In recent weeks I have been writing some articles related to church life that I’m sure have been considered polarising by many. I am thankful for feedback from all sides of the camp; from organised church to organic church; from institutional church to emerging church. Some of the feedback has been very positive; some quite heated in opposition to the concepts I put forward. And while these articles may have indeed been polarising, at least they have had the desired effect: dialogue.
More than to create dialogue and to provoke thought, these articles were ultimately intended to make a point and Peter Christensen’s excellent prophetic word for 2006 published a couple of weeks ago on the Storm Harvest list has partly confirmed the point I am leading to.
For a couple of years at the end of the 1990’s, Graham Cooke was one of my mentors. In fact, he and I would go as far as to agree that for a time he was my father in the prophetic. Graham is known for the profound depth in his teaching and, one of the more profound things he taught me privately was the simplicity of Jesus’ teaching. Bob Mumford used to joke that Jesus presented simple truth, but that you could always count on a seminary trained teacher to stuff it up by making it complex. Well, Graham taught me that “.. when everything gets complicated, remember that Jesus was a master at making things simple.” Think about it .. in the complexity of the Judaic religious system, riddled with more man-made tradition than God-inspired commandments, Jesus said that, like the first two commandments, all of life comes down to these two things: “love God with everything you’ve got and love people in just the same way.”
This is truly the point of this last series of articles .. church has become too complicated and God is extremely concerned that we “dumb it down”!
In the final week of 2003, God spoke to me very clearly with a strategic word for the church I was involved with at the time. But, as is so often the case with prophecy, it slowly dawned on me that this was not just a word for my church at that time, but is in fact a word for the Body of Christ. In that final week of 2003, God showed me that He had three main priorities as we moved into 2004. Those priorities are:
Now, it’s important to note here that God showed me these three priorities on a scale .. a little like the image of a thermometer might be used to track a fund-raising tally. When He showed me this scale, I could see very clearly that the first priorities of Relationship and Government were almost alongside once another right at the top of the scale. However, while God was still interested in the priority of Program, it is important to note that this priority was way down the bottom of the scale. In other words, while God was still interested in the implementation of this priority, it was a far cry from His primary interest in us sorting out the issues of Relationship and Government.
PRIORITY #1 … RELATIONSHIPS
God’s heart is burning at this time with a passionate desire for us to deepen our relationship with Him, but His heart also burns with a desire for us to deepen our relationships with each other. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of relating to the back of someone’s head in church every Sunday morning. Theatre style seating and a performance-based “worship” service where everything happens for me does not constitute Biblical church. Nor does one hour in a designated home-group foster genuine transparent interdependent relationships with others. Church, real church, is where people love one another to point of being willing to blend their lives together to the benefit of one another and for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
One of my grave concerns is that most of our church relationships revolve around the program. We relate because we work together, but when the job is done so is the relationship .. because there is no real foundation of genuine fellowship. This simply MUST change. This is where the “Together Journey” mentioned in my previous article “Some New Old Values” comes into play. God is most interested in us experiencing “community, fellowship and relationships .. together”.
PRIORITY #2 ……… GOVERNMENT
Almost equal to God’s passion for us to sort out our relationships with Him and each other, is His desire for us resolve issues of Government. This priority was expressed to me by God as being both corporate and personal. We must continue to walk the journey of having the government of our corporate gatherings sorted out as Paul instructed us in so many of his epistles. Continue the journey to discover true five-fold ministry operation. Continue the journey to genuine Body Life. BUT .. also make sure you are dealing with how you are governing yourself. How does your self-control stack up against the Scriptures? What about your thought-life, your speech, your spending and your giving? These are just some of the areas of attention God desires we give to our own lives. This is where the “Inner Journey” mentioned in my previous article “Some New Old Values” comes into play. God is most interested in us deepening our “worship, prayer and spiritual formation .. together”.
PRIORITY #3 ………………………………………………………………………… PROGRAM
Remember, while God is indeed interested in our church programs, it may not be exactly as you perceive them. Y’see, God isn’t so much interested in our self-serving Sunday School or Bible School programs is He is in whether we are involved with incarnational Christianity. So many church programs today are ultimately designed to keep the “believer” entertained to one degree or another. They are of little value, if any, to the Kingdom of God. We have our youth groups, our mens’ groups, our womens’ groups, our playgroups, our Bible Studies, our prayer meetings, our healing services, our board meetings, our deacons training nights and so many more that even God has forgotten the ingenious ways we devised to entertain ourselves “for Jesus’ sake”. But this kind of program is entirely invitational, where we “bring” people into the supposed presence of God. But Jesus showed us the true way a church program was meant to work. It is meant to be entirely incarnational. God going out among people through us.
Now, before you jump on me from a great height and argue that that’s just evangelism, don’t fool yourself. What Jesus showed us by walking with and training twelve men for nearly three years, was how to build a true church. He built the kind of church He wanted to be a part of. Remember, Jesus came into a time in history when organised, institutional religion ruled the day. His whole public ministry was dedicated to showing a better way .. a Kingdom way. He taught that the way up, was down. The way to gain your life, was to lose it. The way to get, was to give. The way to lead, was to serve (even by washing feet). It should be no surprise then at a time when organised, institutional religion permeated every part of almost everyone’s lives, Jesus showed that the way HE built church was based first on relationships, second on developing individual, then corporate, government and lastly on program.
Remember, in “Some Old New Values”, I mentioned the need for us to find the simplicity of discovering “who we are together” before we determine “what we do together”. That’s the kind of church Jesus spent about three years of His public ministry building. It was that same kind of church that exploded on a huge scale after the day of Pentecost because the “twelve” had spent three years training for how to live in and lead community and then, on that day, the anointing to establish community on a global scale was released. These men had been made ready for it. They could carry it .. and carry it they did. They carried Christian community, true church, full of rich, genuine Body Life to the four corners of the then known world.
Right now you’re probably thinking that all this is well and good, but since it was intended only for 2004, what does it have to do with us now? You’ve asked another very good question.
In September 2004, I was due to speak at Peace Christian Community in Rockhampton, Queensland (the church that John Alley leads). God told me to bring this very word to that church and I argued. I asked the Lord, “What is the point of bringing this word to the folks when 2004 is almost over?” The Lord said, “Because the church has not heard nor run with this word, it remains my focus for the coming season”. Notice He said “coming season” and not “coming year”? That’s because God intends maintaining a focus on these issues until we get it right. Does that mean we have to have it all together? No, but we do need to be working toward incorporating these priorities into our individual lives and into our church communities before God can begin to breath a sigh of relief about the quality and substance of our future.
If nothing else, my number one aim with these articles has been to provoke us to think seriously about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and, if possible, to open a dialogue amongst us which causes us to ask the hard questions about some of our “sacred cows”. After all, without dialogue, debate and a willingness to embrace something new, nothing ever changes.