The Great Commission and The Authority

The Great Commission and The Authority

An evangelical Protestant Baptism by submersio...

An evangelical Protestant Baptism by submersion in a river (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 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.”

The “Great Commission” as spoken by Jesus.  This fundamental passage has to be at the core of all a Christian does and all any group of Christians do no matter if they are a church, a part of a church, a para-church organization or a group of Christian friends.  At all levels this is your mission statement, your calling and should becomes the basic foundational drive of all you do as a believer.

The message is very basic, but can often become lost in the systems and plans of groups and individuals in a way that many individuals feel this is not for them to do because it is not their job.  The fact is that the way this statement was made and how this passage reads it is clear that every individual is called by Jesus to do this by the power and the guidance of Christ Himself.

The first statement here is the fact that

Matthew 28:18 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.

What is this “authority” and how is it relevant.  Lets start with the word authority as defined in the dictionary:

› the power to control or demand obedience from others:

› An authority is someone with official responsibility for a particular area of activity:

Using this definition from the dictionary, Jesus has the responsibility for some area or areas of activity and has the power to control or demand obedience from some group.  What areas of activity and who He is controlling or demanding obedience from will be defined by whatever He says next and the context.

In context Jesus is speaking to the eleven disciples that were to be the catalysts of what would become the church.  The people to whom He is speaking directly are the fathers of every Christian church.

Matthew 28:19 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  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.

They are instructed to “go make disciples.”   In this translation the idea is also tied to being “wherever you go.”  The instruction here is for them to not only go to everywhere on the earth to make something called disciples, but to do that everywhere they go.

The area of responsibility that Jesus has been given can be seen as two distinct areas from what we have read so far:  the first is obvious because the passage said it:  all authority in heaven and earth” which includes the entire world.  The second is clearly and more directly to those who are His disciples (in this case the ones He is speaking to).

The responsibility that He is delegating is for each of them to do their part in making more disciples.  They are the instruments that He will use to exercise His authority as well as being subjects of His authority.

Then, these disciples are told to take the people that are willing to become disciples like them and have them make an outward expression of being under this authority by being baptized.  These disciples will not only learn new things will be washed of the old and brought into the new way of living that is voluntarily living under Christ’s authority.

Matthew 28:20 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  20 Teach them to do everything I have commanded you.  “And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.”

Here we find the definition of what a disciple is and what it means to make one.  A disciple is a person who is taught TO DO everything that Jesus taught the Disciples He is talking to here to do.

The big teaching being the teaching given in the context of this statement:  The teaching to go and wherever you go make disciples that get baptized and do everything that Jesus has commanded those disciples because of his authority over the world and over each person in it.

For most people, there is some limiting factor to our ability to do this and for some of us this seems impossible or as if our job is to just give support to the others that do this.

While there is something to be said for that, the truth is that each person who is truly a disciple is to go and wherever you go you are to make disciples in the manner outlined here.  If that seems impossible, then that is awesome.  That simply means you understand the fact that you cannot do it.  If you could do it on your own power then what would you need God for.  It is His authority that you are exercising, not your own.  It is his power that you are exercising, not your own.

This is the core component of our relationship with Jesus is living this out.  This is to love Him and be a disciple of His.  Sitting in a building full of people who believe in Jesus, giving money or other support to others who do this, and such things are great and are amazing expressions of your belief, but are not what you are told here to do.   That is not the “go” or the “everywhere you go” that Jesus taught his disciples to teach their disciples of Him that they would teach.

There are places and people that you as an individual are the person Jesus has put in place to spread his “authority” over.

This actually is impossible for you and is outside of what you are wired to do.  That is why you need Jesus.  This is the point:

REMEMBER THAT JESUS IS ALWAYS WITH YOU UNTIL THE END OF TIME!

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

One Another/Each Other Bible Study for Small Groups Available

The Bible says "Love One Another"

The Bible says “Love One Another” (Photo credit: Luv2croon)

I just made the “One Another/Each Other Bible Study for Small Groups” available.

With Christ’s statements about what the greatest commandments are it seems immensely important to look at the details of what the Bible tells us about interacting with “one another” as that is the clear defining of what it is to love your neighbor and also the definition of what it means to not be loving your neighbor.

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/one-anothereach-other-bible-study-for-small-groups/

The study can be accessed directly as a PDF file by clicking https://seaofgalilee.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/one-another-verses-bible-study-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 an be a blessing to “one another”,

W. Lawrence Hess

The Discovering Church Planters and Missionaries of the New Testament Bible Study – NOW AVAILABLE

Earth's gravity measured by NASA's GRACE missi...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just posted the Discovering Church Planters and Missionaries of the New Testament Bible Study as a free download in a PDF format.

This discovery study outline was designed for studying what the Bible actually shows us about Chruch Planting and missions work. This study goes through the churches of the New Testament for our example of what we are supposed to be doing and how we are supposed to be doing it.

This is aimed at more mature Christians who are getting ready to work in a larger capacity as a church planter, as a missionary or a minister of some sort.  It is a feirly intensive study with slightly longer passages than usual and can be used in stictly small group settings or can be used as part of a class that does small group breakout sessions and discussions as well as class discussion.

This study is not designed to be just about learning however, the focus is on going from learning, to doing to living a lifestyle of a church planer or of a missionary..

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 Study Guide is rather large and may take a minute to download or print.  Access the page at https://seaofgalilee.wordpress.com/discovering-church-planters-and-missionaries-of-the-new-testament-bible-study/  or you can just open the file directly at Discovering Church Planters and Missionaries of the New Testament Bible Study.

Blessings…

Wade Lawrence Hess

Prayer Bible Study Outline For Small Groups

The Power Of Prayer

The Power Of Prayer (Photo credit: r. Vore)

I just completed the “Prayer Bible Study for Small Groups”.

This discovery study outline was designed for studying what the Bible actually says about prayer. This study covers what prayer is and isnt’t, what it takes to get prayers answered, what might block some prayers, what makes good prayers and not good prayers, how to pray etc. while still focussing on the teaching and leading of the Holy Spirit.

This topic is so key to everything we do and to our personal relationship with our Heavenly Father that it seems like it is a tremandously important study to undertake for all of us and to allow ourselves to be changed by.  IF YOU FAIL TO PRAY; IT IS ALMOST LIKE PRAYING TO FAIL!

This study is not designed to be just about learning however, the focus is on going from learning, to doing to living a lifestyle of prayer.

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 webpage where the study is found can be accesed by clicking https://seaofgalilee.wordpress.com/prayer-bible-study-outline-for-small-groups/

The actual study itself can be accessed by clicking https://seaofgalilee.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/prayer-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.

I pray that your praying and prayers will be blessed and inspired of God,

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

The Way My Child Receives the Kingdom pt. 2

First Church Nerd Party

(Photo credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious)

The Way My Child Receives the Kingdom pt. 2

 

Mark 10:15 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 15 I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives it will never enter it.”

Today was an interesting day which gave me an interesting follow up opportunity on my discussion with my son about his perception of what it would take for him to have the perfect church experience.  (The Way My Child Receives the Kingdom pt. 1)  Some of what transpired today and a new conversation on the issue have come together to shed more light on his vision of the perfect church.

When he and I had this conversation about a week ago he had some surprisingly well though out answers which led me to believe that he had thought about some aspects of this before. I also had some questions about his theories and answers that could also be answered through some experimentation on his part with a few different church models.

Lets back up and look at some of the circumstances surrounding this conversation as I believe these tidbits of fact are relevant.

My son is thirteen going on fourteen later this year.  The mega-church my family attends has several different children’s and youth ministries that group age groups together.  There is a junior high school ministry which is where he is usually put because of his age and grade on school.  He did start going to that age group a year and a half early because he is simply a big kid and was kinda bored with the younger group.

In the junior high school group there is a set service with worship, announcements, a sermon which all of the participants are required to sit in.  Then after the service the preteens/tweens are unleashed as a loud, screaming stampeded of energy to play various videogames, board games, billiards etc. or to lounge on couches and chairs to while gobbling their favorite snacks from the snack stand.

For a long time, my son loved this service then came the day when he simply decided that he didn’t want to go to that service, saying it was boring.  He started insisting that he come with us to the main sanctuary for the regular service.  He seemed to be a little bored at the main service, but tried his best to remain attentive.  He has repeatedly stated that he prefers the main service to the youth service.

Then, in the discussion he and I had last week, I got a glimpse as to why he did’t enjoy that service any more.  To sum it up before giving any detail, I would have to say that he flat-out outgrew the service both in regular maturity and in spiritual maturity.  Their goal was to build a deeper desire for the things of God and he grew that desire and ended up noticing the limitations of or holes in the service that would not build his next level of growth.  In seeing the holes in the junior high school ministry and not being old enough for the high school service he decided the youth ministry was just no longer for him.

Then when we had the whole “The Way My Child Receives the Kingdom pt. 1” conversation as well as a couple of conversations that followed, I caught a glimpse of some of the challenges he was having.

A key was that he was not a fan of the fact that a lot of what happened was things that people were forced to do (or at least felt forced to do) and was truly disingenuous and much of the interaction with God was manufactured and artificial.  Well with the middle school kids they are forced to sit through all of the service components before having the fun part (which is what many of them were apparently looking forward to as the good part). In further discussion with him and thought I would have to say, that I might find I hard to seek the deeper presence of God if I were surrounded by people who didn’t want to be there, but that wanted all of this God stuff to be done so we can all go and have fun.

He had mentioned something I was curious about, but was still pondering and so I had not included it in the previous post.  He had stated that his service would not have video games or other distractions of that sort as it takes the focus off of God and seems to make (at least the middle school kids) less likely to seek God.

Then a lot of the observations that

He made several observations that apply to the main service also that all seem to be shaped by his newfound understanding that artificial worship is not worship at all and is thus a waste of time.  The only real benefit a person gets from attending a worship service if everything that is done there is artificially done is whatever benefit a person gets because he/she sacrificed and hour or two of their time to be where he or she thinks God would like him/her to be once a week. 

Today, while we were on our way to church a couple of our relatives called him to inform him that they were going to be in the high school service and wanted him to come.  He was excited to see them and wanted to go so I told hi he should.  He didn’t know if he could get in, but he is a pretty big kid and easily looks old enough (he is still a year younger than their usual lower age limit).

One of the suspicions I had in our previous discussions was that he had “perfect world” theories (probably mixed with a wee bit of what he thought I wanted to hear) about what a church that was perfect in his view was, but had not considered if he would actually be as drawn to that as he was thinking he would be.

By the time the service was over today I cold hardly wait to ask the question again relative to the high school service.  I was also curious what technique they use to get and keep Silicon Valley high school kids in church.

I asked about the service and the structure they used and my son happily answered.

He said they had two or three worship songs, one announcement and a sermon done by the youth pastor (who I went to bible college with and have a deep respect for).  He said this so happily so I thought through what we had discussed previously and remembered that he had specifically wanted a shorter service, with few if any announcements and basically just the worship and the sermon. 

I loved that the service structure was what he had basically wanted from God, but was puzzled by one thing:  Isn’t this similar to the structure that the younger group had that was so artificial.

When I asked him if people were forced to participate etc. he answered with a very excited “No!”  He stated that participation in the worship and sermon etc. was purely voluntary and if you did not want to participate you could just go and play video games etc.

This was interesting to me because it is probably that most of these teens that were there were forced to go to church by their parents, but once they arrived at the service they were given an option to ignore the “God thing” altogether.  In my mind, high school teens when offered a choice between listening to a bunch of this “God stuff” and singing mushy Jesus songs would almost unanimously choose video games and “kickin-it” with their friends.

So I asked, “Did a lot of people choose not to participate?”  He said an emphatic; “No!  Almost everybody sat in the service.”  I was intrigued by this.  The fact is they were not forced at all seemed to have the opposite effect on the high school age kids.  They seemed to be more involved because they didn’t really have to be.

I wondered if they took an offering.  My son said they did, but it was different.  Instead of the passing the bucket, which he said put inordinate pressure on people, during the service they matter-of-factly said that if anyone had an offering they wanted to make they should come up front and drop it in the bucket. 

I immediately thought back to our previous conversation about the pressures of the bucket passing and though everyone going up front but me would be way more pressure then sitting in my seat and just passing the bucket past me.  So I specifically asked my son if he felt pressured by the offering and he answered, “Not really.”  So there was a level of pressure applied, but it was done in a way that didn’t force you to experience much guilt if you didn’t give, didn’t want to give or couldn’t give.

I asked him if people brought Bibles.  He stated that a few people did but most people didn’t; “But, they projected the verses on screens for everyone and they used way shorter verses than in the main service.”

All and all he seemed very happy with this service which did at least somewhat satisfy much of what he thought a service should be like to be relevant to him.

So then I started to wonder about the things I have been pondering over the past couple of years like:

  • Do people even remember what is taught when in a traditional service (my personal asking of people and discussions in the days following a service has demonstrated that they usually remember little tidbits but not the large majority of what is said)
  • How deep of a personal experience with God each individual gets at a traditional service as opposed to smaller settings where you are kinda forced to connect with God and each other.
  • Do people think about how they should change because of what they have learned and make plans/goals to make those changes (another area where my own discussions with various people indicates there is some level of this normally, but it is very limited)

So I asked the questions:

Do you remember what the message was?  “He said yes and was able to regurgitate with some detail and even summarize the point of the message which was that “…even when there seems to be no hope God is there.”

Then I asked him:  “Do you feel like you felt or experienced God in the service?” 

He stopped with a puzzled look and then responded with a slightly less excited “No.”  He did explain that a few people seemed to experience God, he just didn’t.  I was intrigued with the tone of his response.  He seemed slightly troubled by the idea that this might be the wrong answer, but the tone also suggested that since it was such a good service experiencing God personally might not be as important.

I suppose he did encounter God in the fact that he worshipped him and learned from his word, but there are two things that are worth more consideration and possibly concern.

  1. If he does not know if he encountered God or not how can a gathering where we seek God be considered a success.  I do not say this as any attack on my son or his spirituality; I say this because it is a common mindset that I am constantly puzzled by.  The question in my mind is:  “If we are gathering in God’s name and we do not encounter him at that gathering, what exactly are we doing?”
  2. The similar idea that we do all of that stuff (sing, listen to the scripture etc.) and there is not further need to connect with God in that context.  If that is the case the amount of “God” in that context is limited at best.  The context is one of getting stuff about God without really getting God.  I guess this mindset (which is one I encounter pretty regularly) is one that has dominated our information driven American culture where information is king.  (The problem is that the people who had the most information about how God does things and about Jesus when Jesus actually came were the same people always fighting with Him and who ended up killing Him – Information about God is not the same as knowing God)

Then I asked him if there was something that he was going to do differently because of what he heard and experienced in the service.  He thought for a minute and said:  “No.  not really.”

This is another norm that I am always troubled by:  The idea that learning about what God wants is key and that doing anything about what is revealed to you is optional or something you just put off until it comes up as some major problem.

I see how in this context those conversations might just seem like a bunch of pressure or hyper-religious stuff, but these things are key.  This is where I have to agree with my son that having some kind of smaller group setting either in conjunction with this kind of service or in place of such a service is the best context for some of the more personal connections with God and with other believers.

In this context a small group discussion over a bagel and an iced tea or soda might be the best place to personally connect with God and to personalize what has just transpired. 

Thos groups would have to be with the people you are already comfortable with or at least the kind of people you can be comfortable with at that level.  After all that seems to be how the larger services are broken up at the church (the age groups and the reason my son connected better with this group that the younger group). 

For the purpose of this discussion we will describe these groups as affinity groups.  The tighter the affinity group (and possibly the smaller up to a point) the more opportunity to get deeper into what the verse means to you, what you will do about it and to get deeper into relating to God.

All-in-all, I think my son’s observations have proven to be correct observations.  The real test is the test of time.  After weeks and weeks of this how does he feel? As he goes through hormonal, mindset and perception of coolness changes does he still find all of this as relevant?

The real questions at hand are: How does any of this apply to his age group as a whole and how does any of this apply to the church as a whole.

These do agree with some of the research that I discussed in my previous post (What is Happening To The Church), but there are some aspects that could not be covered in the large group setting that my son is in now.  There would have to be a smaller context, possibly voluntary (that may exist and I simply don’t know about yet) where these tougher discussions and deeper connections would happen.

I hope these observations and discussions between my son and I are helpful to you and lead to further discussion in your context.  I can say that they have deepened my curiosity about what God is doing next in the church and what I have been doing (or not doing) to facilitate that.

I have been pondering how I receive God and what he reveals in much the same way that my son does.  How much of what he likes and dislikes is the same as what I like and dislike even though for vastly different reasons.  I have spent a lot of time recently wondering if I would grow better in the environments he has described and if I would greatly deepen my personal relationship with God in such a context.  I also wonder how much of what he is observing and thinking applies to much of our culture and possibly the whole world.  How much learning to receive the kingdom in the way that my son does needs to be sought after by me and by others.

I think in all of this I have seen some awesome potential solutions to the challenges the church as a whole is suffering from and have seen some gaping holes that could be paralyzing the church as a whole (or at least the American church).

A key focus that I was given as a new Christian by one of my mentors when I had noticed some contradictions in what I thought should have been going on and what was actually taking place. 

She stated that:  “God doesn’t show you things that are wrong just so you can complain or gossip about it.  God shows you something that is wrong because He intends for you to be a part of the solution.”

That needs to be what I and possibly everyone reading this needs to take away from these conversations.  The question “What part am I supposed to play in solving the problems God reveals to me?”

One more thought to ponder is the focus given to me via fortune cookie the other day:

ENGAGE IN GROUP ACTIVITIES THAT FURTHER TRANSFORMATION!

 

Be blessed in group activities that further your transformation,

 

W. Lawrence Hess

What is Happening To The Church

Abandoned Church

What is Happening To The Church

Matthew 22:36-40  GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  36 “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in Moses’ Teachings?”  37 Jesus answered him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and most important commandment. 39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 40 All of Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

A recent poll named “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” is stating that atheism is on the rise and religiosity is on the decline.  There has been similar research in the past few years and there seems to be more and more evidence to support all of this.

First off, before going any further in the discussion I think it important to note a flaw that I saw in survey.  The question that led to the statistic that showed that religiosity is on the decline might have produced incorrect results due to the wording and a shift that is occurring in some circles surrounding the word “religious”. 

In many of the Christian circles I run in, the word “religious” has come to represent a prideful, Bible thumping, legalist that is seen as the example of what not to be as a Christian.  If asked twelve years ago if I was religious I would have quickly said yes.  However, if asked now, if I am religious, I am most likely to quickly say no, I am spiritual.  In other words, I am a no on that question and I am a churchgoing man of faith who is devoting my life to working with others and according to this study, I would be one of the proofs that people are leaving the faith in droves. 

In other words, I believe the study is flawed, but not totally untrue due to other research I have seen.

Now, on to the topic at hand, people leaving the church in droves.  I remember repeatedly hearing one saying when I was a youth pastor and was encountering messages and trainings for youth ministry:  HE WHO CONTROLS THE YOUTH CONTROLS THE FUTURE!  I am not so sure the word control is the best word to use, but I get the point.  So, if the church of to day is to look at the future, it has to look at what is going on in the youth.

Well, according to the Barna Group three out of every five kids (59%) that are in church now will leave the church later  (see Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church).  They did eight national studies and came up with six themes that seem to be the most prevalent reasons:

Theme 1 = Churches seem overprotective

  • “Their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse”
  • “Christians demonize everything outside of the church”
  • “Church ignoring the problems of the real world”

Theme 2 = Teens’ and twenty-somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow

  • “church is boring”
  • “faith is not relevant to my career or interests”
  • “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough”
  • “God seems missing from my experience of church”

Theme 3 = Churches come across as antagonistic to science

  • “Christians are too confident they know all the answers”
  • “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in”
  • “Christianity is anti-science”
  • “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.”

Theme 4 = Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental

  • ‘they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.”’
  • “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

Theme 5 = They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

  • “church is like a country club, only for insiders”
  • “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.”
  • “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths”

Theme 6 = The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

  • ‘not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church”’
  • ‘their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience’

I think the most pressing issue is the idea that they are experiencing Christianity as shallow and specifically the idea that they are not experiencing God in the church service.  I have to wonder:  If they are not experiencing God in the service, what are they getting in the service?  Clearly, nothing worth staying for!

It is easy to get all hyper-religious and say it is them and they must be way too self-centered and in great sin etc.  I do not have that luxury, because I have stated similar ideas in previous posts. 

Jesus Based Free-for-All vs. Super Leader/Heresy Hunter

What is Wrong With the American Church? Better Exegesis?

I am not saying it is impossible for a person to experience personal interaction with God in the average church service, but it is clear that whatever we are doing currently in most of our churches is not LIKELY to lead the youth that are in these churches now to that experience.  Without the experience of God, there is no experience.  It is just a room full of religious mumbo jumbo (consider everything else observed in the study).

Add to the ideas of:  Not being able to ask the pressing questions, that in the middle of all this church mumbo jumbo the church experience is incapable of solving real problems (like depression), the feeling that once you have sinned the church will never forgive you (in spite of what Jesus says he does) etc. the standard experience of the generation to come is not one that represents a deep personal love for God or a love for one another.

If we are not bringing the youth to a personal exchange of love with the Father and our example is not one where it is clear that we love one another (the fact they do not feel free to ask the deep questions, and feel openness means being frowned upon by the church  proves this) means we having trouble representing Christ adequately to the next generation.

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.”

If large groups in various places and in various churches/denominations are experiencing a lack of love, then it is probable that something we are doing may have communicates love to previous generations, but not to the ones to come.

We can blame them and ignore it until they become the dominant generation and it is too late or we can assume God is moving into a new season for our church models and move with Him.

Perhaps, if a new generation is coming through that thinks and experiences things in a vastly different way, the church should do some changing to match some of these changes (within the confines of what is biblical). 

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.

Some of these things are relatively easy to change some would require massive shifts.  I do think a HUGE starting point is to be more open and candid and take a massive step away from the angry and inflammatory rhetoric that has become the public face of American Christianity.  We have to stop the overly vigorous debate about whose theology is better because it will not matter if you win the debate and get to preach the supposed best theology to and empty room.

What we need to do is open our minds to what is best representing God to this new wave of thought that He has allowed to rise up.  It is not that what we have built in concept has not been an awesome solution to the problems that were confronted during the years these models became en-vogue.  Those problems are no longer the focus because the model was successful so new problems arose that have to be met with different solutions.

From a more personal perspective (supported by some empirical evidence) I do think that some kind of small group experience, which can be tied to a larger worship service or could also not be, would seem a better venue to deal with many of these issues.

The more personal experience and the more close knit culture of small groups can be more conducive to a more open and caring experience.  There is more room to discuss the harder questions and although the answers may not be perfect the idea that God is interested and personal interaction with God and other believers is a better foundation than attaining of mere information. 

After all, the people who had attained the most Bible information in Jesus’ day had all the information to know Him better than anyone else and yet they fought and resisted Him at every turn, persecuted Him, ridiculed His work, and eventually had Him killed.  It is no good to know the Book of God if you still end up not knowing the God of the book.

There was a study and the resulting article from the Barna group from 2007 that suggests my focus on the small group models might be at least a good step towards looking in the right direction.  House Churches Are More Satisfying to Attenders Than Are Conventional Churches suggests that a far greater amount of attendees at house church models were satisfied with the leadership, the faith commitment of the people involved in their gathering, the level of community and personal connectedness they experience, the spiritual depth they experience in their house church setting.  This was a study of all age groups, but look at how many of the same areas surveyed are tied to or at least related to the reasons teens stated they were drawing away from the traditional church.

If you look at what the results show is taking place at these groups, you can also see how the individuals participants in the group have more potential for personal experience with God and each other that in the traditional setting of any size.

  • 93% have spoken prayer during their meetings
  • 90% read from the Bible
  • 89% spend time serving people outside of their group
  • 87% devote time to sharing personal needs or experiences
  • 85% spend time eating and talking before or after the meeting
  • 83% discuss the teaching provided
  • 76% have a formal teaching time
  • 70% incorporate music or singing
  • 58% have a prophecy or special word delivered
  • 52% take an offering from participants that is given to ministries
  • 51% share communion
  • 41% watch a video presentation as part of the learning experience

I am always astonished at the resistance that ideas like this get from traditional church is the only way people who have made an assumption that a building with a seminary trained pastor and a big cross on the front is the only way God will reach people properly and effectively in our culture. 

Well, first off, statistically that is simply not true.  Think through all we have discussed here.

Second off, there is no example of a church of that kind in the new testament.  There is the idea of a pastor and teaching etc. but the only clear models were in homes and the Jewish believers in Israel still went to the temple as a cultural norm.  The non-Jewish converts met in homes.

I am not saying to put the wrecking ball to your building and abandon traditional ministry.  I am just saying that to say the house church or small group people are somehow unbiblical or somehow less Biblical is an outright lie.  They are from a literal perspective doing a better job of following the example of scripture than those of us (I myself still attend a traditional church with my family) that still attend a traditional service.

Philemon 1:1-7 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  1 From Paul, who is a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and our brother Timothy.  To our dear coworker Philemon, 2 our sister Apphia, our fellow soldier Archippus, and the church that meets in your house.  3 Good will[a] and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are yours!  4 Philemon, I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers because 5 I hear about your faithfulness to the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. 6 As you share the faith you have in common with others, I pray that you may come to have a complete knowledge of every blessing we have in Christ. 7 Your love for God’s people gives me a lot of joy and encouragement. You, brother, have comforted God’s people.

Consider the statistics above and the observations of Paul about Philemon and the “church” that met in his home.  It was successful and Paul himself, inspired by God (as anything that appears in the Bible is inspired by God) calls the meeting in Philemon’s home a “church”.

We are so busy looking at keeping things the way we think is best (the way we as individuals are comfortable with) that we fail to seek what will work best for the next wave God is bringing into dominance throughout the planet.  It is a failure to love God as it is a failure to love what He is loving how he is loving it.

So do I believe droves of people are leaving the church?  Absolutely!  Do I think we can stop the bleeding?  Absolutely!  Before the problem started I believe God had already laid the foundations of the solution.  I just suspect that some of us Jonah’s are resistant to the kind of work God is calling us to next. 

 

Spit up on the beach and ready to minister as God wishes,

W. Lawrence Hess

What is Wrong With the American Church? Better Exegesis?

Worshipers at Phoenix First Assembly of God, a...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is Wrong With the American Church?  Better Exegesis?

Acts 2:44-45 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.

I was listening to a prominent radio preacher this week and he was talking about the problems of the current state of the American church.  It was interesting what his idea of the main problem of the church is.  He felt that the main problem of the church was that there was not enough exegetical teaching.  In thought I found myself disagreeing with this statement.

At first I was in agreement, but then when I thought about it I was struck by the thought that breaking down the Bible line by line and word for word may not be the best learning method for every person.  

When playing out what he was saying to it’s logical end, the man was really saying was that there are not enough buildings with Bible college or university educated leadership (highly educated leadership) that can sit down weekly (or bi-weekly) to study and draw out a deep and relevant message and deliver the message with skill and in a way that will keep the crowd interested.

Thinking this through, the first problem is that having a highly trained professional that can exegete passages word by word is not likely to motivate large numbers of listeners to study in the same way or to study at all.  In many cases like this the reliance is on such a person to do the studying and more importantly the connecting with God for you and less individual study and individual connection with God.  The reliance is often on that person and if that person leaves, dies, falls in some kind of sin etc. the congregation are often lost and limited in the ability to do this on their own.

As far as the model of having a building and a trained expert to teach the group weekly from a pulpit, that model is not really the example of the churches planted in the New Testament.  The churches of the New Testament had varying levels of teaching from trained leaders (many of them had it for a period to start and the church planter –like Paul- would then leave) but the focuses seem to be on deep interpersonal fellowship, taking care of one another, prayer, and worship and the scripture was in their discussion or in the context of the Jewish converts in Israel they did all of this, as well as listening to the various teachings and teaching styles of the Apostles and went to the temple also.

The New Testament model including teaching:

Acts 2:42-47 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  42 The disciples were devoted to the teachings of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. 43 A feeling of fear came over everyone as many amazing things and miraculous signs happened through the apostles. 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.

Most of the models described throughout the New Testament have little access to such teaching (and to Bibles – particularly since the New Testament had not been written yet as evidenced by the fact they are in the stories) so they focused on getting together to seek God and to show live to one another in various ways.  Loving God through things like worship and prayer and loving each other through caring about one another and for on another seemed to be the main focus.

Matthew 22:34-40 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 One of them, an expert in Moses’ Teachings, tested Jesus by asking, 36 “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in Moses’ Teachings?”

37 Jesus answered him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and most important commandment. 39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 40 All of Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

If these are the greatest commandments, then whatever model of church that most demonstrates and creates these is the best model.  Along those same lines, if you are looking for the problems in a church or the churches of a nation then the biggest problem would have to be anything that hinders or limits these things in any way.

I have my feelings on people taking it upon themselves to say that only one way of teaching is the way it must be done when that is not the example we get from Jesus who used many teaching styles to reach various audiences, but that is not the biggest challenge here.

The first problem to look at is the model itself before the discussion of teaching styles.  Has the model of having a building with a cross on it, a pulpit and a highly trained expert teaching (whatever the teaching style) produces an environment completely focused on the exchange of love with God and the exchange of love with others to the point of all believers selling their valuables etc. to make sure nobody has a need.

It would seem that in our churches in the United States the biggest problem might not be teaching method, it may be more of a problem of church method.  The house to house gathering together to eat, fellowship and focusing on exchanging love with God is absolutely absent in many of our churches.  

In many of our major cities, people rarely sit down together at home to eat dinner with their spouses and children much less other believers.  The focus seems to be every man, woman and child for themselves.  There are often programs in these churches which are designed to focus on loving others usually involving something like giving money to foreign missionaries, going to parks where the homeless congregate and giving out sandwiches, going to downtown areas to give out Bible tracts to start the conversation to talk people into the kingdom, etc., but these (while good things) seem to be a sort of beginners level to the kind of loving one another described in the Biblical examples of church.

Before focusing on teaching style the question needs to be if you alter the teaching style in this same context (same church model) will that alone suddenly make it more likely that each participant will develop a deep personal love for God (including studying the Bible and hearing from God in that study as individuals) and a deep interpersonal relationship throughout all of the members of congregation.  These are the greatest commandments according to Jesus and everything else hinges on these.  

My personal observations have been that church models that focus on studies that are “expertless” and small group based (often also based on multiple families meeting together).  These groups tend to, by nature be built on each individuals seeking of God, study of the Bible and better build deep interpersonal relationship with the other believers involved.  I have seen these groups as stand alone churches and I have seen these as key parts of a larger church that has a more traditional Sunday service also.

With the traditional Sunday service and small group together models there is that more traditional teaching involved but the building of obedience to the two greatest commandments is more naturally built in the small group settings and the worship service has a teaching and more corporate worship component.

I have traditionally been pretty comfortable going to a building and listening to deep, engaging teaching with little likelihood of carrying that out through the week.  The thing is, I have to ask myself, if having a model that has a much greater likelihood of building me and those around me into believers that study for ourselves and from that study hear from and are led by God while also building much deeper, interpersonal relationships with the body of believers as well as my family is really a model that I would better benefit from.  It might also be a model that I enjoy more personal interaction with God and others as well as building a group of people that really care about and for me as well as caring for and about the other believers.  In other words I think I would be more likely to grow in the are of deeply loving God and deeply loving others in such a model.

The real challenge with the statements I heard on the radio about what is wrong with the American Church can only be seen as wrong when you realize that question has to be the second question asked.  You can only ask what is wrong after you clearly define what a right church is.  Using something as simple as the likelihood that each member will rapidly grow in obedience to what Jesus stated as the two greatest commandments, suddenly a whole bunch of ideas that once seemed logical become just more of the same “holding pattern” style of church that is losing membership in droves over the past few years.

The problem really seems to be that we are asking the wrong questions so we are getting the wrong answers.

 

Thoughts by faith and in His service,

W. Lawrence Hess

Wrestling With The Real New Testament Church

The wrestle of Jacob, in an original high-reso...

The wrestle of Jacob, in an original high-resolution format. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wrestling With The Real New Testament Church

I was just looking at a website named the Church Task Force and I stumbled across some very interesting observations on the church planting ministry of Paul (see http://churchtaskforce.org/resources/pauls-methods). 

I will go over some key notes from the page for thought but I recommend going to the site to get a deeper look at this information (http://churchtaskforce.org/resources/pauls-methods).  Here is a summary of what caught my attention:

The Galatian Churches

  • Three churches planted in an average of four months each
  • Left largely on their own after that for months—without any leadership in place
  • Local leadership teams emerged from within the startup churches
  • Pastors were appointed within six months of their salvation, on average

The Macedonian Churches

  • Three churches planted in an average of two to four months each
  • The newly planted churches are left on their own for a time without formal leadership
  • They function on their own in a relatively short period of time (months rather than years)
  • Whole households were being converted, not just individuals

The Churches of Achaia

  • Paul is planting multiple churches regionally, this time from a base camp in Corinth
  • In a relatively short period of time, these churches are able to stand on their own
  • The church planters leave the region after the church is planted
  • Whole households were being converted, not just individuals
  • Paul enlists additional workers from among the new churches

The Churches of Asia

  • Paul is planting multiple churches regionally, this time from a base camp in Ephesus
  • In three years, Paul not only plants the church in Ephesus, but the many churches of Asia are birthed
  • Paul was enlisting, training, and sending out additional workers
  • Paul established multiple pastors in Ephesus

In looking at this information I started pondering the concept that seems to be such a huge topic in the North American church culture as of late:  “How do we prevent heresy?”.  I have sat in classes and seminars on the subject of preventing heresy.  I have sat in many sermons that focus on that topic.  I have listened to long radio shows and debates on the topic.  I have listened to the rantings and musings of people who believe it to be the entirety of their ministry to hunt heresy (a ministry that can sometimes make me think that they must sound exactly the same as the people who felt that their ministry was to hunt and burn witches did).  

I have listened people describe how we are to micromanage the growth of the new believer and keep them on the straight and narrow path to theological depth.  Things like; memorizing immense amounts of Bible passages, telling them to force themselves to read the Bible some very substantial amount of time each day no matter what, telling them to throw out all their music and do nothing that is not “church approved” ever again, telling them who to associate with paying close attention not to associate with somebody our church has deemed a heretic, telling them how almost every pastor or preacher they have ever heard of is somehow a heretic (making it look like Christianity is about nitpicking every word a believer speaks and anything deemed wrong will get you excommunicated), and so on. 

The message is one that sounds far more like the message of the Pharisees than the message of Jesus or any of the Apostles.  It also sounds completely different than anything that called itself church in the New Testament.

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.”

I suppose that making and enforcing rules can be a part of loving someone but if that is the majority of the way you relate to someone, then I would have to say that calling it loving them is a reach at best.  I sometimes find it similar to the logic of dysfunctional parents who think that by verbally, emotionally or physically abusing their children they are somehow showing them love.

I do have a couple of huge concerns with the rule making, heresy hunting model of church.  The first of which relates to the concepts seen here:

John 10:27-28 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  27 My sheep respond to my voice, and I know who they are. They follow me, 28 and I give them eternal life. They will never be lost, and no one will tear them away from me.

Romans 8:14-17 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  14 Certainly, all who are guided by God’s Spirit are God’s children. 15 You haven’t received the spirit of slaves that leads you into fear again. Instead, you have received the spirit of God’s adopted children by which we call out, “Abba![a] Father!” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 If we are his children, we are also God’s heirs. If we share in Christ’s suffering in order to share his glory, we are heirs together with him.

These models are focused so much on the interpretations of a few educated men that the sheep rarely have time to respond to the voice of Christ directly (they are probably too busy trying to figure out and follow all of the church rules).  Rather than being guided by God’s Spirit, they are more likely to follow someone who they have come to believe is following God’s Spirit and hope for the best.  In the case of church communities that have learned to focus on heresy hunting etc. they are almost entirely driven by the fear of heresy that there seems to be more time looking for errors to point out and piously correct than they are spending time exhorting or loving one another.  It is as if there is no Holy Spirit or voice of God in some experiences I have personally encountered.  

I know that not all churches are like that in the United States and that and I do understand that there are times and places for all of these things.  Sometimes you have to confront people and there is a precedent for such things:

Matthew 18:15-19 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  15 “If a believer does something wrong,[a] go, confront him when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have won back that believer. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation may be verified by two or three witnesses. 17 If he ignores these witnesses, tell it to the community of believers. If he also ignores the community, deal with him as you would a heathen or a tax collector. 18 I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you imprison, God will imprison. And whatever you set free, God will set free.  19 “I can guarantee again that if two of you agree on anything here on earth, my Father in heaven will accept it.

But, I am not convinced that anywhere in this passage there was a mandate for a Christian police force whose duty it is to find errors of any kind in any believers they encounter and nitpick them into submission.  As a matter of fact it seems like the only time something like this is in extreme cases where something egregious is taking place and is sustained without conviction. 

In context the verses before this describe a shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to go get the one lost one, but nothing about telling the other sheep not to talk to that sheep or about the other sheep refusing to have anything to do with that sheep.  Because that is not what sheep do with each other.  They simply do not have enough understanding (they are not smart enough) to handle it.

I also get the responsibility of a pastor/church leader to keep heresy out, but I have to wonder if the flaw is in the model.  I believe in pastors and teachers etc. but I think the current model in which the pastoral staff is the arm of God and the voice of God (exclusively for many church members) is flawed at best.

As I discussed in the previous post “Jesus Based Free-for-All vs. Super Leader/Heresy Hunter” I think this idea is not necessarily unbiblical, but I do feel that there is clear evidence that this has never been the best type of leadership model for God’s endeavors.

In the case of Moses and the Hebrew people that came out of Egypt, God wanted to speak to them directly.  The problem was that when God began to speak they were afraid of Him and decided to run away.  Then they pushed for this style of leadership in spite of the fact that God had wanted each person to individually draw near to Him and hear His voice.

Exodus 20:18-19 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  18 All the people heard the thunder and saw the lightning. They heard the blast of the ram’s horn and saw the mountain covered with smoke. So they shook with fear and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die!”

Not to restate my thoughts on the “Jesus Based Free-for-All vs. Super Leader/Heresy Hunter” post, but at the time when they were supposed to be close to God and hearing His divine voice and while their leader was actually up listening to God and talking to God to protect them, they soon became busy in worshiping the calf god they had erected.

Another example of God wanting to deal with the population directly and the people rejecting it for a single leader to go between is:

1 Samuel 8:4-9 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  4 Then all the leaders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They told him, “You’re old, and your sons aren’t following your example. Now appoint a king to judge us so that we will be like all the other nations.”  6 But Samuel considered it wrong for them to request a king to judge them. So Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 The Lord told Samuel, “Listen to everything the people are saying to you. They haven’t rejected you; they’ve rejected me. 8 They’re doing just what they’ve done since I took them out of Egypt—leaving me and serving other gods. 9 Listen to them now, but be sure to warn them and tell them about the rights of a king.”

The people decide that the church leadership, which really had limited access to all the people, are not doing a good enough job (which is actually true if you look at passages that precede this one).  They decide they want a king to judge and rule as go between for God’s will and the people.  In this passage wanting such a leader was described by God as idolatry and rejecting God, yet He instructed Samuel to “Listen to everything the people are saying to you.” 

Again it is as if the people wanted it so badly that God decided to help mankind (particularly the Hebrew peoples) fully understand that this model does not work through painful experience.  He let that model stay in place for quite a while after that also.

The spiritual leadership had a choice between leading the people to seek and listen to God themselves and the people kept trying to force the leaders to go before God instead and just fill them in.

This is funny to me because it reminds me of responses many of us give when first pondering ideas like this:

  • “Someone has to lead the people and make sure they don’t go nuts.”
  • “If the pastor or leadership doesn’t correct them heresy will slip in. “
  • “If the pastor or leadership doesn’t correct them, who will?”

Here is the interesting part; how well did that work for Moses.  In the first trial run the group completely abandoned God, completely rebelled against the very first thing they did manage to hear from God before they ran off, came close to being wiped out by God and wound up attacking each other.

There is a real mega-problem with the idea that things are so humanly driven by the heresy hunting, church police:

Romans 7:18-23 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  18 I know that nothing good lives in me; that is, nothing good lives in my corrupt nature. Although I have the desire to do what is right, I don’t do it. 19 I don’t do the good I want to do. Instead, I do the evil that I don’t want to do. 20 Now, when I do what I don’t want to do, I am no longer the one who is doing it. Sin that lives in me is doing it.  21 So I’ve discovered this truth: Evil is present with me even when I want to do what God’s standards say is good. 22 I take pleasure in God’s standards in my inner being. 23 However, I see a different standard at work throughout my body. It is at war with the standards my mind sets and tries to take me captive to sin’s standards which still exist throughout my body.

The human driven model assumes the person doing the policing is being somehow perfectly led by God to do all of this correcting (be they a pastor, church leader, radio/television personality etc.).  The person describing himself here is The Apostle Paul.  He is saying himself that it is a huge task keep on the straight and narrow path.

Moses never made it into The Promised Land because of public disobedience stemming from frustration he had form the job of being the person who went to God for the whole group. 

My point is that even divinely inspired leaders are people with a sin nature.  They are only successful if the leadership constantly focuses people on God and points them to dependence upon God DIRECTLY.  Any “go-between” is flawed by nature and is in fact taking God’s place.

The idea of being the only way God communicates to another individual who has direct access to God through Christ’s death burial and resurrection is one that seems to stunt that person’s growth more than it could ever help.  I am not saying that there will not be times where God speaks to an individual through a person so blessed as to hear from God to do so.  What I am saying is that it’s hard to develop a personal relationship with God when you keep sending someone else to do all of the relational things.

ON the other hand; I do have many of those concerns of heresy and other craziness if people are left totally to their own devices.  I suppose for most of this article so far, I have been preaching from a soapbox a bit.  The truth is I am not completely sold on the idea of people completely doing whatever they feel the Holy Spirit has led hem to do with no intervention from people who are more advanced in understanding and may just simply have more common sense.  History has shown that if unchecked, all kinds of crazy can arise in any group of people and lead groups to do just about anything (some doing crazy things while quoting scriptures).

So all of those that read this that were taking notes to write their blog or radio show to blast each detail (possibly heresy hunters), I do not totally disagree with your position except for one glairing issue:  There is no New Testament example for having the kind of legalistic oversight that so many of us would like to see in order to avert potential crazy.

The prime example is Paul.  He went places, taught people as much as he could in a short time, appointed leaders, and pretty much moved on.  The time spent in an area varied from a couple of months to spending three years in a base camp traveling from there or sending out other trained leaders to do the same kind of ministry he had been doing.

The evidence in his ministry is that he empowered young leaders with little training to lead the church.  He left young churches, with little guidance to depend upon the Holy Spirit to guide them. 

Did heretical practices arise?  Absolutely!  Several of the letters he sent in the hope of directing them towards truth are still available as a large part of what we now call the New Testament.  Which brings me to my next point, when they started, they did not even have access to the level of information we have now:  If the letters were sent to and addressed to them later how could they have had them earlier?

So Paul discipled new believers and empowered them to depend upon God completely.  He taught them verbally (and I assume quite well).  They continued to meet and seek God and amazing things would happen.  He would give a little more training to those he was sending out as leaders and leave them in God’s hands also.

The difference between the model we see most often in North America (the one I have been most comfortable with myself) and the model we see as an example in the New Testament could be best summed up as trusting God to lead the church considerably more.  Paul relied on the Holy Spirit to do much of the day to day correction of the whole church at any given place and only seemed to intervene if there was a prolonged and way out there problem/practice that could no longer be ignored.

I am forced to ask myself (and in reality to ask God/the Scriptures) if so much day to day correction of so much detail and doctrine is necessary or if it is a better practice to allow individuals, groups and whole churches to drift a bit under the assumption that the Holy Spirit is in control.  Is it possible that what I perceive to be a group of heretics may be deeply spiritual believers that are growing and hearing from God, but are in the process of learning this or that particular lesson slowly.  In that case would declaring them heretics possibly make the group more likely to be stubborn and dig in slowing the process of their learning.  All of my self-righteous Bible thumping would be reminiscent of satan trying to tempt Jesus by quoting scripture (see Matthew 4:1-11). 

I know I have used the term “heresy hunter” as a negative term and it is intended to be.  The truth is I have been trained to be a politer “heresy hunter” and that is who I have been.  If these posts seem to be on the attack, it is most probably an attack on my own mindsets. 

The truth is I am not saying that the church should abandon all structure and do whatever people think the Holy Spirit is telling them.  It is something somewhat on an opposite note that I am saying:  Us heresy hunters have to stop telling people that the way we structure the church with all these checks and balances and careful heresy hunters posted at every turn, is the way it is supposed to be.  That way is not really spoken directly for or against in the New Testament.  The people who are doing church with less structure and less checks and balances however, are using the actual examples found in the New Testament and have at least a reasonable argument for that model of church (which in some ways is stronger than the argument for our super-structured model).  Especially when the best argument against the less controlled model (as seen in the New Testament) is that there will not be enough people in the right positions to keep it under control. 

IF PEOPLE ARE KEEPING A CHURCH FROM GOING OUT OF CONTROL IT IS DOOMED ANYHOW!  GOD MUST BE THE ONE KEEPING HIS CHURCH FROM GOING OUT OF CONTROL!   People do play a part, but that part must be leading people to the conviction and guidance of God not the guilt of my quoting scripture at them and relying completely on me to tell them what God is trying to tell them.

I named this “Wrestling With The Real New Testament Church” because there seems to be two related Christian currents I repeatedly encounter everywhere I go.

  1. More and more people seem to be unhappy with the North American Church Model (and I keep hearing reports and statistics that describe the same about the “Western Model of Church”) and looking for a more personal relationship with God, less rule oriented model.
  2. There seems to always be some person (often who thinks a lot like the way I think) saying that all of that is somehow evil and watering down how the church is supposed to operate.

On number two the evidence seems to point to one fact:  The Western model may actually water down God a bit by putting the focus too much on the intellect of a few really educated people when God really has always wanted personal relationship with each member of His holy family.  The New Testament, the reasons for and content of some of the Pauline epistles, and history shows that the more open model is at least Biblical, but I also have to wonder how heresy is kept out (sounds a bit like I need more faith actually reading it).

The fact is that although you may wrestle with how to respond to the various movements arising that embrace a more Holy Spirit led model of church with less structure, checks and balances neither you or I can accuse them of being wrong or out of God’s will.  How could relying on God more be unbiblical?  It may be a bit more tricky to figure out and thus a bit more messy, but to demand more people lead is how Israel ended up with kings that ended up dividing and losing the nation, the temple, the ark, the people, and so on.

I clearly have embraced this movement and consider myself to be a part of it, yet I still attend a “traditional” church (those are finger-quotes in case you didn’t know) also.

 

Be Blessed

 

W. Lawrence Hess