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The New Church Members: The Harvest or the Seeds? – Part 3

The Entry into Jerusalem

(Photo credit: Fergal of Claddagh)

The New Church Members:  The Harvest or the Seeds? – Part 3

Luke 10:23-24 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)23 He turned to his disciples in private and said to them, “How blessed you are to see what you’ve seen. 24 I can guarantee that many prophets and kings wanted to see and hear what you’ve seen and heard, but they didn’t.”

What did these people do to hear this?  What had these disciples seen that would have been something that everyone had wanted t see and were not able.  The obvious answer is Jesus and while that is absolutely true, that is not the context of this verse.

Luke 10:17-21 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  17 The 70 disciples came back very happy. They said, “Lord, even demons obey us when we use the power and authority of your name!”  18 Jesus said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 I have given you the authority to trample snakes and scorpions and to destroy the enemy’s power. Nothing will hurt you. 20 However, don’t be happy that evil spirits obey you. Be happy that your names are written in heaven.”  21 In that hour the Holy Spirit filled Jesus with joy. Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from wise and intelligent people and revealing them to little children. Yes, Father, this is what pleased you.

The disciples had returned from ministry with an amazing testimony of the power that had been unleashed through the ministry work that Jesus ha sent them to do.  The ministry they had all been engaged in was so powerful and amazing that that Jesus goes on to tell them that even prophets and kings wished they could see what they saw in ministry.

Whatever these missionaries and evangelists did, I want to try and do because it obviously worked at least for them.

Why am I talking about this and what does it have to do with the starting of this new church?  It has to do with a couple of verses the speaker referenced during the first service.  These passages happen to be passages that had been used repeatedly in trainings and discussions I have had over the past ten years about how the New Testament church planters did ministry.  These passages happen to be the ministry instructions of Jesus to these disciples that led to such a powerful outcome.  These passages also give us a completely different idea of what it means to go into a city, area or culture to do ministry.

Luke 9:1-5 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) –  1 Jesus called the twelve apostles together and gave them power and authority over every demon and power and authority to cure diseases. He sent them to spread the message about the kingdom of God and to cure the sick.  He told them, “Don’t take anything along on the trip. Don’t take a walking stick, traveling bag, any food, money, or a change of clothes. When you go into a home, stay there until you’re ready to leave. If people don’t welcome you, leave that city, and shake its dust off your feet as a warning to them.”

Luke 10:1-11 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  After this, the Lord appointed 70[a] other disciples to go ahead of him to every city and place that he intended to go. They were to travel in pairs.  He told them, “The harvest is large, but the workers are few. So ask the Lord who gives this harvest to send workers to harvest his crops. Go! I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves. Don’t carry a wallet, a traveling bag, or sandals, and don’t stop to greet anyone on the way. Whenever you go into a house, greet the family right away with the words, ‘May there be peace in this house.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your greeting will be accepted. But if that’s not the case, your greeting will be rejected. Stay with the family that accepts you. Eat and drink whatever they offer you. After all, the worker deserves his pay. Do not move around from one house to another. Whenever you go into a city and the people welcome you, eat whatever they serve you. Heal the sick that are there, and tell the people, ‘The kingdom of God is near you!’  10 “But whenever you go into a city and people don’t welcome you, leave. Announce in its streets, 11 ‘We are wiping your city’s dust from our feet in protest against you! But realize that the kingdom of God is near you!’

These are key verses for many of the things God has been showing me as the “new wineskin” that he is going to reach the next generation that repeatedly come up in completely unrelated contexts.  This context included.

As I thought of the fundamental concepts that underlie the way Jesus sent these first missionaries and evangelists out every thought seemed to confirm the idea that the format I was sitting in was structured in a way that had to be at least one generation away from the ministry that they wanted to do.

The church I was in is the model seen in the book of Luke all the way up to this point.  The basic model for reaching a new area up to chapter nine was that Jesus would go to a place and all of the disciples would congregate together in a crowd around Him.

In chapters nine and ten the equation is changed by Jesus.  Jesus sends out the people that had been congregating around Him “…to every city and place that he intended to go.”  The follows of Christ precede Him into the area looking for the people who were already prepared for Jesus to come.

The people who were prepared for Jesus’ arrival were described as incredibly hospitable people who would go so far as to support the ministry and provide the center for the ministry (in a literal sense, their homes).

If such people were found, then the town would experience God to the level of the miraculous.  If such a person was found then not only were they not going to experience the miraculous, but the arrival of Jesus (or the arrival of the kingdom of God) would be an evidence of their unbelief resulting in miraculously bad consequences.  The kind of consequences that the ones being sent were sent to these places to help the people avoid.  The kind of consequences that Jesus was going to these places to help the people there avoid.

The implication is that in every place that Jesus was getting ready to go that there was a person who was already being prepared for the arrival of those Jesus was sending.  For there to be the expectation of that level of hospitality, God would have offered that person in each place opportunity to know it needed to be done.  The expectation that refusal to be hospitable (by a nonbeliever) was a turning of ones back on God implies that somehow that person had a more than reasonable call from God to be hospitable, yet that person’s heart was so cold that it could not be done.  That person also apparently had a call from God to represent the entire area and somehow must have been given more than the normal opportunity to respond in a receptive way, yet refused.  In other words, this was the person God had picked and called to represent the area and this person’s response to God’s tug on his/her heart was representative of the receptiveness of the entire area.

He new church that I was standing in was made up of more mature Christians, who saw where Jesus was going, pooled their resources and congregated around Him.  This is how church has been done in the western world for a few centuries now.  The challenge is that it is reactive and not proactive.  The focus is on starting with a group where He is already glorified and doing things and not on going to places where He is not glorified to prepare the way.

Here is what I am getting at.  This church apparently is part of a larger organization that is an offshoot of an even larger organization.  These organizations have been sending people regularly for years to this metropolis to minister (apparently to the poor and needy of the city in its more impoverished areas) yet the people that they have been ministering to were not present in the service.  They were either not present, or had been completely changed to look and sound like the Christianese culture they were in to the point where they were no longer anything like the people they were from.  (Sort of like teaching a church in China to have a complete service in English because that is the way we do it – that’s great, but they are highly unlikely to reach many people in china by building and English speaking church)

They had imported an entirely different culture than the culture they had felt that Christ was leading them to.  It is as if they had been to the town where this person let them stay and took care of them was, but went and did ministry in the town next door instead.

That means that instead of being in the place where Jesus intends to go like the twelve and the seventy that Jesus sent out, they are clustered together in a place where Jesus is hoping that someone else who Jesus has sent out will bring those people to where they are at in a way that they are comfortable with.  The Way Jesus traveled with crowds who watched various people com to him for miracles.

Please do not understand me to be saying that this new church was doing some great evil.  As a matter of fact, from what I saw in the two weeks the church has existed, they are leaps and bounds ahead of just about every church I have encountered.  The challenges I am describing that I was observing are more of a global, church-wide problem that I am processing that in fact they have been able to break much of the bondage of.

This is a cutting edge group and I honestly think that a study of the things that remain of the old wineskin that a group like this could not seem to get rid of or notice is an incredibly important study as it shows how strong of a grip on us these things really have.

I am left wondering why there are not more seekers and new converts instead of a new congregation of old believers.  I suppose if this is just a training ground for those that will be sent to the unreached places that Jesus is about to go to, then it is exactly what it is supposed to be.  The problem is that what the are doing now will either have to change completely at some point or the harvest will have to come from another entirely new church in the same city that is more of a new wineskin.  At some point this training church would have to decrease to allow for the less nineteenth century modeled church to begin flourishing.

A key question that I have yet to ask is how the vision of the new wineskin looks in the end to the people who carry the vision.  I wonder if it is based on a large building with the same Christianese cultural context or if it is one or more churches in that metropolis that express how God is working through and communicating with the various groups in that city.

Are they looking for the people that God has been calling and preparing in that city in its various groups or are they importing culturally Christianese trainees to communicate the old wineskin.

I am a big fan of the passages the speaker quoted from Luke 9 and 10.  These are the first missionaries, evangelists and church planters that Jesus sent and this is the way He did it.  This is also reflected in Paul’s ministry of going to places, training the people in a download of as much as he had time to (which could range from days to years) and then left them to figure it out by coming together and seeking God.

Paul trusted God so much that he would leave them the opportunity to mess the whole thing up completely and listen to God for correction.  Then if they really got way, way out there, he merely sent them a letter outlining the problem.  These letter are available for you reference if you would like:  They are a large chunk of what we call the New Testament.

I wonder if we are so worried about doing things right and not allowing for error to slip in that we have stopped trusting God and began leaning on the crutch of systems and legalism.

What will it take for this church or any “new wineskin” church to really be able to be all things to all people?

This church, as it has been is clearly the seed planting phase of a much bigger picture.  The question then becomes, do they understand it to be that way.

Do they realize that to go from being the seed to being the harvesters means being sent away from the Jesus environment to prepare new places and groups of people to become new Jesus environments that may not look anything like their current Jesus environment (all the churches Paul planted, for example, did not look and act the same way).

Overall this is an awesome group of people doing an awesome thing that is a step beyond most of the church planting I have seen in an American context.  They have done such a great job of following the new direction that God seems to be calling so many people in, I could not help but look at the few things that they still have as things that even the best of us will have deep struggles breaking free of.

Thanks for patiently walking along this road with me as I process through the details what I feel God is revealing to me and my thinking out loud.  I hope and pray that this sparks deep introspective thought, deep prayerful conversation with God, deep conversation with others, and even heated debate all in a passionate desire to do the will of God.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  19 Although I’m free from all people, I have made myself a slave for all people to win more of them. 20 I became Jewish for Jewish people. I became subject to Moses’ Teachings for those who are subject to those laws. I did this to win them even though I’m not subject to Moses’ Teachings. 21 I became like a person who does not have Moses’ Teachings for those who don’t have those teachings. I did this to win them even though I have God’s teachings. I’m really subject to Christ’s teachings. 22 I became like a person weak in faith to win those who are weak in faith. I have become everything to everyone in order to save at least some of them. 23 I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers.

I hope and I ask God to make your life really cool all the time (non-Christianese for “May God bless you”);

W. Lawrence Hess

The New Church Members: The Harvest or the Seeds? – Part 2

These oranges have seeds

These oranges have seeds (Photo credit: toastforbrekkie)

Matthew 9:14-17 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  14 Then John’s disciples came to Jesus. They said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often but your disciples never do?”  15 Jesus replied, “Can wedding guests be sad while the groom is still with them? The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them. Then they will fast.  16 “No one patches an old coat with a new piece of cloth that will shrink. When the patch shrinks, it will rip away from the coat, and the tear will become worse. 17 Nor do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins burst, the wine runs out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, people pour new wine into fresh skins, and both are saved.”

As I really listened to the vision of the speaker at this new and fresh church, I realized that I was not wrong to like what was occurring at this church as it was in fact awesome, was well planned and was definitely God blessed, but as it is it is at least one generation removed from the desired outcome.  As it is, it is an excellent preparation ground for those that will be sent out to do the truly different church. They like myself feel that God is calling the American Church to change. The new wineskin kind of change.

The obstacle for the church is that it is still noticeably specific to one specific style of Christian culture.  It may be a newer version of Christian culture, but it is still an extremely noticeable version of Christian culture.  It is in effect not all things to all people.  It is one thing that all people must change to or at least learn to be comfortable with.

The current oranges are from the neighbors garden and there has really not been any crops grown in that soil yet.  The question is not if crops can grow, the big questions are:

  1. What is the best way to grow crops in that ground that do not require using the neighbors fruit to call it a harvest
  2. How will the people doing the farming learn how to farm in that ground if their experience is taking fruit from the neighbors and calling it a harvest

The next generation, the one that this model will be a wonderful training ground for, will still be tasked with the challenge of learning to deculturalize all of the habits and tendencies that will become a part of who they are from being in that environment.

It is quite possible; the big question for them is where will this next generation learn this skill if the environment they learn in is not conducive to it?

The reality is, that the church has only been there two weeks and I have been to both services, yet I am quite sure that nobody could really know how God is going to change that church over the next few weeks, next few months, next few years etc. nor what role that church will play in the bigger picture of transforming that major metropolis.  It does seem that God has been pushing me as an individual to look at what He is moving us to as something completely different so I am a bit hypersensitive to things that are the same.  The old wineskin verses the new wineskin thing.

The real conflict is not even what this particular church is doing.  In fact, as I have stated repeatedly, what they are doing is incredible and is just emanating newness and fresh vision.  The real conflict for me is with myself.  I know that God is talking to me about this next deculturalized church He wishes to build, but I am still deeply drawn to the more Christianese models that sound like Christians I have been around speak and that does things the way Christians I have been around do things.  “This is not being all things to all people” I hear God telling me, but this model still has a powerful pull on me.

Lots of clichés and quotes come to mind:

“Sometimes the good is not good enough to God”,

“The good is often the enemy of the great”,

“What we consider good and what is actually God are not always the same thing and even though good has more letters than God the good is not greater”,

“On the road to greatness there are many good places you could stop, but on the road to greatness the good spots are not the destination; the good is a distraction.”

“Those who settle for the good can never know the great”

It may be that the people of this new and exciting church are suffering from what I am hindered by or it may in fact be just something God is showing me for my next level; to that end I am not clear.  What I do know however is that God is showing me the struggles that I have in breaking the old Church culture I have been nurtured into adopting so I can process the struggle and start conversation about that aspect of the change I feel God is making.

My struggle to get rid of my old, favorite wineskin, and accept that God is giving me a brand new one (really He has been giving it to the whole world).  The key is that I have to let go of the old one to take hold of the new one.

Part 3 to follow –

Blessings…

Related articles

The New Church Members: The Harvest or the Seeds? – Part 1

These oranges have seeds

These oranges have seeds (Photo credit: toastforbrekkie)

The New Church Members:  The Harvest or the Seeds? – Part 1

Matthew 9:14-17 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  14 Then John’s disciples came to Jesus. They said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often but your disciples never do?”  15 Jesus replied, “Can wedding guests be sad while the groom is still with them? The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them. Then they will fast.  16 “No one patches an old coat with a new piece of cloth that will shrink. When the patch shrinks, it will rip away from the coat, and the tear will become worse. 17 Nor do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins burst, the wine runs out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, people pour new wine into fresh skins, and both are saved.”

I recently went to the birth of a new church in a major metropolis and found what I encountered quite interesting.  The church is a plant from an organization that shares some of the same ideas about the challenges of the American church that many of us do and they are looking at following God in new ways.

The environment of the church was exciting, incredibly friendly and incredibly inviting.  Each person there; which I think was about a hundred people the first week, was interacting with each other in deeply real and personal ways.  It was as if every greeter from every church in San Francisco had come together to start a church.

There was worship and prayer from the outset and the environment was electric.  The room that the service was held in was beautiful to the point of even having a large fireplace that made the environment warm in comfort as well as being part of the heating of the room.

As I settled in, I was astonished at the feel of the worship and how God was being glorified.  Then, suddenly it hit me, these are clearly mature believers doing a wonderful thing, but not a soul in the place was new to an atmosphere of worship.

The feeling of spirituality and the sense of God being there with us was unimaginable yet I have had trainings, read books, had debates and conversations on the topic of cross-pollination verses seeking the lost and found myself conflicted.

If you are not familiar with the term cross-pollination, lets start with the dictionary definition (the botanical definition):

cross-pollination  = Botany the transfer of pollen from the flower of one plant to the flower of a plant having a different genetic constitution. Compare self-pollination.

So in this definition the term is used to describe taking the pollen from one plant to another different plant for that plant’s betterment.  In a church context it means the taking of the people from one church to another different church for that churches betterment.  The church is growing but it is growing because of believers that are coming from other churches and not because the lost are being led to Christ.

We will get back to that concept, but lets get back to that church:

Everyone there was awesome and the service was going awesome and I was experiencing a sense of God in the place, why even consider changing anything when God was being glorified so amazingly in the place exactly as it was.  I remained conflicted through the worship and looking to God for clarity throughout the service.

As the worship drew to a close there were a series of people who apparently are in training to do ministry that came and spoke with exhortation and excitement.  Every word that was spoken was powerful and uplifting for each individual in attendance, for the group as a whole, for this new church and for those having the faith to step out and walk out the vision of God that is that church.

There were the usual responses of praise to God in “halleluiahs”, and “amen’s” etc.  It was a mighty thing to experience.

In the middle of being moved and touched mightily, I was suddenly struck by the thought that if I was not used to Christian environments and our special insider language (Christianese) I would be lost by all of this.  Then I thought that I might not be put off necessarily, but I would definitely feel like an absolute outsider.

It would be like being at a show where everyone gets the punch line of the joke but you.  They cannot stop laughing and enjoying themselves and you just sit there staring or pretending to get it too.

I began to wonder if the conflict was me being crazy or some evil trying to keep me from simply enjoying the presence of God in this place.

Then came the speaker who at the time I had concluded was the pastor, but turned out to be a guest who had a hand in training some of the people who started this church.  He had a good personality and was an excellent speaker without fitting too neatly into any denominational stereotypes.

Then like a ton of bricks bouncing off of my hard head, God cleared up the question of if I was resisting this mighty move of God or actually hearing something that God was trying to tell me.  The message delivered was about a vision for churches that impact the unchurched and otherwise lost.  He described churches that were not going to be like other churches and represented the new kind of move that God is trying to get the Western Church to make.  He talked about how the church is using a nineteenth century model to reach twenty-first century people.  Basically, he taught all of the same things that were brought to my attention that have been driving my quest for the new things that God is doing.

As I was pondering how universal this message has become (the message that God is looking to do a different kind of church) I realized something:  This looked an awful lot like a next step, but not exactly like the vision.  The heart and the fundamental ideas of the new church that God seems to want to be establishing were there, but a lot of the culture of what we are used to as church was being imported as well.

First of all, there was that cross-pollination thing.  This church is starting based on people from other churches.  I think of it this way:  if my goal is to grow fruit in my back yard.  I plant a tree.  I may be able to get seeds from my neighbors, but if I just get a whole lot of oranges from my neighbors, put them in a basket and show everyone how many oranges I have in my garden in that basket, it is artificial.

The oranges from my neighbors can be a part of the process of growing the tree, but they are really meaningless until I have some fruit of my own.  Everything else is just for show.

I suppose the difference lies in the degree to which one considers the people there now the seed and not the harvest.  If they are the seed, then the only question left is how to best plant them in this environment to produce the most fruit.

If they are the harvest or even evidence of the harvest, then up to this point the harvest is actually from somewhere else and to get more harvests they will all have to come from somewhere else (which statistically is how quite a few churches operate).

Then there is this wineskin thing.  A wineskin is a leather (usually goat skin) bag used to hold wine.  It is a good container for wine when it is new, but they do wear out.  When you get a valuable new wine, you don’t put it in an old wineskin.  One the old, worn out wineskin cannot keep the wine fresh. The old wineskin is no longer soft and loses its elasticity and if you put your valuable new wine in the old wineskin, it is apt to explode because it is in no condition to hold the valuable new wine.  It is past its usefulness and it is time for a new wineskin.

There is a growing feeling amongst, pastors, Christian leaders and believers that the Western Church model (specifically the North American Church model) is an old wineskin and that God is preparing the people of Christ for a new wineskin that is different than the old one.

This church has new vision, new ideas and many new ways of doing things.  There were however, some old wineskin that I noticed and troubled by.  The language, some denomination specific ways of doing things, even the setting, although prettier and more inviting than most was a stage and rows of chairs.

This group is definitely a huge step in the right direction, but I also was observing how hard it is to separate yourself from a culture that you have been programmed with.  They were trying hard, but as an “kinda” outsider I could see how much they still had that was the same.

I suppose what I am saying is that to the normal churchgoer this church would seem vastly different than most things that one would have seen.  On the other hand, to a person who had left the church for some reason (particularly if hurt or angry) this would look about the same as any other church.  To a total outsider, they would feel like a very accepted outsider, but clearly an outsider.

To people who have something against the concept of church I imagine this would have many of the things they suspected accept for the people being considerably nicer than they would have guessed.

Then I put all of this into perspective.  I realized that I have been reading books, going to trainings and classes, having discussions and debates, writing and praying etc. on this idea of doing a deculturalized church and may just be being to legalistic about all of this.

Would a nonbeliever actually be completely repulsed by our Christian insider language and actions?  Some yes and some no.  Wouldn’t things Jesus said and did been really strange to all that encountered Him?  Isn’t that a part of what attracted people to Him?

Then there is the other side of that coin; the fact that at the end of his ministry there were only eleven insiders who were truly clued in.  When those went out (adding Paul to the equation) they began to minister in ways that were all things to all people.  That is what changed the effectiveness of the evangelization.  The inner circle methods of Jesus were to catalyze the movement through the ones he trained.  The Disciples were not the oranges, they were the seeds.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  19 Although I’m free from all people, I have made myself a slave for all people to win more of them. 20 I became Jewish for Jewish people. I became subject to Moses’ Teachings for those who are subject to those laws. I did this to win them even though I’m not subject to Moses’ Teachings. 21 I became like a person who does not have Moses’ Teachings for those who don’t have those teachings. I did this to win them even though I have God’s teachings. I’m really subject to Christ’s teachings. 22 I became like a person weak in faith to win those who are weak in faith. I have become everything to everyone in order to save at least some of them. 23 I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers.

The soil in various places is different and as such the planting and growing methods in various places has to be different too.  Planting oranges in the dessert requires a lot of irrigation and different treatment than planting the oranges at an oasis.  The seeds must be treated differently in different environments to accomplish the same end.  The whole process changes depending on environment based on what will work best in that environment.

The ideas that I take away from this is that the models we have been building are good first generation sending ministries, but in the current American environment will not be transformational to cities until the nineteenth century Western Church model and really all twentieth century Western Church models are left behind for however God will best speak to the community at hand.

That includes knowing how to be like a person who is weak in faith to win others who are weak in faith.  There are many in the metropolis that I am speaking of that are at best weak in faith and to build a church that is centered on the comfort levels of the strong in faith could only tend towards cross-pollenizing from the other churches and denominations, particularly in the metropolis I am speaking of.

Cont. in Part 2

Fixing Our Churches – The Lost Love

Westboro Baptist Church picket in Beverly Hills

Westboro Baptist Church picket in Beverly Hills (Photo credit: k763)

Fixing Our Churches – The Lost Love

Acts 2:44-47 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 44 All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other. 45 From time to time, they sold their property and other possessions and distributed the money to anyone who needed it. 46 The believers had a single purpose and went to the temple every day. They were joyful and humble as they ate at each other’s homes and shared their food. 47 At the same time, they praised God and had the good will of all the people. Every day the Lord saved people, and they were added to the group.

I was reading some articles about the problems that churches in the United States have. Things like lack of commitment, not teaching the Word (implies teaching a western university method with references and focused on the western academic mind), keeping the finances up with the perceived needs of the congregation, and on and on.

There actually were several articles with really good and deeply profound ideas, but I noticed that many of these articles missed what it seems to me was the core of the early church.

The early church (no matter how large or small) had at it’s core one key focus – one another. I am intrigued by the American church’s focus on either getting bigger by counting registered members or on staying small at all costs because “it is more personal”.

Both have their merits as a church that is not growing is clearly not focused on living out the great commission. A Christian church that is not reaching the unsaved and not only leading them to Christ but also discipling these new believers is hard-pressed to say it is a Christian church when it is not following the core mission it was given by Christ.

Matthew 28:18-20 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 18 When Jesus came near, he spoke to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach them to do everything I have commanded you. “And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.”

On the other hand a church that is so big that the people don’t know or care about one another is not showing the love that was to be the mark of the church. It simply becomes a ritualistic exercise that assumes that there is some magic power to just being in the building and performing some amount of the ritual that is done there.

John 13:34-35 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 34 “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. 35 Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other.”

Both (very commonly expressed) points are valid, but I am not sure that the size of the worship or celebration service is the problem, as a matter of fact, I am convinced that these are symptoms of a bigger problem. The problem is the focus on anything but the “community of believers”.

I am not saying that there is the absence of this concept, what I am saying is that there seems to always be something else that is more important than this key focus.

In my travels, most churches have an element of discussion on building some kind of deeply interpersonal community of believers, but it is almost always overshadowed by some other focus.

In research, discussion, debate, study and so on, I can usually find reasons for various focuses that each church model or denomination had for their focuses. These were not bad things even in the models of church that seemed to be miserably failing. To be honest, many of the models that seemed to be miserably failing seemed to have a focus that was for a particular season. The season merely seemed to change and the church simply didn’t change with it. God moved and the church decided to stay.

I know I have written a lot in the past about church models and those that know me have probably had a few conversations about church models, but I do not think that even that is the real issue and I am not convinced that simply changes models will fix the struggles of the western church in the long term.

THE PROBLEM IS NOT STRICTLY ONE OF MODEL, STRUCTURE OR CONTENT, THE PROBLEM IS PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST!!! Look at this verse:

Revelation 2:2-4 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 2 I know what you have done—how hard you have worked and how you have endured. I also know that you cannot tolerate wicked people. You have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not apostles. You have discovered that they are liars. 3 You have endured, suffered trouble because of my name, and have not grown weary. 4 However, I have this against you: The love you had at first is gone.

This message to the church in Ephesus has some interesting points:

  1. They work and endure
  2. They do not tolerate wicked people
  3. They test those who claim to be called of God and weed them out
  4. They stand up for their faith even in the face of great adversity
  5. THE LOVE THEY HAD AT FIRST IS GONE!!!

I have been taught in the past that the first love they had forgotten was the Word of God. Of course this was taught as a logical progression from the idea that the first love was Jesus, by extension that means that the first love was what Jesus told them to do and so that means the fist love is the Word of God where what Jesus wants believers to do is explained. I do believe that idea to be a part of the truth, but there is a more obvious idea expressed in the context of the time.

That period of history where the New Testament was not assembled yet, Old Testament texts were rooms full of scrolls in temples and there was little chance in Ephesus of doing things the way we do them in our modern contexts so although many of these sort of interpretations fit into our context and quality exegesis of the scripture they may not fit into their context.

So although our modern interpretations are okay, what did the text mean at the time. I wasn’t there and have limited insight into the deeper details of their context, but there is something I have been pondering: The key is what the Church in Ephesus’ first love was and how that plays out in our modern lives.

I started with the obvious question of what role love is supposed to play in the Church and in the lives of Christians. The most obvious place to start:

Matthew 22:37-40 New International Version (NIV) 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I would have to say that the first love we were all told to have is in fact God with all of our hearts. In this passage, Jesus himself describes what the “by extensions” are. Loving others a part of loving God. Anything we do that is supposed to be about loving God has to be completely tied to loving others.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) –  I may speak in the languages of humans and of angels. But if I don’t have love, I am a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 I may have the gift to speak what God has revealed, and I may understand all mysteries and have all knowledge. I may even have enough faith to move mountains. But if I don’t have love, I am nothing. 3 I may even give away all that I have and give up my body to be burned. But if I don’t have love, none of these things will help me.

Anything that is done without love (particularly expressions of God to other people as noted in this passage) is nothing and is definitely not truly expressing God. Now think about the church in Ephesus:

  1. They work and endure
  2. They do not tolerate wicked people
  3. They test those who claim to be called of God and weed them out
  4. They stand up for their faith even in the face of great adversity

But, some kind of “love” was not involved that was supposed to be. I think it is obvious that love of God is supposed to be everyone’s first love and is what is being directly expressed here. It is the details of what they were or were not doing that is still a bit unclear. According to Jesus Love for God and expressing love for others are tied together. It is possible to work, endure, not tolerate wicked people, test what people teach and stand up for faith while not expressing love for others.

I have been around people who seem to be like this. They do lots of Christian stuff, they can tell you whats wrong with how others live out a relationship with or talk about God. They can boldly defend their theology yat they do all of this with no real expressing of love in a way that the people they encounter can experience the love of God through them.

There is that idea that showing love is trying to force people to believe as their theology dictates and to argue with them if they do not is a great showing of love. The mere idea of loving someone by force is a strange concept in and of itself, but this idea of what the passage is describing is something we commonly see even now. Was the church at Ephesus a church of doers but not lovers?

This possible translation in mind, it would seem that the most important things that a church should be about are:

  1. Loving God
  2. Loving others (starting with each other which is the way others would know that we are God’s people)

If this does not permeate everything that a church does, the things that the church is doing is just a loud gong or clashing cymbal to God and to the world around them.

Most mainline churches have plans and programs to involve elements of loving the community or people in “missions fields” somewhere remote and poor, but are these really the love we are to show one another. That love for one another is a key outward expression of the the church that is supposed to be evident to all. Every church is supposed to exude this kind of love in a way that love for God, love for all people and definitely love for one another is what any outsider should be able to see and experience at any church.

This kind of love is something I have serious doubts about creating via a program or a six week sermon series. First off, this is a key ingredient and not some afterthought that we add later. This is even more than mindsets and theological thoughts; this is a lifestyle that should permeate the congregation create a sustained atmosphere within the church.

The question is how do we get this lifestyle throughout our churches? One thought is asking ourselves if the model we are using is the most likely model to produce this kind of love for God, one another, and the people around us or not. I may be generalizing a bit, but just finding some building and sitting through a sermon most Sundays and maybe going to a midweek service.

Many people do more like join ministry teams or groups within the church, but instead of being a portion of the church that has deeper relationships with each other and spends time together, shouldn’t it be the norm and those that don’t the exception? Shouldn’t everyone be deeply interconnected with the other people in the church? Shouldn’t everyone there quite naturally care for and about one another.

I am amazed at how many times one or two isolate incidents of members of the church caring for one another are paraded around by church members. Doesn’t the fact these are such big news imply that these sorts of things are incredibly rare.

I know I am partial to churches either having a small group component or consisting entirely of small groups, but that is because that seems to be the only way that these things can happen on a deeper level.

We have to use models that best facilitate the growth of this kind of love for God, for each other and for the people of earth on the deepest levels.

Many of the models we western churchgoers and western churches are comfortable in wouldn’t even have room to discuss but the deepest issues of an incredibly small segment of the congregation. As a matter of fact, if we tried to discuss the problems and needs of every person in the church each week, there would not only be too little time in the service to get through them all, I doubt if there would be enough time in the week. Our services are not structured for this information, so how could it be possible for the people in the church to respond to these problems and needs if they have no way of knowing them?

So yes, my suggestions on this key issue does include small groups. I simply do not see how you can get this personal and involved in every person’s life without breaking it into smaller more personal settings. Having small groups and studies/discussions designed to lead to community is still artificial, but it also much more likely to develop in these environments and the tools are just to aid something that could probably happen on it’s own.

The church described in Acts met together everywhere and did all kinds of things together as well of taking care of one another. It wasn’t some program the Apostles came up with, it was simply the lifestyle ans those that joined were really likely to do the same.

It is very common in years past to hear great speakers saying the church is the people and not the building. There is more to that. The churches job is to love God and to love the people and there is nothing stated in the New Testament about loving the building or the address.

I guess what I am proposing is a question more than an answer. Have we as the American church lost the love? I am not asking about one church or the group of deeply spiritual people at every church that do more than the general membership of the church. I am asking if the general state of the church in America is one that exudes an atmosphere of love for God, each other and people in general that it is most likely what each person experiences most with any contact with us?

It is funny that most people I know that do not believe see us as angry at the world, complaining about politics (especially complaining about democrats), we hate homosexuals, we don’t accept those who don’t believe, we hate anyone who thinks abortions are okay and on and on.

I know these things are not true and is totally the opposite of many American Christians and so on, But what all of that does not reflect is that people know us for our love. The American church is most known in my area as the people who hate this and hate that and hate these people etc. I am not saying not to have political views or to take stands on morality etc., but no matter what we are doing love has to be broadcast as the message or we are misrepresenting Christ.

As I said before, it’s not about a program or just adding small groups, this is about a complete change of focus for the American church and many churchgoers.

If you want to fix your church experience, your church, or the American church as a whole this must be the starting point. Have we lost the love we are supposed to have? Do we love God and one another in such a way that love the core of who we are and everybody can see it? Do we love others so much that everyone knows us for our love? If we cannot answer yes to all of that we cannot answer yes to any of it and definitely cannot say we are loving God without a deep level of loving others.

The ”Magic, Astrology, Demon Worship and Necromancy Bible Study for Small Groups” Now Available.

 

Saul and the Witch of Endor. By Allston, Washi...

Saul and the Witch of Endor. By Allston, Washington. 1820. Oil on canvas. Canvas: 34 5/16 x 47 1/8 in.; 87.1538 x 119.6975 cm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just made the ”Magic, Astrology, Demon Worship and Necromancy Bible Study for Small Groups” available.

There is a lot of information out there about these ideas or concepts.  Some say there is no such things.  Some say this and that are evil and this and that is actually okay because…  Some say that everything is an evil trying to get you and the world is a scary place where you have to avoid everything but the church bulding. And so on, and so on.  There is a need to really look at what God as to say through the Bible and how He has instructed us to act.

The studies are created to use the same discovery concepts the S.E.A. of Galilee Fellowship uses for all studies:

S = SCRIPTURE; read and discuss a passage

E = EXPLANATION; look at questions that help explore and discover what the passage is really saying (what God is saying through this particular passage to mankind, to your household and specifically to you)

A = APPLICATION; participants make a commitment to take action on what was revealed as what God wants from us through the study (the teaching them to obey from The Great Commission.

The studies are designed for leadership to be done by a person who is facilitating the study and not by a teacher etc. the facilitators main job is to get everyone involved in the discussion for each question.

The other task the facilitator has is to teach the group to lovingly ask “Where do you see that in this passage” if someone brings up something that is not related to the passage being discussed or some perceived heresy.

The actual page for this study is: https://seaofgalilee.wordpress.com/s-e-a-of-galilee-fellowship-bible-study-outlines/magic-astrology-demon-worship-and-necromancy-bible-study-for-small-groups/  

The study can be accessed directly as a PDF file by clicking https://seaofgalilee.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/magic-astrology-demon-worship-and-necromancy-bible-study.pdf

You can print the PDF file from there or you can go back and forth to the page for reference as needed.

Be blessed and seek first the kingdom,

W. Lawrence Hess

“Church Bible Study for Small Groups” is now available

Church Sign

Church Sign (Photo credit: simplerich)

“Church Bible Study for Small Groups” is now available

In a time where statistics, magazines and the people who are experts at church information are all saying that the church as we have known it is in trouble it seems like it is important to see if the “church as we have known it” is truly the only way that God said church is to be done.

The implication is that we need to also look if God gave us instructions that might lead us to experience church some other way.  The key question is not what I am comfortable with, or my denomination says church is supposed to be or even what my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents said it was to be like.  What does God say and what does God want right now in this day and age?

This study is designed to help small groups explore that question by studying passages talking about the New Testament concept of church or related topics.  With whatever the Holy Spirit reveals through the scriptures we have to ask ourselves if I am more focussed on my way or God’s best for the here and now.  Is God my co-pilot or pilot.  If God is your co-pilot, you desperately need to change seats.

These studies are designed to be done in a small group context with a facilitator and led by the Holy Spirit.  That means leadership only involves facilitation by one of the participants as the group discusses the passage using the S.E.A. of Galilee Fellowship discovery methods.  The facilitators main job is to get everyone involved in the discussion for each question.

  • S = SCRIPTURE; read and discuss a passage
  • E = EXPLANATION; look at questions that help explore and discover what the passage is really saying (what God is saying through this particular passage to mankind, to your household and specifically to you)
  • A = APPLICATION; participants make a commitment to take action on what was revealed as what God wants from us through the study (the teaching them to obey from The Great Commission.

The other task the facilitator has is to teach the group to lovingly ask “Where do you see that in this passage” if someone brings up something that is not related to the passage being discussed or some perceived heresy.

The study can be accessed by clicking https://seaofgalilee.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/church-bible-study.pdf

Or by clicking the button above marked “CHURCH BIBLE STUDY FOR SMALL GROUPS”

 

Be blessed…

W. Lawrence Hess

Can The Simple Can Solve The Deep and Complex

White Rubik's Cube

White Rubik’s Cube (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Can The Simple Can Solve The Deep and Complex

Hebrews 10:24-25 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  24 We must also consider how to encourage each other to show love and to do good things. 25 We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming.

This verse is a verse I have heard used again and again in the United States to tell people that they are in sin if they are no in a building every Sunday that has a highly educated and extremely trained expositor/teacher up front who breaks down the Bible within some set of incredibly strict guidelines as decided by the mandates of a particular denomination. 

In some conversations I have heard (and viewed online) it is as if the main duty of every Christian is to make it to that building every Sunday (unless a Seventh Day Adventist then it’s a Saturday) and with the exception of accepting Christ, all other Christian obligation is peripheral or at best a distant second.  As if, the only goal is to somehow get to that building at all costs on Sunday and all will be safe.  Sort of the Christian version of touching base in some global and multidimensional game of tag.

Then the all purpose fix all for everything that ails you is to get to that building.  “Thanks for finally saying that prayer, now just get to one of those buildings and the fairy dust will start to fall.”   “Or your kid is selling drugs and just shot someone, well you just gotta get him/her to the building every Sunday and the magic waving of the magic words of the pastor will transform him/her into Mother Theresa in no time.” 

All of that is fine and dandy and as a matter of fact, I honestly do believe that there is some level of power in just being around someone who is reading the Word of God, or around a person who is anointed by God to teach and so on. 

I am not as sold on the magic of a particular building, but whatever.  I don’t think it is unbiblical for the New Testament church to go to one place like the Old Testament Hebrew people’s were required to do.

The problem I have with using this passage to substantiate the idea that all of this is mandated by God or the Bible.  This passage says nothing about any of the above.

The “gathering together” or “the assembling” involves the people and says nothing about a specific building, a pulpit, pews, education, where it can or cannot be, if it should or shouldn’t be in the same place, or that the building is magic or anything of that nature.

It simply says that we should not stop gathering with no specifics whatsoever except encouraging one another.

I think Albert Einstein had something when he said something that is definitely relevant to this conversation:

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Albert Einstein

As somebody who came up with or helped come up with solutions to some of the most complex problems in the history of science, I think his opinion might hold some weight.

Have we complicated church beyond what is necessary and beyond what is mandated by God?  If we have we run the risk of sounding like the Pharisees who took the day of rest, Sabbath concept and mandated people not even pick up things like a mat or pray for healings on that day because it was work and not resting. 

Doing a little bit extra beyond what God mandates is a good thing.  Requiring that others do more than God mandates and claiming that God has mandated it however is actually lying.  This is something to be careful not to do!

I was recently reading an article in a magazine named Mission Frontiers that is named Simple, Common-Sense Solutions to World Evangelization by a gentleman named Rick Wood. 

In this article he is discussing some of the major problems the church is suffering from and looking at how simple solutions might be the answer instead of all of the complicated stuff people have been coming up with.

The thoughts and ideas about solutions that were discussed in this article (and throughout much of that issue of that magazine) were based on the methods, discoveries and success described in the book Miraculous Movements authored by a man named Jerry Trousdale (an excellent book about successful church planting amongst Muslim groups in Africa which I loved).

The illustration in this article was awesome and proved Mr. Wood’s point clearly:

Here is one notable illustration of this point from history. Today, we all know that washing your hands is an effective way to prevent disease transmission and infection. This is a common sense, simple solution to what had before often been a deadly problem. But in 1867 when British surgeon Joseph Lister first developed antiseptic surgical procedures and proved that washing your hands and surgical instruments in carbolic acid prevented infection, few believed him. The doctors of his day thought that it was too much trouble to wash their hands and instruments between patients. They were convinced that it was “bad air” (miasma) that caused infections not “invisible germs.” These doctors actually took pride in their dirty, blood-caked surgical coats and referred to the terrible smells as “good old surgical stink.”1

For decades, Lister worked tirelessly to get his proven “common sense” solution accepted by the medical profession of his day—meeting with greater success in Europe than in the U.S. Fourteen years later in 1881 when U.S. President James Garfield was shot in an assassination attempt, the “best doctors” in the U.S. still saw no problem with repeatedly probing the bullet wound with unwashed hands and instruments. Garfield died a painful death 79 days later from massive infection.  (Simple, Common-Sense Solutions to World EvangelizationMission Frontiers Magazine)

With all of their operating and expertise the doctors that worked on President Garfield looked at all of the most thought out, debated and educated solutions to the problem of the bullet wound and missed the most important solution that probably would have actually saved the mans life.

What is the solution to diminishing numbers, growing disinterest etc. in the Body of Christ that we are seeing outlined in statistics (particularly in the United States).  Is in complicated new models and plans?  Is it deeper and more complex theologies?  Is it finding ways to “guilt trip” people into getting back to going to that building every Sunday (even if they do not like it there or do not experience God there, grow there etc.)?

Here is the part of the article I was leading up to:

How can we best reach the lost?

Simple Solution: Instead of inviting unbelievers to your church or even to your home, offer to go to their home to explore what the Bible has to say. If these people come to faith, you have already established the basis for a church in their home that can reach into their family and spheres of influence. The church is often the biggest obstacle for the unsaved, not Jesus or the Bible.  (Simple, Common-Sense Solutions to World EvangelizationMission Frontiers Magazine)

The real question for me was; “Does this meet the mandate to ‘not stop gathering together with other believers’”?  Not only did it meet that mandate, according to this paragraph, it took out an obstacle for seekers:  The building itself. 

The concept of the building itself being not only an obstacle for the unsaved, but the biggest obstacle is one I found intriguing. 

As I was pondering this I started to ponder some of the objectives that people have to coming to a church building:

  • They are just about money = the church in your house doesn’t need all of that money and usually isn’t asking for it.
  • Too big and impersonal = a church in your house simply cannot get too big unless you live in a mansion, the people are more likely to start more meetings at more houses to keep it more comfortable and intimate.
  • I like what Jesus has to say, but I don’t like the church people = well if you are at least okay with me as a church person a study that starts with just us and your family and includes only those you invite to your home.
  • Aren’t all of those pastors liars, I don’t trust them = “If you have some level of trust in me lets work on being led by what God says through the Bible instead of so much focus on what some expert thinks God is saying.”

There is more, but you get my point.  I am sold on many of these basic premises as mentioned in previous posts (ex., The Church of Only What is Needed?, The Church of Only What is Needed? PART 2, Thoughts on the “Emerging Church” Debate), but this is another good reason to at least look at the new ideas emerging throughout Christianity.

I am not a proponent of telling people that they should abandon their churches and leave to decay away as remnants of the past few centuries as we march towards our new home church meetings.  I am saying that we all need to creatively look at the new ideas and successes as well as the statistics and other facts with minds open to hearing new things and ideas from God.  As a matter of fact, as stated in previous posts, I still attend not only a traditional, mainline denominational church, but a mega-church (big screens and all).

This I feel and my discussions on this website are to share my processing of this information and provoke conversation for all of us.

There are clearly changes afoot.  God is moving in some direction, the question is are we as a group (the church) and as individuals going the same way that He is going?  I have my two favorite ideas at this time and will probably alter or change them over time (see New Thoughts on my Favorite Church Models). 

Are your ideas for solutions to the problems that face the church as simple as they can be and no simpler?  Also, do not stop gathering together in the church that is as simple as possible, but no simpler.

With some more food for deep prayerful thought;

W. Lawrence Hess