Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Reality Reversal

In having a conversation with a friend of mine last night, I stumbled upon a concept that I feel needs some more discussion. We were discussing his current church situation. He moved to a new town, and like most of us, misses the "old days" and his previous church. I told him I understood. His grievance with his new place of worship was one based more in structure and theology, but it is the best place out of the choices he has available. He knows that we have started our organic church and I was sharing with what we've been doing and going though and trying to encourage him as best I could from several thousands of miles away.

... and then it happened...

As it does so often with me, because I love to spew words out of my mouth, I said something that I had never said before, that I really liked! I started to expound on it a bit, and found a missing piece of the puzzle for the book that I am trying to write. Here it is... (at least what I've found so far)

Faith in Christ is meant to be grown individually
and celebrated corporately, not the other way around.

We believe we have lost either sight or touch of this in the modern paradigm of the corporate church. Individuals are brought in and made into church members, then are been plugged into a system that tries to help them grow through different programs and classes. Living in our instant satisfaction drive-thru-like society, it's not surprise that people expect instant church as well. They want to go to a church, sit down, worship, listen to a sermon, give an offering (often begrudgingly) and have some type of instant spiritual growth or experience... and dare I say, in the absence of a true one, we have conditioned ourselves to "experience" one anyway.

However, the reality is you can not force anything natural to grow faster that it is created to without adding some kind of chemical or additive to force things to move alsong quicker that it is meant to. These "growth hormones" usually end up causing differences in the end product in some way. Yes, it may last on the shelf longer, but it isn't the same as the natural product that it is meant to be.

Our modern church systems and "models" are all built on programs designed to artificially grow and sustain faith. Outside of the "church" and it's supporting systems, many Christians don't know how to exercise their faith in real life. Because they were never taught or grown on their own, free of the system, they are just a product of a passive system that keeps them "plugged" into the matrix that is the corporate church.This is a HUGE disconnect and I believe why we have begun to associate things as "church" and "non-church". The faith that once was so fluid and transparent has now become more rigid and regulated... and then we wonder why we don't see the evidence like in the days of the early church.

We must re-train ourselves that when we gather with our fellow Christians, it's not to grow as much as to celebrate our faith and our Savior with the congregation of believers. The natural growth and byproducts of faith need to be happening daily... even hourly throughout the course of our lives. If we do not stop and take a look at the state of our faith and His church, we may well be stuck in this reversal of reality.

Faith in Christ is meant to be grown individually
and celebrated corporately, not the other way around.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A License to Drive...

I bet we all remember that day.... standing in line... waiting expectantly to get to the front... getting our picture taken... and then it happened... some underpaid overworked civil employee hands us our driver's license! FREEDOM! Finally, after years of waiting, and a year of "practicing" it's here. We are free to rule the roads...

There's no denying the sense of power and authority that having a driver's license gives to a teenager (and the sense of dread that it brings to their parents). With a simple piece of plastic, a world of opportunity and excitement is opened to them. They are able to move and operate free from other people's control and have to be responsible for the outcome of their choices. This is a huge step for many, if not all, teens in their transition to adulthood.

Sadly, I feel that spiritually, many people never get to this same level of freedom and maturity.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." - Matt 28:16-20

Most of us know the great commission, and probably can quote it. So, why don't many of us do it? I have found some that believe that because Jesus gave this to the eleven remaining disciples, that be by proxy gave this commission only to the clergy of the church and not to the everyday person. Since there was no professional clergy then, and I don't believe that view would mesh well with the rest of Jesus' teachings, I think it is safer to assume he is talking to each and every member of the Christian faith. Christ's words could better be described as the great "Co-Mission".

But the question remains, why do we not still see individual followers of Christ following this, Jesus' last directive to His church? I believe this is for two reasons:

(a) The incorrect view and application of this passage of scripture

(b) Fear or apathy on the part of the individual believer

As I have previously stated, I think the "clergy" view of this passage is incorrect. However, the application of it is what is more insidious. In believing that the great commission was only given to the clergy, you are in effect incapacitating the majority of the body of Christ and lulling them into passivity. "It's their job to just go to church and pay the pastors to do ministry..." This is not at all what Jesus intended for his body. When was the last time you saw only one aspect or organ of your body work?

Secondly, I think because of this passive mindset, many Christians are either apathetic to the call of the gospel, or are afraid they won't be good enough. This is a very real and difficult problem to deal with, but we must own up to our mistakes, and being to release as many people to function in their faith as possible.

No matter how long you teach someone about a car,
you still can not say you've taught that person to drive,
until they get in the car and drive it away from you...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Fast Approaching Precipice

Since my departure from church in the traditional or institutional sense, I have felt a variety of emotions. Fear that I would not know what to do; Excitement about what is ahead; worry that no one will understand me; joy to see people blossoming in faith for themselves; and peace that I have found my place in the body of Christ. The transition has been harder and longer that I anticipated, but not for any of the reasons that I expected.

I was ready for a fight, if you will, to justify and solidify my belief in the organic church concept... I found no such fight.

I was ready to be lonely and outcast by all of my institutional church friends who wouldn't understand or support me... I am neither alone nor outcast.

I was ready for the church to fail, because I have no experience with or examples of organic churches near me to follow... our church has grown both in maturity and numbers.

I found myself braced for a battle that did not come. It was in this discovery that I noticed something that has become clearer to me the more time I allow myself to mediate and pray on it. If we are not careful, the organic church movement will end up repeating the same mistakes that our denominational friends have in the past. Let me explain.

I have found that in the organic community people fall into two different groups:

(a) there are those who find there identity in what they are against in the institutional church

(b) there are those who find there identity solely in the "church" in whatever form it may come

In networking and talking to as many organic-minded people as I could find, this first group became very apparent. And I have to say, if I'm honest, I think I started out there. When I finally came face to face with the hard questions in my heart about church, as well as the evidence and history of the church (Thanks Frank), I had to face the facts and adjust accordingly. However, the point of the church is not to criticize other parts of the church. I feel that those who fall into this first group unknowingly (I hope) taint the majority of their words and opinions with a negative light of the traditional church. I think this is a bad thing. Yes, we may have our disagreements with the church, but we must be careful to understand, that's still the bride of our Savior too.

The second group of people that I have found have been a little harder to locate, but have been a much greater support and strengthener to me. I have friends in both the organic and traditional worlds that just love Jesus. I realize that sounds cliche, but let's be honest, there's a lot of money to be made in the church, and a lot of times priorities can be confused. My friends who fall into this latter category are those who truly want to see Jesus exalted, believers released into their fullness, and the true church (no matter its expression) flourish and prosper.

As I said earlier, I think we as the organic/simple/home church movement are approaching a precipice where our voice will begin to be heard and recognized by our brothers and sisters in institutional and denominational churches. The number of people in organic/simple/house churches is growing and will not be able to be ignored or recognized.

What will they hear carried on the wind of our words?

Will they hear criticism and rebuke? Will they stand up to greet us as part of the body only to be met with hostility and animosity because they don't do it our way? How can we expect unity in the body of Christ when we, as mere men, focus on our differences instead of our likenesses.

I understand the inert human need for identity, but does that identity have to come at the cost of unity? Where is the church that will stand up, united in glorious power and might, under the headship of Christ, institutional and organic together to greet the loving Savior at His return.

Having served my King in both the institutional and organic expression of church, this danger is very real, and very prevalent on both sides of the isle. We must fight to find forgiveness for the flaws and faults of our families, and be determined to dissolve our differences to defeat division.

Unity does not have to be uniformity, it just has to be.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Currency of Christianity

Faith, like money, is an intangible concept that only exists in the mind. Currency, however, is the very real, tangible, (and more importantly), exchange-able embodiment of the concept of money. It is currency that carry in our wallets and change purses, but it is the value of that currency that we spend... money.

Understanding that... let me move on...

The church, and in my opinion our faith as a whole, faces an unparalleled and unprecedented problem. Never before has the rot of festering infection eaten away at the core of our faith than it is today. We are surrounded by buildings, images, movies, music, and every other form of consumer-driven Christianity, and yet with all of these things in place. The message of Christ is being drowned out by pluralism and relativism and the impact of the church is being (or maybe has been) relegated to government help programs and para-church ministries.

If faith is the "money" of Christianity,
than where is the currency?

Where is the real, tangible, and exchange-able embodiment of our faith?

A lot of it has been out-sourced. Neil Cole in his book Organic Leadership, illustrates this point excellently. Many of the para-church ministries that exist are parasitic in nature because they draw from the same sources of life as the church (ie, leaders, finances, etc.) but do not give anything back to the church.

To gain a better understanding of what the true "currency" of Christianity should be, all we need to do look back at the first generation of the Faith, and glean from their attitude (and more importantly) their actions.

When you take a good look at the way the early church "spread the wealth" of the faith, there are a few things that I believe are key elements to their success and impact.

1. Conviction

Like it or not, we all know what OXYCLEAN and SHAM-WOW are. This is not because they are ground-breaking, life-altering products, but because every time Billy Mays speaks, I am instantly drawn in thinking "wow" (and does his voice hurt after yelling so much?). Conviction is a tool of communication, but it also goes beyond that to a point that one's whole life and choices can be centered around a conviction. THIS is the type of conviction that the disciples and early church had. Many of them gave their lives for the cause of Christ. You can not deny or downplay the impact that someone with that kind of conviction can and did have on those they met.

2. Action

Time and time again, as you read through the gospel accounts and the book of acts, we see the the disciples and the early church putting their faith into action. Whether is be healings, casting out demons, or feeding the widows, the early churches faith was felt by their surrounding community. As I have already stated, the existance of para-church organizatiosn and government help programs have taken up a lot of the duties of the church. But they haven't cornered the market on helping people. (Anyone who looks around can see that!) We must be diligently on the look out for ways to assit, encourage, serve, and provide for those in need. This is the best and most powerful form of currency that we have.

3. Compassion

I believe that both the conviction and action of the early church was fueled by a limitless compassion. One taught to them by Christ Himself... to see people as sheep without a shepherd. This compassion led them to get outside of themselves and their day to day lives and begin to become part of something bigger. We say that we do this today, but our practices don't always echo our principles. Many churches today toute in mission and purpose statements having compassion for the lost, broken, needly, etc... but only reach them with event-based evangelism, and only then to grow their church. Christ-like compassion is seeing the need and filling it, regardless of the outcome. The "come here you lucky people, you get to come to our church" mentality has ham-strung the evanglism of the modern day church, and in come cases worked against it.

If we are to take back the ground that has been lost in the past, and once again rise up as a modern, living, and active body of believers, we must regain the spirit and heart of the early church and begin to use the same currency that they did.

Conviction, Compassion, and Action do not cost us anything,
but they can win us everything.

Lord, please help us to live lives of conviction. Help us to see with the compassion of Christ. Guide us to the people, places, and problems that you want us to intercede in. Give us the boldness to do what you have called us to do. Father, please send workers into Your harvest. In Christ's name... Amen.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Hidden Heresy

I had a great conversation with a good friend of mine who is a youth pastor at a local church yesterday. He and I were recounting some of the most recent activity in the ministries that we are involved in and found a striking, and quite honestly, frightening similarity.

We both have observed in our various ministry capacities over the years a very clear difference between those who have been "in the faith" or "in the church" for a long time, and those who are brand new. The people who "grew up" in church were less likely, and in some cases afraid to express their faith openly. Something as simple as praying out loud was a HUGE ordeal to these people... whereas the younger believers, those who were very new in the faith and had very little discipleship and training were more than willing to do anything they could.

Doesn't that seem backward to you?!

The people who have had more time
in the faith are the less likely to express it...

The individuals who have "grown up" in church,
and who should have a much firmer grasp
on the foundations and truths of our faith,
are the one's who want to stand in the back of the class?

It would also be nice to be able to dismiss this as a singular occurrence or an isolated incident, but unfortunately, I do not believe that it is. All of my experience and exposure to Christianity and the Church has shown this sadly reality to be true.

BUT... before we get all weepy-eyed and distracted, we must ask ourselves, WHERE does this enigmatic dichotomy come from? I believe this answer, like many of Jesus' teachings, is very simple.

- Time "in the church" does not equal time "in the faith"

- Exposure to the church does not equal exposure to Jesus Christ

Being in church doesn't make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car! I believe we have lulled and weened ourselves into a false sense of belief that the sheer passing of time is the measure of maturity.

"Because I have spent more time "in the church" or "as a Christian" (than someone else) automatically means that I am a more mature of a follower of Christ.

You can not really read (and believe) the words of Jesus, and the message of the Gospel and still believe this horrible hidden heresy.

I believe that this is the insidious hidden heresy that is eating away at the core and foundation of our faith today. Individual believers are no longer measuring their maturity by their effectiveness as messengers of the gospel, but by the arbitrary passage of time.

"Lord, please help us to break out of our stained glass castles and our religious reliance on anything else but You. Guide us, direct us, and show us how we can be mature, effective, and productive messengers of hope, faith, and love in a world that is in desperate need of all three. In Christ's name... Amen"