Archive for April, 2001

An Apostolic Church

I was hoping to bring a slightly different slant to things. While a number
of people have been talking about pastor-dependency and the desire by
“laity” to be empowered, the main focus has remained on the role of
leadership. It actually seems as if leadership is the “flavour of the
day”. However, I believe the style of leadership, while in many ways
foundational, is actually subsequent to the overall structure of the
church. In other words, the leadership oughtn’t captivate all our
attentions. When talking about the rise — or better still, the return –
of the apostolic, we should focus on what the apostolic ministry is meant
to focus on… the *plebs* themselves.

The word pleb is short for plebeian. The pleb was the basic Roman citizen,
right at the bottom rung of things, often considered just above slave. I
use this term because it is the one Shakespeare used to denote an
unnecessary subsequent character in his plays, in the same way that basic
Christians of the laity variety often seem to be tossed aside. Everybody
is focusing on the leaders, and training up leaders, and the leaders of
tomorrow. So what happens if you aren’t called to be a “leader”… and is
anybody in the Christian church really called to “leadership” anyway? What
does it mean to lead? (That’s a whole ‘nother extended debate, ain’t
it?)

When we talk about the apostolic, it is so often reduced to a “new”
leadership style. For all intents and purposes, in most cases it seems to
look much the same as the old leadership style, with a new title or two
thrown in. In the Catholic church, you have a Pope, a Cardinal, a Bishop,
a Priest, and Brothers and Sisters — Monks and Nuns. In a Pentecostal
church you have a Board, a Chairman, Senior Pastors, Junior Pastors, and
other such titles. In the Presbyterian church you have Moderators etc. And
the list goes on. There is even an Apostolic Church, which has Apostles
etc as leadership. But it is all top down, with the leaders leading.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much difference with the modern
day “Apostles” either. I really am for an apostolically equipped empowered
church, but I am ashamed of what many apostles believe this church should
be. While people are striving in the best of intentions to do well, what
many of the apostolic teams have ended up looking like is oligarchic
cronyistic tyrants. Relationship has become a euphemism for “old boy’s
school”, and where people would once obtain credentials before going into
ministry, now they need to make the right friends too. (Not that making
the right friends ever hurt before.) And it this problem many people seem
to be talking about on this list.

I was talking to a man called Paul Collins recently, and I have been
reading a few books, including The Book, and it seems to me that the main
differentiation between a truly apostolic church and all the other ones is
not the leadership, but the led. As Paul Collins said, the problem the
church faces today is the same problem it has always had, and that is the
problem of carrying the unregenerated old self through the cross into the
new creation we have become. In other words, when we are converted, we
take with us that old attitude of self, the one that needs an intermediary
before God, the same one that needs promotion and hierarchy and is
comfortable with lauding it over others, right through the conversion
experience with us. And what we then have is an unregenerated church.

The unregenerated church can only produce one thing… unregenerated
leadership structures.

As Yvette wrote,

The way we live now as church, as community, is depending on this how God
was represented on earth in different eras. For example, in the Old
Testament the Holy Spirit was only on the leaders, the prophets, some
kings, etc. – on His servants, but not on all God’s people. They were
really dependent on the ministers! Without Abraham they didn’t have vision
for their life, without Moses they were slaves and didn’t have the law,
without these magnificent people of God they were really lazy spiritually
and this was the God’s way to lead them – only through His ministers.

Then came Jesus – God Son in flesh. Everyone could hear His voice and
follow Him. While in the Old Testament God was on the earth only through
His Spirit in big men, now He was in flesh among people!

The crucial part came when He sent the Holy Spirit after His ascension.
Crucial for the God’s presence on the Earth. Now the Holy Ghost came and
He was on everyone. Something amazing for all the ages! God Himself in us!
And with us – all the time!

This is so important thing to understand – now God can lead everyone by
Himself. Of course, if we have an ear to hear His voice.

Maybe this could be put in more organisational terms. Originally, before
the fall, God walked with Adam and had a direct relationship with him and
Eve. Even after the fall, his relationship with people was pretty much one
on one. Cain and Abel brought individual sacrifices to God, and God
responded directly to them. God didn’t go to Adam and say, “Hey, about
your son Cain, you better go chat with him about the whole wheat and rye
thing. It ain’t on.”

However, as time progressed, people didn’t really enjoy the direct one to
one relationship with God. When God tried to talk to people at the
mountain, His voice was terrible and they were scared, and so they begged
that somebody act as a go between for them.

In otherwords, they kind of said, “Hey, God, I kind of like what you can
do FOR me, and I kind of hate what you could do TO me. And what’s more, I
kind of feel rather insignificant when you are around, and I don’t like
that. So I really don’t like hanging around you all that much. Why don’t
you just pick somebody who likes chatting with you, like Moses, and give
him all the goss. Then he can kind of tell us all about it later, and we
will do what he says.” Thus, the job position of Professional God
Go-Betweener was born.

Being a merciful God, and not overly fond of people being complete idiots
just because they are loosed in the bowels over something, the Lord
generously gave them a rule of law, and not merely personality. While
Moses was a cool dude, and an honest one at that, the second generation of
tyrants were usually not as “respectable”. Could you imagine the sort of
exploitation the only God Go-Betweener would have? I mean, just imagine.
Or, if you want to be really cynical, go and look at some of the more
“personality” oriented churches. It is really scarey. And so, given the
request of the Israelites for a God Go-Betweener, the Law is a major
blessing.

In other jargon: the Code of the covenant was to fulfil the Law through
Self Effort, and the Structure of the relationship with God and each other
was one of Professional and Laity. And in an obscure way, it was the
“laity” who caused that whole thing to be set up. Like the old saying, if
you don’t get the government you want, you get the government you deserve.
That kind of met here with a rather nice ironic twist.

But, like Yvette said, you then have this amazing thing happen. The son of
God comes on the scene, in the flesh, and tips the whole thing over on its
head. He achieves what was only dreamed of in the prophets, and through
his sacrifice the temple curtain is rent as He is rent on the cross, and
the way is opened up for everybody to again communicate one on one with
God. It is, in a very major way, a new Eden for mankind.

Now, instead of the law, we have relationship with God, and with one
another, by grace through faith. There is no intermediary between each
individual and God, so there is no longer a need for a “priesthood” as it
was, where the truth is instructed and dealt out from one guy in the know
to the rest of us plebs who don’t even get to vote. There is no longer a
“guy at the top” that everybody looks to because everything has now
changed. The whole relationship with each other is now organic. Every part
is equally valuable, and no part is particularly closer to God than any
other.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for a structure which supports this
new organic community. But it is a structure of a different kind. Rather
than being an heirachical structure, where everything is controlled from a
pivotal or central directive, the structure is a framework upon which the
church grows. As Col 2:19 puts it, the structure is a whole body,
“supported and held together by it’s sinews and ligaments, [growing] as
God causes it to grow.”

This is where the five fold ministry comes in. It is that ministry which
basically forms these sinews and ligaments.

I have heard some “Apostle” types claim that the members of the “five fold
ministry” are the head, and everything else is the church. But when you
look at this scripture, it is clear that Christ is the Head. I don’t
recall any use of the term Head in reference to leadership of the Church
which didn’t refer to Christ directly. For example, in Ephesians 5:23, we
are told that husbands are to be the head of their wives as “Christ also
is the head of the church, He himself being saviour of the body.” There is
no suggestion here that any other had access to the title of church
headship. Rather, as in Col 2:19, there is a clear indication that the
head and chief cornerstone/ capstone — the face of the body and the most
evident pinical of the building — is and was always meant to be Christ.
The church and all we members of it make up the rest.

What the five fold ministry does is form a flexible framework which
enables the whole body to grow and move. It is the skeletal structure of
the church, hidden within the body. This gives the image of a leadership
which is not directly evident, or popularly scene. It is the church that
is seen, and the five fold ministry which is within, underneath and
supportive.

That doesn’t mean five fold ministers a completely anonymous, but they are
not necessarily the ones out front having first contact with the world.
What shows us the success of the ministry is the ability of the body to
stand upright and move around. Christ’s body doesn’t look like an amoeba.
There is a very good reason why amoebae are single celled creatures, and
why vertibrates have been so successful as complex multicelled animals. It
is because vertibrates have a backbone which gives the whole body
strength, mobility, flexibility, and unity.

But the unity we share in this body isn’t the unity of a dictatorship. Too
often one hears “leadership” saying things like, “We are the head of this
church, and God speaks to us and gives us the direction, and you, the
body, are called to move as the head directs.” Then the minister usually
quotes something like Col 2:19 poorly and out of context. This is what
congregations are often told unity is all about. It is about conforming
and about following a set, single-eyed directive which has been delivered
to them from a mortal high command. There is no, or only very limited,
diversity of personality, vision or ministry within such “churches”.

But this isn’t the sort of unity you see in complex vertibrates. What we
see is a unity of cells and membrains all held together on the same
framework. Just because my left hand is holding a book while I read, it
doesn’t mean I can’t be simultaneously drinking a cup of coffee. However,
that is only part of what is going on. I might be sitting down, holding a
book, drinking coffee, but I am also breathing, digesting, heart beating,
blood pumping, cell reproducing (which I suppose is the natural body’s
equivalent to disciple making), and also completing a mirad of other
incomprehesibly complex activities simultaneously. And often, there
doesn’t appear to be any relationship, or even directive, causing many of
these things to occur.

Actually, when looking at the metaphor — or, better put, the mystery – of
the church as a body, contemporary findings about the locality of memory
and “decision making” is very interesting. More and more is being
discovered about how individual cells have their own “memories”, and how
many automated responses and activities in the body don’t require the
direct intervention of the head/brain at all. When we look at these sorts
of findings, we can only be amazed by the potential it has to bring
individual freedom and activity to each of the cells in the body of the
church.

Now I could discuss at length all the tremendous benefits of such a
structure, especially compared to a heirachical structure, but I don’t
think I quite have the room here. But two points to note are:

1. A heirachical structure, as any computer programmer knows, has severe
limits on the number of activities that can occur over a given period.
When the CPU of you computer has too many instructions to complete at one
time, it seizes up. That is, your computer crashes. Likewise, in a
heirachical church structure, when the CPU, or Church Pulpit Unity
commity, has too many things it has to do at once — or too many
ministries or ideas to fulfil at once — it siezes up. Also, when
ministers in heirachical churches have too much growth at once, or even
just a large amount of maintenance work to do at any one time, they tend
to burn out, much like an overused circuit does.

An organic system doesn’t have this problem. In an organic system,
instructions are diversly distributed in a number of different ways. Some
instructions are locally generated by individual cells; others are
instantaneously distributed through homonal secretions; yet others are
passed from the brain through the nerves to larger and smaller muscle
groups etc; while others are processed only along the pathway of the
nerve. An interesting example of nerves processing information is with the
eye, which preprocesses images before they reach the brain. When there is
a problem with this preprocessing capability, visual perceptual problems
can occur.

2. Heirarchical structures are less fluid than organic ones. By this, I
mean they are more rigid and they are more difficult to change when new
circumstances require it. But more important than this, when a
heirarchical structure has to change, anything but the most cosmetic
change is radically felt througout the whole structure. Also, if a large
systemic change must be undergone, the alteration often shatters the whole
structure. If you don’t believe this, then look at what has happened to
the ex-satelite states of the old USSR. When there was a major change to
how the heirarchy worked, many many nations crumbled completely
systemically, right down to water supply and basic human needs.

On the otherside of things, an organism may adapt to changed conditions on
a local level, and move toward change and growth without the sort of
impact heirarchical structures suffer. For example, unless a body suffers
severe and complete systemic attack, or one of the major organs, like the
brain, is severely injured, the body can usually recover. Even when under
attack, the body often recovers quite well, and can even maintain other
activities. Your hands don’t just shrivel up and die because you have the
flu, or even cancer of the brain. Most of your body just keeps on doing
what it has always done.

But even more importantly, organic structures can change local activity to
suit local demands. So, say you needed to build up a muscle in your right
arm in order to lift a heavy object, you could grow that muscle mass there
without much effecting what is going on in your left foot. You could even
have an accident and have to have your left foot amputated, and still end
up with a very strong arm indeed. This can happen because you are
organic.

Yes, you can amputate things in a heirarchical structure, but not in the
same way an organic structure can. Organic structures have proven to be
far more resiliant and less easily destroyed.

So, we are now looking at a different type of organisational structure all
together. Today, if you want to know about a church, you go the head man.
If you want to crush a church, you just go and pick out the head man and
crush him. You crush him well enough, you can do great damage. That is
what happens with heirarchies.

Now, in an apostolically structured church, where the five fold ministry
does the supporting and holding together role, the leadership is much less
obvious. Yes they work in teams and in relationship, just how cells work,
but they are also not usually positioned on the skin. What the world sees,
and what does most of the action, are non-skeletal cells. Yes, we can all
see that there is a skeleton, muscles and lingaments, but not necessarily
obviously, not necessarily directly — unless the body is very ill, and
not necessarily as front men. In otherwords, those providing the structure
are less obvious, because they have empowered those on the outside, who
are now more obvious. The body moves well and the skin has a sheen because
the sinews and ligaments are all doing their work well.

And this is where the plebs come in. We now see that the plebs are the
most obvious members of the church. They are out there ministering and
doing stuff, while five folders are inside the body supporting and
equipping. And just as a skin cell doesn’t usually much worry about what
bones, ligaments and sinews are up to, nor does it feel it has to
continually run back for support or direct healing from them, nor need the
member of the apostolic church. Normal Jo Blow church members now just do
most stuff in that distributed sort of way, sometimes with direction and
sometimes not. And when the skeleton causes the body to move, they
continue to just move and do stuff much in the same way they always have
done. But now, being the contact point for the church, they are all
ministers, and all directly in contact with the head.

Anyway, I am sorry to take so long in making this point. I think I
digressed a little, but I hope the ride was fun. But, the key is, when we
think of apostolic ministry, or five fold ministry, we are not thinking
about a leadership style, we are thinking about a radical change to how
church works. We are pulling the man off the pulpit, and allowing to body
to do the ministering organically. There is no set iconic man of God
anymore, but we are all part of the “man of God” doing the “ministry of
God” as we are meant to, all of us in relationship with each other.

At the moment, the whole five fold ministry thing seems to usually reflect
the old structure of things. It is very much a case of a skunk by any
other name would smell as bad. What needs to happen is the whole attitude
of what Christian identity is has to turn around. As Paul Collins said in
a recent interview “People want an intermediary. They want somebody in
between them and God, because it make their old man feel more
comfortable.” What real five fold ministers should be doing in these days
making people completely aware of the full gospel, and then tell them “Hey
you guys, you are free and forgiven and living by grace. Don’t come to me,
go right to Him.” When that happens, when each member of the church
realises they are an active, effective and necessary part of the ministry
through relationship with God and their brethren, the miraculous things
that Jesus did will ripple right through the church. Miracles and Christ’s
face will shine across the earth because the old man will have been left
behind, and we will behold that all things have been made new.

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The Struggle for Definition

I feel compelled to reply to the recent series of posts which started with
“The Diaspora” then “Ministry Dependence” and now your reply Richard
“Pastor’s Perspective”. What strikes me in all of these posts are the vast
differences we have in the simple definition of terms being used.

As an example, during what is called the “walking treaty” in the mid
1700′s in Pennsylvania between William Penn’s sons and the Lenape indian
tribes, there was a land for goods deal. For starters, the indians had no
“concept” of land ownership. The land belonged to all so when the english
came and asked if they could “have” some land they thought they meant to
“use” the land or “share” the land and not “take” the land. The indians
readily agreed because they believed the land did not belong to them
(ownership wise). The indians were “rudely” awakened when the english
asked to hunt on what is now Manhattan and after coming back after their
winter migration found a fort on the land and the indians effectively
kicked off.

The walking treaty was to give over as much land as could be walked in 3
days. To the indians “walking” meant walk some, hunt some, and generally
getting from here to there in no real hurry. To the english it meant
hiring professional runners. So way more land was taken than intended to
be given by the indians and this lead to a massacre of innocent Moravian
missionaries and an ensuing war.

See, the terms we are speaking mean VASTLY different things to one
another. Take the simple work “church”. To one person that means ANYONE
who goes to or attends a christian organization. To another it means a
“remnant” of those within the church who really are following the Lord as
His disciples. To some leader means “in charge” while to others leader
means “living example” and has nothing at all to do with earthly
authority. To one “organized” means a visible sign that everything is in
it’s place while to others it means that everything is were I put it. Two
very different things.

This “chasm” between your post Richard and the two previous posts is
because of the vast difference in the definition of terms, specifically
because of the vast difference of term definitions between prophets and
pastors. This difference in term definition is the physical manifestation
that we as yet have not come to a place of unity in the Spirit but rather
are still abiding on the “natural” or “earthly” plane (what Paul described
to the Ephesians as carnality).

When the Lord told us in Ephesians 4 that His intention was to raise up
“the church” that would be mature and edify itself in love and be raised
up to reflect Christ Himself was He referring to “all” within a christian
organization or only those who truly believe? Yes the “invitation” is to
all but not the promise of being part of that glorious building. The
promises are given to those who believe. Paul told the Galatians that the
Jerusalem that is seen in the natural is still in bondage (not a partaker
of the promises as the natural seed Ishmael was not) but the New Jerusalem
IN THE SPIRIT is free and thus the partaker of the promises (as was
Isaac). Jerusalem here is put allegorically for the religious seat as
Jerusalem was the religious center.

The belief is manifest by action taken by the believer which is to pursue
the Lord. Seek and you shall find. Those who diligently seek Me will find
Me. Even in this we have to define terms. Some take “pursuit of the Lord”
as “works” for the local body and “ministry” while others take that
“pursuit of the Lord” as allowing Him to cleanse us from the inside then
being able to after His dealings to do His will.

With this said, it is evident to me, and I will challenge you to ponder
this, that we have not as yet seen the “corporate church” (ekklesia)
manifest itself IN THE NATURAL. It always exists in the Spirit but not yet
in this realm were the Lord intends on making the kingdoms of this world
His. What we have is an invitation set forth by the Lord for individuals
to come to Him so once He has finished hewing out the stones “off site” He
will then set those stones into place to form the completed building
prophesied in so many places biblically. Before you outright reject this
as “silly” or “preposterous” really ponder the meaning of the “terms”
being tossed around today.

Perhaps one of the things that makes us so vastly divided in terms is the
fact that none of us are really walking “in Christ”. Ouch! But I lump
myself in that statement. Because of this some of our term definitions are
from the Lord and some are our own. Thus there is just enough leaven to
keep us completely divided as a body but not enough for us to detect that
something is actually wrong and thus keep us from “questioning”.

Another thing, could it be possible that we are trying to fit what we
“see” now into a biblical model that is based on a church that has not yet
manifest itself in the natural? If this is the case then it is no wonder
why we never can agree on terms nor can our current church model ever
match the biblical one.

These are all questions for you to ponder.

What one person defines as anointing another simply would call “talent”
and visa versa. I could go at infinitum on this but if we are not in
“unity” with the Lord (in Christ, in the Spirit, in fellowship with Him),
which is really the key, meaning individuals walking in the unity with
Christ. then how can we ever expect to see a whole group of believers (the
church) walk in unity and fellowship with one another. After all, out
unity is suppose to be “in Christ”. If we fail as individuals to “enter
in” then how can we lead others to that place? We cannot and will be as
the Pharisees who do not enter in themselves and hinder those who would.
We will as a people still abide on the earthly plane that is yet ruled by
satan were there can only be division and confusion.

One of the “signs” that we are “becoming” a true corporate church is that
we have ONE HEART and ONE MIND and that we all SPEAK THE SAME
THINGS. This
is a sign that we are abiding in the Spirit and not on this earthly plane.
This unity is not by concession but rather because we have all heard the
same things from the Lord and have got our definitions from one source.

I hope this gives you some things to consider.

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Recovering Evangelical

At the risk of offending, I have privately mused wondering what would
happen if I showed up at any church one fine Sunday wearing a sweatshirt
emblazoned with the phrase “Recovering Evangelical.” If I spied an angry
guy with an empty offering bucket headed out to the rock piles, I’d
probably bolt for freedom!

So what is a Recovering Evangelical? Is it someone who is dumping sound
doctrine for bizarre, ecstatic spiritual experiences? No, it’s a Bible
believing saint like moi who has rediscovered a profound Biblical truth:
the written Word and the Spirit of God perfectly agree. We are to live by
the Word and walk in the Spirit.

When I became a Christian, having nothing but a minimal Catholic
education in regard to spiritual matters, I was pretty much a blank
slate. The day I surrendered my heart to God, I began speaking in the most
astoundingly beautiful language when I prayed. Sometimes I could sense
what I was praying, sometimes not.

No one stood before me trying to prime the motor by instructing me to keep
repeating innocuous phrases like “Shine my bow tie, Shine my bow tie.” I
was filled with the Spirit of God an moments later began speaking in what
I later discovered in the book of Acts referred to as “diverse tongues,
or languages. ”

Kinda cool, I thought.

Since my experience lined up with the Bible, I assumed this was a normal
experience. I was asked not long after to speak at a Baptist Student
Union. After I shared my story, the campus minister got up and began
giving a dire impromptu warning of false prophets who would arise in the
last days. It was spooky stuff to hear – especially when it began to dawn
on me that he was referring to me! I was asked to never darken the door
of the BSU again.

Tongues, spiritual gifts, apostles and prophets, all were for another
dispensation and we no longer needed today, or so I was told. I couldn’t
argue with my elders in the Lord but in my heart I knew they were wrong.
Still, my heart began hardening a bit to demonstrations of spiritual
things. I began to walk a road of slow, steady decline in embracing the
gifts, and person, of the Holy Spirit.

As I continued to seek after God, he ruined me again! I prayed in my
prayer language and began having visions, words of knowledge, words of
wisdom, and even a few physical healings when I prayed for people. Then
came a few waves of weirdness in the church where people were suddenly
chopping, hopping, flopping, laughing, and barking like rabid hyenas.
Those things I didn’t see in the Bible and I began to again further
distance myself from the person of the Holy Spirit.

In those circles, spirituality began to be gauged not by your Christ
likeness, but by your personal spiritual experiences, Biblical or not. And
to my amazement, the heart attitude of many in the Spirit-filled was as
angrily dogmatic as what I had encountered at the BSU years earlier: if
you do not agree with this, you’re false. Period.

I attended a Christian meeting that had this sign in the lobby: These
meetings are not for Pharisees, Sadducees, or Wouldn’t-Sees. Since the
Scripture demands we “test all things and hold fast to that which is
good,” these folks put themselves in a very dangerous place. They had
thrown out the Bible with the bathwater as much as my Evangelical friends
had thrown out the person and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Both were in grave
error.

So, the pendulum had swung completely and I found myself in the middle of
a theological conflict. I began a renewed search of the Scriptures to see
if the Truth was still out there. After much soul searching, prayer, and
Bible meditation, I began to see anew that God does indeed “give gifts to
men.” He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His own Word declared
he does not change! He also requires us to be Bereans and “study to show
ourselves approved unto God.” Both expressions, the Word camp, and the
Spirit-filled camp, are the two balanced sides of the coin. The Word and
the Spirit agree perfectly.

I could have titled this tome “Recovering Charismatic” and been equally
correct. People who gut the Bible because it torks with their stodgy
theology commit the very violations of textual violence they castigate
cults for doing: changing the Scriptures to suit their whims. Until the
church is perfected, according to Ephesians 4, we will desperately need
the ministry of Apostles and Prophets. You can distort the Bible till
you’re blue, but it says what it says.

I have had evangelical leaders kid me about being the worlds only
theologically sound Charismatic. I embrace the whole counsel of God, which
includes sound doctrine, and the entire Bible, which includes the function
of apostles and prophets, and the gifts of the Spirit.

My recovery is almost complete. I’m off again today to pray in the Spirit,
and with my understanding. I have an appointment with God to keep and
I’ll have my Bible handy to make sure it’s really Him who gently speaks.

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Shepherds Astray

My
people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they
have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill,
they have forgotten their resting place (Jeremiah 50:6
KJ
V).

This warning from Jeremiah is
just as valid today. One of the ways that God’s people are being led astray
today is by being led from mountain to
hill,”
or from one high place to another, but are not being led to their
true resting place—union with the Lord Himself. This is not true of all
shepherds, as we have been blessed with some of the very finest in these times.
Even so, to a large degree there have been major drifts from the basic mandate
of the church to the point where large sections of the body of Christ are being
led astray.

It is often easier to
mobilize people around projects than it is to serve the Lord in the way that He
has prescribed. Modern advertising has conditioned people to respond to hype and
self-promotion more than to the Holy Spirit or to the truth. Many ministries
have learned to use these techniques to draw people to their projects. They
work, and the people come. However, with each such distraction the people are
left even emptier than before. One of the basic reasons for the lukewarmness in
which so many Christians are now trapped, is because they are worn out going
from one project, or high place, to the next.

Modern High Places

The high places” in the
Old Testament were the seed bed of apostasy in ancient Israel. However, they
were not just places where sacrifices were made to other gods, but also to
Jehovah, the God of Israel. In fact, they almost always began as places where
the people offered special, personal sacrifices to the Lord. Why was this an
offense to the Lord? Because it was a form of worship that He had not
prescribed, and one that He knew would lead to the people devising their own
religion, which would ultimately lead to them worshiping other gods. This is, of
course, what happened.

When people start doing their
own thing in worship, it will lead to them making their own god. Of course, it
will be a god who fits their own desires, and is more convenient to worship.
They may start off worshiping the Lord, but soon they will be worshiping a god
of their own devising, even though they may still use the Lord’s name.

Today there is a similar
casualness about how we serve the Lord. There is a tendency to think that we can
do just about anything that we think is a good idea and He will bless it.
Because of this, shepherds are leading people from mountain to hill,” one high place after another, but not to
the Lord Himself. In fact,
many people
have now been conditioned to seek a spiritual high” in every meeting, and
if they do not have such an experience, they quickly become bored and seek a new
place to experience God.” At the same time, the church is experiencing a
virtual meltdown of morality and integrity, as well as devotion to sound
biblical truth.

 With the rising addiction to convenience, and the casualness
of relationships, it is likely that we will soon see churches advertising both
Drive Thru Marriages” and Drive Thru Divorces.” Yet, it is hard to go
to a pastor’s meeting today without hearing complaints about the lack of
long-term commitment from the people.” Therefore, does not a major part of
the blame for this rest with the lack of commitment on the part of shepherds?
Pastors will quickly and easily leave their flock for a better position at a
bigger, or more prestigious church. This can be as devastating to a congregation
as having the father of a family come home one day and announce that he’s
going to leave them to become the father of a bigger, better family.  

The greatest responsibility
on earth is to lead, direct, and care for God’s own people. The pastoral
ministry is deserving of far more respect, honor, and support, than we could
ever give it with just a Pastor Appreciation Month, though this should certainly
be done. Being a pastor may be the most difficult, thankless job on earth. Even
so, the modern form that this ministry has taken is so flawed that it is not
only leading many of the Lord’s sheep astray, it is destroying the shepherds
as well. However, change is coming.

A New Bridge

A
prophetic friend, Bob Jones, was recently visited by an angel that was one of
the largest he had ever seen. This angel said that his name was the Winds of
Change,” and that great changes were coming to the church. He said that until
now we have known mostly the winds of adversity, but the winds of change that
were coming would fill our sails” as the church is about to move forward
again.

Bob was also given a vision
of a bridge collapsing in North Carolina. A few days later it happened. As
people were walking over a bridge to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, it collapsed,
injuring over one hundred people. When the Lord reveals something like this
prophetically it is because there is a message in it.

In
dreams and visions cars often represent ministries because they are
vehicles” for carrying people. NASCAR is now called the number one
spectator sport in America; but there is one bigger—the church in America
where millions go each week to watch a few people minister.” Like a NASCAR
race, these ministries are consuming a lot of energy going nowhere fast. They do
not really have a destination, but are just going in circles, competing with
each other trying to stay in front, banging into each other and running into
walls. As the saying goes, the only way you can win a rat race is to be a
rat,” and that is what the modern form of ministry does to people. 


 I
always thought that it would be exciting to drive a race car, but did not see
the point in sitting in the hot sun for several hours watching someone else do
it. When I went to a NASCAR race, I was surprised by how exciting it was to just
watch. I was pumped for several hours after it was over, and I did not even know
who won! I am also amazed by how entertaining some ministries are. You can
become mesmerized watching them, but what are they really saying? Where are they
leading us? What is being accomplished?

If
we build our churches or ministries on entertainment, it is on the shakiest of
foundations. If we build this way, it will only take a few less than mountain
top” meetings and you will not have many people left. The greatest enemy of
these churches is not sin, or the devil, but boredom. It has now been proven
that boredom is one thing that few people can endure for very long. For many,
the ministry has become nothing but a mad attempt to find the next thing that
will keep the people hyped and moving. 

Is
this what New Testament church life was intended to be? Absolutely not! The
winds of change are coming. If you are a pastor or leader trapped in this mad
cycle of ministry that must go ever faster, but all of the time is just going in
circles, you are going to need more than a pit stop for more fuel. There is a
point when your engine will not take it any more. Insurance companies are even
starting to rate pastors as high risk, claiming that a thirty-year old pastor
can have a sixty-year old heart. You must get off of this racetrack and get on
to the highway (the higher-way). You must stop pursuing ministry and start
pursuing the Lord. It may sound too simple, but it is the only way out. As the
apostle wrote:

For I am jealous for you with a
godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might
present you as a pure virgin.

But I am afraid, lest as the
serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the
simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (II Corinthians 11:2-3).

Crafty”
was the first thing that was said about the serpent in the garden, and it is
still a profound revelation of the nature of the devil. Craftiness is the
attempt to get an edge by bending the rules and getting away with it. A lot of
modern ministries have been built more on craftiness than the anointing of the
Holy Spirit. Like the curse upon the serpent, it may seem to be successful for a
little while, but it ultimately leads to eating dust. It is time to return to
the Tree of Life, the Lord Jesus Himself.

False Shepherds

There
are more warnings in Scripture about false shepherds than about false prophets
and false teachers combined. I am not bringing this up to attack pastors, but to
save them. What has arisen in our time to masquerade as the pastor ministry is
false. The modern model of the pastoral ministry is neither biblical, nor
effective. If we try to fit into that mold we too will be made false. 


Change
is not an option. The very structure of this ministry in its present form is
taking many who devote themselves to ministry with pure motives and perverting
them. Ezekiel 34 reads as if it were written especially for today. However, just
as that chapter also promises, the Lord is raising up shepherds after His own
heart, who will like King David, lead the people with courage, wisdom and honor.

The
reason why the bridge going to the Charlotte Motor Speedway collapsed was
because a stress beam” could not take the pressure of all of the people
walking on it. The main reason why ministries are burning out so fast today is
the tendency to take the people’s yoke instead of the Lord’s yoke. We will
never be able to measure up to human expectations. We can never carry the
burdens or expectations of the people, because we have not been given the grace
or authority to do it. That is not our job, and we must stop trying. Our goal is
simply to connect the people to the One who is their Source.

Preparing For The Anti-Christ

When we lead people from one
project to the next instead of leading them to the Lord, we are leading them to
that which is a substitute for Him. Are people being led to Jesus” but
somehow all they ever get is us? When we try to become the source of meeting the
people’s needs, we are in a way, actually putting ourselves in the place of
the anti-Christ, who does not just come as one who attacks Christ, but one who
sets himself up as substitute for Christ. This could also be interpreted as a
substitute for the anointing, as Christ means anointed.” It may sound
dramatic, but by doing this we are actually preparing people for the
anti-Christ.

As the apostle John
explained, there are many anti-Christs. We are not called to try to be the Holy
Spirit to people. We must determine that we are not going to try to be the
people’s source, or let them put us in that position. Neither can we allow
anything else to take the place of Him in church life.

When
the people came to make Jesus king, He fled to the mountains. If the people had
made Jesus king, it would have been the people who ruled. This was a most
presumptuous act for the people to think that they could make God king. He was
born King! If it is the people who put us in our place, they are going to be the
ones in control. We must learn to do the same thing when people try to wrongly
exalt us—we must flee! We must flee from anything that does not acknowledge
Jesus in the place that He already holds and bow the knee to Him alone.

Organized Crime In The Church

One
of the primary ways that we start substituting for the anointing is trying to
use organization in the place of the Holy Spirit. The Lord is certainly not
against organization, but He is when we use it in place of trusting Him, and
letting Him do the work. When we immediately respond to a call from God to do
something by putting together plans and committees, we are often departing from
the course.

King
Saul was anointed by God. His downfall was that he tended to act rashly under
the pressure of circumstances. On the other hand, one of the most frequent
statements made about King David in Scripture is he inquired of the Lord.”
As Proverbs 16:18 declares, Pride goes
before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”
What could be
more arrogant than assuming that we have God’s opinion on everything? What
could be more presumptuous than making decisions that affect the Lord’s own
children without even inquiring of Him about it? Studies have shown that the
average pastor in America prays less than five minutes a day!

I
have been repeatedly told by the Lord that I will not be able to stay on course
if I do not spend at least two hours a day in prayer. I am repeatedly told this
because I repeatedly drift from it. It is difficult, but one of the reasons that
we are beset with so many pressures and emergencies is because we have not been
doing this. Two hours a day, or whatever He calls us to pray, will always be the
most productive part of our day. He promises that if we seek Him we will find
Him. If we find Him, we will become yoked with Him. When we are yoked with Him,
the work becomes easy, and we accomplish far more with far less effort. The Lord
makes an offer to us that is greater than all of the treasure on earth:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy—laden, and I
will give you rest.

Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am
gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.

For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Matthew
11:28-30).

One word of wisdom or
knowledge from Him can accomplish much more than many days of hard labor on our
part. Only the Lord can build His house. He will let us work with Him, but when
we try to do it alone, or through our human organizations, He calls it
organized crime.”

Making The Right Turn

If
you are caught in the mad cycle of ministry where the only way that you can stay
in the race is to keep making left turns, you are going to have to learn to turn
the opposite direction in which everyone else is going. Our repentance must be
total if we are to return to the Lord. However, at the speed most ministries are
moving, to turn drastically will cause a spin out or crash. Repenting from using
the wrong method of ministry is not the same as repenting from a moral sin. For
the sake of the people that we are leading, it is seldom the answer to just make
another radical turn in the opposite direction.

First,
slow your vehicle, or ministry down. Then wait for the proper exit that the Lord
will provide. Just seeing what is wrong with our ministry is not enough. We need
to have a clear vision of where we need to go. The Lord never changes our
direction by just telling us that we’re wrong, but He also makes it clear what
the right path is.

We must return to our first
love. Only when we have truly done this will we be able to lead the people back
to their first love. If we would spend more time ministering to the Lord than we
do to people, our ministry to the people would be multiplied in its
effectiveness. If we determined that we are much more concerned about having the
Lord’s presence in our meetings than we are in getting people to come, we will
probably lose some at first, and maybe even many, but that is not as tragic as
losing the Lord’s presence. If we will return to our first love, ultimately we
will have more people than we know what to do with. If we will determine that we
will seek God’s approval more than man’s, our drudgery in ministry will
quickly return to being the joy of our life again.

The Way Of Grace

There are also some
practical, but profound, changes that need to be made in the very form of modern
ministry. The pastoral ministry was never intended to be the dominant ministry
that it has become. This ministry is only mentioned one time in the entire New
Testament, and even then there is no definition given to it, but it is listed as
one member of a team of ministries. New Testament ministry is called to be a
team ministry, and no New Testament ministry can function properly without being
properly related to the rest of the team. When any of them try to stand alone
they will depart from their proper orbit quickly, and become perverted in their
application. The nature and purpose of New Testament ministry is clearly laid
out in Ephesians 4:11-16:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and
some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,

for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to
the building up of the body of Christ;

until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the
knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature
which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here
and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery
of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;

but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all
aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ,

from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by
that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each
individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in
love.

This is the most succinct
text in the New Testament on practical ministry. There are twelve factors that
it establishes, and we should look for them in every application of true
ministry. They are:

1. The apostles, prophets,
evangelists, pastors and teachers are given to the church to equip the people to
do the work of the ministry, not just do it themselves.

2. These are all given for
the building up of the body of Christ, not just gathering people. Are the
living stones” that the Lord has entrusted to our care being joined
together into a holy temple for Him, or are they just a pile of stones? 

3. This building must
continue until we all attain,”
not some. We are called to attain: 1) The unity of the faith, 2) The knowledge
of the Son of God, 3) Maturity, and 4) The measure of the stature that belongs
to the fullness of Christ. Do you know of a church anywhere in the world that
has attained to even one of these things? Then obviously this team is currently
not present, nor doing its job.

4. The church is not to
remain children that are tossed around by waves. These waves” can be waves
of the Holy Spirit, but not every church or believer is supposed to catch every
wave. If we try to do this we will constantly be running to and fro
accomplishing nothing of substance. Maturity recognizes the moves of the Holy
Spirit, but also knows not to try and catch every one of them.

5. The church that has been
properly built will not be carried about by every new wind of doctrine, or the
trickery and craftiness of men who are constantly preying upon the church to
further their own agendas.

6. We will speak the truth in
love. Before the end comes, Christians are actually going to be known by their
love.

7.
We will grow up in all aspects” into Christ. This means that every ministry
that He did when He walked the earth, He will be able to continue through us.

8.
The whole body will be fitted together. Everyone in the body will know their
place in the body, and everyone will be functioning in it.

9.
The body will be fitted and held together by the strength of the joints” in
the body. A joint is not a part, but it is where two parts come together.

10. These joints must be
fitted together and strong enough to hold the body together. Also, there is no
joint in the body that is connected to every other joint,
which
is what many pastors try to do. We must encourage the joining of the people to
one another, not just to the church. If the people are not growing in their
relationship to each other, then our church is weak.

11. These joints are formed
by the proper working of each
individual part.”
No one wants to be joined to a member that is atrophied,
or paralyzed. If we are truly one of the equipping ministries given to the
church, we will know how to equip all of the people to do their job. 


12. The body builds up itself
in love. This is our first and highest calling. All that we do is for nothing if
we do not love God above all things, and love His people. Love is the cement
that will hold the entire temple together, and without it every church will
ultimately collapse.

A Testimony and Warning

Our
church body in Charlotte has been emphasizing the above text in Ephesians for
six years now. We have hundreds who are serving in evangelistic teams, healing
teams, prophetic ministry teams, as home group leaders, intercessory ministries,
pastors, teachers, watchmen, overseers, etc. I am thankful for this, but it
still only represents a small portion of the entire church. After more than five
years of almost continuous emphasis, I think that we only accomplished about
15-20 percent of the job. Why?

This is no quick fix
situation. It took the Lord over three years of continuous day-by-day training
to equip His disciples. Who are we to think that we can do it faster? Some do
come more prepared, and can move into their calling faster because of the work
that has already been done. But to comply with the mandate of Ephesians Four
will take a veritable revolution in the church. I think that it has taken the
majority of our leadership team more than five years to really start equipping
others, even though we have had it as a doctrinal emphasis for so long. I think
that less than 5 percent of the ministries that I know even think about
equipping others as a part of their job. Their mentality of ministry is to go
and do it and have every one else watch.

Fulfilling the Ephesians Four
mandate will require one of the greatest paradigm shifts in the history of the
church. It will be a reformation that is much more profound than what is now
called the Reformation.” However, it is clear that it must, and will be
done. The body of Christ cannot accomplish its mandate until it is. I am saying
this to emphasize that this will require a long-term commitment and strategy. It
is much more than a new method; it will require radical change in the mentality of the ministry of the pastor.

We can say from Ephesians
Four that if a pastor is not equipping and releasing other pastors to do what he
or she does, they are not a true New Testament pastor. If an evangelist, or
prophet, or teacher, is not equipping and releasing others to do what they are
doing than they are not a true New Testament ministry. If we are not doing this,
than we are not the true New Testament ministry that is spoken of in this
chapter.

True Greatness

Vince
Lombardi, who coached the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s, was a winning coach.
He built one great team that won an unprecedented three straight championships.
However, none of his assistants went on to be a successful head coach in the
league. On the other hand, Bill Walsh of the San Francisco Forty-Niners not only
produced championship teams himself, but his assistants went on to even greater
successes, with eight of them being head coaches in the NFL at the same time.
They produced more championship teams over the last decade than all of the other
coaches combined. True greatness is not just being successful ourselves, but
producing others who are also successful. Is that not what the Lord Jesus spent
His life on earth doing? If we are going to be like Him we must do the same.

Not being devoted to
equipping others is a main reason why so many churches and ministries fall from
grace, or fail to remain spiritually relevant after the passing of their
founders. By this it is easy to tell those who are truly producing fruit that
remains. The Lord promised that those who believed in Him would do the works
that He did, and even greater works, because He had gone to the Father. If we
are truly like Him in ministry, and if we are abiding in Him, those who we raise
up will not only do what we have done, but greater works. This is the mark of
true greatness.

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On fire for Jesus!

The thought of flaming enthusiasm in religion arouses distrust in the
modern mind as in the ancient. Enthusiasm is permitted in any other
pursuit; in religion it is regarded as bad form. Enthusiasts in piety are
either despised as unintelligent zealots, or tolerated as well-meaning
fanatics. Reserve is the rule in religion; and there are established
conventions settling what is proper and “what isn’t done.” And yet, New
Testament Christianity is holy fire, having little in common with the
decorum and ritualism which often beggars the name today.

The essential faith of the Pentecostal Church was a heart on fire with
devotion to God and enthusiasm for His purposes in the world. It was this
flame of sacred love, which distinguished the early Christian and was the
secret of his success. The spread of the Faith in its earliest days, as
Carlyle has shown us, had little or nothing to do with external
organization.-”How did Christianity arise and spread among men? Was it by
institutions, and establishments, and mechanical systems? No! It arose in
the mystic deeps of a man’s soul, and was spread by simple, altogether
natural, and individual efforts. It flew like hallowed fire from heart to
heart till all were purified and illumined by it.”

“Men ablaze are invincible. Hell trembles when men kindle.”

The company gathered in the Upper Room represented the most rigid religion
in the world, and some of them belonged to its straightest sect. They were
strict formalists; and never was formalism so frigid, never so icy as in
the Judaism of their day. Jesus had loosened some of their fetters, but
the prejudices and habits of years are not easily cast off. Then a sound
from heaven like the rush of a gale – the sudden appearance of light, like
tongues of flame and in a moment that company was transfigured by the
sacred fire.

We know the result. Enthused by it, those men and women ultimately turned
their world upside down. My old chief, Samuel Chadwick often said, “Men
ablaze are invincible. Hell trembles when men kindle. The stronghold of
Satan is invincible against everything but fire. The Church is powerless
without the flame of the Holy Ghost. Destitute of fire, nothing else
counts; possessed of fire, nothing else really matters. The one vital need
is fire. Without the flame and fervor of the Holy Ghost, the Church will
never accomplish its mission.”

“I have no further desire except to love Jesus even unto folly.”

In the power of this new enthusiasm, the disciples of Jesus went forth as
burning and shining lights. The spirit of cold obedience was kindled into
a passion for righteousness, and the slavish sense of duty burst into an
eager flame of devotion. An all-pervasive zeal possessed them, a burning
desire for God, and a yearning pity for mankind. Pentecost put passion,
fervor, and abandon into their lives, not rant nor noise, but the white
heat of holy enthusiasm. It made them heroic and absolutely dead to the
opinions of men. It made them willing, even eager, to be counted fools or
fanatics for Christ. It is the transition from formalism to fervor that
marks the miracle of Pentecost in this aspect. ” I have no further
desire,” said the Little Flower of Carmel, ” except to love Jesus even
unto folly.” The Lord of love rejoiced to hear her say it. So few say it.

So many of His servants are cold and faint in their love for Him. Let it
be remembered that truth without enthusiasm, morality without emotion,
ritual without soul, were the things which Christ unsparingly
condemned.-(Rev. 2:1-5). Moral and spiritual passion, are the essence of
the religion of Jesus. “Our Lord delights to see us love-obsessed, carried
away by this master-passion from the conventional to the unconventional,
from ease-loving ways into the regions of peril, into extravagances that
make people question our sanity, as His was questioned, and from tinkering
at mending men to the revolutionary and divine business of saving them.”
Christ prefers us passionate to proper. He wants devotion rather than
decorum. He prefers fanaticism to formalism. He longs to see us ablaze
with a love that must sometimes overpass the lines of conventional
churchmanship.

“Our Lord delights to see us love-obsessed.”

The fervor of the apostles did not pass away in mere wasteful tumult; it
was disciplined and used for Love’s purpose in the world. It was ordered,
but not by the conventions of churchmanship. There was a regular
expression along certain lines, but it was never calculated. They might at
any moment infringe the canons or break the conventions, and be carried
away into some unprecedented enterprise or sacrifice for the Beloved. The
only predictable thing about them was that they would keep blazing. This
is the explanation of the intensity of apostolic enterprise. If we are
asked why this fire is lacking from religion today, there is one answer:
We have not the Spirit. Pentecostal
enthusiasm is not of human kindling. It is not a zeal of the flesh. It is
not an inspiration born of human desire. No man on earth has the love,
which Jesus commands -unless it has been imparted to him. It is the gift
of the Spirit. “God is my witness,” said Paul (Phil.1:8), “How I long for
you all with a love that is not mine, but Christ loving in me.” The Holy
Spirit of Love is the fire; He sheds abroad God’s own love in the
surrendered heart. We cannot bring this flaming devotion into our nature
by effort of will or meditation; it is the effectual expression of the
indwelling Spirit; and on the human side, it is conditioned by willingness
to become a love-slave in the cause of redemption.

“Let my name rot if only Christ be honored.”

The human condition frightens us. We are not willing to face the charge of
fanaticism. The love of reputation holds us. What a struggle Wesley had to
shed the cultural superiority and clinging formalism of his churchmanship!
Revivalism would imperil his reputation. There was a painful conflict
before he “consented to become more vile.” It is this process of becoming
vile in the eyes of the world which keeps many from the Baptism of Fire.
It is only as we are willing to lose our reputation at the impulse of
consuming love, that the Spirit is granted, and as that great warrior of
the Spirit, C. T. Studd said, ” A lost reputation is the best degree for
Christ’s service. To raise living churches of souls among the destitute,
to capture men from the devil’s clutches, to snatch them from the jaws of
hell, to enlist and train them for Jesus, to make them into an almighty
army for God-this can only be accomplished by red-hot, unconventional,
unfettered Holy Ghost religion, by reckless sacrifice and heroism in the
foremost trenches. It is the hot, free heart, and not the balanced head,
that knocks the devil out.” A man has not begun to be worthy of the Spirit
until he is able to say with Whitfield, ” Let my name rot if only Christ
be honored.” The abandonment of love in the cause of redemption is the
authentic mark of the Spirit-filled life, but it is costly.

Fenelon’s inquiry is a word we should heed: “What would a king say to the
subject, or a master to the servant, who was afraid of seeming
over-zealous in his service, and was ashamed of being publicly known as
faithful? How much rather will the King of Kings judge us who do the like?
There is but one way of loving God, which knows no bargaining with Him,
but accepts His every inspiration with a free and generous heart . . . He
cannot suffer the cowardly souls which say to themselves ‘Thus far will I
go, but no further’ . . . Woe to the timid, cowardly souls who are divided
between God and the world! They will and they will not; they are torn
asunder both by passion and remorse; they fear both the judgment of God
and that of man; they are frightened of what is evil and ashamed of what
is good.”

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Healthy Churches

There is a sure and simple way to tell if your church is in poor health.
It is ‘better’ than the more common methods because it can indicate
trouble ahead, while the church still appears to be thriving. It is an
‘early warning system’. If taken seriously and acted upon, it can be used
to save your church from continued decline and fatal illness.

The traditional ‘signs of decline’ – falling numbers, aging membership,
missing young people, diminishing incomes – are merely symptoms, not the
cause of a church’s sickness. And by the time they are evident it is
almost too late to restore the church to health. At best, it will be a
difficult and painful road to recovery.

What is the most accurate indicator to your church’s life expectancy? It
is the extent to which your church is dependent on its minister. If your
minister’s or pastor’s presence and involvement are virtually essential to
its worship, teaching, leadership and administration your church’s days
are numbered. This is the primary cause of sickness and even death in
twenty first century churches. All over this country such churches are
dying. And the tragedy is this – most of these churches are dying at their
own hands.

All over Australia churches are being killed by ‘good ministers’. How
could this be? Because what church members mean by ‘good ministers’ is a
world away from what the Scriptures say about ‘good ministers’.
Essentially, this situation is not the fault of our ministers themselves.
For many of them, their understanding of their role, and their day to day
practice, has been deeply shaped by church members’ wishes, preferences,
expectations, and quite often, demands.

Within Protestant churches this process has been at work for over 400
years, since the Reformation. That landmark event, brought immense
benefits, especially access to the Scriptures for ‘ordinary people’. But
unfortunately, it did not bring much more than lip service to the Biblical
truth of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ i.e. that all Christians are
gifted for ministries which God intends them to fulfill.

Consequently, in today’s typical church the members assist the minister to
conduct the church, instead of ministers assisting members to be the
church.

A typical church may have 100 members and one minister. Biblically
understood, it should have 100 ministers and one ‘enabler’, or several
enablers.

The reason why minister-dependency is fatal for a church is that it means,
in effect, that the church is in ‘maintenance mode’. This should never
have been acceptable, but in the past the serious consequences of being in
maintenance mode were not so obvious.

During post-reformation Christendom, churches in the western world were
generally regarded as part of the community furniture – essential
institutions, like schools, hospitals, courthouses and banks. Every
respectable community should have one! Most members of those communities
wanted to be christened, married and buried by a church. In such a climate
it was easy to believe that in the church the role of the minister was the
role of primary importance.

But that era is gone. Not just going, but gone. Gone thirty years ago,
gone last century! Most of our churches today are products of an era that
is well and truly past! This is very sobering, and it is crucial that we
ponder carefully what that means. But even more deadly is the fact that
many churches continue, in this new era, to function as though the best
thing that can happen to them is to have a ‘good minister’. Such churches
are writing their own death warrants!

Unprecedented social change, and much more vigorous competition from other
faiths and philosophies mean that if a church is in maintenance mode it is
terminally ill. The end, as in all such cases, is only a matter of time.
To thrive and to grow and, much more importantly, to fulfill God’s
purposes for us, we must no longer be chaplains to Christendom but
missionaries to paganism. And by the way, paganism is not necessarily
savagery or witchcraft. The essence of paganism is idolatry. By this
definition Australia is a pagan country.

But to be minister-dependent, or to see the minister’s role as more
important than the members’ lives and giftedness, is not to be in
missionary mode at all. For a church to be in missionary mode means that
the crucial agenda is to discover, develop, and fully employ the gifts of
every member, both within and outside the organised life of the church.

It means understanding that the ministry of a church is not primarily what
the minister does but what the members do and say in every situation in
which they find themselves on every day of every week. It means
recognising the significance of our members’ daily lives and equipping
them to honour God and share His love in their everyday situations. It
means commissioning them, in our services, to their spheres of daily
involvement and influence, just as we would commission missionaries going
overseas.

And it means recognising that potentially, (but so often unrecognised),
there are already within our congregations the evangelists, church
planters, prophets, teachers, disciple-makers, intercessors and helpers of
all kinds crucial to a church being in missionary mode. To believe in the
face of all this, and in view of the world in which we now live, that the
role of the minister is the only role we should take seriously is to
ensure the quick demise of our churches.

Churches in missionary-mode must make the utmost use of every gift and
ministry of every member God has given them. To do this, a major change of
thinking and practice will be necessary on the part of members and
ministers alike.

It is not possible, within this article, to consider all that this would
mean; but a few recent practical observations highlight the need.

For example, forty percent of the one third of the Australian population
who believe in God, Jesus and the Bible but don’t go to church, are former
church members.

Traditionally (and still) we have felt that if people did not attend
church it was because they were not believers. But the reality today is
that a significant proportion of non-attenders who are spiritually minded
were once with us. Are these people hard to please, rebellious, fickle,
disobeying God? Some perhaps. But increasingly faced with a church on
Sunday that has nothing to do with life on Monday they are quietly
withdrawing.

Forty years ago such a response, which is a protest, would have been
unthinkable. But faced with the daily pressures of attempting to honour
the Lord in pagan workplaces and neighbourhoods they are realising that
‘going to church’, per se, is not enough. Whether it is enough depends not
on whether they go but on what happens when they get there.

God has not asked us simply to ‘hold services’ or to ‘go to church’. He
wants us to meet frequently in order to please him, share our news,
encourage one another, learn from him together, develop friendships, play
and perhaps eat together, pray for one another, ask questions of our
preachers, share our experiences, and anything else that will better
enable each of us to honour the Lord day by day for another week (see
Hebrews 10:23-25).

God intends us not to be actively involved in ‘attending church’ but in
furthering His Kingdom. Our gatherings are to be to that end. We who have
been attending church all our lives must ask ourselves the question ‘what
does God intend His people to do when they meet?’

God is not very interested, I believe, in our ‘service of worship’ but in
our ‘worship of service’, ie, the way we honour him in our daily lives. If
we do not meet to equip each other for this, and those who attend are
little more than passive observers, we have not achieved much more than to
hold a sacred concert.

Being overly dependent on our minister includes wanting him or her to be
our teacher, worship leader, celebrant, convenor, conductor and religious
official. This is a major cause of the failure of our services and
meetings to meet the needs or to develop the gifts of Christians who
genuinely want to further God’s Kingdom. Eventually, in quiet desperation,
they leave us, and our church takes another step closer to it’s grave.

Meanwhile these people look, often in vain, for a church that takes them,
their gifts, ministries and their desire to serve the Kingdom seriously.
They look for a church that won’t just ‘use’ them but will support and
enable them in pursuing the causes and concerns God has placed in their
hearts. Some attempt to create such churches themselves. Others just give
up, and join the growing number of ex-church refugees. What a tragedy all
this is when we consider that well established churches are in a better
position than any others, in terms of resources, to invest, even to risk,
some of their money, property and people-power to launch new, alternative,
unconventional forms of church which today are so desperately needed.

No superficial innovation will prevent the decline of a minister-dependent
church. No new liturgy, different music, new songs, decor, venue or order
of service will suffice. If church members continue to place unbiblical
expectations on their minister, and if the minister takes such a role upon
him or herself, such ministry will be a fatal distortion of what church is
all about, and today, more quickly than ever, will lead to that church’s
death.

Many Christians today are realising they are not simply spectators,
supporters or preacher fodder. They see that in God’s economy, they are in
fact his ministers. Consequently, even in large churches regarded as
successful, the number of people going out the back door often almost
equals the number coming in the front.

Don’t wait for all the symptoms of sickness to appear. You can tell if
your church is dying, even while it appears to be well. Better to take
it’s pulse now, and if necessary, trust God to help you and your fellow
members take life-saving action.

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Should I drive the bus?

Should I drive the bus?

About 10 years ago I was a typical commuter in a larger metropolitan area. I had always used my car to get to work but I found that it didn’t really get me where I wanted to go. The traffic congestion was terrible. My car had been broken in to a number of times and the price of parking was absolutely enormous. The pollution was getting to me and everyone in the city. Scientists came to the conclusion that the pollution was killing us all and that something needed be done. The frustrated commutes left me feeling empty and discouraged. The longer I tried to get downtown by car, the more my money, patience and health left me. It was literally killing me.

A friend of mine challenged me to consider Public Transportation. It had been around for years and there were various forms of it. I had received some literature on the benefits of public transit but I didn’t pay them much attention. I even had the old city guide book to public transit. Anyways, this friend Rob brought me to the train station. The train didn’t make many stops but it definitely got me started on the road to cleaner travel. I liked public transport so I decided to commit myself to it. The people were nice, and I saw my health immediately improve after I hopped on the train. I spent far less time breathing polluted air, and the train had its own air filters to help keep poison out.

The travelers on the train told me that to really be committed to public transit I needed to start using the bus. The train was great for getting straight to downtown, but it doesn’t stop everywhere, and it wouldn’t meet all my needs. I was scared. I didn’t want to jump the bus because bus people are weird. Some drivers mistreat their passengers and charge really heavy fairs. If you buy a bus pass for one bus company it may not be accepted by the other companies. There were so many different companies that competed against each other. How would I know which one is the easiest on the environment, or would get me to work the fastest. A lot of the people that took my train also took a bus that stopped in my area. It seemed to be the obvious choice for me.

My first impression of the bus was bad. The air was stuffy, and I felt very out of place. I liked the people that I took the train with and hung around with them. I spent as much time taking the train as I could because it their seemed cleaner and I could tell that I was getting to work much faster than I would I took my car.

As I learned more about public transport I become a very big supporter. So much so that I sounded like I thought I knew everything and anything there is to know about busses, trains, cars and the environment. I really began to study the benefits of public transit. I read books on Train travel, bus travel, seat repair, route planning. In researching the issue I found some remarkable things. Some cities reduced to pollution to almost nothing by proper implementation of public transit. I was really in to it. It seemed clear to me what my calling was. I was going to become a bus driver. Well, maybe not a bus driver because those passengers can be a handful. Maybe I’ll be a train operator, or work on the rail system.

Like many others that had caught on to this message I want to public transit school. Again there were many different types of transit schools. Some were sponsored by the bus companies, others claimed to be independent schools. In the end I enrolled at the Hepburn Transit Institute. The Hepburn Transit Institute was affiliated with the bus company I had purchased my bus pass from. A lot of my friends that had taken the train, and this bus with me, decided to go there. Again, it seemed like an obvious choice. Transit school was a lot of fun. It seemed like I was forever wasting my time trying to find a girlfriend but I did learn a lot. There were lots of different classes. Classes on fixing buses, starting up your own route, expanding the company in to towns where there was no public transit. By the time I was done transit school I thought I was ready to tackle the world.

All the while I started to become disappointed with the bus company I bought my pass from. Early on in my discovery of public transit I saw an immediate benefit. With the bus I was on I didn’t see the same benefit. The people I traveled with were nice enough, but the bus didn’t seem to get anywhere at any speed.

The pollution filters were constantly breaking down and it seemed there was just as much filth inside the bus as there was outside the bus. The filters were on but more often than not they just masked the smell. The people who had been taking the bus for years became used to that smell. They associated that smell with good clean air. As long as they smelled that air, they thought they were safe. It didn’t seem to matter that they weren’t getting any healthier.

The bus routes were incredibly ineffecient. The bus drivers were caught between the city guide on public transit, the company management and the people on the bus. The bus ended up stopping at peoples houses instead of the regular stops. The amount of stops along the route ballooned and it took forever to get anywhere.

The whole goal of public transit was to get as many people using it as possible. However it was a tough sell. There were so many competing companies and routes it caused mass confusion. There was no consistent routes, or pick up times. Some bus drivers charged huge fees and pocketed the money for themselves. No one could tell which bus to take, because there so many choices. In an effort to lock people in to using their bus exclusively they stopped honoring each others transfers. They built their own terminals and all had variations on the same rules. Most people in the city knew they needed to reduce the pollution and end these terrible commutes, but they weren’t convinced that the busy companies had the answer.

There were a lot of people that spoke authoritatively about the city guide to public transit, an used it to support their route planning and bus enhancements. And many of their ideas seemed to help things for awhile. Some tried making taking the bus for the first time easier by lowering the initial fares. Others tried putting in bigger engines in the bus to make it go faster. Others experimented with other fuels like diesel to bring down the cost, or electricity to reduce emmissions to nothing.

The problem was that with all the confusion very few people decided to take the bus. Of the people using the bus system only a select few seemed significantly healthier. It seemed as though many people took bus for the sake of taking the bus. They had no real destination in mind.

In all the confusion I started to wonder what I was doing on a bus anyways. I read about how in the past efficient public transit became hugely popular and transformed entire cities. I believed in those stories. I believe in the city guide to public transit. It seemed like the company I was committed to was to bogged down. Important things didn’t really matter. My own health was deteriorating and I found that the less time I spent on that bus, the better off I felt.

I tried a few other busses and found that most of them were worse off than company I was with before. Some of those busses never even made it downtown before they stalled out. In fact, the bus I was taking before was one of the best ones around.

I began to have dreams and visions of a bus company that really worked. I thought that if the company would just implement the programs I found that everything would change. A new look on marketing, recruitment, education, maintenance. A complete revolution in the way the company operates. Eventually the bus I was on died. A few months later another bus was started in its place. It’s drivers felt very much the same way I did and implemented many of these reforms. It seemed like they did help. More people started buying bus passes. It seemed however that no matter how much you change the route, and marketing, and the passes, the engine needed to run well. It needed good clean fuel. Even though many of things about bus travel were improved from the seating to the lights and route, the engine was slow, and it stalled, and it broke down often.

It seemed as though the engine began to burn oil. It caused some serious spouts of pollution and I became very ill. I carefully considered my options. Finally I decided to bail on the bus. I had started riding my bike a long time ago and it seemed to be really effective. I could ride down by the river away from the busy streets. I was getting lots of exercise, the air was cleaner, and best of all I got to work in no time at all. Occasionally I took the train when I needed to. I still kept taking the bus at times because sometimes it rained, or stormed, or even snowed.

I gave up on the bus I was with. I checked out a few others. I was very wary of making any long term commitments to one company. I settled down in to one for awhile and then moved on to a next. For the most part I rode my bike. Man, I really came to love riding my bike. Some of my old friends on the bus would ask me how I was doing, whether I had found a different bus to ride on. They talked to me like I was some poor lost commuter that had went back to using the freeway and my car. It offended me really. I was fully committed to public transit, I just didn’t think most of the busses really helped the commute. They were often just as dirty, and they took hours to get where they were supposed to go. They were useless.

As I continued to study public transit from the bikers perspective I saw it in a different light. I came to heavily mistrust all the different programs that came from the head offices of the bus companies. They were committed to public transit, but they were also committed to themselves. The existence and success of the bus route often took precedence over a healthy, efficient, quick commute. It became sad I winded through the different paths and roads often beating the bus to work by hours. I was thoroughly amazed at how people were so blindly committed to an agency that did nothing for them. Most of them could hop off the bus and walk to work and they would get their faster.

I noticed that there was a sizeable group of people that really cared about public transit but just can stand taking the bus. I met them a long the sidewalk and paths. Some walked, some used inline skates, scooters, skateboards or bycycles. Some may have had an unduly harsh reaction to the current bus system as they often criticised it, and even tried to sabatouge it. It was clear to me that being on the bus was better than biking it alone at times. A bus can handle ice way better than a bycycle. Wind can really slow you down some days. I knew from history that sometimes public transit really worked. Even amazingly well. My first experiences on trains, and even some smaller busses were really effective.

As much as I might like to deny it, public transit, is public. It’s not private transit. For the city to truly transform, it needs some form of public transit. Not everyone can walk or ride bike.

After a few years of biking I became very healthy again. My harsh memories of being committed to a bus had faded. My expertise in public transit began to become noticed. I was allowed to drive the bus. In these special cases I did what I could to ensure a good quick ride. I made sure the air filters were clean, and that the engine was well tuned. My bike rides gave me good knowledge of the city and I was able to adeptly navigate the streets. Many people came to appreciate my commitment to getting them to work on time in a safe environment. I paid little heed to tradition, or benefiting my career as a driver, or my own vain opinions about every little thing. My focus became much more pure. Instead of trying to be the best bus driver in town, I was focussed on getting people to work.

Eventually the other drivers in the system asked me if I wanted to take a regular route. It would be on a volunteer basis, but it would be a regular route. I was perplexed. I am fully committed to public transit, but if I commit to this bus and this company, will I just become sick again. Will my efforts towards furthing health and safety become muted by the influence of tradition and peoples opinions. Will I fall prey to the temptation of promoting myself over the needs of the people on that bus. Am I better off just writing about public transit. I had become very effective teaching people about public transit and doing it on a volunteer basis. It was easier that way because I didn’t need involve myself in the intricacies of the system, and I wasn’t concerned about building my bus driving career.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do.

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