"That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height, and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:16-19)
In my search of a home church in which to fellowship with other believers, I have come across many 'models' that dot the landscape of the non-denominational or denominational flavoring of the Body of Christ. I have been to a Methodist, Catholic, Evangelical, Baptist, Charismatic, Protestant, Covenant, Seeker friendly and a host of other 'name-brand' churches. There have been new ones, old ones, fairly young ones and ones that exists in various 'rental' buildings….mega and small. I have heard postmodern doctrine, name-it-claim-it doctrine, healing doctrine and biblical based teaching. I have been recognized in some, ignored in others and treated indifferently in many. And, deep in my heart, as I grow in my faith…passionate in my calling…and firm in my convictions, I haven't found a church that makes me feel like I am where God is.
Pastor Tom of Thrive Church made me think when he recounted conversations with those looking for a home fellowship coming to a common theme: Life-giving.
I would add a word to that: sustained Life-giving.
Every church that I have belonged to since my coming to Christ in 2004 have been 'life-giving' for a period of time, until you reach a level in your faith or in your beliefs that either expose the corruption of a human-based corporate model that is often the church mode of today's western Christianity or the absence in the messages of the 'other' half of the story. You will either belong to a clique or become excluded and disillusioned with the congregation….and slowly drift away. Or come across a doctrine introduction that goes against your understanding and rather than explore it and find the good in it, you find yourself isolated from discussion…..and leave wounded.
I know Pastors who are passionate about reaching those lost, discipling those who are found and cast a vision of god-like portions that are disconnected from their congregations because of the sheer size. I know congregations and leaderships that ignore the empowered and called among their own people and cast a wide net across oceans to find a 'like-minded' person to become an associate or other labeled pastor. I have come across leadership councils that ignore the person and label the need according to a formula that doesn't fit the situation and end up disassociating the wounded soul because of cookie-cutter mentalities.
I have been in congregations where the pastoral teaching has upset me, has even angered my sensibilities and those where I have been made to feel coddled and coaxed. I have gone away from some upset, only to spend time in the word and admitting it is something that I needed to hear and confront in myself rather than unbiblical teaching..other times to find that the teaching isn't biblically sound and leaves gaping holes in the truth…and therefore are questionable in the teaching.
Is it possible to find such a church in today's postmodern world? Is it possible to find a church where the agendas of individuals are hung at the door and true fellowship is not only taught but lived…..where it is not a 'place to go two or three days a week' but a place where we are welcomed no matter the day or time? Where someone welcomes us with true friendship, delighted to see us and truly happy that we've come seeking God in fellowship?
Where a Pastor only has to worry about preaching the word of God, not whether it will attract people and keep them in the seats? Where nothing matters more than the Truth being told, God being sought and life being lived….abundantly and organically….by each and every person who declares its walls their fellowship home.
Is there or can it be gathered together, a church where….the moment you pull into the parking lot, walk to the entrance and step across the threshold of its physical walls…you feel as if you are walking through the torn veil of the Holies of Holies and coming into the presence of God?
Or have the walls of Jerusalem fallen to the attacks of the enemy and the true face of God has become hidden from a deceptive and sinful people, bent on the building of their own destruction because of the grieving of the Spirit and the dilution of the Truth? Has the bride begun to dress herself in tattered, torn and soiled garments under the illusion of its beauty? Do we play church, pointing to the illusionary happiness that the massive congregation shows on Sunday mornings and the mega-sized buildings we create?
The common thought is that the church exists to preach the gospel to the lost….and that thinking governs the thinking…the programs…and the style of message. The apostle Paul said that 'faith comes from hearing the message'…..and we've contextualized it with our twentieth century definition of the phrase….but Paul meant and the first century audience understood that it was 'to understand' the message, not merely hear it. What if the church has missed its commission…rather than preaching the message to have it heard, it is supposed to preach the message for its understanding?
What kind of church would that be?
A church that disciples its membership rather than keeps them entertained, a church that commits people to the ministry rather than owning the ministry it controls. Jesus said that His Word was life-giving, rather than life-described. The apostle John, Jesus' beloved apostle, used the Greek concept of logos….the ultimate source of rational order and knowledge when he speaks of the Word. A church that preaches the logos of the Word would automatically disciple and equip those who call it home, fellowship and community.
Life-giving…..that is what the psalmist says of the Word of God…."the heavens were made" by its utterance…..it judges, discerns and sustains all things in a life-giving embrace…and in the song of creation its echo is heard, day after day…..
And in the flesh, the Word became the salvation for the whole of mankind…..and commissioned its disciples to boldly proclaim its good news to the world.
And the church was to be the intentional mouthpiece to the rules and authorities in the culture of the world, leading people through the disciples it sends forth to saving grace and holy living through the transformational impact of redeemed image-bearers of Christ through their testimony.
"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 3:9-10)
That is what church is supposed to be and many visions are started in the form of a church to make it reality…..but then budgets, legal liability and greed (human constructs) invade the dream, deaden the vision and soon the world flocks to its doors because the church has no longer shaped the culture to God's Word but surrendered to its self-serving interests.
The only way to have a church that is what the bridegroom wants is to be supernatural in its mission, dedicated in its intentionality and wholly surrendered to God….refusing to settle for less than a supernatural life-giving relationship with its Creator and bridegroom…….stepping out into the potential that He has already endowed it with.
Refusing to settle for high congregational numbers, big budget productions and instead surrendering to the individual….in life-giving community. To do otherwise is to settle for a lukewarm Christian walk….and we already know what Christ will do with lukewarm water like that….
So….what would a church who is fulfilling the mission statement of Christ be like?
On fire, reckless and fearless….because God would be at the helm.
Yesterday I stood in the parking lot of a dead-lukewarm church with the thousands of 'members' happily listening to their pastor speak of God….while I tried to deal with a locked car because of "legal liability" that prevented the church from walking alongside me…..two families out of the thousands asked if they could call someone, drive my family somewhere…..one lady walked by and laughingly said, "God really needs to help you now." To which I responded, "God has to because this church won't."
Today I sat in the meeting room of the community center that a new church plant is using and listened to a pastor speak of his vision for a church that was a mosaic of what Christianity is…..
Which one do you think was more life-giving?
Seven Threads of Evidence: Regis Nicoll/February 28,2008 reprinted on Breakpoint September 24, 2009
Soul Juice: a ministry of AllAboutGod.com: Carolyn Baker/September 24, 2009