On the way to the airport recently I was asked a number of powerfully important questions by a senior pastor and leader who, for all outward appearances, is very popular and very successful. One of those questions dealt with the real root and substance of the local church. He was talking about the basic, essential ingredient that is needed for a church to succeed.
My answer was that the very “life” of God needed to be felt, experienced, and received by the people attending any given service. It is the “life” of God that attracts people, brings people back, touches people, transforms people, and even brings them into the Kingdom. People, Christians and non-Christians, know when that “life” is present and when ‘it’ is not present. It is this “life” that draws them and this “life” must be experienced to keep them coming.
The Bible states (John 1:4) “In Him (Jesus) was life and the life was the light of men.” Jesus was not the ‘light.’ The “life” of God (Zoe) within Him was the light that drew men to Him. The word “life” is used by John, the apostle, 36 times in his Gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus. He refers to it in several contexts.
First the word “life” is in reference to the actual creation of the world. It refers, in the broad sense, to the created world through His involvement as the agent of creation. John 1:3 states: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life…”
However, the word “life” is also referring to the spiritual ands eternal life imparted as a gift through belief in Him. This is seen in John 3:15: “…that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” And in John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” We also see it in the writings of Paul, the apostle. For example, Ephesians 2:5: “…even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved…”
Thirdly, this “life” is the very life of God (Zoe). It is the very life and nature of God the Father in Jesus. And, in every believer there is also this life – the presence of God, the fruit of the Spirit (the character or nature of God), and the very essence of who He is. It all resides inside the born again believer. As a result, when true believers and disciples of the Lord Jesus come together this “life” should be evident. It should be encountered and experienced by all who are present and whose hearts are open. Jesus said, “when two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I…” and if He is there then “life” is there.
In the specific case we were discussing on the way to the airport, this life was missing in the local church. There was a well run, well designed event (let’s not call it a worship service) that contained singing, announcements, offering, and a teaching. But, there was no “life.” There was nothing moving in the spiritual realm. You didn’t need the Holy Spirit for anything that happened that night at the assembly. It was dead. There was no life. It was simply program and activity. And, a vast majority of the people there – by the look on their faces and their lack of response – knew that “life” was not there.
This “life” must first be experienced by each leader in the leadership team before it will be felt or seen in the weekly gathering. You cannot export what you do not have and have not experienced. And, having met with the leadership team during my visit, I would say that it was not there either. So, each leader must work to connect with the Living God and experience “life” for themselves. Then we can work on the assembly experiencing life. This means each leader must make time to be with Jesus and grow a depth of intimacy with Him that they have yet to achieve and experience.