It has been over two years now since I left full time ministry and the church. For several months I did not go at all or very little. Not because I didn’t want to go but because I didn’t know where to go or had no place to go. (That in and of itself is ironic.)
When you step away from something it gives you another perspective or view. You see things very differently. Let me share some thoughts with you about church and some things I think might matter more than we know.
After thirty years of ministry, coming back to church is very difficult in some ways. I have been and continue to be a student of church and how to do church. I’ve lived it, dreamed about it, read continually about it, pondered it, written about it, preached and taught about it, prayed about it, and generally given my life to it. Most of the above has not changed except that I no longer am responsible for leading a group of people to “be the church.” If I could have a do over I would have done some things very differently at the last church I led but this is not about them or the church I attend now. I wrote about the church in February and you can read that here: https://whumble.wordpress.com/2016/02/27/church-a-look-ahead (my scattered thoughts at the time)
My thoughts are coming together. Here’s what I am thinking and wishing for . . .
Church is still God’s idea to be the representation of His body on this earth
Christ is the head of the church so there is nothing wrong with the head. We are to be His body or the representation of His body on the earth. How differently would we do church or be as the church if we took this seriously every day? Did He ever once say we should gather together and put on a good show to attract others into the Kingdom? Did He ever say we should put most of our time, resources and effort into what we want on a Sunday morning for ourselves and out kids? Did He ever say, “Give me an hour or two on Sunday morning and we will call it good?” Did He ever say, “Build it and they will come?” I believe with all my heart we need to look at what we are doing and our effectiveness and/or ineffectiveness at making disciples and let that drive who we are and what we do as the church. My hunch is that our gatherings would look really different than they currently do. I believe that if we could free ourselves from the numbers game and not worry about our status in the secularized church world we would spend more time on less people until they are truly connected to God in a way that would allow them to go and make disciples of the nations as well. We would evaluate, evaluate and evaluate some more and run everything we do through the lens of Jesus teaching. He is out model. He spent three years on 12 guys 24/7 and while others joined in along the way at the end of the three years the 12 we just barely ready to “be the church.” They were joined with 108 more to make up the 120 that waited for the Holy Spirit and the church was born. They taught what Jesus taught. They shared it house to house and eventually community to community. It was their intense love for God and for each other that made others want to know Jesus. It was their courage in the face of persecution and death that was attractive to those looking on. It was never a building or complex. It was never the organizational structure, leadership giftedness or the eloquence of the pastor that attracted people to put their faith in Christ.
The Church needs to look very different than what we’ve made it
From 306 to 337 A.D., the Roman Emperor Constantine “normalized” Christianity. Persecution was stopped. Christians were promoted to positions of power and authority, impressive buildings or worship centers were built and wealth was given to the church. The church has rarely looked back since then. Visit Rome and the Vatican and you will find Constantine’s grave and the legacy of wealth and power when given to Christians. The healthiest days the church and Christianity are when they are on the run or being persecuted. Christians are at their strongest when they are not in power or being “blessed” with wealth and prestige. Study history and you will find that the churches finest hours are when they are reduced to simply following Christ with all of their heart, mind, soul and strength and when they are loving their neighbors as themselves.
What if we could do it differently? What if we could give ourselves permission? What could it look like? Is there a way to free ourselves from the Sunday morning service (serve us) driven Christianity? Here are some suggestions:
Raise the standard of Christianity and quit lowering the bar to accommodate the culture. We are not supposed to fit in. If we mimic the culture what do we have to offer those stuck in the culture? One of the biggest travesties of the modern and post modern church is our insane attempts to fit into this worlds systems with our music, our productions and our personal lifestyles. Somehow we think that if we can look, act and mimic our ungodly culture that somehow that will be attractive and lower the bar sufficiently to allow the lost and unchurched to join us. Why would they want to?
What if we were known for gatherings that allowed children to grow up watching and listening to their parents worship, teach and speak about their faith. The continued proliferation of children’s ministry in our churches has done more to hurt then help. Yes, we free up the parents so that they won’t be distracted or disturbed during the performance based service but I have watched it for decades now. Our kids our placed in children’s services until they are out of sixth grade and then in desperation for volunteers we call them to serve Sunday after Sunday in the children’s programing and service they just graduated from. In theory it might be possible for a child to rarely be exposed to the faith gathering of their parents.
About that “faith gathering” of their parents. What if our services allowed for our children to grow up watching listening to their parents worship? They wouldn’t be large gatherings and our time together would be interrupted by the sound of children being children but why not? Why wouldn’t we want them with us? (Sometimes I realize there are parents that have no control over their kids and dropping them off for someone else to handle is a much more desired scenario but that shouldn’t stop us) In faith gatherings we could help each other and maybe someone was right when they suggested it takes a village to raise a child.
This past weekend at the church I attend I watched a mother of three young children who had her kids with her in the service struggle to listen and participate because she had to keep her kids contained and not disturb others around her. At one point the youngest managed to get to the back of the row of chairs and for about 15 minutes I sat on the floor behind the last row of chairs and engaged her. All of the sudden her mom was able to have a few minutes to focus on what was being said up front. I must tell you that it felt every bit as important as I have ever felt being the talking head up in front of a congregation. It made me wish that church could look more like this.
What would happen to our teens if they had been around adult men and women of faith that spoke into their lives leading up to and through their teen years? How much easier would it be to save our kids from the influences of this culture and world if they knew they had adults on their side? If they knew that they were part of something stronger than the pull of this culture? What if as parents we modeled godliness in our life setting strong examples by filling our own hearts with things that promoted godliness and righteousness instead of also being sucked into the culture around us?
Church should be a place where godly adult men and women speak directly into the lives of teens including rites of passage and affirmation of their faith. If the church you attended was inclusive of all ages as the children grew up they would have many voices speaking directly into their lives. If church looked more like a small group or fellowship I believe our chances of saving our kids would be greatly enhanced.
Imagine with me for a moment a ten year period or so in the life of a group of people who set their minds to be a different kind of church. They would meet weekly in an all inclusive gathering for all ages. Of course insiders call this inter-generational worship but for the sake of understanding it is way more than about worship. In weekly gatherings children would have adults of all ages to interact with. As they get older those same godly men and women would be a part of their lives. I can envision the give and take between a family with no grandparents in the area finding an older couple or individual to unofficially play that role. For the older person or couple it may be a great blessing in their lives as well. I can imagine the couple with the teenager that gets in trouble and instead of trying to go it alone there is a group of people dedicated to walk this road with them. In some cases, other adults might even be able to speak into the teens life better than the parents.
It would be a place where single people have as much value as married people. And they would benefit from the addition of “family” members as well.
Church should tackle the small picture before worrying about the big picture. The small picture is really the true big picture. The highest goal should be to make disciples or authentic totally surrendered people that will hold nothing back from God.
Church should be a place where broken people from the outside or those that break from within can find healing, mercy and grace. Can you imagine a place where the church would weep with those that weep and when someone falls instead of anger, hatred and shunning their would be a rush to surround the broken with love, tenderness and compassion. That may look different in every situation but in reality it would make all the difference in the world in people’s lives. You wouldn’t hide things. You wouldn’t be afraid to be honest. The masks that we wear to church in the current environment could come off and we would be safe knowing that these brothers and sisters might cry for our brokenness but they will never walk away.
Can you imagine a church that serves together. I’m not talking about feel good once a year events where all the cute little church families show up to “help the poor,” but real genuine ongoing involvement with the same people in need until you both benefit from knowing and experiencing each other.
Church should feel more like a support group then an entertaining Christian show. I can appreciate music and sometimes it even helps one worship but this year I have been in several different settings in person or online where people were given a chance to speak out their faith in spoken word. It is powerful to listen to the voices of people calling out a favorite or meaningful scripture or even the words to a favorite hymn or worship song. I’m just not convinced that sitting in rooms staring at the back of the person’s head in front of you is the best use of our time and the best venue for God to work in our hearts and lives.
Could this kind of church ever exist? Some do it in the form of house churches. There are small churches all over America that have not been intentional or thought these things through. They are frustrated by what’s happening or not happening in their gatherings but I want to tell them to embrace what they have. Love the people you go to church with and find God’s will as you together reach people that are broken. You don’t need to grow by fifty or one hundred people a year. Maybe that’s not God’s will or plan for you or your church.
What I have described and envisioned will not be appealing to all but I’m not trying to suggest it is for all or that it is even the only way to do things. It is a viable way and I for one would love to see it happen. To watch what God could do with a handful of surrendered souls has a great appeal to me.
The last couple years of personal brokenness have also been years of personal healing that continues as I write this. I believe in the church as God’s idea. I believe we may be in some dangerous ruts and no one seems willing to give permission to get out of them. Praying that God will allow me to be a part of something deep and meaningful in carrying out the mission He gave us to do. Making disciples, learning to love like Jesus and being the body of Christ on this earth is the goal.
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT