Insecure Leaders

Recently on a trip here in Western Canada I had the honour of joining a group of pastors and ministry leaders for a meal and some fellowship. It was a good night and one that hopefully encouraged those who took the time to attend and participate. The local church and leaders who hosted the event were amazingly welcoming. The food was excellent. The setting was indoors due to the weather and the numbers attending.

As we arrived there was coffee and an opportunity to get to know the others as they were arriving. I did notice that most of the pastors did not arrive on time. Arriving late can be a subtle indication that they think they are so important that people will wait for them. It is a lack of respect for other people’s time. One couple arrived an hour and a half late. Good that we did not wait for them. Some who said they were attending were ‘no shows’ and did not let the host know plans had changed. Totally inconsiderate. But I digress and have entered the arena of my pet peeves. 

As we finished the meal we were asked to share who we were and what we believed God was doing in His Kingdom and the Church currently. We are talking pastors here. The host did not give us a time limit and so there is an open door here to preach a little. The sharing was good. Several took the opportunity to push an event that they were planning or hosting. I guess every good event needs room for advertising. Some actually did introduce themselves and shared briefly what they believed the Spirit was doing. One man made a tremendous point about how we do things that create camps – a ‘we’ and ‘they’. So, in general, it was okay. And, yes, there was some preaching.

But, and there is almost always a ‘but’ in these things. I did notice that almost everyone who shared talked more about what they were doing and how their ministry was doing instead of what God was doing. It was seriously evident in the sharing. And, it is very common when leaders and pastors get together. It seems that we are out to impress each other regarding what we are doing for God – not what God is doing through us. And, how active and alive our church or ministry really is. I think we are trying to impress each other. I believe it is because most leaders are insecure and so need to “huff and puff” and work to impress people. 

There is this thing that happens when leaders get together. We judge the success of the ministry – and thus the minister – by how many people they have in their church and by how busy they are. So, you will hear leaders talking about their programming, their current special event, and the guest speaker that is coming. If the numbers attending is growing they will certainly mention this. You will hear them tell you how busy they are in ministry and how tired they are at times. Again, as if this is a badge of honour. You seldom or never hear them mention issues they are having in ministry or anything personal regarding how they are doing spiritually in their walk with Jesus.

In general, my observation is that leaders are very insecure. They don’t trust others – especially other leaders. They also find their self-worth in the ministry and not in their relationship with the Lord who called them into the ministry. So, if the church or ministry is growing or doing well they feel good about themselves and have a sense of worth or value. If the ministry is taking a downturn then their sense of worth or value takes a hit. This is so sad. Our sense of worth or personal value should always come out of our relationship with the Lord and not from what we are doing or not doing for Him or with Him. 

I believe it is time for leaders in the Christian Church to renounce this “performance religion” and to build a dynamic and personal relationship with the Lord. It is from this personal relationship – not a ministry relationship – that pastors can become secure in who they are and no longer identify with what they do as the basis for their self-image and self-worth. 

As we shared around the table one leader mentioned that he believed that the Holy Spirit was calling us back to an intimate walk with the Lord. I could not agree more. He was definitely in touch with what God is doing in His Kingdom the His Church today. 

Wounded Leaders

Recently on a trip to the United States I was able to attend the first night of a weekend conference. In a church building that seats maybe 300 half the seats were occupied with pastors and church leaders from that area and some from even 4 or 5 hours away. The night I was blessed to attend we had two separate worship sessions. And, as pastors do, they engaged fully in the worship, worshipping with their whole hearts. 

As I watched and listened I realized how wounded so many of them were. I wasn’t amazed by what the Holy Spirit was showing me. I work with leaders and pastors in a number of countries overseas and across Canada and the United States. I know that leaders are wounded. They are wounded by the people they lead, pray for, and teach. They are wounded by those who call themselves ‘friends’ and often turn on them and become enemies. They are wounded by the traditional structures they work within – denominationalism. And, if they are a more non-traditional version of the church they are often wounded by their church board. They become wounded because of people’s expectations – spoken and unspoken, met and unmet. 

But, here they were raising their hearts and hands to worship the Lord. In their woundedness they sought to worship the Healer. Not to be healed although that would be great and an added bonus I am sure. But, simply because they sincerely and deeply love Him whom they serve. But, I was overwhelmed spiritually and emotionally by the depth and severity of their woundedness. There were likely few there who would admit that they were deeply wounded but there were very few who were not. 

We need to be praying for our Christian leaders – the pastors, the teachers, the elders … and, if you are so blessed to have the fullness of the ministry of Christ in your local church then for the apostle, prophet, and evangelist who are leading and blessing you. Our leaders need healing. And, most times they will not tell you they do. They don’t trust you. 

Because they have been wounded by ‘the Church’ they have a hard time trusting ‘the Church’ – believers. And, so they go along silently hurting and trusting no-one. But unless they admit that they are wounded and need healing it only gets worse until they find themselves either indulging in what is neither healthy or wholesome leading them into sin or they simply walk away from the full-time ministry. Often never to return to ministry or the church. Our leaders are deeply wounded and are often unable to share with those around them because of the lack of trust and the structures within which they operate and work.

This is a sad fact. That the Church and, dare we say it, the Christians, are simply not safe. The Church is not a safe place to be real, open, and honest. Leaders are overwhelmed with unrealistic expectations and demands. They are crushed by betrayals, criticisms, rejection, judgments, and gossip and most often have no one to turn to for help. So, they suffer in silence unable to personally find freedom and wholeness. Not only do they find it dangerous to be real with their own people but because of the design of the system other pastors and leaders are not called upon in time of need. There is a sense of competition between leaders and the leader needs to protect his image and reputation. There is a need to come across that everything is all right and we have it altogether. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So, pastors and leaders need to take action to build healthy relationships with two or three people who can be their support team and accountability partners. These people need to be healthy themselves. They need to be trustworthy. And, they need to treat the leader with dignity and respect. It will take time to build these healthy relationships but they are essential to bringing health back to the leadership of the Church. And, then, with healthy leaders, we can begin to restore health and vitality to the local church as well. 

It is time for wounded leaders to make time to care for their own health and wellbeing. It is time to build healthy and open relationships with others who can support and encourage them. True friends. And, it is time to return to the pattern of the ministry of Jesus where people were loved unconditionally, accepted as they were, and forgiven if and when needed.

If you are a leader, I commend you for sacrificially helping those that you lead. But, first priority should be to become healthy and whole yourself so that you can, once again, continue to lead in the long term and be more effective.  It takes time. You will need to be intentional as it won’t happen by accident. And, you will need to be real and open. It will be risky but it is worth it. 

 

What Is Worship?

When believers come together we “worship.” In fact, generally we call the gathering a “worship service.” But do we really worship? I mean, really?

In most services I attend in every nation where I work we sing songs or choruses about God. We sing songs that encourage us to believe, to move forward, to stand strong. We sing about Him. But, if you watch the words for most songs – the real focus is you, me, us. So, that is not worship. It may move us and may help us feel good, but it is not worship.

Worship must be directed to God. It must be believers expressing their hearts about God to God. The audience of worship is One, God Himself. The songs or choruses must express our love for Him to Him.

But, even that is limited by how much we love Him. Do we love Him with our whole heart? Are we wholehearted about our commitment to follow Him regardless? Are we willing to obey Him with our whole heart? If we do not love Him with our whole heart then our worship is limited or simply nonexistent. 

Going even a little deeper… If we have not given our whole self to Him – our physical life, our emotional life, our hopes and dreams, our desires and plans, our friendships and family, our past, present and future – then we are really not fully worshipping Him. Maybe we are not worshipping Him at all. 

The writer of the book of Hebrews states what worship is:

Romans 12:1-2 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies (whole being) as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

In The Passion Translation this reads…

Beloved friends, what should be our proper response to God’s marvellous mercies? I encourage you to surrender yourselves to God to be his sacred, living sacrifices. And live in holiness, experiencing all that delights his heart. For this becomes your genuine expression of worship.

This is the correct biblical understanding of worship. This is the foundation of any and all worship that we might be involved in and that we offer up to Him. If we love Him with our whole heart and thus trust Him surrendering ourselves to Him totally we will then obey Him completely and instantly because He states “If you love Me you will obey Me.” Then we are positioned to worship Him from the center of our being with all that we are and all that we have – worship with and from our whole heart.

So, when we sing a song or two and get an emotional feel from it, we say that the “worship was anointed.” What does that mean? What is anointed worship? A feeling? A sense that your heart was touched? You entered into His presence (whatever that really means)? A knowing that you have, once again, encountered God? What does it mean to say that something is anointed? That worship is anointed?

How about we go back to the basics. How about we remove the huge business that worship songs and worship teams have become. A multi-billion dollar business worldwide, by the way. How about we boil it down to the biblical foundation. Worship, yes even anointed worship, is you surrendering yourself to God totally. That and that only “becomes your genuine expression of worship.” Nothing more, nothing less is genuine worship. 

The Purpose of Church?

Recently I had a leader that I work with in Western Canada ask me what the purpose of the Church is? Interesting question – a good question – from someone who is leading a local church and has attended church all of her life. She is looking for a way to revamp the way they do church. In other words, the way the weekly gathering flows – the various things that should go into the weekly “church service.”

The New Testament does not give us a template for a weekly church assembly. It seems that every local church – Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Rome, Jerusalem – functioned as they were led by the Holy Spirit. Most, of course met in private homes. A few used a local school or met outside. But, we are not given a lot of insight into what they did. And, the insight we do gain from the occasional verse is not a set pattern to follow. It is simply what that particular local church did. For example – in Jerusalem …

Acts 2:42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

So some people will choose a verse like this and then design the whole weekly assembly with these elements prominent in the expression of the life of that church. 

The leader who asked the question was quoting a verse – expressing that this was the only verse they could find that expressed the purpose of the church assembly. You know the verse…

1 Corinthians 14:26 “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

Again, this was Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth. The format he was suggesting was as a result of the issues they were having when they gathered together – people living in immorality, drunkenness at the services, unruly behaviour. And, if we were to apply this verse and the seven verses following explaining how they would work in the service … then we must also apply the next verse

1 Corinthians 14:34 “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission…”

Remember now, the person who asked the question is a woman who leads a church. Whoops!

You simply cannot take a verse or two out of content and its environment (who it was written to, why, and when) and use it today to base a format on. Not good use of the Bible and not what the Lord meant for us to do. 

The only expressed purpose of the Church – every local church – is found in Ephesians 4:11-16:

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Again, please note that there is no set pattern for the local church assembly or worship service to follow. But, the purpose of the local assembly is clear – leaders are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. 

Ministry is what happens out where believers live. So, they are to be equipped to minister to the lost so that they can be touched by the love of God and come to the foot of the cross and be saved. What goes on in the service or assembly is really “maintenance” as we are ministering to one another and taking care of those who are already sheep and part of the sheepfold. So, as we gather the purpose of the gathering is to equip the saints to reach the lost. This fits with the only call or mandate that the Lord gave the church… “Go into all the world and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19). 

And, we call the local assembly a “worship service!” So, really, is it? What is worship anyways? More on that next time. 

The Church As It Will Be – Wow!

When we look at when the Church was first introduced to the world we see the following…

Acts 2:42-47 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

If the world is looking for a solid description of the Church, here it is. But instead of just listening to the description, let’s imagine what it was really like there in those first days. Let’s imagine that you are on assignment as a beat writer for the Jerusalem Times with the task of observing and reporting about this new community of people who are beginning to create significant buzz around the city. 

Three thousand people have come to faith in one day, (Acts 2:41) and more are being added daily (Acts 2:47). People are meeting every single day – not just one day a week – in the temple and in their homes. They are selling their stuff and sharing the profits.

These people are shaking things up and rocking the status quo.

Now imagine you have a friend who is a part of this new community. You ask him to meet you in the local cafe just to get the scoop. After catching up on small talk and niceties, you get right at it.

“What in the world has happened to you?”

“Well, I am hanging out with a new group of friends.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere really. It is not really a place but a group of people.”

“What is not a place?”

“The Church. Isn’t that what you are asking me about?”

“Church? What’s church? I have never heard of that before.”

“Well, it’s a community of people who, by God’s kindness, have seen Jesus and gather together to love one another and follow in His steps.”

“Jesus? Isn’t that the guy whom everyone loved but the religious establishment hated? And isn’t He dead? Look, I got sent over here to interview you because word on the street is that something very different – very alive – is happening with you people. And again, what is a church?”

At this point, your friend’s explanation will not include any mention of a denomination, since those do not even exist yet.

“Well, I guess you could say it’s called the First Church of …Ever!” 

It is also doubtful he will offer up a specific address or location. After all, everyone knows where the southern steps of the temple are and beyond that, the Church is meeting all over the community. “Walk down any street in Jerusalem, take a left, and then turn…well, anywhere.”

And though Peter did stand up and do the talking on the Day of Pentecost, your friend will not mention a specific individual as the leader. There is a broad leadership in the movement led by eleven men, original followers of this said-to-be-dead Jesus guy. That’s a whole mess of chiefs, except that they are all letting the personality fall on one Chief – Christ Himself. 

Their church then would not be described using the same adjectives as most people who attend churches today. You ask your friend to describe what is going on, and based on what we know was happening from the passage we just read, we can imagine he would say something like this:

“We are alive.” Makes sense – their whole way of living had changed.

“There are awe-inspiring things happening in our midst.” Since signs and wonders were being done through the apostles, that seems like a fair description.

“We are attractive.” God was drawing many new people to their community – and they were actually coming.

“We are aligned.” They were stedfast under leadership and in service, gathered with one mind in the temple and in homes.

“We are acts-oriented.” It’s hard to accuse them of being lazy or passive.

“Okay, that’s pretty impressive,” you say, feeling confident that you have more than enough to submit your article by the deadline. But before you can express your gratitude for his help, he interrupts and keeps going – and in rapid-fire succession this time.

“And we are biblical, blessed, bonded, caring, Christ-exalting, committed, compassionate, connected, consistent, and creative, dedicated, devoted, discerning, disciplined, driven, effective, encouraging, energized, evangelistic, exciting, engaging, faithful, focused, friendly, fun, fired up, generous, godly, growing…

“Uh, I think that’s plenty. And, besides, I’m kind of running out of papyrus sheets, so…”

But he doesn’t catch your drift or miss a beat.

“We are humble, hungry, hospitable, intentional. Inspiring, intimate, intense, joyful, like-minded, loving, magnetic, miraculous, motivated, neighbourly, obedient, ordained, others-minded, passionate, powerful, praising, prayerful, proactive, productive, progressive, pure, purposeful, redeeming, radical, real, relational minded, relevant, respected, sacrificial, safe, scary, selfless, Scripture-loving, servant-hearted, single-minded, sold out, Spirit-filled, sincere, submissive, tenacious, teachable, transformed, trustworthy, thankful, unified, unselfish, unspoiled, unwavering, wholehearted, and wise. We are a people full of wonder who worship God – you should come and join us!”

By this point the coffee is long gone – and you know you’ve obliterated your editor’s word count. But be honest: If the Church were really all these things – as Scripture says it is – you would definitely be checking it out, wouldn’t you?

How could you not?”

So what happened? Something has gone terribly wrong; that’s what happened. The description of the first church is suppose to be the description of all churches today because the Leader of the first church is suppose to be the Leader of them all. 

The problem isn’t that God has stopped being in the business of changing the world by changing lives. The problem is that we have gotten into the business of doing His business our way, not being “people of His way” (Acts 9:2).

If church, as you think of it today, was truly a reflection of the adjectives we just used to describe it in Acts 2:42-47, my bet is that you would feel differently about it. A lot differently. You wouldn’t be alone.

You might be thinking, That is the exact kind of community of people I have been looking for. That is the purposeful life I really want to live, but I didn’t know it actually existed. What you are describing is what I have been searching for my whole life. In relationships. Clubs. Teams. Work. You name it. So don’t mess with me – just tell me: Where does something like this exist? Even though I am not sure I can believe, just out of curiosity, I’m going to come and check it out.

That is exactly what God had in mind – that in this lost, dark, broken world where there are only shadows of hope, a light would enter in. That people would begin to live in real relationships with a real God. That they would be that alive, awe-inspiring, authentic … a worshipful kingdom-of-God-on-earth community.

The Church is supposed to provide others a picture of God’s kingdom – a glimpse of heaven on earth. It is not a place you are suppose to go; it is a people who are suppose to be … and you can still experience what God intends for His Church to be. 

When you see life change, grace, compassion, mercy, sharing, provision, warmth, and hope – with a diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit in a bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3) – aren’t these at least small descriptions of heaven? Yes, they are. And instead of growing dimmer over the years, the Church is supposed to be growing brighter day by day as we yield more and more to the Spirit’s grace, power, and direction. Less of us: more of Him.

From the very beginning, this is what God intended church to be. God wants you to experience a community that is alive, awe-inspiring, attractive, aligned … well, you can go back and reread the rest. God created you for this. Your heart longs for it – even if you have only seen a glimpse of it from a distance. But, once you experience this true Church you will want to do more than attend at a church building – you will want to find others who are committed to joining you in being the Church that Jesus has always wanted to build. 

Do any exist? Is that possible? Yes, they do, and yes, it is!

The Church, Past, Present, and Future #11

The Church of the Future – Part Two

We have looked at:

1> Relationship-centered churches

2> Evangelism-centered churches

3> Small-is-beautiful churches

4> Biblical blueprint churches

Let’s continue today…

5> Personality-centered churches

Led by human personality, these churches will be part of their own narrow circle of networked churches headed up by a gifted teacher. They will be narrowly elitist, labouring under the delusion that they are the only real game in town.

They will have their own exclusive vocabulary and sayings that no one outside the group can understand. They will speak disparagingly of other Christians, mocking and demeaning them as lacking the spiritual insight that they possess. Each church in the union or network will be little more than one mirror looking at another mirror.

Despite what the leader preaches, the gifted leader will draw disciples unto themselves rather than to Christ. The leader will encourage hero worship – although this encouragement will never be verbally admitted to.

Church politics play a major role in the life of these churches. The leader’s disciples will seek to win prominence with the leader regardless of what it costs relationally with other leaders and the people who attend. Various tests will be given to prove the disciples’ loyalty , not to Christ, but to the leader. This will naturally spawn tattling among the leader’s understudies, as each disciple fights to sit at the leader’s right hand.

The growth in these groups may be strong in the beginning. But slowly, members will begin to get disillusioned and leave. The ‘faithful’ who remain to hold down the fort will become part of a very tiny movement will declining numbers. They will become a non-issue in the Christian world. They will not appear on anyone’s radar screen, but will exist only in their own tiny universe.

Even though they will be sitting on the periphery of the periphery of Christianity, they will remain convinced that they are the center of everything. They will have stepped into a black hole, and they will be out of touch will what God is doing in other places and with other people. The Lord will quickly move on from them. But tragically, few in the movement will have enough discernment to recognize it. 

6> Christ-centered organic expressions of the Church

There will be a number of non-traditional churches that are truly organic and centred on the Lord Jesus Christ. If they are smart, they won’t use the term ‘organic’ since it has been hijacked and rendered meaningless. However, Christ will be the focus of their sharing, ministry, songs, and conversations.

But more importantly, He will be exhibited by their conduct. This does not mean perfection, of course. But the graciousness, kindness, humility, and inclusiveness that marks the character of Jesus will be evident among them.

These groups will explore fresh ways of knowing Christ through varied Christian traditions. They will receive the help of outside Christian workers. At the same time, they will be genuinely open to all of the body of Christ. Not in some surface manner, but in a deep and practical real way. They will not deem themselves to be anything significant or special in church history. They will not obsess over their legacy nor their unique contributions to the Christian family. They will be content to live and die in obscurity.

As a result, God’s favour will rest heavily upon them. Perhaps without even realizing it, they will be His instruments for spreading the revolution to mainstream Christians as well as to the lost. 

These groups will not only express Christ to one another, they will also display Him to the world. They will reengineer evangelism, displaying Christ’s love, compassion, and service to the lost. Like their Lord, these churches will become ‘the friend of sinners.’ They will preach the gospel in words and in action being very involved in the life of the various communities in which they live. 

In short, they will reclaim the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ to the world. 

The Church, Past, Present, and Future #10

The Church of the Future – Part One

Much has been written regarding the Church of the future. One would hope that this Church is the one that Jesus is building (Matthew 16:18). That He would be the foundational Cornerstone as well as the Head of this Church (Ephesians 2:20; Colossians 1:18). And, that it will be designed and built by people who are guided and directed by the Holy Spirit.

The majority of churches being planted currently are what we refer to as “non-traditional” churches. This means that the way they express their corporate life is not the same as the more established and traditional type churches. Examples of the latter would be: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Church of England (Anglican), Methodist, and others.

Within the non-traditional churches we see a wide variety of approaches to establishing churches and expressing the corporate life of the church once established. Within these non-traditional churches we see:

1> Relationship-centered churches

These churches are built on the notion that a church should exist for no other reason than to forge deeper human relationships. Churches of this variety begin strong and are valiant, but after the first few years they typically begin to run out of steam and disintegrate. The become a ‘country club’ for members and others who look, act, and talk like they do. The reason these churches will have a short lifespan is simply – they are built upon a foundation other than Jesus Christ and the mandate He gave to His Church – The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

2> Evangelism-centered house churches

In the New Testament the purpose of evangelism was to win the lost. As the numbers being born again grew they gathered together and formed house churches. The purpose of evangelism was to build the Church.

Evangelism-centered churches have reverse this order. Proponents of these kinds of churches exist in order to evangelize more effectively. Because of this, these churches will multiply as a strategy to gain more converts. But the concern is that often they will multiply far too rapidly. Because their emphasis is on evangelism, they will be slow or even negligent in developing a solid biblical and theological foundation. Because these churches will be built on a very thin theological and biblical foundation, most of them will disintegrate and burn out within several years.

3> Small-is-beautiful churches

Many believers from traditional churches will continue to give up on the format of the traditional church. So, they will move out and form neighbourhood house churches. However, in spite of having physically left the bigger, traditional church they still maintain the traditional style and structure of what they have left. It is familiar and they are comfortable with it. As a result, there is a hierarchical structure firmly in place. Eventually, aside from moving out of the building into the home there will be very little that will distinguish them from the garden-variety traditional church.

4> Biblical blueprint churches

These sorts of churches will be built on the idea that an ironclad blueprint can be found in and extracted from the New Testament and mechanically followed. Instead of allowing the functions, gifts, and ministries of the Church to emerge naturally and organically our of life, members will be put into offices immediately in an attempt to conform to a “biblical blueprint.” Most of these churches will devolve into elder-controlled churches. Their meetings will be stiff and perfunctory.

The Church, Past, Present, and Future #9

The Church Today  – Part Five

So what about the Church after God’s own heart in the future? What changes will be needed to bring about the Church of the future? What will the Church look like? How will it function? Will we see traditional type churches continue on into the future? Will, the institutional church simply fade and eventually disappear? 

There are so many things to consider and so many questions to answer. And, no one has all the answers nor does any particular flavour of the Church even have all the questions.

But, we can see over the horizon and begin to get a glimpse of the future. George Barna wrote:

“The United States will see a reduction in the number of churches, as presently configured. Church services will decline as Christians devote their time to a wider array of spiritual events. Donations to churches will drop because millions of believers will invest their money in other ministry ventures … A declining number of professional clergy will receive a livable salary from their churches. Denominations will go through cutbacks, and executives will be relieved of their duties as their boards attempt to understand and halt the haemorrhaging. To some, this will sound like the Great Fall of the church. To Revolutionaries, it with be the Great Reawakening of the church.”  (Revolution, pages 107-108)

Statistics show that the number of Christians who attend a traditional church will drop from 70% to 30% in the next 20 years. (Revolution, Page 49)

If that truly happens, we will see the demise of the institutional church as we know it today. Not that it is going to vanish, but the number of Christians who are wedded to it will drastically decrease making the survival of some churches totally impossible.

We will also see the rise of the ministry of the apostle. A rise in numbers; a rise in influence and authority; a rise in visibility. As a result churches will begin to receive the ministry of the apostles and new life will be released and received. 

Apostles (and prophets) are foundational for the Church to be built correctly and for the Church to become effective (Ephesians 2:20). Along with the apostles we will see full fivefold ministry teams ministering in churches (Ephesians 4:11) as the Church – the people of God – are equipped and trained for the work of the ministry. As a result we will see the mobilization of the Church as she begins to effectively reach out proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) and seeing the lost saved. 

Programs will disappear as more and more churches embrace organic life and leave behind the institutional aspects of the Church. Personalities who are charismatic and strong will no longer be the leaders of these churches as the regular believers will rise up and lead so that it is no longer a “one man show” as it has been over the many centuries. Many para-church ministries will fade in importance and even cease to exist due to declining donations and thus a lack of income. Also, as many new churches are planted – the majority being in homes – the need for para-church organizations will decrease because the church will once again be locally oriented (in each neighbourhood) and will be truly the Church in the society thus eliminating the need for para-church organizations because, once again, the Church will be doing what the Lord has commanded it to do – win the lost, disciple the believers, equip the saints, mobilize the troops, and release them into the work of the ministry.

The Church of the future will resemble what we see in the Book of Acts and the Epistles to the early churches. However, the Church described in the pages of Scripture will simply be the starting point for the Church of the future. Yes, we will look like the early Church and we will see and experience what they saw and experienced. However, we cannot limit ourselves to repeating what has already been. What we know from the Scriptures will be the foundation upon which Jesus can then built His Church. A Church that will truly take the Gospel of the Kingdom to every nation and people group on the face of the earth. 

The Church, Past, Present, and Future #8

The Church Today – Part Four

We live in the age of unbelief. Fewer and fewer people are claiming to be Christians through the western world. Christians are losing social status and favour more and more, almost by the day. And, the  Church and the Christianity that is seen and heard often does not resemble the Church of the New Testament nor the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Today, as we look at most functioning churches, we see that many churches are no longer preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, Some never did. It seems to me that we have three types of churches in the world today regardless of the culture, language, or location. 

Let’s spend a few minutes looking at these three approaches to church life today in the midst of this age of increasing unbelief.

1> Churches that take what we might call THE CONVERTING CULTURE APPROACH

In this mindset, what matters most in that the culture or society that we live in should reflect biblical principles and values. So, we go about working to convert our society, people group, or nation to the Christian faith. We go to great lengths – doing almost anything – to make it happen. We become networked with others who want to see change – others who have their own agenda and non-Christian values. We make moral compromises. 

This set us into a battle mindset. So, we see what is often referred to as “The Culture Wars.” This pits the Church against the world. We, the believers, are right. The world and non-believers are wrong. We work hard to convert them; to convert the culture often regardless of the cost or the alliances we have to make. 

Don’t get me wrong, Christian should be engaged in all of culture, seeking to transform culture through the power of Christ, through whom all things were created and through whom all things are sustained. After all, Christi is not just Lord of the Church, but of the world. But, we need to recognize that, until Christ returns, this world will never look as it should. We should not be trying to build the new Jerusalem and you can’t force people into the Kingdom of God. 

So, making compromises and unholy alliances in the pursuit off converting the culture leaves many people suspicious of the Church and hardened to the message of the Gospel. 

2> Churches that take what we might call the CONDEMNING CULTURE APPROACH

In this age of unbelief some churches are pursuing the idea of removing themselves from the world, retreating into a subculture and staying well away from the wider culture because society is sinful, corrupted, and antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

These types of churches have always been a part of the church’s response to the challenge of living in this world. It was once seen in the rise of the monasteries. You see it today in the blogs and books advising Christians to create their own sub-culture, withdrawing from the increasingly un-Christian and yes, anti-Christian wider culture. 

Sounds good. God does call His people to holiness. The Scriptures are clear about the Church being distinct from the rest of the world. We are to be salt – we are to ‘taste’ different.

However, we are to be “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). And, salt maintains its flavour while it is rubbed in the foodstuff it is being used to preserve. Also, salt spreads its flavour. To do so, we must be engaged with the culture we are working to influence. We must actually get our hands dirty and show and share the Good News of Christ, and proximity and relationships are essential to making that work. It requires involvement in the local community and in the public square. Culture is not the source of evil. That’s the human heart (Mark 7:18-23). And so, closing out the culture won’t close out sin.

3> The third popular response to post-Christian culture is the most attractive, the most widespread, and the most scary. It is to follow the trends – TO CONSUME CULTURE. 

So, wherever culture and historical Christian teaching disagree, the Christians accommodate the culture. After all, if we want to stay relevant in a post-Christian age, then some of the Christian stuff will have to go. So we redefine sin to allow for lifestyles, attitudes, and behaviour that are anything but biblical. 

This looks good because it usually starts in a good place, with good intentions of seeing where the Bible speaks boldly and clearly about social issues that we often ignore, and embracing the connection between faith and culture. However, it often ends up with the church involved in social issues at the expense of the gospel. We neglect the Gospel because we are focused on the implications of the Gospel. And then the social gospel ends up not being a gospel at all.

Those who take the ‘consuming culture’ approach follow culture, first and foremost, before the Bible, neglecting and compromising on significant aspects of faith. These men and women begin to look more and more like the world and less and less like the Church. When the voice of a culture, and not the Word of Christ, is what governs the Church, then it is no longer the Church. It is just a social club of people desperately trying to keep up with the cultural fashion and trends. Ironically, that is the quickest way to close your church. Why would anyone bother coming to a church that is indistinguishable from anything else?

These three styles of a church interacting with the society and culture within which it is located simply do not impact the people they are trying to reach with the true Gospel of the Kingdom. However, the vast majority of churches today fit into one of these three categories. Thus, the church today is in trouble and needs to change.

The early church was one that lived within the culture in which it was located. The early Church did not try to convert the culture – they simply witnessed to the life-changing power of the Gospel and saw thousands come to Christ. They did not condemn the culture thus turning people off the biblical message of salvation. They simply unconditionally loved people who lived in and embraced a specific culture. And, they did not consume the culture thus appearing to act and live the same as those they were trying to influence and impact for the Kingdom. 

Instead, the early Church believers had the courage of their convictions and were free to be the people of God living out the mission of God, marked by the joy of God. They lived with a sense of hope and saw what was going on around them as an opportunity to tell others of the Gospel of the Kingdom and an alternative way of life.  

The Church, Past, Present, and Future #7

The Church Today – Part Three

In the 20th Century, in North America, there were a number of different moves of God. The best known one is the Azusa Street Revival from 1906 to 1909. The Pentecostal Moment came out of this revival.

Then in 1948 (to 1952) we saw the Latter Rains Revival in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada. In those years, God brought a revival that stunned the nations and the Church. It occurred in the traditional church. People who were part of traditional church structures were experiencing and touching authentic body life. But, for the most part, these experiences were taking place outside of regular church services. We also saw the reintroduction of the ministry of the apostle in this move of God.

There was, at the same time, in the wider church what became known as the Post-War Revival. This spread across denominational lines. But it eventually died out, however, because leadership sought to control it. Nevertheless, it produced a number of gifted servants of God who would go on to have world-wide ministries. Dr. Billy Graham was one of them. It also brought many of the new and budding para-church organizations into being and some prominence.

The next move of God occurred from 1968 to 1972. We know it as The Jesus Movement. It began and continued to thrive outside the traditional church. House churches, Simple churches, and Christian communities sprung up wherever this new move the Spirit was embraced. Numerous young people came to the Lord. Some say that you could simply say the same “Jesus” and people would get saved.

This movement thrived among the youth in the counterculture. They were turning from the free-sex-and-drugs culture to Jesus Christ. They were also experiencing the body of Christ and body life in close-knit communities. The major impact of this move of God ended in 1972. However, people were still being impacted by the communities and churches that formed as late as 1979.

What happened? The men who were in the 20s during the 1948 to 1952 moves of God were in their 40’s during the Jesus Movement. These men stepped into leadership roles and began to take over – and control – the new move of God.

The problem is that none of the men who took the leadership in the Jesus Movement had any experience outside the traditional church. None of them had grown up in Christian community -experiencing body life. None of them were “brothers among brothers” in a church life situation outside the religious system. Instead, they were pastors, teachers, and organizational clergy in a religious system one day and overnight became leaders of these fresh and budding organic expressions of the church. 

The main issue was: Leaders who had no experience outside of traditional church could not effectively lead a church that was functioning outside of the traditional structure. In the organic church, the Christian communities that were forming, there was a lot of testing, sifting, mutual iron-sharpening, and breaking that went on (as in all organic church life) and the leadership coming out of a traditional expression of the church simply did not know how to lead the new expression that was rising up. The leaders were not able to give anything of life, reality, and especially freedom to young believers who were experiencing the Lord outside of the known, traditional structure. 

The leaders ended up loading the Jesus Movement with the same baggage that had divided Christians for centuries before. The result was division. The Movement began fracturing over peripheral doctrines like speaking in tongues, what is going to happen in the Millennium, when is Jesus coming back, can a person lose their salvation, what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit, how long will the tribulation be and who will participate in it, and a million other points of theological contention. 

Sadly, the Jesus Movement splintered into many groups. And, a form of authoritarian control began to spring up which eventually snuffed out the life, freedom, and joy of the Movement. Discipleship in its truest form was lost, and many spiritual lives were wrecked. Today, you would be hard-pressed to find one church that’s still online that was spawned during the Jesus Movement. All have disappeared. The only churches born in that Movement that still exist today are Calvary Chapels and Jesus People USA, The Vineyard was forged Ibn 1977 during the afterglow of the Movement.

That leads us to the rumblings of another move of the Spirit that we are now sensing. Not a revival. But a serious resurrection that will lead to a revolution (see yesterday’s blog). And, the men and women who have experienced body life during the Jesus Movement and the churches and communities that sprung up now need to step forward to help direct – not control – the new and emerging move of the Spirit. These non-leaders in the previous move have been broken and tested, know the Lord deeply, and are non-sectarian, non-elitist, and as openly inclusive as Jesus Himself. These men and women must be seen as a powerful resource within the new move. Hopefully, those who will help to lead this resurrection – revolution will avail themselves of the help of such people.