The first major conflict I encountered in my ministry came after about three years, when I preached an extended sermon series on the Christian family. Part way through the series, all of the older people in the church stopped coming on the same Sunday. Since we were a church of only about 100, it was quite obvious that they were gone! I learned that they were disgruntled because my series did not relate to their needs. Here were people who had been in church for years. They should have been mature in the Lord. They should have used the occasion of my preaching on the family to take under wing some of the younger families in the church, many of whom were newer believers who needed nurture. But instead, thinking only of themselves, they left the church! When I would not back down, most of them never returned.
What do you think is happening here? Are the people really immature instead of mature? Are they upset or perhaps, what if they are just tired of being an audience to something they’ve heard 1000 times before? Was any ground work laid by this pastor for their release to have a role in, not only this sermon series, but perhaps all of them? I don’t think so.
I could look at the above situation and come to a set of entirely different conclusions than he did. There’s two sides to every story. Why do you suppose it was this pastor’s instinct to call out his people rather than (hint) to be kingdom-minded of all in his flock before he preached that series?
This pastor is correct about one thing. There were opportunities for those in his flock to do something differently than they did. And the same could be said for him and I’m not just talking about the negative tone of his words. I’ve seen this before. One local pastor in my area wrote a scathing editorial titled, “Can’t know God without knowing his church,” implying that knowing God is only possible if you attend a local church. He writes:
Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that a relationship with God doesn’t necessarily involve me with his church. This is a mistake. The Bible calls the church “the Body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27). If that’s true, then avoiding it means avoiding him. We can’t have it both ways.
This pastor is saying that you need to get your butt back into a local church – especially his – if you want to call yourself a true Christian. In fact, Jesus won’t be as close to you in church than any other place. Blah! It’s thoughts like that which lead us to the worst things about religion. If pastors start from the premise that “church” means exclusively “local church,” as we tend to define it, then I suppose it’s easy to end up condemning others for not doing what you would do. But let me ask you this. Do you think there are only 2 answers here? Is it really just a polarizing choice between attending and not attending that decides if you are the best possible Christian? Isn’t that alarmingly simplistic?
For decades I have heard pastors say, “We are the church,” meaning we the people are the church, not the structure. So if that’s true, then doesn’t the quality of our fellowship reflect our faith more so than our attendance at church? After all, he’s not suggesting that those in the Upper Room were not the Church unless they gathered in the temple, is he? Think about that as you read on. He writes:
Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt 18:20).
And Jesus certainly and literally was with them in the upper room and all over Israel for that matter. The pastor here makes this point to hammer home his preconceived conclusion that you can’t be in God’s presence (visa vie, know him) unless you’re around fellow Christians. However, he unwittingly fails to realize that 2 people praying anywhere in Jesus’ name (not just in church) accomplishes the same thing and the Upper Room, not the temple, proves that point. He continues:
Now, I don’t pretend to fully understand this, but I don’t have to. The point is clear. Jesus was telling his disciples he would be especially close when they came together. This should come as no surprise. He spent some of his last free minutes on earth praying passionately for his followers to be united in love for one another (Jn 17:20-23). The scary thing is that we can convince ourselves otherwise.
No, actually, I would say the scary thing is blurring the line between any reason and no reason. Thinking we can’t be independent for any reason is one thing. But being independent for no reason, that’s quite another. Here again is the assumption that we must all do the same thing – to follow the pack or it must not be God. That’s just not so. Case and point, take Aimee Semple McPherson, who started the International Foursquare Church early in the early 1900s when women didn’t even have a right to vote. Flamboyant and theatrical to her core, she was anything but your usual preacher. She was a 20th century evangelist, not made for traditional church. She was a lone ranger. You could say she was an apostolic pioneer. She didn’t conform to the world of church as she knew it back then and she didn’t have anyone but God near her deathbed when she started. And just to state the obvious, Aimee was a believer for years before she started her ministry, she was never noticed and never promoted to anything in traditional church that matched her calling. That system failed her and that same system still exists today, failing people everywhere. It is the system, STOP! I’m talking about the system, the model, the format that we become more beholden to than the people that causes most problems. It the system that is almost always universally led by one man, one voice with one vision. It is almost never to be led by women, and it was managed in a very particular sort of way to keep it that way. By contrast, she was was a woman. That right there forced her outside the church boundaries and made her stick out like a sore thumb. In addition, she wasn’t boring but made from a new mold. She also was not “under” any man, but under God, and was following her heart – supremely called by her Lord. She was uniquely set apart.
I suppose it’s probably easy to say in retrospect because hindsight is 20/20, but how does anyone know she was not called at the time? Or course, today we would say, “Who’s your covering?” and “Know them by their fruit” and that should decide the matter. And again, that’s great once you can look back. But back then, this probably looked very different to most in the “boy’s club” that was traditional clergy. How did anyone know what God put in her heart? It almost sounds like if this pastor was back in Aimee’s day, Aimee would’ve been forced back into a local church to sit there. If Aimee had followed such a misguided mandate in leadership, she would never have founded the church that nearly 100 years later has grown to more than 66,000 churches and meeting places in 140 countries and territories around the world. Interestingly enough, the Asuza Street movement gave birth to this pastor’s denomination as well. God’s ways are certainly not our ways. Thank goodness. This makes the rest of the pastor’s editorial even more alarming. He continues…
If you’re thinking you can do your own thing and follow him without being part of his confused, stumbling and deeply-flawed crew, you’re only deceiving yourself. St. Augustine said, “He who would have God for his Father must also take the church for his mother.”
St. Augustine certainly had some profound things to say, but so did God. Romans 7:6 reads, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” In other words, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” (2 Cor. 3:17).
Forgive me for saying that to even suggest that “doing your own thing” is an example of not knowing God, or knowing him less, because your expression of faith doesn’t match his, boarders on arrogance. First of all, many times people are drawn to a movement and the “church” gathers around it. So it’s really not as simple as that. Remember, the premise of the editorial is that being a part of the body of Christ means you attend a local church no matter what. I’m not saying we should avoid local church, but I can’t let him boil down God’s bride to only define it by his interpretation. The assumption by this pastor is that if you are not regularly attending a local church meeting for whatever reason, you’re not as close to Jesus as he is. That is pure rubbish. That is not to suggest that it could never be the case with someone depending on individual situations, but as a doctrine, I disagree with that conclusion entirely. We all have diverse backgrounds of experiences, hurts, and calls from God that determine what we can and cannot join to, and the idea that we all must follow the same cadence of anything, is just plain silly. Therefore the leap to a form of condemnation for anyone not connecting to a local group is plain wrong. What if, hypothetically speaking, a church has hurt someone and that person can’t go back into a church situation right now. Do they need healing? You bet…but in God’s time, not our own. Therefore, using such broad generalizations to paint people as rebellions or worse yet, that they don’t know God as well as you, does nothing to help that situation and in fact only worsens it. For this person, it may only drive them further from God.
I have found in my years of being a Christian that some pastors assume too much and speak too much for God where you’re concerned. My personal standard, when in doubt, I pray the perfect prayer: “Lord, have your way.” You may even find yourself lining up differently than how your church wants to use you, and as such you may be marked as rebellious or labeled difficult in some way. This is closer to the beliefs and practices of the LDS Factory Church than it is to Christianity and we need to make an adjustment if that’s what we’re doing.
What if pastors had a kingdom (of God) mindset? I believe if he had, he would’ve already been cultivating a kingdom culture and those people who never returned or left during the sermon series, probably don’t leave to begin with. In my opinion, what he was hoping they would do on their own probably was never fully released or cultivated.
A kingdom mindset is about freedom and believes your relationship with God is sovereign and that just because you walked into my church, I don’t think I own you. The kingdom is not threatened by your calling and if you leave our church, do something in or outside the church, it’s all OK as long as you aren’t leaving out of hurt. The kingdom is secure in what God is for me and you and encourages both of those callings to co-exist and even partner together if possible. In God’s economy, it’s not a zero sum gain. The kingdom leader knows that you have just as much access and capability in God as they do, and dare I say, maybe more, and when submitted to God, no state-issued certificate guarantees that they hear God any better than you do. The kingdom is not insecure in any way and never has to resort to persuasion or manipulation to get its way because it’s very content with the idea that what we have is given by God and there is nothing that we need to strive for. True kingdom belief brings people from all walks of Christian life together and despite our difference, breeds instant unity because it is not about works, nor doctrines, but by the Spirit that unity is born.
The kingdom leader wants to help God bring about the calling that is on your life as well as theirs. Kingdom leaders are active participants in your calling and even look for ways to release you to it as soon as possible. But in the absence of hearing God, men often rely on other methods for you to show yourself approved, usually through an OLD paradigm: (O)bligation, (L)oyality and (D)uty. But in the New Covenant paradigm it doesn’t work that way. It looks for God in you. It looks for your anointing and ways to harness and release that power to others regardless of time served – or at least we hope so if we want the most that God may have for us. It looks for what God put in your heart helping you release that call.
Just so I’m clear, I’m not suggesting that we have no involvement in church whatsoever. Far from it. I’m simply saying that those devoted to the status quo of systematic church as being the only thing you should be a part of, unless God says it to you, is not legitimate.
So yes, there was an opportunity for these pastors too, to lead by example and to be kingdom minded above all else, and to show how much they value their people, teamwork and respect for the body of Christ. And that goes for us too! Until we release others, and get out of the one-man-show mentality and stop looking just for what will bring us a bigger audience, we’ll never truly realize the value, power and God-given potential of all the people that we have around us.