early Church. Like the computer tune-up, it takes time, tough decisions and humility.
The first step is to analyze all the things we believe, teach and do. If we do this soberly, we’ll find that, just like on the computer, there are all sorts of things we hold onto without even realizing it. Many of these were great at a specific time and place but simply aren’t beneficial anymore. Some just add fancy and unnecessary features to the practice of our faith. And there are others that make you wonder how they got there in the first place. The key here is to discern the fundamental truths of Scripture from all the traditions, interpretations and habits we’ve embraced over the millennia since Christ walked the earth, and jettison all the unnecessary stuff. For long-time Christians, this un-learning process can be hard and painful.
The second step is to pray for revelation to see all the bad things the enemy has snuck into our Church operating system. If we’re humble and hungry, we’ll see it. Politics, pride, practices adopted from paganism, patterns of this world, a focus on prosperity, and lots of other flesh-based junk has snuck in over the years, and must be removed.
Finally, because of all the stuff that’s been added and removed over the years, the Body has become quite fragmented. Once we strip away all the unnecessary programs and viruses, we’ll find there is nothing standing in the way of true unity, and we’ll be able to “defrag.” This will come when we all agree to let go of our long-held theological subdivisions and re-unite around the center, which is the cross of Christ.
Our current dysfunction is not what God intends for us! When we, as a Body, can allow the Lord to lead us through this process, we will experience the same miracles and community transformation they experienced back then.
When we finally let go of 2,000 years of tradition and once again embrace The Way of Christ, we will once again become an earth-changing force, on The Way to Kingdom victory.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I’ve written quite a bit about leadership lately, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression.
Our problem, as I’ve spelled out in some recent posts, is that we’ve come to accept flesh-and-blood leaders as “the guiding heads” (the dictionary definition of “leader”) of projects and organizations within the Body, while in God’s design this place rightfully belongs to Christ alone.
Please don’t read into my statement that I advocate anarchy, indecision, formlessness, or consensus-based governance in the Body. That is definitely not the case. Rather, I fully embrace the notion of God’s people following bold, decisive, visionary men and women who are appointed by Him, for a specific reason and season, to inspire and supervise our efforts. It’s just that these people need to be fully submitted to God, and their authority must be spiritual and not positional.
God often uses authoritarian individuals to serve as His instruments for planning, organizing, influencing and coordinating the activities of groups in the Body. The Bible is full of examples of people who played this role in a God-pleasing way, like Moses and Joshua, the Old Testament judges, and the New Testament apostles.
God worked through them accomplish His divine projects. When they did it right, they knew He was the Head, they did just what He said, and they succeeded. When they went beyond His leading, did things their own way, and/or sought to hold onto power beyond God’s intended term, all sorts of bad things happened.
Just like I’ve wrestled with use of the word “church,” I have trouble using the word “leader” anymore, and I am struggling to come up with the right label for this role. Paul spoke of “apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.” Properly understood these titles say it all. But I’m afraid that, in the state of The Body today – where we’ve virtually all subscribed to worldly ideas of leadership and decision-making – the generally-accepted meanings behind these titles has changed too much from God’s original intent.
The best I can come up with is “point man,” “chief steward,” or “God’s agent.” These seem to fit. Moses was most definitely NOT a “leader” by today’s definition. Instead, he was God’s designated “point man” among the Israelites. He was the “chief steward” of God’s vision for His people. And, he was “God’s agent” in the project to move the Chosen People from Egypt to the Promised Land.
Proper guidance of Kingdom projects is invariably through a God-called “point man.” It is to this person that God gives His vision, standards, instructions, and authority for any given project. It is obvious in the Bible that God often favors strong, resolute people in this role. To managing volunteers (as we all are, ultimately) in a faith-based initiative can be like herding cats. A firm hand is often needed, and I can’t find any example in the Bible of successful guidance of a Kingdom project being nebulous, weak, or consensus based.
We miss the mark on this big-time in churchianity today, in two different ways. Either we invest all power in a strong leader, whose authority is mainly positional and permanent, or we undermine the potential for a strong “point man” to emerge by embracing the worldly idea of “democracy.” I don’t know which one of these is worse.
Democracy is a great form of civil government but a terribly non-biblical way of running a “church” or ministry. Try as I might, I cannot find one good example of it in the Bible. The five prominent examples I can find of “democratic” decision making – to throw Joseph in the pit, to make the golden calf idol, not to enter the Promised Land the first time, to crucify Jesus and to stone Stephen – don’t paint a very good picture of this leadership model. When the original apostles wanted to replace Judas, they specifically did not want to vote on it, so they cast lots. They knew the dangers of politics and preferred seemingly random chance over the “democratic process” in ministry leadership.
When a project or organization within the Body is led by a committee – “church” council, board of directors, board of elders, whatever you call it – it is not following any Biblical example I can find.
Christian “point men” are supposed to answer to God and not man. My experience with “democratic” organizations is that, despite the words they use, the opposite is generally true. Boards and committees vote – and politics is almost always involved, whether they admit it or not – and the “leaders” follow their orders. This gives a false sense of comfort to each one: the committee can blame the “leaders” if things go wrong and take credit when they go right, and vice-versa.
Name the great men of the Bible. I’ll throw out a few: Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Jesus, Paul. Not one of these men answered to a committee or board of directors. They received guidance directly from God and stewarded their projects accordingly. And – imagine this – their followers followed them, respectful of the fact their “point man” was appointed by God. Yes, these men sought wise counsel. Yes, they held themselves accountable. But the buck stopped with them.
“What about elders in the early Church?” you may ask. Fact is, they were appointed by the presiding apostle and could be removed by him, and nobody could vote to override his decisions! They were not in a position of governance in the way modern “church” councils are, and had zero authority to tell their shepherd what to do.
In The Way, apostles are accepted as God’s “point men.” They serve that role faithfully, under God’s authority, and democracy is never a part of the mix. At least this how they did it in Acts, and look what they accomplished!
Yes, in an organization where the headship of Christ is not understood, in a culture where the rhema of God is not accepted or discerned, where The Way has been lost, I guess democracy is better than the alternative, because a fully-empowered leader in a faith-based organization who is not under the step-by-step direction of the Holy Spirit is a very dangerous thing.
But why settle for less than what God desires? He does not desire leaders (as we define them) OR democracy in “church” organizations! Instead, God wants to call the shots Himself, through the men and women He calls to serve as “chief stewards.”
In a properly-functioning, discerning, submitted Body, under God’s model of governance “voting” has no place.
As long as we demand to have a vote, or submit to committee rule, or accept a “leader” over us, we will never be able achieve the full potential God has in store for His sons and daughters.
Our Father’s long-established model is to work through “point men”— faithful, seasoned, discerning and strong – to steward our efforts along The Way.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
In the previous post I referenced some key Bible verses that, when we understand the Greek behind them, are able to unlock for us the next level of faith. Let’s revisit those verses and insert the proper Greek word. I believe this will make them come alive for you in a new and exciting way.
In Matthew 4:4 Jesus said, “Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by rhema.” In context this is particularly stunning. If you recall, Jesus spoke this to satan after His first temptation in the wilderness. Satan had come to Him after a 40-day fast and tempted Him to turn rocks into bread and eat them. Now let me ask you, what would have been the sin in that? Where is it written, “Thou shalt not turn rocks into bread and eat them?” It’s not! Only a few times in the Bible do we see beyond the veil into the spirit world. No doubt satan dangled temptations in front of Christ over and over again – like when He was walking on water, the enemy must have been screaming, “you’re gonna sink!” – but it’s simply not recorded for us. If this story were like the others, and we only saw the “natural” side of it, we’d simply think it was another miracle if Jesus had finished fasting, turned rocks into bread, ate them, and moved on. Nobody would look at that and say, “See! He wasn’t God after all! He sinned!” – because there was nothing in and of itself “wrong” in the thing He was being tempted to do.
Indeed, our whole human checklist for decision-making was satisfied: Jesus had the power, the right, the freedom – and no doubt the desire and physical need – to do that very thing. So why didn’t He do it? Herein lies the vital importance of rhema. Jesus said, in effect, “Satan, I acknowledge that I need bread, but what’s more important to me is that I follow the step-by-step instructions of God, and He hasn’t told me to do this yet.” Jesus would have rather starved to death than do anything outside of God’s specific, step-by-step, rhema-given instructions for His life! He didn’t live on bread alone, and not on graphe (the written word – because on that basis alone, the thing tempted would have been just fine!), but on rhema.
Here’s another key verse: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” If you have dedicated of your life to evangelism according to our traditional methods this may hurt you in the gut, like it did me, because here’s the truth: The “word” in this verse is rhema. Faith comes by hearing rhema from God. Like in the story of young Samuel, a person can be dedicated to God, live in the temple, observe all the proper religious activities, have a trusting knowledge of graphe, and still not have true faith as God defines it. If we do not, like Jesus, recognize and follow God’s personal, present voice in our lives, we simply are not in His flock.
I admit this is a hard truth. It was painful for me to accept, because of all the years I tried to serve God without this understanding.
Most denominations don’t teach this, but it is the truth, and as such I know that when you accept it, it will give you new life, freedom and power. We can give away cases of Bibles, quote Scripture till we’re blue in the face – and the people we are working to reach can believe every word of it – and yet without a real, meaningful, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ – a relationship with rhema at its heart – then it is all a waste of time and energy. This is precisely what Jesus meant when He said, “Many will say to me …, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” He just wants to have a real relationship with us – built on intimate communication – that’s all. Nothing else we can do matters. Nothing else can lead to victory.
Before I present one last key rhema verse, I want to make something perfectly clear: I value, honor and revere the Bible more than life itself. I’m old fashioned in that I never let anything sit on top of my Bible – it’s always the top of the stack. I believe it is the infallible, inspired graphe of God, and I base my entire life and worldview upon it. But fact is, the written Word, while fully true, is just a portion of what God desires to communicate to us, and mere intellectual acceptance of the Bible as truth does not save us. Without a real relationship with God through Jesus Christ, based on personal rhema from Him, everything else is worthless.
Of course, God often gives rhema to me through graphe, but rhema is much more than that. He speaks in all the ways He promises: guiding my steps, making sense of things, giving me words to say, and – dare I say it – even telling me what to write.
When you realize the believers in the Book of Acts didn’t have what we call the Bible – the few scrolls they had were hard to access, especially for the Gentiles – and instead, only had rhema, you begin to realize how important it is. Look at what God was able to do through them! They weren’t skeptical of God’s power – they lived in it! If I were in a situation where I had to choose between rhema and graphe, I’d choose rhema, 100 percent of the time. Thankfully we don’t have to choose. But sadly, out of tradition and ignorance, most Christians do choose – they choose graphe alone (“sola scriptura”) and the results are … well, the results are what we have today.
Ok, back to the key rhema Bible verses. And this one is a doozie. In his letter to the believers of Ephesus, who were called by the Lord and shepherded by Paul to maintain and expand upon the transformational work that had been won in their community, the great warrior apostle wrote:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Did you notice – in all of the items Paul lists, there is but one weapon? One tool we are given with which to tear down every stronghold, demolish every argument that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and utterly defeat satan and his kingdom of darkness? What is this one, all-powerful weapon? It is not the written Word.
The sword of the Spirit is rhema.
This has been translated as “word” and interpreted as “Scripture” for too long! You can’t beat the devil by quoting the Bible to him – he knows that Book better than any man ever will, and he believes every word of it, because he was there when it all happened! What satan doesn’t have access to, which we as followers of Jesus Christ do, is the rhema of God – His fresh, relevant, personal word, through which He guides our paths, orders our steps, tells us what to do and when to do it, when to pray and what to pray for, puts the proper words in our mouth, and prompts us at all times in all things to do His will. And when we are in His will, His power flows through us to defeat anything the enemy can throw at us. When we are in His will, the very gates of hell can’t stand in our way!
The rhema of God proves Christianity as the one true faith. Only a Living God can utter a living Word, and no other faith offers this. Practiced without rhema, however, Christianity is just a religion, no better than any other. Without rhema, our faith is merely a collection of holy writings, a prescribed way of living, a system of worship, a community of like-minded people, belief in a distant and silent deity, an avenue for “prayer,” a reason to hope, a basis of ethics and morals, an opportunity for full-time ministers to make a living, and the promise of “heaven” when we die if we play things by the book – just like virtually every other religion on earth. Without rhema, Christianity is empty, ritualistic, legalistic, and ultimately pointless. Without rhema, our religion truly is, as Karl Marx famously wrote, “The opiate of the masses” – a mysterious, superstitious code that keeps the deluded population under control.
Jesus didn’t come to start another religion. He came, ultimately, to reconcile us to a real relationship with our Father. All the other things He accomplished – destroying the works of the devil, reclaiming that which was lost in the garden, setting the coming of the Kingdom in motion – all spring from this one thing: We now, through Him, have open access to a personal relationship with the Living God, and all the benefits that come with it.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Imagine a leader calling his followers to pool their resources and work together to make a batch of ice cream. He motivates them by describing how great the ice cream will be and how much they’ll enjoy it once it’s done, then he invites each one to bring a portion of the ingredients.
At the designated time, they all bring their fair share and combine them according to the recipe, pour it all into an old-fashioned popcorn maker, plug it in and hit the “start” button. How long do you think it’ll be before they are all enjoying the ice cream the pastor promised? Of course it’ll never happen. Popcorn makers simply are not designed or equipped to make ice cream.
Trying to make ice cream in a popcorn maker is absurd, like staging a swim meet on a basketball court, or a Broadway play in the city dump … or seeking true Church within the organizational and physical structures of a “church.” The things we’ve built and call “church” today are just not equipped to facilitate true, organic Church.
Not terribly often, but occasionally, I hear a pastor exhorting “his” congregation to experience Church according to The Way. No doubt there’s something deeply appealing to the description of organic fellowship in the New Testament, and any Christian who really reads his Bible must feel some pull to it.
I certainly respect these pastors’ desire to function in a more Biblical way. But their calls invariably fall flat, as if their preaching goes in one ear and out the other.
Generally, I’d suspect, the response of these pastors is to 1) chalk it up to the “immaturity” of the congregation, 2) internalize the failure and think less of themselves, or 3) rationalize the failure to mean that true Church simply isn’t possible today. Whether their response is one of these or something else doesn’t really matter, because they’re all wrong. I’ve never seen or heard of one coming to the right conclusion, because if they came to and acted upon the right conclusion, it would likely spell career suicide.
“Look folks, when the believers met in the New Testament, it says they all participated in the fellowship, and we’re supposed to do that, too,” he says … while considering himself “clergy” and speaking through a microphone in front of rows and rows of “laymen.” He might as well be saying, “come on, pour your cream into the pot of this popcorn maker.” It makes just as much sense!
“Church isn’t supposed to be in here, it’s supposed to be out there,” he says … during the 10:30 “church service” at “XYZ Community Church.” And he wonders why the ice cream ingredients are boiling instead of freezing!
No wonder the people don’t get it. For a pastor in a “church” to try to compel his congregation to function as an organic expression of the Body of Christ is the epitome of “do as I say, not as I do.”
A pastor’s job description is to facilitate and give a speech at the weekly sing-along/lecture/fundraiser, serve as CEO of a non-profit organization, live as the designated holy man, and in between perform the clergy-related tasks of counseling, visitation, etc.
Some have made bold leaps in changing the traditional ways of “church,” like taking the denominational name off the sign, incorporating more modern music, embracing a more casual dress code, and so on. But in reality, that’s not much different than peeling the “popcorn maker” label off the machine. The guts of their organizations and gatherings remain the same. A man-made, paganism-inspired “church” by any other name is just as dysfunctional.
There’s a Biblical principle that “like begets like.” Cats breed cats, apple trees grow from apple seeds, and tennis coaches teach tennis players. In the artificial, pre-fab, man-made structure of “church” today, our designated leaders are stuck in the position of saying, “ok folks, don’t practice your faith day-by-day the way I do; rather, go and do it some other way…”
This is not the way Jesus or the Apostle Paul did it in the Bible. Jesus said, “come, and I’ll make you fishers of men.” They followed Him, step-by-step, as He demonstrated by example exactly how to live each day, and He groomed them to continue precisely as He modeled it. He said, “go and do likewise,” and they could. They followed His footsteps, not merely His “sermons.”
Paul, too, raised up people to mirror his every step. He was not “clergy” – he was a tentmaker! He didn’t stage weekly shows under a steeple; rather, they gathered continually, house-to-house, and lived inter-connected, inter-dependent lives as a growing, living Body. He knew, as Jesus did, that if he did it right, it wouldn’t be long till the people could do it without him.
If a pastor says, “go and do likewise,” he doesn’t really mean it – he can’t – because if the people did, there’d be nobody there the next Sunday. They’d all be off somewhere preaching under steeples to silent audiences, just like he does! Very few people ever follow their pastor’s footsteps, thank God. (There’s no offense intended to any pastor; I’m just voicing the fact we don’t need more pulpiteers in the Body, we need more Pauls.)
Jesus’ ministry, from start to finish, was three years. Paul would spend a few months in the majority of communities he reached – a couple short years at most –and then move on. In this short period of time, they sparked a movement that transformed the world.
How long as your pastor been in ministry? How long has he served your specific congregation? There are some out there who’ve stood behind the same pulpit for decades. Sure, maybe their building and staff are bigger now, and maybe their audience and budget have grown. But compare their results to those of Paul. How does it stack up?
Now imagine what Paul would accomplish if he had as much time, technology, freedom and wealth at his disposal as even an average pastor in America. If you have any a smidgen of understanding of The Way Paul functioned, you know the difference in outcomes would be impossible to calculate.
Understand, I’m not questioning the faith, sincerity or capability of any pastor. On the contrary, I tip my hat to them. The resilience necessary to do the same thing over and over and over again – and never really get anywhere, but just keep plugging along – is admirable. The tenacity required keep people pouring ice cream ingredients into a popcorn maker, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, and never taste any real ice cream – and yet keep them coming back for more – is amazing.
Even more admirable and amazing, however, would be for a pastor to realize that the machine that employs him is the real problem, and simply walk away from it.
No, the problem is not the people. It’s not the pastors. It’s not the world, or the times, or anything else.
I pray someday a prominent pastor will grasp God’s true vision for The Way today, commit to it, courageously walk away from the man-made trappings of churchianity, and then say, like Jesus and Paul, “Do as I do! I’ll see you at the tentmaking shop. Oh, and y’all are all invited to my place for dinner!”
Ice cream is quick and easy to make in an ice cream maker.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salt, my friends.
To my friend and blog followers –
Some of you already know that I’ve felt called by God to assemble some of my recent writings and publish them as my second book. The working title is Church Burning.
This is a play on words, of course, with multiple meanings. In the Bible, fire is used metaphorically for several clear purposes. On the bad side, it is used by God to judge and punish. On the good side, it is used to purify and motivate.
There is no doubt God wants to bring a fire to His Church. If we are doing things the way He intends, we should welcome this, like the disciples at Pentecost. If we are not, we should dread it.
If you think “church” is a place to go or a thing to do — a building, an organizational structure, a set of teaching and traditions, or an event — then Church Burning may well conjure terrible images in your mind. If you know Church as the intimate fellowship of God’s sons and daughters on earth, then you probably see Church Burning as a glorious thing.
I said that Church Burning is the working title. I’m still not quite convinced, but the more I chew on it, the more I like it. It seems sizzling enough to sell books and yet multi-faceted enough to make people think, but I reserve the right to be wrong about that. I’d value your feedback. Do you like it? Would you pick up, buy and read a book with that title? Or is it so in-your-face that it’ll turn off the average Joe Christian? If the people that most need to read it are repulsed by the title, that’s bad. Please leave a comment or drop me a note and let me know what you think.
ALSO, below is what I’ve written as a draft of the first chapter. My goal is to clearly express my heart — that I am not angry, hostile, or bitter, as so many “church” critics come across — so that the reader will be more prone to seriously consider the things I write.
Thank you for all your comments and feedback over the past several months. I appreciate your prayers as I work to bring this project to completion.
First chapter –
Talk about kicking a hornets’ nest! Writing a critical book about modern churchianity is probably not the best way to go about winning friends and influencing people, but I believe somebody has to do it.
Despite the intentionally controversial title (gotta sell books, you know – and it has multiple meanings, many of them positive), I’ve done my very best to approach this topic with tenderness and candor.
I’ve found there are generally three groups of people who are eager to discuss the problems with “church” today.
First are those who are hostile to our faith and are quick to pounce on and propagate anything they think will get us to question our beliefs. Many of these are deeply wounded folks who come from a “church” background, and who rejected God when they rejected the institutions we’ve build in His name. (Sadly, these formerly-churched people seem more numerous and harder to reach with the truth than the un-churched, which I think is something we must address.)
Second are those who have been wounded by “church” politics, legalism, hypocrisy and religiosity, and yet who still hold on to their faith, and to the often vague hope that there is a better way. These people seem to talk about “church” like a cheated-on wife talks about her ex-husband; they feel betrayed by someone they love.
Both of the above categories of “church” critics often put their fingers on some very real and important issues, but they tend to communicate their points with bitterness and hostility, as if they are trying to win people over to their side of a conflict. As a result, their hard-learned lessons often are lost on those who most need to hear them, who can do something to help fix the problems. While their ranting may draw a flock of birds of the same feather, it tends to compel their “church”-bound brethren to defensiveness, and not much good results.
There is a third group, however, and that is forward-thinking Christians who love God’s Church, seek truth and know there is a better way. These folks have dug into the roots and fruits of our modern “church” system, and into the original intent of our Father, and found that we are terribly missing the mark. Theirs is constructive criticism, for the purpose of calling God’s people to a higher, better, and more God-pleasing express of Church.
Because their intended audience has been bombarded by hostile complaints from both wounded brethren and opponents of the faith, and because the kernels of their messages are often quite similar to those the bitter critics, this third group can have a very tough time getting their points across. Theirs is a challenging calling. I know, because I fall into this third group.
You need to know that I thank God for my mainline, denominational, liturgical upbringing. I have fond memories of Sunday School classes, stirring sermons, inspirational music, fun fellowship, and even service on various committees. Some of my best friends over the years have been pastors, and I nearly went to the seminary to join their ranks. Sure, as I grew up and my horizons broadened, I began to question some things about “church,” and to seek to make improvements from within, but it was always “by the rules” and with deep respect for the institution and the other people involved. I do not consider myself wounded, bitter, or hostile toward churchianity in the least.
But I must tell you, as I have dug into the truth of God’s will for His sons and daughters on earth, and the true potential for His Church, something has changed in me over the years. I no longer feel called to work entirely from within the four walls of the “church.” While I still have love and respect for the people, my respect for the institutions themselves has greatly diminished. I’m just being honest here.
I want to ask you a favor as you dig into this book. Will you please give me some grace, and approach it with an open mind? I know these are sensitive issues, and we can easily become quite emotional, defensive and hostile when we discuss them. We can also jump to conclusions about the other person’s motives. I am asking you to accept that my heart is in the right place here, and I am only seeking to call God’s people to the very best. My goal is to build up, not tear down (although a little constructive demolition is necessary in any remodeling job).
And yet, I am only human, too. Maybe I have been a little wounded and not fully healed, and maybe it does come through a little at places. I don’t think that’s the case, it’s sure not my intention, and I’ve done my best to write with sensitivity and grace. But if anything I write seems bitter in any way, please forgive me, and try to look through it to the heart of what I’m saying. My writing style is often passionate, colorful and to-the-point; please don’t confuse passion and righteous frustration with hostility.
Anyway, just because someone is wounded doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, it just means they’ve experienced something that hurt them very deeply. We should not write off the words of the wounded; rather, we should have compassion for them. If elements of our “church” are hurting people deeply, then we need to bring them to light, however hard that may be, don’t you think?
As God has led me deeper into His Word, and into a greater understanding of The Way that He desires for us to come together as the Body, I’ve taken that understanding and laid it side by side with what I’ve personally experienced, observed and learned about churchianity. At times, this journey of discovery has been like watching a movie, where sometimes you want to laugh, sometimes you want to cry, and sometimes you want to yell at the person on screen. Writing this book has been a very personal and emotional journey, and at various points its content reflects all of these emotions.
This stuff is very important to me, and try as I might I simply cannot approach this topic as a scientific, emotionless observer sitting on the sidelines. Serving God by advancing His Kingdom and building up His people is my deepest passion. I pray that is the common ground on which you approach my writing.
There’s one more thing you should know before you jump off into the rest of this book. I wrote this over the course of about a year, and for most of the time I didn’t even realize I was writing a book. Rather, I was simply keeping notes of my observations, insights and experiences. It was only later that I felt the Lord’s call to pull it all together into one package. As a result, it’s more of a diary than a narrative, and like any diary, you will see a variety of emotions expressed.
There are certainly consistent threads and overarching themes throughout, but each chapter is also something of a stand-alone essay. This book is not a profound theological research volume, but rather a collection of thoughts, impressions and revelations I’ve had as I’ve wrestled with this topic in my own life. If there are chunks of it you simply can’t abide, that’s fine. I’m not trying to sell you anything. But I hope you’ll keep going anyway, because you may just find a few nuggets along the way that will revitalize your faith, bring you closer to the Father, and maybe even spark a healthy dialogue in your own congregation. If this happens, I’ll consider it a success.
A note to my friends and blog followers:
This is my first post in a few weeks. I apologize for the long gap. My family has been tied up in a huge spiritual battle and period of unexpected hardship. Our local newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, wrote a story about our situation and ran it on their front page two days ago. If you’re interested in finding out more, here’s a link to the article. I appreciate your patience and prayers. – M.A.
I find it amazing how so many Christians simply cannot properly take – or assign – responsibility for the foul fruit of human failings.
It’s like they think, “So long as we don’t outright kill anyone or steal anything, or get caught breaking any of the other commandments, then everything else we do is irrelevant to the outcome of our actions.”
I’ve seen long-time ministers, who are indeed gifted at teaching the Word, live the most slothful lives and make the most foolish decisions – and then blame God (and/or the “immature” believers around them, who “don’t give enough”) for their poverty. Now, they wouldn’t outright say “it’s God’s fault” in so many words — rather, they seem to believe God is perpetually holding them in a “dry season” to “teach” them something – but it’s the same thing. Yes, God is trying to teach them something, like get off your butt and actually do something productive! The dry season they’re facing is not God’s fault; it’s the inevitable endpoint of the path they’ve chosen.
I’ve seen other long-time ministers form committees, councils, boards or teams of people who are incompetent, shallow, immature, conflicted and/or otherwise not trustworthy – and because they are “good Christians,” the organizer holds to an irrational belief that everything that happens will be “God’s will.” So when the group’s resulting action (or inaction) makes no sense or goes the wrong direction, the minister just follows merrily along, the blind following the blind, with God’s name stenciled on the mess.
The Lord gave me a vision onetime of a Christian farmer in a farmhouse, praying earnestly for a bumper crop of corn. This farmer has the most fertile bottomland in the county, the best equipment in his barn, it’s a wet year, and there is nothing standing between him and a record harvest. But a few weeks after planting time, this farmer’s field is still brown, while his unbelieving neighbor’s field is sporting healthy sprouts.
So the farmer gets on his knees and prays even more. He fasts, digs deeper into the Word, activates the prayer chain at “church,” and resolutely declares the “word of faith” that God is definitely going to give him a huge harvest this year. And yet another month later, when the neighbor’s crop is “knee-high by the Fourth of July” and growing, this farmer’s field is still desolate.
So our farmer pours out his heart to God. He puts a bigger check in the offering plate. The elders of his “church” pour oil on his head and pray over him. His touchy-feely, super-“spiritual” friend helps him dig into his childhood and analyze all the bad things that ever happened to him, seeking the “root of his troubles.” His holy-roller pastor waves his arms and flaps his tongue in a wild prayer of deliverance. But a number of weeks later, while his neighbor rolls out the combine and brings in a bumper crop, our friend’s field yields nothing but weeds and dust.
Finally the Christian farmer, at wits end, lays face down before the Lord, humble and broken. “Why, Lord? Why is it your will that I suffer, while my unbelieving neighbor gets rich?”
The Lord, with grace, yet a touch of frustration, replies, “My son, I gave you the best bottomland in the county, the best farm equipment there is, plenty of rain, and everything you needed to produce a bumper crop. But you didn’t do your part! All you needed to do was plant the seeds I gave you, and I would have made them grow….”
This scenario is more common than we may realize. Even as I write this, I am once again convicted of my own guilt in blaming God for the failures and lack in my own life. It is not His fault! He has given me more than I need, and I alone am to blame for the consequences of my own poor decisions. I pray God helps me see clearly where I’ve mis-stepped, because I know that taking responsibility is a pre-requisite for learning and doing better in the future. When I blame Him or anyone else for my mistakes, I am doomed to repeat them.
Here’s the truth: God gave us the authority and mandate to establish dominion over the world. He freely offers Wisdom and Revelation to guide our steps. He promises provision and direction when we seek and obey His will. And He also gives us free will to do it His way, or not.
We must realize that He didn’t give all this to us so that we may have a free pass on the principles of His creation. Believers are not exempt from reality! Instead, the opposite is true: God established the fundamental principles of creation – scientific, economic, political, business, etc. – and gives us access to His very mind, so that we may master them. He wants his sons and daughters to rise up and take dominion over these things, not cede them to the unbelievers through our own foolishness, ignorance and inaction!
This truth applies to us, wherever we find ourselves. I see everyday believers “blame” God for their unemployment, yet they don’t hustle to find work, don’t present themselves well in interviews, and never took the time to master the skills necessary to be successful in their given field. No, their unemployment is not God’s fault! It is a result of their own bad habits and poorly-chosen path.
I see believers who actually believe their broken marriage is God’s will. Of course, it must be God’s will, and certainly has nothing to do with the fact that they’re lazy, self-centered, worldly, and didn’t put Christ at the center of their relationship!
I see Christian business owners “blame” God for hardship and failure, yet they continually ignore wise counsel, make stupid decision, and do not put a professional face on their endeavors. How is it God’s fault when they go out of business? Just because they’re a “Christian” business doesn’t mean they don’t have to compete in the marketplace!
Sure, there are legitimate “dry spells” and hardships in life. God teaches us through trials and fires. We’re not here to live it up in the here and now, and material outcomes are not necessarily any measure of Godly success. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about all the times that we miss out on God’s desired outcome through our own ignorance, stubbornness, foolishness, laziness, and bad habits – and then, instead of facing the truth, we chalk our failure up to God. I believe this is more widespread than any of us may care to admit.
Where this grips me the most is in “church.” Pews and pulpits today seem filled with folks like the Christian farmer in my little story. We are failing in our God-given mandate to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, and we are becoming increasingly mocked and marginalized in the world. At the same time, frauds and phonies are reaping a bumper crop, leading multitudes down the path to destruction.
How can we honestly believe this has nothing to do with the fact that even the most “contemporary” of our “churches” today – compared to The Way modeled in Scripture – are legalistic, ritualistic, materialistic, tradition-bound, shallow, inbred and downright goofy?
Instead of facing the facts and returning to The Way, what is our answer? Redesign the bulletin. Rejigger the order of “service.” Play more modern music. Wear flip-flops on Sunday. That, or double-down on the archaic traditions of our denomination’s founders.
Fact is, we reap what we sow, and we don’t reap what we don’t sow. It’s time we step up and accept responsibility! Churchianity is failing, and yet our “church” leaders continue to inflict us with failing methods – and then blame God for the outcome.
As if claiming that our failure is somehow His fault were not bad enough, now we’ve come up with a pop theology to justify it all. The ultimate insult to our Lord and King, and the pinnacle of the “blame God” mindset, is the modern teaching that global dominion of the Body is not really inevitable, after all, and the best thing we can do is just wait to be rescued. The only one glorified by modern “end times” teaching about the inevitable rise of the antichrist is the antichrist himself! This is not Biblical in the least. Holy cop-out, Batman!
It’s time to grow up, stop blaming God, beg for wisdom, follow His lead, take responsibility for our failings, learn from our mistakes, plant the right seeds, and set our faces like flint towards finally establishing dominion over the world He created for us.
This is His will, and He continually gives us everything we need to do it. If we continue to miss out, it’s not His fault.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Back in the late 1960s, three US servicemen commandeered a massive piece of very expensive government equipment and took it for a joyride. After only a few minutes, they had succeeded in destroying the majority of it. Even so, they successfully made it away from the heavily-guarded compound and outside the reach of authorities.
Eight days later, after a massive effort to track their location, when government agents finally caught up with the three, they had utterly ruined the last bit of equipment and had to be rescued by the US Navy. Nothing was left to show for their big adventure but a nearly $2 Billion bill to the US government (in today’s dollars), a few bits of unusable equipment strewn in their path, and far-out stories of a wild ride.
Sounds like the plotline for the next “Hangover” movie, doesn’t it? What do you think happened to these three thrill seekers?
Would you be surprised if I told you they ended up lionized as some of the greatest heroes of all time, and their adventure inspired a generation?
That might make sense if I gave you two more bits of information: The equipment they destroyed was a Saturn V rocket, and their joyride was the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
There’s a vital spiritual lesson here.
Before the launch, these three men were sitting on top and in control of the world’s most sophisticated asset, built at a cost of millions of man hours and billions of dollars. They had worked tirelessly and played their cards right for their entire careers to get to this point, where they were respected as the elite of the elite and in the center of international media attention.
And then came the moment when they had to make the conscious choice to push the launch button. They knew that single decision would destroy the rocket that carried them, use up every last drop of their fuel, put their very lives in jeopardy and – if they survived – inevitably leave them stranded and helpless in the middle of a vast ocean. All to plant a flag on a far-away rock.
When God calls us to do something, this is what He is asking, and it is a conscious choice we must make. For the astronauts, they had the full support of the US government behind them and they understood the Big Picture purpose of it all, so I’m sure they didn’t hesitate to launch when it was time. For us, all we have behind us is an invisible God and promises of eternity, and we often lose sight of the Big Picture. As a result, I’m ashamed to admit, we often don’t push the launch button when called upon.
Have you ever noticed that it’s the young, relatively inexperienced entrepreneurs who seem to hit all the home runs in business? Why is this?
I’m beginning to see that there’s a negative, worldly version of “wisdom” that can hold back the most capable of us.
When a young person sees a vision, he sees nothing but the potential, whereas older ones often see nothing but risk.
Sadly, the folks who have been around the block a few times – the ones who have learned the most, and in theory are the most capable – often fail to answer the door when opportunity knocks. We can let our own idea of “wisdom” – we may call it “experience,” “due diligence,” or “caution” – drown out the call of God. Now, there’s nothing wrong with real wisdom, but fact is this thought process is often really a cloak for, “I’m wounded, jaded, tired, prideful, afraid, and/or I have too much to lose.” When this happens, we are allowing all the good aspects of our life experiences to be negated by the bad ones. I admit, I’ve fallen into this trap.
Imagine how Moses must have felt after his first encounter with Pharoah after returning from the wilderness. “Let my people go,” he’d said. Pharoah’s response was not only “heck no,” but he harshly added to the forced labor of the Israelites, who of course loudly complained to Moses.
So here’s this 80-year old man who had once again failed. I’m sure there was a part of him screaming to himself, “I knew it! Last time I tried to help these people, I lost my place in the palace and ended up spending forty years in the wilderness. Now I’ve screwed it up again!”
And then guess what God did? He told Moses to go back to Pharaoh and try again. When that failed, He did it again … and again … and again … and again. Nine times in a row, God called Moses to failure, and each and every time it made matters worse for himself and his people.
Thank God Moses didn’t refuse to hit the launch button the tenth time. Had he let his “wisdom” get in the way … well, who knows how many more generations of Israelites would have lived in slavery?
The early apostles didn’t hesitate to lay down their nets and follow Christ, and they eventually lost everything as a result. Think they’d do it again if they had the chance? Or, do you think their “due diligence” would lead them to make another choice? (“This fishing business isn’t so bad after all! We should just make a lot of money and give it to the ones on the front lines…”)
Paul was influential and upwardly mobile in the Jewish hierarchy when Christ called him. He could have refused the call, and may well have ended up as High Priest. Instead, he didn’t let his “wisdom” hold him back.
Think of all the towns where he ended up beaten or imprisoned, only to launch off to the next town and start over again, and again, and again. He could have given up at any time and retired to Tarsus as a successful tentmaker. But he lived all-in, and never looked back.
Paul knew that the things we build on this earth will all burn someday, and he knew that the trials we face exist to build our character and faith, and so – despite all the times he was broken and hurt – he was not afraid of being broke or hurt again.
The only things we can take from this world to the next are the character, people and relationships that we build in Christ. God gives us everything else – wealth, fame, followers, facilities, reputation, etc. – for this one purpose: To serve as our own Saturn V rocket, to launch us to new places to plant the flag of His Kingdom.
So you’re one of the elite. So you’re at the top of it all, and the whole world is watching. Guess what? You can’t take it with you!
You have a choice, and if you’re afraid to push the button, and put it all on the line, every time God calls, He will eventually pry you from the command module and put in a new crew who will use it for His purposes.
God wants to plant His flag somewhere new. He’s calling you to do it.
Are you willing? Or, like the rich young ruler, will you refuse?
I’m not telling you to abandon wisdom. Instead, I’m imploring you to reject the false “wisdom” of the world that keeps able men and women bound up in the prison of “risk aversion.” I’m encouraging you not to lean on your own understanding. Don’t let the fear of trouble or persecution or failure, or the cares of this world and deceitfulness of riches, hold you back from hearing the Lord’s call and pushing the launch button when it’s time.
Yes, God tells us to count the cost, and that’s like a “due diligence” of sorts. But He also tells us not to worry about tomorrow, or what we will eat, drink or wear. As Christ said it, such worry is the opposite of seeking the Kingdom. “Counting the cost,” as He means it, is simply being conscious of the quantity of poker chips you have, and then pushing them all-in to the center of the table anyway.
You know what? He may have another lesson for you at the end of this assignment, and it may be one that He knows is best learned by abject failure. Do you trust Him? Are you willing? You have a choice.
Whether you have a lot or a little to your name, fact is you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, because God is still real and His promises are still true — the same as when you were young and reckless, and the world was yours for the taking. He doesn’t change. Have you let the world change you?
It may be a relationship, or a business venture, or taking your ministry in a radical new direction. Whatever it is the Lord is calling you to do, the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt ring true: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
(And fear by any other name is just as bad.)
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Holding you, I held everything
For a moment wasn’t I the king
But if I’d only known how the king would fall
Hey who’s to say, you know I might have changed it all
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance
— From “The Dance” by Garth Brooks
Don’t let the fear of pain keep you on the sidelines when God calls you back to the dance floor.
I can be obsessive. The Bible says that whatever our hand finds to do we should do it with all our strength, and doing so is hardwired into my psyche. When I focus on something, I really dig into it and don’t rest till I fully get it. While my kids might tell you this can lead to some over-the-top board game competitions in my family, I don’t think on the whole it’s a bad personality trait.
The Bible also tells us to be wise and to take our thoughts captive. Doing the one without the other – that is, committing fully to something without being strategic about it – is a surefire recipe for a misspent life. In my youth, I gave myself to all sorts of projects and causes that, sadly, will not stand in light of eternity.
As a result, over the years I’ve learned to be deliberate about my obsessions, to guard my passions. I realize I’m past the midpoint in my life and I don’t want to waste my remaining years pursuing random, meaningless or selfish things.
As my recent string of blog posts reveals, for quite some time I’ve been focused on getting to the heart The Way that God desires for us to function as a Body of believers. Some folks have asked why this is so important to me, as it can seem like an obscure topic. No doubt it’d be easier for me to follow the herd and focus my attention on the latest football stats, celebrity gossip or political drama, and then sit in a pew and baaaa in unison with the rest of the sheep.
This pursuit has proven to be a challenge and a sacrifice, as it’s taken me into a territory where I often feel the need to tiptoe and whisper, lest I incur the wrath of those who are content with the status quo. But try as I might, I simply don’t think there’s anything more important for me to be obsessed about. This is where the Lord has called my attention, and I can’t rest till I complete my assignment.
As I see it, there are three main reasons why this is so important:
First is practical. For years I sat in pews, served on committees and paid my tithes at a local “church,” going through the motions of churchianity. All the while, we heard messages, sang songs, and participated in studies based on the Bible, which was said to be the inerrant Word of the God (the same God, we were told, who established this “religion” to begin with).
Call me a rebel, but I figured, if I’m going to give so much of my life to my “church” and abide by its rules for living, I should probably read its Holy Book and see what it says. In it, I found a number of crystal-clear promises like if I seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness, He will provide for all my physical needs, and if I trust and acknowledge God above my own understanding, He will guide my steps. I also read that the Christian’s life is supposed to be marked by true and abiding peace, love, joy and contentment in all situations (which I certainly wasn’t feeling despite my devotion to “church”).
And so I decided to see for myself if all this stuff was legit. I mean, if the Bible is true and God is real, then He should be able to keep those promises, right? And if He can’t, then it’s all a big joke and we’re wasting our time with all this “church” stuff. If it’s not true, and there is no eternal judge or afterlife, then we’re fools not to live large and make the most of our time on earth. On the other hand, if it really is true, then we’re fools not to do every single thing He tells us to do, every step of the way. Living in the twilight zone in between these, as I did for so long, is a meaningless, pointless existence.
To get to the bottom of it all, I jumped into my part of God’s promises with both feet, and it wasn’t long before I saw first-hand that God is real and His promises are true. He’s given me everything He promises and then some, and has demonstrated His reality in countless, miraculous ways.
Grounded in this certainty, I’ve made my pursuit of the Living God and His perfect will my overriding obsession. I want to know Him more and understand – and obey – His Word as deeply as humanly possible. I’d be a fool not to. And since the thing we call “church” absorbs the lion’s share of the time and money we dedicate to God, I figured this was a good place to start digging into His will.
Fact is, if I found out “church” as we know it today is aligned with God’s desire, then I’d want to do it will all my strength. (And I’d want to know which one is right, because most claim all the others are wrong.) On the other hand, if the way we practice “church” is not what God desires, then why do it? If it’s for tradition alone, that’s a terrible reason. Think about it: If we’re off target with this, we’re flushing a massive, tragic amount of human time, talent and treasure down the toilet – and missing the full realization of the blessings God has in store for us.
So my quest for the truth of Church is, in part, fully practical. I want to know how God wants us to live, and I want to follow it to the best of my abilities – because I want to grab hold of all that He has in store for me, and I don’t want to waste my time on an activity He doesn’t endorse.
The second reason I believe this is a worthwhile obsession is because we are called, as ambassadors of Christ, to truly serve the needs of others, as He served us. This is the true religion that pleases God, and we are falling terribly short of it.
We were designed by God to fully thrive only when rightly connected to the Body, according to The Way put forth in Scripture. It is in and through the healthy Body of Christ alone that all our needs are truly met: financial, physical, emotional and spiritual.
Compared to the integrated, inter-dependent, egalitarian, dynamic, immersive, organic fellowship experience of the early Church, our “churches” today offer very little. Sure, there are often “fellowship” opportunities in the “fellowship hall,” and many are making headway with “home groups,” but these are insignificant in light of the richness of true Body life as God intends it.
The lifestyle of the early Church, as recorded in Scripture, is so foreign to us that we simply don’t know what we’re missing and how badly we’re failing. If only we knew how much better things could be for all of us – especially for “the least of these” – I believe we’d drop everything to grab hold of it. If the Body were to stand up in its full potential, we would transform the world overnight.
Instead, we live lives of disconnectedness … superficiality … lack … competition … fear … pride … despair. Scratch the surface of just about any “church” today and – if you are sober-minded and humble enough to admit it – you will find these in abundance. We should stop accepting this as our lot in life! It doesn’t have to be this way!
(Please understand, I say this in comparison to The Way that God desires for us. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone; I’m just trying to point us all towards Him. No doubt there are a huge number of “churches” that are much better than the cruel world. It’s just that to me, “better than” is not satisfactory when Christ came to give us the best.)
Here’s a hard truth: If you’ve sat in the same “church services” as someone for a long time, and you’re not integrally connected to each other – sharing possessions, truly serving each other’s needs, praying insightfully for each other, enjoying frequent fellowship, and so on – then you can call that place a lot of things, but please don’t call it a Church, because God sure doesn’t. Deep, all-in, intimate interconnectedness, where we come together to fully meet each other’s needs, is the heart of the Biblical definition of Church. But it’s virtually unheard of in “church” today.
This kind of interdependence is such an inborn need that throughout history countless millions of people have fought and died for corrupt, counterfeit versions. In reality, the promise behind communism and socialism is nothing more than an empty, evil, God-less version of the promise of true Church. There’s a reason this political paradigm is a continual, global force to be reckoned with. The meteoric rise of “social networking” is another testament to this universal human need. God made us to crave Body life!
We will never have our own needs fully met, or be able to meet the needs of others as we are called to, until we rediscover The Way. We will never be able to fully practice the true religion that pleases God, or unleash our full potential, until the living Body of Christ rises up, free from the shackles of division, human control and traditionalism.
Until we do our job, fake, shallow and harmful counterfeits will continue to flourish, and the people of the world – even “churchgoers” – will continue to needlessly suffer.
The third and most important reason I’ve focused so long on this topic is because I believe it’s central to God’s Big Picture, His original intent for creation and mankind.
God’s first words to mankind were the instructions to establish dominion, to conquer. Some of the last words in the Bible say that “he who conquers will inherit all things.” From beginning to end, and all points in between, the Bible gives us examples, instructions, promises and commands from God all pointing to His overriding desire for us – His children – to establish His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
Creation exists, and we are here in it, for this one purpose, and the end won’t come till we are done. We are not here just to “do our best” or enjoy “prosperity” until some random “end of the world.” We are instead here to conquer the kingdom of darkness; to follow His step-by-step guidance, and make use of His divine provision and power, to continually and successfully advance His Kingdom into every sphere.
The more I dig into it, the more I realize that God’s Kingdom is synonymous with His Body. The uprising of the Body of Christ is the same thing as the manifestation of the Kingdom come. The Body is the Kingdom – the Kingdom of righteousness, love, peace, joy and contentment in the Holy Spirit. It is the living entity that will emerge when we all let Christ live in and through us, and allow Him to knit us together in the unity of the Spirit.
His Kingdom cannot advance separate from true, organic Body life. It will come not by might or power, but by the Spirit of God – inside-out and from the bottom-up. Ultimate victory will not come through building projects, committees, mass-market campaigns, strident activism, or any amount of time and expense sunk into the institutions we call “church.” These things only get in the way.
We’ve been doing “church” our way for centuries, and yet we’re increasingly mocked, marginalized and fragmented. I’m passionate about God’s Kingdom, and so I am passionate about rediscovering God’s strategic plan for His Body on earth.
Advancing the Kingdom is our God-given mandate and purpose, and our only path to an eternal inheritance. By His design, there is only one way to advance the Kingdom, and that is by following The Way.
And so, yes, I think that getting to the heart of this is a worthwhile obsession. I wish more Christians felt the same!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I’m madly in love with my wife, even her little quirks. One is that, when she gets excited, she’ll often use a random word to refer to something, like “hurry, hand me the … uh … fork,” when she really means a hairbrush. I think after being married 18 years I’m actually learning to read her mind and can usually figure out what she means. But our children aren’t so good at deciphering her meanings, and sometimes it makes for a good laugh – like when she’s doing her hair and they actually bring her the fork she asked for.
Words are only useful so long as they stand for something that is commonly understood. If your meanings and mine for the same words don’t line up, we might as well speak to each other in a foreign language. That’s what a foreign language is, isn’t it – just a system of different words that refer, ultimately, to the same basic ideas and objects? When your meanings and mine don’t like up, things can get quite confusing. Just ask the builders at Babel.
I bring all this up to explain why it’s getting harder and harder for me to have a “normal” conversation about “church.” I’m even finding it hard to write about it.
One of my deepest desires is for my meanings of words to line up with God’s. That’s a passion of mine because it’s central to living a life of obedience. Aligning our meanings to God’s is a fundamental aspect of understanding and discernment. If God tells me to “jump,” I want to jump, and not run in circles. If He tells me to paint something blue, I don’t want to paint it red. If He tells me to be active in my local Church, then I want to do that, the way He intends it, and not according to a misguided understanding of that word.
Over many years I’ve studied, prayed, observed, and followed the Lord’s leading to gain a deeper understanding of the meanings of key words He uses. The root of my challenge is that my journey towards the truth has taken me further and further away from the meanings that are generally accepted in churchianity today. What this boils down to is, now that I’m learning the true meanings of the words we use, I simply can’t bring myself to use those words in the way most people understand them.
As a result, my obedience to God has led me to be further and further out of step with many brothers and sisters whom I dearly love. It’s a situation that can be painful, frustrating and sad. I can’t abandon my pursuit of the truth and all the Lord has taught me, and yet I can’t abandon my fellow Christ-followers, either.
All I can do is try my best to communicate the truth, in love, and lead by example. And it seems to get harder every day, because when it comes down to it, we’re really speaking different languages. It’s almost like what happened in Babel: We’re called to build the Body and establish the Kingdom, and yet we’re talking past each other on the most fundamental of concepts, and so we’re getting nowhere. Except this time, the different languages weren’t sent by God but rather the enemy has worked them in over many centuries.
Thankfully, the truth is the truth, and if we’re all teachable truth-seekers, we should be able to get over this hurdle and finally work together.
In the spirit of unity, let me tell you the most challenging words I face on a daily basis and offer some suggestions for moving forward together:
Church – When you read this in the Bible, it simply means, “the called out ones,” with connotations of civic duty and authority. It has absolutely nothing to do with a time, place, building, meeting methodology, organizational structure, system of ordination or hierarchy, or anything of the sort. The things we’ve built and call “church” today have zero basis in Scripture, and simply are not what God means when He says the word. Belonging to one of the man-made organizations and/or participating in the traditional Sunday-morning gatherings is an optional part of a Christian’s life, and has no bearing on our obedience to God’s desire for us to belong to His Church; the two things are entirely unrelated.
You may notice in my writing that when I refer to the authentic Biblical meaning, I capitalize the word Church, and when I refer to the man-made structures, I put “church” lowercase and in quotation marks. But in the long run, that’s not good enough. It certainly doesn’t work in conversation. My proposal, and it’s a modest one, is that we re-name the thousands of fragmented, facilities-based organizations called “churches” today “Christian Clubs.” So it’d become First Baptist Christian Club, or Hallelujah Bible Christian Club. If this suggestion catches on, then believers would be freed up to pursue true Church, and not feel so guilty for not “going to church” on Sunday mornings. Whether you accept this or not, please, do me a favor and stop calling your local Christian Club a “church” – because it confuses those who are seeking the truth, and it sure as heck isn’t something God calls Church.
Church Service – This one is almost comical. Service is what we do to help someone. According to the Bible, it is the basis of true religion, which God says is “helping widows and orphans.” So, in God’s eyes, a true Church service involves the fellowship of believers pooling resources and working together to meet the needs of those less fortunate, like feeding the homeless or painting a widow’s house. In today’s language, however, a “church service” is when the local Christian Club gathers and performs a Sunday morning ritual involving a musical performance, a motivational speech and some fundraising. How we came to call that a “church service” is beyond me! How about we start calling them “Christian Club Weekly Rallies”? As in: “Hey, you want to come to my Christian Club’s Weekly Rally this Sunday?” “No thanks, I’ll be up late Saturday performing a Church service, and will need to sleep late Sunday after working so hard at the homeless shelter.”
Ministry and Minister – The Greek word means “service.” (See above.) It’s a menial job, and the title of “minister” (and “deacon,” which has the same root) is most closely translated as “bus boy.” To clarify this, I suggest we start calling ministries “grunt work,” and ministers “servants.” As in: “I want to go into full time grunt work. My servant thinks I’m called to it.” That’d clarify things big time.
Worship – Literally, this means groveling like a dog before his master and/or lying face down before a king. It has nothing to do with music whatsoever. (And no, “praise” is not fast music and “worship” is not slow; that’s silly.) True worship is intensely private. Yes, it’s a condition of the heart, and it’s a state of being that we can bring to all our activities, including singing songs. Just so we can all be on the same page, here’s my suggestion: Let’s start calling the music portion of our Christian Club Weekly Rallies “inspirational music sing along time.” Then, if our hired Inspirational Music Sing Along Time Servant wants to truly lead worship, he can lie down on his face while the other members of the Christian Club are singing.
Pastor – This word has no Biblical meaning, because it’s a completely man-made title and job description. It was made up by the Roman “church” during the Dark Ages to pertain to a facet of the pagan-inspired priesthood, and inserted in one place in Scripture by translators looking to justify the position. The word they stepped on is shepherd. This is a hard one to suggest a possible replacement, because there are a multitude of folks filling this position who have no shepherding gift or calling whatsoever. Even if they did, their full time job running the Christian Club would mainly be a distraction from the real work of shepherding as it’s portrayed in the Bible. I think the best idea is to start calling them what they are, and that is “CEO” of their Christian Club.
There are quite a few more words we need to change if we’re going to be able to journey together towards the truth, but I think this is a good start. When we get these right I think the others will begin to fall into place. Will you join me? Think it’ll catch on?
Oh … and I’ll see you next Sunday at our Christian Club’s weekly rally. I’m sure our inspirational music sing along time servant will put on a good show, and the CEO will deliver a great motivational message!
After that, if you’re up for it, we can put on our work clothes and join the Church service down at the old widow’s house…
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I have a confession to make.
Many years ago, my wife and I decided to sell our first house. It was small, we had a growing family, we had an opportunity to re-locate back to our hometown, and the market was hot where we were. It was a good time to sell.
Problem is, we didn’t have a lot of money to get the place properly prepped for market. And so we took some shortcuts. Now, we didn’t outright lie or do anything out of the ordinary, I guess, but looking back at it, I feel bad for the ways we cut corners.
For example, part of the wood on the awning over the garage was starting to rot. A couple boards really needed to be replaced. But instead of doing that, I scraped out the rotten parts, filled them with wood putty and painted over it. I didn’t even wait for the putty to dry. Problem solved!
Then there was the spot in the yard, right near the front door, where we couldn’t get anything to grow. It was a real eyesore. So I dug it out, rimmed it with rocks, and every couple days I’d get a $2.99 flower-in-a-pot from the local grocery store and drop it in there. The flowers were bright and inviting and made the ground look fertile, but they withered up and died every couple days. As long as I had a fresh arrangement stuck in when folks came to look at the house, I figured it was all good – and I didn’t really care that it would be dead and brown by the time they moved in.
In real estate sales lingo, this is called making the house “show ready.” The old wisdom of “buyer beware” is still relevant today – and I’ve kept it in mind as we’ve bought subsequent houses, making darn sure to poke and prod every little thing. If I can cut corners to sell a house, anyone can.
At the time I honestly considered these superficial, short-term fixes to be smart business. And while I still feel a twinge of regret about my youthful “enthusiasm” in selling our house, in the big picture I know the folks got a solid house for a good price, even if there were a few “surprises” covered up.
It’s not like the foundation was crumbling or there were termites in the timbers. But in other circumstances it certainly could have been. It’s a facet of human nature that we often go to extreme measures to do this sort of thing – glossing over fundamental, structural, and possibly fatal flaws, while being content dealing only with things on the surface. It’s a trap that can suck away all our energy and expense, as it takes ever more putty, paint and potted plants to hide the rotten and dead spots.
We can, in fact, get so wrapped up in this effort that we become downright defensive if someone questions our tactics. I believe the root of this is pride. I remember my wife asking if I shouldn’t just replace the rotten board and I snapped at her, “I know what I’m doing!”
This phenomenon doesn’t just apply to selling homes. Colloquially, we call it “re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship,” or “fiddling while Rome burns,” or “putting lipstick on a pig,” or “addressing the ‘urgent’ before the ‘important.’” We do this with our health when we treat symptoms while refusing to acknowledge root causes, with relationships when we focus on keeping up appearances instead of dealing with real issues, and with business when we focus on short-term gain over long-term stability and growth. Indeed, we can do this with just about every area of life – education, politics, public safety, personal finance … you name it.
Often subconsciously, we buy into the lie that it’ll be just too painful or costly to rip out the layers of superficial “solutions” and get deep into the heart of a matter. We just can’t bring ourselves to admit that the problems are as deep as they really are. “No way I have cancer, it must just be a cold…” When we do this, the inevitable result of our short term gain is long term pain.
Sadly, I see this all the time in “church” today. The symptoms are plain for all “church” leaders to see: increasing irrelevance in society, less enthusiasm and commitment from congregants, lower standards for what it means to be a “Christian,” back-door losses, a glaring absense of the miraculous manifestation of God, and often even a lack of fire in our own bellies.
“Steering” or “vision casting” committees are increasingly common as we come to grips with these stark facts. Pastors ask for suggestions, seek out advice, and pray for guidance. Members – with all kinds of expertise, backgrounds and motivations – offer their best ideas. Often, there’s even a call to group fasting and prayer. Then all the ideas go to the “committee” and out comes…
A new design for the bulletin.
Or a rearranged “service” lineup with a new way of collecting offerings.
Or livelier “worship” and shorter “sermons.”
Or a new “member retention” program.
Taken to an extreme, in a modern, leader-driven “church,” this drive to deal with symptoms can lead to a more “contemporary” vibe – with pop music, watered-down “inspirational” messages, and all forms of flash and dazzle.
No matter how well these solve the short-term, superficial issues – sure you can push buttons to increase membership, fire up an audience or boost donations – it’s still putty and paint on a rotten board.
You can keep things “show ready” as long as you want, and people will keep buying it from you, but what’s the end result? Certainly not the Kingdom come.
There are age-old termites deep in the timbers of the structure we’ve built and call “church.” The foundation of our dearly-beloved churchianity is not Christ but Constantine, and it’s been crumbling from the very beginning. No amount of lipstick can help this pig.
What’s it going to take for us – who supposedly represent the Body of Christ on earth – to come together, address the failings of our current system, tear away centuries of tradition, refuse the short-term fixes, and really address the heart of the problem?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!