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Archive for the ‘organic church’ Category

I read something just recently off of Alan Hirsch’s blog that got my mind buzzing about the way the church is supposed to function.  Those in the Endeavor Family know just how much I talk about the church being an organism and not an organization.  The church is a living thing, as so illustrated in the New Testament by both Jesus and the Apostolic writers.  Each and every part is crucial as defining the whole.  The key to faithful church life is to create an environment where everyone is bringing what they have been given for the benefit of the whole.  Hospitality, compassion and knowledge are all great examples when it comes to the ways in which Jesus gives gifts to his church for the purpose of edifying the whole. 

This concept of swarm theory that Alan points us to is a fascinating view into how God has designed living communities to function as a single group.  Here are some of the rules that ant colonies follow in order to function as a united body:

1. No one is in charge. 

2. High levels of interaction between all individuals is crucial to unity.

3. Individuals all act on local information.

4. No ant sees the big picture.  Even the queen is not “in charge” but only fulfills the function of reproducing more ants.

5. No ant tells any other ant what to do.

6.  All ants obey the same general rules of thumb.

It’s amazing when you consider these types of community systems just how similar they are to the way the New Testament portrays the church.  None of the Apostles view themselves as solely in charge but come together collectivly when it comes to making big decisions as a group.  No one part is viewed as more important than the others and so they all are called to serve in whatever way they can.  It would even appear that none of the Apostles are able to see the big picture of what God is doing but they each serve in the capacity that they are called to.  In this system, obedience is seen as more important than knowledge.  Christ is the head, and it is made clear that he acts as the mind for the body.

What if we were to all approach Kingdom life, like the ant colony?  Each of us acting on what information we have, each of us faithful in following through with what we were created and called to do.  It’s impossible to imagine what God might be doing in our midst. 

Maybe this is the key to each of us “growing up into Christ, who is the head.” 

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I came across a two legged dog a few years back and the image will be permanently imbedded in my mind.  It was while I was on a mission trip in Kentucky and the dog belonged to a relative of the family we were helping.  I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of seeing a two legged dog, but it has to be one of the most disturbing sites on the planet.  I’m not talking about a dog that has been helped through the miracles of modern technology.  This dog had no prosthetic replacements, no wheeled assistance.  It had only its front two legs to drag the rest of its body around.  The animal looked to be in terrible pain and several of the gentlemen on the trip were talking of putting the dog down.  The locals warned us against such action as it would be a source of conflict between us and the dog’s owner.  So we were left to watch this pitiful creature struggle to drag itself around the yard and into the shade, across the gravel road and over to get water, writhing in pain the whole way. 

 

As I think back on that trip it occurs to me that the church is a lot like that dog.  It is said that in the church 20% of the people do 80% of the work.  Having worked in the church for the last 10 years I would have to say these figures are accurate.  Most of the people filling chairs and pews out there on a weekly basis see no reason to engage their faith beyond their present efforts (or lack thereof).  In clearer terms, they are consumers of the gospel, of Jesus and His church.  This is in stark contrast to what is told of in the New Testament Church.   There seems to be among the people of the first century church a strong sense of responsibility toward one another.  These early believers meet and pray together daily, they share with anyone who has need, and they all feel a sense of calling to the mission of God’s people.  The glaring question in light of this contrast is, “why don’t we look like that?”

 

I believe the church is in the state it’s in not just because her people will not engage their faith, but because of the way her leaders engage her people.  We have created in the American church, a dependency upon leadership for the most basic of Christian life.  We rely upon our pastors and teachers to rightly interpret the scriptures for us, instead of allowing room for God’s people to discover Christ in the journey.  We depend upon a few to guide, pray, study, listen and then tell all the rest of us what we should be doing.  It is as though we are in a time machine, and we have found ourselves stuck in the middle of the Exodus story, and all of us look to Moses to go and talk to God for us instead of climbing the mountain and seeing Him face to face. 

 

If you don’t believe me just look at some of the examples of the few we have raised up to drag the rest of us along in the wilderness.  We put them on television and radio, and pick up their books to read instead of picking up the scriptures.  For most churches we rely upon them so heavily that without them our churches would quickly dry up and blow away.  The reality of this is seen when one of these men falls to sin and leaves the church in the wake of such poor example.  Often it becomes impossible to see Christ through the veil of their “success” in the church.  Humanity casts a shadow on the divine and we are dragged into the mire of their mistakes.  While not all of our leaders end in this type of tragic fall, these circumstances help us to see the real health of our churches.

 

We cannot simply blame the leadership for the current predicament we find ourselves in.  After all, they are the two legs that have taken it upon themselves to carry us forward, even though this task is a difficult one to say the least.  While they haven’t led us to engage our faith properly, most have laid down their lives in many ways and brought the heart of Christ in their service and teachings, but in order for the church to get back up on all fours, we are going to have to set aside some bad misconceptions we have about faith and life and leadership in the church. 

 

The first issue deals with faith: faith in a Christ who wants to walk with you and work through life’s ups and downs.  Faith and life must walk hand and hand if we want to see improvement in either one.  If faith is left to the Sunday sermon and your worldview, then you are missing out on the Kingdom that Jesus said is at hand.  We all need to shut of the TV preachers, audio sermons and put down the latest Christian best seller and pick up the Words of Life.  Stop reading about the adventures that others are having in their spiritual journey and jump into the journey with Christ today!

 

After we have set aside all the religious goods and services, we have to take serious the call that Jesus has placed on our lives.  I’m not talking about the call to hand out bulletins, serve as a greeter or a children’s ministry volunteer.  I’m not even talking about going on that next mission trip to South America.  We need to take serious Jesus’ call for us to come and die.  To deny ourselves and take up are cross is to adhere to the very basics of Jesus’ teachings.  Our faith is not about improving our lives; it’s about losing our lives!  This is contrary to the tone of most of our teaching today.  While this is not the nicest teaching to hear, Christ is clear that it is through dying daily that we will find life. 

 

After you have taken on a theology of death, you are ready to serve the people of God.  It is clear in the teachings of Paul and the example in the New Testament that God gives gifts to His people for the growth and equipping of everyone in the church.  We see that each of these servant leaders bring something for the benefit of the rest.  Early on in the church men like Stephen are appointed to hand out food to widows, but God gifts him in evangelism and uses his execution to scatter the church throughout the world.  We see everyone leading the rest on toward maturity and no one claiming authority over the rest.  Christ is seen as the ultimate authority in the church and all are willing to subject themselves to the rest out of love.  Just like the first century church, God has given us gifts for the growth and equipping of His church today.  We cannot wait for men to ordain us, but we must engage in the ways in which we are convicted.  The spirit orchestrates the body, the body doesn’t orchestrate itself.  It’s time to engage.  This may mean stepping outside of any known job descriptions.  It may mean being outside of the box.  It looks more like the example of Becky Covert with www.agapeart.org.  She is a young graduate from Bethel, working at Starbucks.  She has been hesitant to enter a career because she is afraid it would restrict her ability to follow through with what she feels called to.   Becky has felt a conviction to help an orphanage in the Philippines through art.  She and several other artists auction their photos, paintings and sculptures to help support the orphanage.  They also travel to the Philippines regularly to minister to the children and teach them art classes.  They return to the states with the art that the children have crafted and they auction off these peices to people who view compassion as the most beautiful art form off all.

 

When I look at lives around me, I am amazed at our inability to see the potential of what God could do in our lives.  It’s time for this dog to jump to its feet and run towards the finish line.  The Kingdom is at hand.  Will you be dragged across the finish line?

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I know this question is kind of hard to hear and ever harder to try and approach honestly, but I think it is a valid one.  I came across a pretty interesting web site this week while doing research for a marriage counseling session.  The site was designed to convince people of all faiths (though it does make an emphasis on the Christain faith) that the God they believed in was imaginary.  The premise is that all you have come to believe about God is purly a product of the human imagination.  The publisher, who remained nameless, presented several arguments, even in video format that “exposed” for me the reality that God is a figment of my imagination. 

The search that got me to this particular site was one I was doing on divorce rates.  This search lead me to the many findings on the divorce rate among Christians.  This very intelligent person (Rom 1:21-23) used the high divorce rate among Christians as one of his arguments against the existence of God.  He claims the apparent weakness in Christian marriages proves that God is not making our marriages stronger and therefore God is imaginary.  His strongest argument (1 Cor 1:27), in his opinion, is the fact that God never heals amputees.  Why would God heal internal diseases and illnesses, but not heal amputees?  It’s interesting to me that he thinks God’s ultimate goal for creation is to regrow my shop teachers missing finger.

This site did make me ask some serious questions though.  It made me wonder if some of us aren’t following an imaginary God.  A God that is not the authentic, true God.  It wouldn’t be that rediculuos of a notion.  If there is anything that the Old Testament points to it is the reallity that God’s people tend to follow false god’s even in the presence of the One True God.  I think idolatry creeps in when our faith becomes more ritual and tradition than active and real.  When we just go through the motions of our religion we lose the heart of what it really means to follow Christ.  James touches on this when he says:

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder.

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

This makes me wonder if the problem isn’t that God is imaginary, but that our faith is.  It seems to me that we present a faith that only relies on belief and ritual.  At what point have we been challenged or challenged one another to live out our faith? Faith has become a subject for one morning a week and for many faith has become a subject only fit for children.

What if God’s people were to awaken.  What if God brought life back to these bones of ours and the spirit would return to the body? 

I have asked myself over the last couple days whether I am a person of faith or of ritual.  Of life or of death?  Is everything I do in life an extension of my faith or of something else?  When I wake up do I start my day in faith or something else?  Am I fueled and acting out in faith or am I fueled and acting out in selfish ambition, jealousy, idolatry, addiction, pride, etc.?

Willy Wonka asked the question (Gene Wilder, not the freaky Johnny Depp version) that I think gets to the reality of change that needs to take place in our lives.  He said, “Where is fancy bread? In the heart or in the head?”  What changes first?  The will to do something, or the decision to go and do it.  Faith is responding to the word of God.  I think many of us our sitting back and waiting until God gets us to the point that we feel like helping our neighbors and loving our families.  We are waiting for God to get us to the point where we feel like praying, learning, meditating, growing, serving. 

I think God is waiting for us to get to the point where we will act out on our faith, despite the fact that we don’t feel like doing these things.

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I can’t tell you off the top of my head the number of books I have read in the past three years on starting and growing churches. With each book it seems that every author has his own definition on what church is. Some argue there are certain things that need to be in place, such as elders, doctrinal statements, sacraments, etc. Others hold the view that “wherever two or more are gathered” then church is happening.

 

As I read the New Testament it strikes me that the church is never spoken of or addressed in these terms. It seems that decades of change in culture and religion has altered the view most of us have on the church. In our context the church is different than that of the first century. For starters, we face the challenge of a thousand different denominational differences and traditions. There weren’t seven different churches in a single town in the first century. Imagine if Paul were to write a letter today to the church in
Columbus, Ohio. It would take three weeks just to get the letter around to all the different church gatherings in and around our city!  We’ve come a long way since
Jerusalem. 

 

The Greek word “ecclesia” is the term that we translate into church in the English language. This term is a compound that literally means to “call out”.  The church is the “called out” ones. This Greek term was also used interchangeably with the term “synagogue”, which means assembly. Synagogue infers a certain level of hospitality.  Neither one of these terms seems to denote today’s concept of church.

 

In the first century every believer had a sense of calling on their life. To confess Christ was to sacrifice something. The earliest believers were imprisoned, killed and isolated from the local community. Everyone understood, from the Apostles to the guys serving food to widows, that they were called out of the world and into an eternal Kingdom.

 

They also demonstrated the proper response of blessing others just as God had blessed them. None of the church members had need because they all shared in God’s blessings. They sold property and gave financially in order to meet the needs of the widows and orphans. While it is encouraging to see in the American church culture a sense of love for the lowly, a majority of our support for others goes directly to those outside the church. We tend to project a belief that those who have received God’s grace should never find themselves in a situation of need. This couldn’t be farther from the New Testament model. These believers took care of each others needs first. You can imagine why people would want to join a group like this!

 

Is it possible to regain this concept of church? Can we reclaim the forgotten ways of our spiritual fathers? Could we return as the church united, to the heart of Jesus? Can we experience love at an unconditional level?

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