Sunday, August 10, 2008

What is Church?

To me Church should be a special divine place where people can be themselves, lose themselves, find themselves, free themselves, and most importantly, it should be a special means to a personal relationship with God and life in eternity. Church goes way beyond a building, a location, a program, and a fast, medium and slow song. It should be a community that is dedicated to Jesus’ great commission, a two part command that may very well be the vision and mission statement of how the church should be guided. It is a model statement for the Church to engage in authentic mentioning and discipleship. It may be the very measuring stick to how we determine the success of our ability to hear God’s voice and be obedient to His life changing love and truths for us and others.

Today in our nation and across the world there are millions of believers gathering together everyday engaging the God of the Bible and pursuing a magnificent personal relationship with Him. The expression of each of their walks and the so called church they attend is different and unique in structure and form. Each cultural custom and denominational tradition plays into a detailed definition of Church. Every Church leader has a personality, giftedness, personal experience, and understanding of the scriptures that play an important role on how their church is defined and how it operates. Each follower of Christ perceives and responds to these Churches in their own unique way. This is also determined by their personality, past experiences and their right or wrong view of God. Without negating the truths of the scripture, we must remember and cherish the beauty of individuality each person holds as they make up the church and perfectly represent the Body of Christ expressed in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12. All this to say that the detailed inner workings of a church that are successful for one church in one city will not be successful for a different church in another city, and that goes for churches from one nation to another nation. However, at the core of their formation they have one thing in common. Spirit, truth, and authenticity direct what path they go down.

As I write this blog, the words on this page will reflect my experiences, my opinions, and my passion for seeing the Church grow towards the Holy Spirit, the truth of the Bible, and an authentic relationship with each other and the God of the universe. I hope that its message will further the discussion on what the Church is supposed to be, and how believers can be used by the Lord to make it more like His heart, then the world’s. I would like to bring to the discussion an absolute need for deep authenticity to swell over the temptation of shallow relationships and surfacey failures in the midst of a destructive celebrity whim rising within mega churches, and all other churches striving to find the balance of relevancy and the need to compete with the secular world’s offerings for people’s time, commitment, and souls.

Every church has the important responsibility of defining their statements of faith, identifying with seekers or believers, maintaining an effective worship team and communicating successfully to their followers who they are and what they stand for. Each leadership team needs to spend significant time and energy thoroughly answering necessary questions of what their church is all about.

I believe that as the leadership establishes, maintain, and grow within their church’s culture and philosophies they should continually ask important questions like, “Is our doctrine and teaching scriptural?” “Does our church hold our people in bondage or do we advocate a place for God’s Spirit so that they can become free?” “Does this church produce a false image and idol of God, or a true representation of the God of the Bible?” “Is our church more interested in programs, systems, numbers and production, or are we truly invested and concerned about the hearts of the people that attend our church?” These are just a few of many significant questions that need to be asked in the creation, continuation, and protection of a truly efficient and effective church. There is a very fine line and balancing act between producing programs and systems that bring the numbers in the door and keeping up more important systems behind the scenes filled with intimacy, authenticity, and true desire for the growth and discipleship of each of those people. This line will determine whether each church begins or continues on in a devastating pattern of developing a slow evolving false identity amongst its members, versus the path for a person to be cultivated and to find their true self in Christ.

Have you ever heard the term that soul business is dirty business? To genuinely attack and go after the soul is not easy and requires work that many people don’t want to do themselves, let alone go after someone else’s. The Lord gave His people a doorway into eternity. It is the gift of His son’s life for their sins so that they can enter into an everlasting life pure and holy. This gift though is not wrapped in boxes and pretty bows, but rather is the reality of the cross on which Jesus died, and is a violent scene of death and the only way to the Father. This scene should not be taken lightly and our leaders and teachers of the church should not take this business (for lack of a better word) lightly.

James 3:1 tells of the high responsibility of a teacher as they will be judged more strictly and is surrounded in the text around it with context of humility, wisdom, being quick to listen and slow to speak, and faith without deeds is dead. As the celebrity factor has entered into the mega church realm, you be the judge. Do numbers of a church reflect success, or does the authenticity of the leadership and its members reflect that measurement? Does the Church hide behind an ideology of cool fads, relevant music and cliché sayings, or do they roll up their sleeves and do the hard work in the actuality of going after the hearts of its people? Is the church’s main goal to fill its seats and offering buckets and say let’s replicate and multiply so we can speak to the masses (all in Jesus’ name), or is its goal to authentically and genuinely change one person’s heart and life at a time? Has church become a distraction to God rather than an invitation to His House and to sit at His table? Two very wise men of God have put it this way. One says, “Let the title go, more ministry is capable outside of the church.” The other says, “Another way of ministry is to be faceless and you will have more influence then you can imagine.”

In the quest and pursuit of making the Church relevant and able to compete for its members, has the Church lost its reality and authentic chase to know God and to make Him known? I believe that as youth leaders have learned how to compete with MTV and church leaders compete with real desires of significance and security, ambition, money, and power, the church has fashioned a devastating feel good place with very little soul work being accomplished. I believe whether mega church or struggling to stay-alive church, it has become a place where people come but are terrified of truly being known. It has built unspoken walls which keep it hidden both as a corporate body and tragically shelter the true self of the individuals that make it up.

The world looks at the church with judgment and as a body made up of hypocrites. There are many examples of people leaving the church for these reasons, people not coming at all, and worse defiling the reputation of the Church with their opinions and experiences with what we call the Church. It is straight fact that the church has the same exact sin inside its walls as what lies outside of it. The non believer looks at our 10 commandments and points the finger and says look at the hypocrites. The Church defends their accusation with more sin, more walls that hide it, and a lack of authenticity needed to get to the roots of their behavior. The roots cannot be pruned without taking the walls down and letting someone in to prune. I believe the Lord is calling His people to repent, to practice humility, and to roll up its sleeves and do the dirty work. To be honest and say, “We can’t live up to the law, but He can, through Christ Jesus we are set free from the law of sin and death!” “We are powerless in the struggle against Sin, but He is not!” These are some very loaded phrases. The deep inner realization of these phrases does not happen overnight, and they do not happen alone. They happen within the walls of what God meant church to be. When was the last time you remembered the three points of your favorite pastor’s sermon? I’m not talking about last Sunday’s but the sermon you heard two years ago on a warm July Sunday, or a cold February Sunday night. In opposition, do you remember the last time you spent some serious quality time into the late hours of the night refining your soul with an intentional faceless mentor who decided that you were worth it? That is everlasting! Yes, that thought is powerful whether you have experienced it or not! Let me ask you, what is more valuable? Are you willing to do the same for someone else, maybe someone younger? Do you see yourself as worthy or capable enough to do that after all you have done?

I challenge our church leaders as well as myself to not be like the lenders who presented interest-only loans and adjustable rate mortgages a few years ago and the devastation that has been brought to so many families in our current nationwide mortgage situation. The lenders did what it took to get their clients into and taste the house of their dreams, a heavenly place of residence. They influenced a decision without the proper foundation, preparation, and guidance that ultimately resulted in a temporary fix to a situation that needed a more permanent, secure, and truthful solution. I challenge you to see your responsibility in the ever more crucial situation going on for a place in eternity. God wants to use you to lead and appropriately point people to Him for eternity, not just for a day, or a season. He is an everlasting God. Are you a lender offering quick feel good fixes, or are you a church leader that offers a more lasting, authentic and true picture of whom God is and putting in systems behind the scenes that do the same? I challenge you to lead by your actions and not your words, and to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Lead people and teach people to lead others in putting words to the walls that hold them back from experiencing a true relationship with others and most importantly the God of the Bible. Lead people and teach people to lead others in prayers of forgiveness where they have been disappointed or hurt in the past. Lead people and teach people to lead others in having a right view of God, otherwise they are all worshiping a false idol and not in Spirit and in Truth. Lead people and teach people to lead others in being humble and to ask for wise council whether professional or from someone wiser who has walked similar paths. Finally, I challenge you to lead and teach in small circles with a culture of intentionality, timeless effort and many one on one interactions of authentic relationship and honest sharing of the hearts (both for them and for you). A great question is always, “What’s on your heart?” Be ready to share and then be ready to listen. That is something more powerful than any advice, cliché saying or ideology!

I believe in the mega church and the relevant church. I believe God is using the gifts of His people to expand his kingdom and His Church. Nevertheless, these so called churches must find how to walk the thin line, and find the balance of realizing the importance and needed inclusion of those who are gifted in doing the soul work. The systems, programs, and processes of replication and mass production must be founded on truth, authenticity, and a faceless motivation for that one. . . that one. . . and that one. . .

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20. I find the heart of Church is Jesus’ model of 12 disciples and HIs inner circle of three. Can these circles make up the inner workings of a mega church and relevant church? Absolutely! However, if they don’t, these mega churches and relevant churches will be a temporary fad, a forgotten cliché saying, and in ideology that sadly falls because its foundation is weak, shallow and false.

Listen to Matt Redman’s lyrics to “The Heart of Worship”. Listen to them with the contemporary church in mind. Replace the thought of worship in these words, with the thought of the gathering of believers. God’s church!


Sara Joy said...

Wow...your insights are heavy and deep and thought provoking. Thank you so much for sharing your heart. The Lord is truly challenging you to seek first HIS kingdom and identify what "church" really means. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, feelings and heart. I love you.

Heather said...

this is good stuff bro... more like a book than a blog, but I liked it. It talked about some of the same stuff I've been learning in my own life lately.

Heather said...

oops... guess I'm logged in as Heather :)