I set out to write a book a few months ago. The tentative title is ‘Are we the church?’. I wrote quite a bit, and was really starting to get excited about what God was sharing with me, when by a series of unfortunate events, I lost everything I had written.
I’ve set out to write this again. Except, rather than trying to formulate a perfect composition, creating a well-defined thesis, and being sure to phrase everything in a way that is understandable to everyone, I’d like to just share my thoughts with you all, my Kingdom family, as they come. Being the case, I am calling this a book-blog.
Now, I must ask for much grace, as the original reason that I wanted to write a book was so that I could be sure to not say anything that seems wrong – and if I did say something that sounded wrong, I could have at least addressed it later in the book; that way, if anyone pointed it out, I could point them to read the book in full context. However, after thinking about this, I feel that it is not necessary to try to get something perfect the first time around.
So, I am going to share with you some of the difficult journey that I have been on. My hope is that I can build into you and that you can build into me – that’s what church is all about, authentic community. My thoughts come largely from my experience and from Scripture. The majority of my experience is with the southern American Church. I have grown up in the church since I was in diapers, gone to Christian schools, and even worked in a church. Now, I have the opportunity every single day to interact with and to influence churches positively.
It is important for many of you who know me to know this: when I left my job at the church in July of 2012, I did not leave out of bitterness. In good conscience, many of you have rightly spoken words of encouragement over me and let me know that it is alright to take a siesta of sorts from church, due to the potential disillusionment that I may or may not have experienced. Knowing me, I hope you would also know me well enough to know that this was not and has not been the case. Through this blog I want to paint a story, so it is crucial that you have the correct story-line before you.
I had started working in the church in April 2011. Even though I enjoyed my job, I felt a compelling need to leave by September of 2011. I prayed about it, and did not feel that I had permission from the Lord to begin looking for another job. Rather, there were two things that had to happen before I could even start looking for a different job:
- I learned how to not react out of emotion, but to live through emotion to build Kingdom relationships (the latter I still stink at). This consequently left me without bitterness. More importantly though, it also gave me the spiritual maturity to not feel victimized. Many people who leave the work of church feel battered down and broken. Through very much grace, the Lord gave me wisdom to not leave a church feeling this way. Moreover, the Lord also gave me the strength to have forgiven those whom I had initially felt abused by. This was so important.
- I felt a leading of the Holy Spirit to step out. It was on the evening of March 31st, 2012 that I felt released from the church. Starting April 1st, 2012, I felt disconnected and a stranger in the halls of the church. This was a good thing in that I felt I had fulfilled my oath to the Father and knew He had something else that He was preparing for me
I tell you this so that you can know with full assurance, Ryan is not off his rocker. None of what I write here is a knee-jerk reaction to my experience in working in the church. Rather, I have spent much time seeking the Lord in what He has to say about life, church and Kingdom. I have found that the Lord has me in a season of testing. I would simply like to share with you some of what I have been testing, and of that, what I have found that needs to be ‘cut off the branch’ (so to speak) in my own life.
Lastly, I write the in a Spirit of love for the Church. While much of what I have to say is not rainbows and butterflies, my heart is to simply live in the truth of Christ. We live in an imperfect world and things are always going to be broken. However, I think there are some core truths that we are missing out on that the Lord wants to bless us through.
So, let’s get to it, what do I mean by ‘are we the church?’
I think of the Church in terms of New Testament Church. I think about the regional churches of Paul’s time: Ephesus, Corinth, etc. Each of those churches represented a body of the Church, and had unique personalities with different strengths and weaknesses. I think of the American Church in the same light. While I wish I had more experience with other church cultures, and wish that I had a more full understanding of the body of Christ around the world, my experience is with the American Church; and so, my passion is for the American Church: to grow and mature. The call on my life is to encourage other Kingdom folks to keep up the faith. Specifically, the verse that captures my calling is Hebrews 5:12-14,
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
I desire to see people live in the Kingdom. I feel that unless we are growing in Christ, we are growing stale. I want to constantly propitiate room for the Holy Spirit to move within us. I try to empty my self every morning to make room for the Holy Spirit. I have found that this requires letting go of comforts. While God wants to bless us as any Father, His forefront concern seems to be relationship: between us an Him, and between us and other believers. Being the case, there is not always room for comforts. Yet, there are certain comforts that we hold on to tightly. I am finding that these comforts present great difficulty in truly allowing room for the Holy Spirit to grow in us. In a way, holding on to comforts is like putting blinders around our eyes so that our vision is narrowed. Our vision of Kingdom is narrowed by the reluctance to step out in faith away from comforts.
To start, let’s just look at one comfort: church
We build churches. We go to church. We are the church.
We have three meanings of the word church. There is no coincidence about it. I am a firm believer that Lucifer is actively interrupting our lives. I believe that spiritual warfare is more real that we will ever know in this life. I try to be mindful of this, but get caught up in it every single day. To counteract these interruptions, I recall what I know of Lucifer from the Bible to try to prepare myself for these types of interruptions. I know that Lucifer is the master deceiver and guises himself as a friend. Knowing this, it seems clear to me that these tactics have worked since the beginning of time, and most likely still work today. So, I must ask the question,
How have I been deceived?
It is not really a question of if. Sin still exists on earth. The tribulation has not come. Lucifer is not in the pit of hell. He is still alive and at work trying to create disharmony amidst the Kingdom. The most clear illustration of deception that I can find is in our language of church.
Let me begin first by reminding ourselves of some very important language of church from Scripture. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus declared that He would build His church on “this rock”, referring to Himself. Christ is the solid rock upon which the Church is built. We go on to learn in Acts that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit as our aid to empower us as the Church. The word church is mentioned about 120 times in the Bible, all of which occur in the New Testament. Being specific to the New Testament, this tells me that church has everything to do with the New Covenant, at which Jesus is the center. So then, what is church?
is the body of Christ, it is us. We are Kingdom on Earth until the Kingdom of Heaven arrives, and we exist to be in relationship with God and one another. The Holy Spirit lives in us and moves through us; and so, we are the temple of God. We are His Children. We are the Bride of Christ, and yet, co-heirs in Christ. We are loved and so we love.
is a building that we meet in. The best analogy of a church to Biblical reference is the temples from Judaic history. However, temples had a very specific purpose to house the presence of God in the holy of holies. We no longer have the responsibility of building a temple to house the presence of God, because the presence of God is exerted through the Holy Spirit who lives in us. We are the temple. In other words, a building is not necessary to house the presence of God nor to usher in Kingdom.
The danger in this is that we often spend mass amounts of money on buildings to house the people of God and attract the lost. We spend money trying to get people to come to us when we could be spending it trying to get to them. To be entirely truthful, I have trouble wanting to attend a church and tithe because so much of the time, energy and money is spent on the building itself. Even in a healthy giving church, much of the money is spent on the building, whether it be the building itself, the utilities, the upkeep, or the upgrades. This is not true of every church, but it is certainly true of the majority of American churches that are considered healthy by the experts.
When we finally get people inside a church, we spend an hour and a half trying to impress them and their kids so that they come back, so that they become members, so that they tithe, so that we have more money, so that we can get a bigger building, so that we can have room for more people, so that we can reach more people, so that we can get an even bigger building. While all intentions may be genuinely intrinsic, the nature of the beast does not seem healthy at all.
It is my honest and humble opinion that the emphasis on a building is a lie that we have to come to terms with. When we do, I think we will be more filled with faith and will be cut free of the distractions that come with a building. It is a comfort, not a necessity. I revere the tithe and feel that at some point, there has to be an audit on how we as a culture have justified gross spending of money on facilities. There is a breaking point that spills into gluttony. At that point, we should be so ashamed how we let the tithe be used to build buildings with 1st class commodities to attract the lost, rather than to pour into our communities to help the widows and the orphans.
Now this is all just my personal opinion, but consider this. Jesus said He would build His Church. I wholeheartedly believe he did and is still building. I believe that church growth certainly leads to increased numbers of people and increased favor and blessing. However, if Jesus were still on Earth in human manifestation, and he was physically coordinating the building of His Church, I do not envision Him to have taken the direction that we the American church have taken. I believe that a building is certainly important to the assembly of the church, but also believe that through the Holy Spirit, God provides wisdom, discernment and discretion on what is necessary and what is a commodity.
The fundamental issue with a church is that we have taken on the responsibility of building Jesus’ church by trying to build buildings that attract the lost.
It is not our responsibility to attract the lost.
God reveals Himself to the lost, that is how we were all found. We each have our roles in Kingdom, there are those pastors who plant, who lead people to Christ through the Holy Spirit, and those who nourish, who waters, through the Holy Spirit, but Jesus is the one who attracts. God is the one who grows (I Corinthians 3),
So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
You see, we are God’s field; we are His building. It is through the Holy Spirit in us that the lost come to Christ. A church building is not necessary. Most of the buildings that we build are commodities. We put our identities as children of the Lord in the buildings that we build. They are like idols. In building them so extravagantly, we limit the power of the Holy Spirit to operate in us as The Church because our faith is weakened and dependent upon our own provisions and creations.
Now, this does not mean that we are unchristian. It does not mean we are lost. Even if we take this to the most extreme, the Scripture says that what if what we build on our foundation is consumed by the fire, we will still be saved, but only as one who merely escapes the flames.
There is more to church than a church building. When we can see this clearly, how blessed will we be.
is an activity that people go to on Sunday’s. While much of the activities are built on the foundation of Biblical principle, and while the activities attempt to replicate Biblical instruction (i.e. teaching of the word, giving thanks and praise to God, entering into communion, engaging in prayer), much of the structure for what happens at church is based on ideas that men created (three worship songs, offering, announcements, 45 minute sermon, one worship song).
The danger in this is that people’s identities often get caught up in church, and church is made by men. So, people let their identities get caught up in the sights of men rather than the sights of our heavenly Father. This is perhaps the most devastating of the three definitions of church, as it has the power to interrupt our lives daily. It also weakens our faith because when our perception of church changes or is challenged (and it will change or be challenged because it is made of men on weak foundation), our identity falters. It is not rooted in solid ground. Like in the parable of the seed and the sower (Matthew 13:3-9), if our foundation (identity) is not in Christ, it will soon falter.
There are three meanings of church:
- Christ builds His Church
- We build church buildings
- We create church activities
The Biblical aspect of Church that we know to be true and foundational is that Christ did and is building His Church. We also know that the gathering of the assembly is biblical and we have some basic guidelines of chracteristics of leaders. Beyond that, we do not have much to go on. By biblical definition, this doesn’t mean that our current culture of church is necessarily wrong; however, it certainly doesn’t give concrete biblical foundation to our culture of church.
Being the case, it gives us great reason and responsibility as The Church to examine what we do and how we do it. I find great meaning in being intentional about everything I do, especially when it comes to Kingdom. I am in the journey of exploring why it is that we do church.
Quite frankly, I hate the phrase do church. We are the Church, so how can we very well do church, unless we are simply doing traditions that have been created by men?
So, in the coming chapters, I am going to explore where our traditions came from, why it is that we have them, and if they are biblical or not. I am hoping to gain a greater sense of truth in this journey, and hope you can join me for the ride.
While I believe that much of our perception of a church, the Church, and church are influenced by Lucifer, ultimately, these are merely traditions that we have created. Truth be known, Lucifer has no power. He does not have the ability to dictate who we the Church are, nor do we lack the ability to realign our course.
Remember who you are in Christ. Recall upon the things that the Father has spoken over your life. Engage in relationship with other Kingdom minded people, so that you may build into them and they into you. Be cognizant of the presence of Lucifer. Whether or not you agree with everything I have written, do approach those hard questions. I believe that if we can broach tradition with a humble and prayerful Spirit, that the Holy Spirit will guide us and will provide grace for where we falter. In this, I believe the Father will lift us, encourage us, and find great joy in us through our pursuit of Him. Let Kingdom be at the forefront of everything you do. Right or wrong, at the end of the day, you will find peace in knowing that you have done all within your mind and within your will to show love to your God and heavenly family.