I am finding that intentionality serves greater purpose than most things in life. Intentionality breads truth, authenticity and purpose. These three things are at the forefront of my desire in life. If I can live a life in truth, authenticity, and purpose, I know that I will also be justified by Christ, I will know God, and I will have loved my brothers and sisters in Christ.
So then, I find it important to understand my origins. More specifically, our origins as Christians. The book of Acts is a great place to start. It is where we learn everything of the new Church, created by Jesus Christ after His resurrection. The Holy Spirit started everything then, so I still look to the Holy Spirit now.
Holy Spirit, please guide us in our understanding of who you are. Please realign our hearts, our minds, and most importantly, our spirits, with that of yours. Let the words of the Father by ours, His thoughts be ours, and let us love one another as you have loved us. Guide us in seeking out truth. Prepare our hearts for what only you can reveal to us, and remind us of the calling that you have placed on our lives. Instill in us a longing for your Kingdom and an unrelenting heart to seek out your goodness.
So then, to be intentional, I would like to look at our leadership in the Church. What is a pastor? A missionary? A teacher, prophet, or preacher? Does our understanding and practice of these roles line up with Scripture?
The mission of an organization
It is my hope to help disillusion the mystification that most people associate with churches today. I cannot help but see that we hold on strongly to our churches. Anything that we put before God himself is an idol. I fear that we have, or soon will, make idols out of church, if only in ignorance. I do not think that our leaders realize the path we are on. Every day that passes, we have more meetings, conferences, books and blogs that tell us how to do church. This frightens me.
I was at a conference this weekend and learned a lot about great leadership. Something that a leader at that conference said stuck out to me and hasn’t quite left. Andy Stanley said this about the mission statement of his organization:
“We create churches that unchurched people love to attend.”
The reaction of the audience was a powerful ‘ohh’, as if to say, ‘wow, that is great!’. I agreed that the mission of this organization is great. While I do not know much about Andy Stanley, from what I do know, I respect him greatly, and think that he will likely accomplish much more for the Kingdom than most believers. However, I think that there is something powerfully wrong in the idea of this mission statement.
I tried to write out this mission statement emphasizing every word that seemed wrong to me. I came up with this:
We create churches that unchurched people love to attend.
I ended up emphasizing almost every word. To me, nearly every word seems out of place. It just seems wrong.
We cannot create. We can respond to the Holy Spirit. We can be anointed and set forth by the Lord. We can plant a seed and a tree will grow, but we did not create the tree. In the same way we cannot create the Church. We can plant seeds in our actions, but only the Lord grows the tree; only He can create and add to the Church. We empty ourselves as vessels, used by the Father; and so, what he creates is birthed in us. We are entrusted with His creation, to disciple, but we do not create.
We do, however, build churches. I believe we do this most of the time out of sheer intrinsic desire to please the Lord. I believe we are off base though. Churches in Andy Stanley’s context refers to buildings. It is great to build buildings, but the end goal of this mission is in fact, to build buildings. This does not rest well with me. Buildings are simply a place to meet and pray and worship. They are not the end goal nor the premier medium through which we enable the meeting of the Church.
In Acts 13:14, we find the first mention of the apostes entering the synagogue on the Sabbath. In verse 27, as Paul is speaking, he mentions that “the words of the prophet..are read every Sabbath.” In Acts 14:1, we see Paul and Barnabas “went as usual into the Jewish synagogue” and “continued to preach”. A few things are interesting about these verses. First, let’s look at the context of why Paul was there to begin with.
Paul was on his second of four missions trips. Every time Paul went to a city, he stayed there until either (a) he completed his objective of edifying the Church or preaching to the lost or (b) he was forced to leave due to the immediacy of death. Most of the time, he left due to the latter.
Each time he went to a new city, he stayed there and preached as long as he could to reach as many unbelievers as possible. As I read through Paul’s second mission trip, I am made weary just by reading his journey. He is constantly on the move, preaching, stoned, traveling, preaching, stoned, traveling. This is truly the life of a missionary. Most of the seminary world recognizes Paul foremost as a missionary, not as a pastor. However, the book of Acts itself also serves as our model for how we do church. In our model, we find the apostles entering the synagogues on the Sabbath ‘as usual’. So, we meet in the synagogue on Sabbath as a custom. However, in this context, Paul and the rest of the apostles and disciples are always entering the synagogue on the premise of missionary work. They are out of their home city (Jerusalem) in foreign lands preaching the gospel to the unbelievers, the Jews.
The Jews’ custom was to meet in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Paul was ministering to the Jews to preach them the good news of Jesus Christ. In New Testament context, ministry always took place on the go. Disciples always went to where the unbelievers were and preached the gospel on their door mats. So then, as Paul enters the synagogue, he is not entering the synagogue because this is a Christian custom; he is entering the synagogue because this is Jewish custom and he is intentionally seeking out the Jews to minister to them.
These leaves us with one of two conclusions:
- Our model of meeting in the synagogue on the Sabbath cannot be because of the example Paul sets in the New Testament; because Paul was a missionary and was always seeking out the lost where they were.
- Paul cannot be considered just a missionary. He must also be considered a pastor. In this case, pastors do not have just one building that they meet in, but many, and are constantly seeking out the lost where they are, just as Paul did.
In either case, our system of church as being a place where unbelievers flock to a single building where a pastor is leading them to the cross is not a model that we find in the book of Acts; nor do we find this model anywhere else in the New Testament. This leaves us with two observations:
- A missionary is involved in the ministry to the unbeliever, and is always seeking out the unbeliever where they are. Missionaries and ministry always go to where the lost are.
- A pastor is involved in edifying the Church, primarily through teaching. A pastor may meet with his assembly in a single location, but this location is primarily for the edification of the church, not for the use of ministry.
…that unchurched people…
Unchurched people seems to elude to the unbeliever. Though, while I wish that in this context that ‘unchurched’ did refer to those who are not a part of the Church, I feel that this really refers to people who do not attend churches, nor are familiar with church activities. In this context, we assume that those who do not attend church are not believers. In a way, we are passing judgment upon them.
The assumption is that if people love being at a church, that they will be a believer, actively engaged in the activities of that particular church. While this is a great conduit to reach the unbeliever, this is only a temporary solution to a long-term problem. The problem is that we are all lost without the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ. While we may love being at a church, this does not necessarily mean that we also love Jesus Christ.
Lastly, to attend indicates that people are welcomed into the Kingdom by attending a church. More pointedly, by attending a service once a week at a church, a person has made it to where they need to be. The problem is that attendance is not an indicator nor a reflection of the heart.
While I love the idea of this mission statement, love Andy Stanly’s mission, and with all my heart believe that the heart of Andy Stanly and his staff are centered at the feet of the Father, I also believe that this is a huge indicator to us as the Church that something is wrong with how we attempt to do church. I do not think I would be too off base to say that most pastors agree with the mission statement of Andy Stanley, and aspire to create churches like Andy. This is great and noble; yet this is so far off where I think we need to be as the Church. Our mission is all the same as believers in Christ, to love one another, to minsiter to the lost, to take care of the widows and the orphans. It’s that simple.
Buildings create walls
If our primary purpose is to create churches that people love so that they can attend, then there is a large chance that we build our churches on the psychology of probability. We study human behavior and create organizations that emit favorable responses to create engagement. In other words, we look to proven systems created by men to create our churches. Our tag line becomes, “If it works for one organization, then it ought to work for ours too.”
Faith goes out the door.
It is not about our individual organizations. It is not about each and every church building. It is about the Kingdom of God that is here on the earth. It is about us loving one another, giving what we have to each other, and giving of ourselves so that the lost can join our family. I think it is a fairly agreeable statement amongst most of you reading this that denominations build walls. While the idea of denominations seems intrinsic, it is in fact disparaging. In the same way, individual organizations within denominations build walls (literally and figuratively). When success becomes about the growth of an organization, we have already lost. The idea that we can create churches that people love to attend so that they know Jesus Christ is a lie, and almost everyone in the American church has been fooled, including myself.
I wholeheartedly disagree with our model of churches and our systems and processes for creating believers.
The Mountain of the Lord
However, God is not a god of chaos. In fact, God is full of order. We can just look at the creation story to see that God is full of order. But more than that, order pleases God. God has a history of creating systems of order to keep chaos away from His children. In the past he has had a system of prophets, of kings, and of judges. Then in Acts 11:27-30, we learn for the very first time of New Testament Church elders and teaching. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, a system for leadership is modeled for us. So, leadership is not bad. It is right to have pastors and teachers, prophets and musicians. We should be organized. We should be full of order. However, I would contend that the order which we seek should be the order that comes from the Lord, not that which comes from men. I find a distinct difference in order that I try to create versus order that the Lord creates.
So how do we know if we are following the order of the Lord?
Isaiah Chapter 2 paints a picture of the Mountain of the Lord. This prophetic message is the ultimate illustration of order, where the Lord is the ‘chief’ of the mountain. He is risen above all other things, and all nations will stream towards it. All people will lay down their swords for shovels and spears for pruning hooks. They won’t play war anymore.
This is the model we should look to for order. The Lord is the head over all things. He brings unity between all people and nations. We all seek Him just so that we can learn from Him and live the way He made us. We will seek the Lord for settling any dispute, between nation or people. We will be the family of Jacob, living in our Father’s house.
I see our world as a bunch of scattered seeds, all trying to grow to be the tallest bean stalk. We are far from nations and people being unified by the Spirit of the Lord, much less being the Church unified in the Lord. This is because we do not truly put the Lord at the head of our churches. Rather, we have developed a role of a CEO to be at the head of our churches: one man we put in charge to make all the right decision for a collective body of believers. We pray for that man that he has wisdom to make the right decisions. We give him a board of directors to hopefully keep him accountable. We supplement him with elders to do the tasks of ministry. We supply him with a business administrator to run the business of the church. These all seem like great things. However, in the process, we have focused so much on trying to make this one church functional, so much energy in trying to support this one man who is casting vision for all these people, and so much time on trying to make it all just work…we miss out on the favor and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is here to guide and supplment us. The Holy Spirit is here to empower us and cast vision before our eyes. Pastors can vision cast for their church, but we should all ultimately be looking to the Holy Spirit for vision in our lives.
Our idea of leadership is subsiding our faith in the Holy Spirit to guide us as a body of believers. As a result, we have tabled the Holy Spirit in favor of CEO pastors. In the Old Testament, we see a similar form of leadership with men like Abraham, Moses, Elijah and David leading the children of God. However, men like these were annointed by God as kings, judges and prophets to rule over and lead the children of God. These men had a special anointing of the Holy Spirit that others did not have.
I see the same type of annointing today for pastors and missionaries leading, but not the same extent that we see in the Old Testament. I believe that we put an unfair burden on the shoulders of our pastors, a role that they can never fully live up to. The model for leadership that Jesus set is that we are able to receive the empowerment (anointing) of the Holy Spirit and that we are all able to lead. The Holy Spirit is not limited to just a few men, nor is His annointing. Pastors are grieved today because they want to help empower the body of Christ so that others can lead. However, the model for how we have set up in church severely cripples our ability to let the Holy Spirit work freely.
For most churches today, to be a pastor or missionary, somebody has to go through indoctrination for whicever denomination they want to serve in. Somehow, we have come up with this idea that we know all the right answers, and that in order for anyone else to be effective in building Kingdom, that they have to know all those right answers too. We so greatly feel the need to have a perfect system of church that we cripple ourselves from being led by the Holy Spirit in our creation and adherance of rules and guidelines for how church must be done. When someone who is not a credentialed pastor or missionary attempts to lead, we often see them discouraged or given a ministry that ironically, no other pastor really wants to do, like putting together a team to serve the homeless each week.
Root of Fear
- Organization and structure that comes from the Lord brings clarity and enables more people to be involved in Kingdom.
- Organization and structure that comes from men brings rules and limitations. Today, we have a system of church that is largely comprised of the organization and structure of men.
This is not something that can be readily changed. It has taken centuries for us to arrive where we are today. My hope is that we can at least become aware of the brokenness of men that has seeped into the Church. We should constantly be pruning elements of our sin-nature which is reflected into the Church. I fear that our biggest weakness is righteousness. We have been made righteous by the Lord. We are righteous and holy. That does not mean that everything we do and create is rigtheous and holy. Most of what we do is drenched in our sin-nature. It is only by the grace of our Father that we do not slip and fall each day. None of us are capable of righteousness on our own. None of us are more rigtheous than another. None of us are worthy of grace and mercy, nor wisdom, nor leadership. Not one in the entire Earth — not in more than two thousand years.
So why do we take so much pride in churches? Why do we consider our works justified? Why are we so quick to dismiss the idea that we don’t have it right?
My thought is fear. What do we fear the most? Is the Lord the author and perfector of our fear? Or is it something else?
I believe that we are most fearful that if we don’t have our current system of church, that nothing else could replace it in a better way to reach the lost. I believe that most of us feel that if we speak out against what we feel convicted about in how we practice church, that we would be an outcast and no one would listen to us. I believe that we are driven to be accepted by society. I believe that our identity is in being a part of a church and not the Church. I believe these fears drive us away from action and towards conformity and mindlessness. I beleive that we are all afflicted just the same by this fear. I believe that this fear is rooted in a false identity in who we are in Christ. I believer that we truly are children of the Lord. We are His family, all of us. I believe that we put our identities in churches and in leaders. I believe that we feed off of praise and acknowledgment of men and are fearful to lose that by stepping outside of the system of church. I believe that many of us are so fearful that we do not even realize that we are rooted in fear, and that this causes us to be completley blind to the detriment of a church system. I believe that if our fear was rooted and established in a fear of the creator of the universe, that we would not be fearful about men. I believe this would lead us to be emboldened to prune how we do church. I believe that our identity would no longer be in men nor in organizations but in the creator of the universe.
Do we really fear the Lord?
Now, I am not saying that churches are full of satanic activity, that we need to do away with them, and that they are a detriment to society. What I am saying is that there is a better way. There is always a better way.
We will always succumb to sin and will always need to come back to the Father to remember Him and to remember what is good in this world. We will always need to prune how we are doing things to build Kingdom. We will always get caught up in pride and always get caught up in the mission that God has placed on our hearts so much that we ignore his leading and instruction. The Lord is gracious in that He allows us to go on our rabbit trails, like a little boy exploring through a forest: but do we come back? Do we wake up every morning to set aside our agenda and ask the Lord what is on His mind? Do we ask Him to tear down our plans and replace them with His, no matter the cost? Have we prepared our hearts to be able to lay down our plans so that we can follow the plans of our Father?
These are the questions we should be trying to ask ourselves every day. When we do, we enter into relationship with our creator. When we have relationship, our hearts and minds are transformed. When our hearts and minds are transformed, we start seeing the world in a different color. We begin seeing the world through a Kingdom lens that paints everything red. We realize that we can never get it righ. We are overcome with grief for our sin, the sins of our brothers and sisters, and the sins of our fathers. We are instilled with a heart to pray for our families and friends, that we might, we just might see our course realigned with our Father by moving as a body of believers: one in heart, in mind, and in Spirit — all focused on the chief of the mountain, Abba Father.
That is our destiny. No matter the costs, to be with our Father and Him with us. So it doesn’t matter what churches we create. It doesn’t matter if people love to attend church. It simply doesn’t matter what men think or do.
When we are fearful of the Lord all other fears are cast away. What really matters is that we are fearful of Him, that we are drawn to Him, that we pursue his plans, that we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that we love one another, that we urge one another to continue in the grace of the Lord, that we lay down our plans and our desires, that we relinquish our pride, that we admit our faults, that we grieve for the lost, that we are overwhelmed with an unrelenting desire to see Kingdom on earth.
Is our fear rooted and established in our Father?