Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How Did We Get Here, Part 2

Do you ever feel like your church is tired, weak, irritable or looking somewhat pale? Maybe the answer is Geritol!
Many people in churches feel like the woman in the Geritol commercial (1960), tired and unable to dance. In the context of the church, they are unable to follow the lead of the bridegroom (Jesus) because they believe that they just are not capable of doing so. This feeling of inability to do significant things for the Lord is not what we find as normal for the church in the New Testament.
Here are some key principles taking place in the churches found in the New Testament that we have wandered away from in most churches today;
  • Interactive gathering of saints (Acts 2:42, Acts 20:7-12 & 1 Cor. 14:26)
  • Servant and consensual leadership (Matt. 20:20-28 & Acts 15:22-29)
  • Priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:4-10, 1 Timothy 2:5 & Hebrews 10:19)
  • The expansion of the church by common people (Acts 8:1-4, Romans 16:3-5 & Col. 4:15)
  • Equipping of the church so the people would do ministry - not do the ministry for the people (Matt. 28:19-20, Eph. 4:11-16 & 2 Timothy 2:2)
A thread through the five principles listed above is that professional or skilled leadership in the church has taken over these areas of faith. The taking over of these five areas have caused saints to need the following;
  • A professional to give a sermon and lead worship in order to enjoy church each week.
  • At least one or at most a few men to tell us what we are to do as a spiritual community.
  • Ordained men (sometimes women) to do the more significant work of the Gospel.
  • Highly trained and/or skilled people to begin new churches and organizations.
  • Professional people to do the baptizing, administering communion, conducting church services, sanctioning marriages and officiating at funerals.
This dependence upon skilled leadership in the church has contributed to her becoming weak, tired, irritable and pale. Most people sitting in the pews of churches across the world do not feel empowered, able or competent to do many of things that were commonly done by all believers in the first century as I pointed out at the top of this article.
So what should we do? To begin with, we should NOT beat ourselves up over this. It is correctable. We still have the same Godhead to call upon for help in addressing these problems. The one thing we shouldn't do is to keep on doing the same thing. But change is hard and as human beings we are typically lazy. If someone else will do "it" for us, we typically will let them do so. This is what has happened in our churches today.
Here a few suggestions from my brain to yours on how to see the priesthood of all believers become a reality in your community.
  • Come to grips with the truth that for most folks, this transition to feeling competent will take a lot longer than you anticipate. That may sound like bad news to you but I believe it is true and therefore will end up being comforting because it will match your experience.
  • There will be no transformation to a more Biblical way of spiritual engagement apart from a work of God in the lives of people who love Jesus. In other words, it is a supernatural work so increase your conversations with God about the issue.
  • Plan for things to fall apart. My good friend Neil Cole calls this 'planned neglect'. If people are going to do significant things for the Kingdom, they will have to see that there is a need for them to do something and that will only happen as the significant things do not get done.
  • Encourage people with Biblical and practical truth that they are able to do something significant. They may have to find what it is and you may be helpful in causing them to think through what it may be, but they will find it and they will see God work through them.
  • Plant seed ideas in the hearts of people and then get out of the way and let them run with the idea the way they want to. If they come and ask for direction, certainly help guide them. Offer positive input along the way so they will know they are on the right track.
  • Know ahead of time that some will hate this idea and move on to another spiritual community. This will happen and it will hurt but it must happen.
  • Remind, remind, remind, remind, remind and remind people of the truths found throughout the Scriptures that they can do significant things for the Lord. Paul often reminds people of things throughout his letters. We would do well to follow His example. Here is just one Scripture that speaks to this whole issue:
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Cor. 3:6
The Spirit gives life and the Spirit, He is the one who makes us competent. So move out in the competence that Christ has given you. I am surprised way too often with people coming up to me after a spiritual gathering to tell me that they knew God was prompting them to do something or say something and they hesitated. I constantly encourage people to err on the side of moving out but usually people take the safe way out and err on the side of silence. We can't learn about following the promptings of God if are usually silent when we sense them.
If you have a thought about these ideas, feel free to comment on them for all to read.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Did We Get Here?

Driving up to the building brought excitement to Aaron and Ellen. They had been looking for a church family to belong to for several months. They had visited many churches in their area from mega churches to churches with many seats and few people. In each and every experience, they felt like outsiders as they sat among brothers and sisters. Here they were again, pulling up to a building hoping that this experience would be different. They had been told about this church by some friends and it all sounded wonderful, but so did the last six churches they tried.

As they walked in the door Ellen noticed that the decorations were done very tastefully and Aaron noticed that there was some free coffee and snacks. They were greeted by another couple who introduced themselves and they exchanged pleasantries. As Aaron and Ellen stacked their plates with finger foods, they faded into a corner and watched. They overheard several conversations of friends who were catching up on their week, how prayers were being answered, how their jobs were going and how their favorite reality show was going down. The people in this church seemed nice enough, but just like other churches they had attended, they felt left out and that others were more interested in their old friends than making new friends. As they sensed the others moving to a more formal setting they hoped that the music, energy and teaching would fill the longing in their hearts.

Everyone was welcomed and the singing began, the worship flowed, ministry to one another took place through the music and some personal interaction. Someone shared a section of Scripture, another said a prayer and more singing was enjoyed. As the time of worship softly ended a transition took place to a time of learning from the Bible. As church ended and people began heading for their cars there were a couple of hugs given to Ellen and Aaron from a lady who encouraged them to come back next week.

During their drive home Ellen asked Aaron if he sensed the Lord drawing them to this community of believers and also how he enjoyed the whole experience. Aaron said, “You know, I really was hoping that this House Church experience would have been much different than it was. For me, it was little more than church gone miniature. I think the Lord had much more in mind for His church.”

I hope you were surprised to learn that this fictitious couples experience took place at a house church. “How did we (the church) get to such a place” has been a question raging in my own mind and heart lately. I think most people would agree that during Jesus’ three and a half years on earth, that he had one continuous church experience with His disciples. If you agree, notice that almost none of what happens in churches today took place with Jesus and His disciples.

Large highly organized ‘services’ were unknown to Jesus and His followers. Focusing on how people feel and how comfortable they are was not on their radar. Large crowds are a marker of a successful church these days but Jesus often left large crowds to talk with His disciples privately and moved out to take new ground (Mark 1:29-38). Passive crowds of people waiting to be fed spiritually processed food did happen in Jesus’ ministry, but He never seemed to organize them or make them His main ministry. His message was always one of pushing people out to take His good news to others...even when He was working with brand new believers (Mark 4, John 4, John 9, Matt. 4:19, Acts 1:8).

When I look at how the church in the Book of Acts and throughout the Epistles interacted and were encouraged to conduct themselves, I begin to ask how did we, the church, indeed get to where we are today; one hour passive services, programs, slick marketing and consumer driven ministry? I also wonder how organic or house churches can look so familiar to the one in my story at the beginning of this blog? I’ll interact with those questions next time, but I’m curious, what do you think?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Some Key Concepts of Church (as I see it :-)

Ideas associated with the word "Church" are varied to say the least. It can range from very informal and small to very ornate and large. For some, church equals boring and a waste of time while for others it means encouragement and a large focus of their life. Some see church as an option and for others it is mandatory. A large chunk of people need a holy person and a holy building to have church while others need neither. On and on the contrasts and ideas could go. 

I'm attempting to put down some of the key concepts of church as I see them (this is not meant to be exhaustive or complete). I want to write these down so the world will know my thoughts about church, so our network of organic churches will have something to point to and also for those who may sense something is amiss with their concept of church and want to explore other options. So here are some of my key concepts of church:

1. Jesus is the head of the church, He is the only Senior Pastor there is!
I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:18

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. Colossians 1:18
I think those verses are pretty clear on their own :-)

2. The church should be multiplying communicators not listeners.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. Acts 1:8

And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles...Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. Acts 8:1-4

Every believer in the church is to be on mission to share their story of what Jesus has done in their life and also tell the truth of His good news. Every believer is able to communicate what Jesus has done for them. As more and more believers become involved in sharing their stories with the world, the larger and larger the amount of communicators become. Eventually, everyone will hear the truth about Jesus when this happens. However, if we focus more on attracting listeners to the professionals and polished people of the church we will miss out on getting the masses into the nooks and crannies of the world where most of the people are. 

Let's be honest, if church leadership continues to do the work of spreading the good news through listener oriented venues, the believers have no reason to get involved beyond inviting. I think I can hear Jesus saying, "That's not what I had in mind. Read Acts 8:1-4 again." :-)

3. Discipleship is job #1.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations..." Matthew 28:19

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also...Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2:2 & 22 (emphasis mine)

No one is commanded to plant or build churches but every believer is called and commanded by Jesus Christ Himself to make disciples as we go through life. This is a most important job of every believer. Think with me for a moment - what if every believer actually obeyed Jesus on this and they were making disciples, that is, fully sacrificial followers of Jesus? How strong would the church be? If more were focused on helping people to live like Jesus did (making disciples) there would be less focus on what we dislike about church and more dependence upon Christ!

4. The church should be smaller rather than larger.

No one verse can capture this concept but I think Jesus' life gave us this example. Jesus often times shied away from crowds but loved being with smaller groups of people. He spent more time with Peter, James and John than any of the other Apostles. He spend more time with 12 than he did with the crowds. Jesus spent a good chunk of time with the 70 as He sent them out and He spent the least amount of time with the multitudes. Jesus knew the value of remaining small so closeness, accountability, a family feel and I think, with a smaller group, there is a greater ability to spread out and multiply. 

5. Church is more like a family than a school.

Most leaders I talk to see their church as a family and not as a school. However, the reality after discussing the life of their church is that most churches do function more like a school than a family. Many are so concerned with services, programs, right nuances of doctrine and protection from error that churches in many cases becomes more school and information orientated than family. 

The New Testament is full of organic and familial metaphors to describe the church. Families have fun together, play games together, eat together, cry together and at times are even bored together. They fight, solve problems and support each other.
Look at the verse below to get a taste of the family Paul had in Church in Corinth.

Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one. I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction. 2 Cor. 7:2-4

Here we see a taste of a family with problems, challenges and hardships yet Paul states that he is willing to die together and to live together with them. He is confident in them. This comes from a familial way of thinking about church instead of a more instructional way. For too many folks, when problems arise in church they skip on down the street to the next church - avoiding conflict and the opportunity to become closer - to become family.

6. The church is to be equipping people so they are empowered for ministry.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. Ephesians 4:11-16

I suggest you also read 1 Corinthians 14 for a good taste of how equipped people are encouraged to live out church together.

7. Leadership in the church is flat and non-hierarcichal.

And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left."And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. "It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just asthe Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:21, 24-28 (see the full context HERE)

Here we see the fleshly desire to be in control, or at least to be recognized as very important, raise its head. When the other ten Apostles got wind of the James and John's request, they became quite angry. Jesus called them all together for a family pow-wow. Jesus laid the law down that in His church, there was to be no one who acted like the Jewish priests and government officials did by being the ones in charge and in control. Instead, they were to be just like (if not lower than) everyone else. This doesn't mean that there are not gifts of leadership nor elders and deacons, there are those gifts and functions but they are not to be the ones in control. In my opinion, leaders guide the body in the direction of health. One way to ensure health and balance is for everyone to be in right connection with the Head of the Church, Jesus and to listen to Him for themselves.

8. Church is to be more interactive than passive.

For many, church is something you attend but I believe it is something you are part of and more who you are. To quote Reggie McNeal, "Church is not a what but a who". Today many simply go to a meeting (large or small) and sit and allow others to minister to them or for them. Rarely are people invited to get involved beyond singing. This is not the example we see in the Bible.

In the passage below, the words used to describe Paul's talking to this community late into the night is the word where we get our English word for dialogue. This long meeting in an upstairs room was highly interactive.

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. Acts 20:7-9

It would be good to take a look at 1 Cor. 14 and especially verse 26 to get a glimpse into how Paul was instructing the church at Corinth to practice their faith when they got together. One should also study each of the 27 or so 'one another' passages of the Bible which indicates a high level of interaction. 

9. DNA at every level.

If you are unfamiliar with the DNA concept, please click HERE for a more detailed discussion.

So there you have a few of my key concepts of church. If you have any comments, please shoot them to me.