Friday, May 26, 2006

Onward Christian Soldiers...Marching Just For More?

The metaphors that are used to describe the Church are many and varied. The Bible describes the company of believers as God's family, a holy nation, a royal priesthood and the Body of Christ. These all help us to understand the way in which God views us. While some metaphors can be helpful, I believe that one, in particular, has damaged the Church. That metaphor is the Church as an army.

Many have taken a few verses of Scripture, and built an entire paradigm which states that the Church of Jesus Christ is like an army, marching as soldiers with one goal and one purpose. That goal is world evangelism. That purpose is, as one well-known evangelist says, to "plunder hell to populate heaven". Sounds like a noble and lofty goal, doesn't it? After all, isn't the mission of the Church the "Great Commission"?

This mind-set, while well-meaning and, at times even somewhat fruitful, leads to an enchantment with numbers at the expense of the individual. The Church, while embracing this model, has become just like the local US Army recruiter. In the first meetings with a potential soldier, the local Army recruiter extols the individual benefits and rewards of being a member of the US Army. The young proselyte is told of the GI bill, free college tuition and a salary that far surpasses what an average 18 year-old could find elsewhere. After thinking about these benefits, the young man/woman signs the dotted-line, looking forward to all that the Army has promised. All is well, until the recruit is stripped of their individual identity by being assigned a serial number, given a uniform, having their head shaved and handed a military-issue M-16, just like everyone else. Suddenly, these recruits learn that the Army is concerned with their personal well-being, only in so much as it will contribute to the accomplishment of the greater goal of the US Army. Sound familiar?

Many people are wooed into the Kingdom by believers who express a personal interest in their lives. Potential converts are told of the unconditional love that God has for them, of the free gifts of peace and joy that can be theirs in Christ, and of the promise of eternal life forever and abundant life today. Acting upon this Good News, the unbeliever places their faith in Christ and, for a time, experiences many of the benefits promised. Before basic training is even over though, another well-meaning believer comes along and shares with the new disciple how they can "really" please God, and what God "really" expects of them. They are now expected to sacrifice many of the benefits previously promised in route to accomlishing the "mission". Peace and joy are now to come second to witnessing and serving. Now, the believer's value is no longer intrinsic, but rather, proportionate to the amount of "service" he/she can provide to the Kingdom of God. The new believer is sent to the front-lines, M-16 in hand.

Instead of focusing on true discipleship, the paradigm of the Church as an army has caused us to seek more converts. As we seek to win nations instead of persons, we become a mile wide and an inch deep. Relationships within the Church become an accessory that takes a back-seat to the attainment of "the goal". As we seek more and more numbers, we don't have time for "non-productive" and "unfruitful" relationships. We can only relate to people in so much as they are useful to fulfilling the "mission". If we are not discipling or mentoring someone, then they become a luxury, a distraction that keeps us from fulfilling our "true purpose". While trying to reach more people, we lose focus of the goal... PEOPLE! Instead of having 10 intimate relationships, we seek to "share our lives" with 100; but is this really possible? Should we each invest a little in the many, or alot in a few? Could it be that while we tell multitudes of the transforming power of Jesus, we are left with no time to actually show anyone the love of Jesus? Is God more interested in faceless masses or in individuals?

Am I suggesting here that God does not want everyone to be reached with the Gospel? Absolutely not! I am simply saying that we must be careful not to lose sight of individual lives and needs in our search for more "souls". Did Jesus die for names or for numbers? Should we woo them with love and caring, only to throw them into the "heat of battle"? Do we truly care about the people for whom Jesus died, or are they just a number to add to the roll? What do you think?

Friday, May 19, 2006

A "Burnt-Out" Offering?

Lately, we have been talking about distinctions that believers have a tendency to make in their personal and communal lives. In the last post, "Who's the Priest", I talked about how our current models of ministry have actually become a roadblock to an intimate relationship with God for what we call the "laity". A good friend, Christy, said the following,

"The 'laity' are satisfied for the most part to allow a man to speak God's word to them and for them because that takes the responsibility off their shoulders."

This is a great point that I would like to talk a little more about.

While on the one hand, the current institutional model of a "one man show" can cause the "clergy" to hinder the growth of other believers, on the other hand, the "clergy" themselves suffer under the weight of their supposed "responsibilities". The hindrances of our current ministry models are most assuredly a two-way street!

Ministers are taught that within the church, they are to bear the burdens of administration, counseling, funerals, weddings, hospital visitation, evangelism and then prepare anywhere from 1-3 (or more) powerful sermons to keep the local body "fed". Kind of sounds like Superman, huh? Pastoral "burnout" has become commonplace while ministers try to juggle their spouses, children and the ever-increasing demands of the local body. I have heard that one of the professions with the highest number of divorces is the "clergy". It is even a common understanding that "PK's", or "Preacher's Kids", often rebel and/or backslide, never to darken the door of the church again. Something is terribly wrong!

Does God really call "clergymen" to sacrifice their families for the sake of the "flock"? Are pastors called to be a "burnt-out" offering for the Lord? While trying to impart the fruit of the Spirit to others, should ministers lack peace and joy themselves? I think not. But, instead of questioning the current paradigm of what it means to be a "minister", and instead of asking if this really is God's intention, we find new ways to put the proverbial "band-aid" on a gaping wound.

Are ministers really called to shepherd 50, 100 or 1000 people? Is it even possible to do so? Could it be that the "clergy" has been biting off more than it could chew? If the current church paradigm of "bigger is better" really is true, why did Jesus exchange the crowds for only 12 disciples? It seems that by today's standards, Jesus would be considered a ministry failure! Instead of the "mega-church", we find Jesus in a boat with a few dirty fishermen, sharing the secrets of the Kingdom of God. Could it be that, while seeminly more insignificant, ministering with smaller numbers of people could prove to be more effective?

One of my closest friends, Steve Sensenig, in a recent post entitled "Multiplication Ministry and Maturity", discussed how, while seemingly more productive, the current model of ministry actually slows down the progress and number of disciples. In the post, he shows how our current paradigm is based on addition, rather than multiplication. Churches are considered more successful when the number of people attending grows, thereby, making that particular church larger. But, does this cause the Body of Christ at large to become stronger? I think that, many times, it does not. The local church has become like the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has no outlet, and therefore, becomes a resting place for all the minerals therein. In the same way, instead of believers being "equipped for the work of the ministry", ministers take the work of the ministry upon themselves, leaving them feeling "burnt-out" and the "pew-sitter" feeling unimportant or unnecessary. Instead of increasing the number in a given church, should we not seek to increase the number of churches? Instead of increasing the responsibility of a few, should we not increase the number of responsible persons, thereby making the burden lighter for everyone? It seems that this would mean less stress for a few, and more growth for many. Synergy is a powerful thing you know:) Any healthy organism eventually must stop growing, and instead start reproducing. This, I believe, would have a more profound effect on the Body of Christ both numerically, and spiritually. Could this lead to a greater fulfillment of the Great Commission, by birthing more "disciples" instead of more "converts"?

I believe it is a shame that many men and women, who once were so enthusiastic about living for God, have had their fire extinguished because someone told them that "bigger is better". This belief has led to many of God's precious people feeling condemned for not having a "larger" impact, and drained the life out of others who actually "arrived" according to the current model. Maybe we have to grow smaller in order to grow larger. What do you think?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Who's the priest? (A Divided Life? Part 3)

As you may already know, I have been blogging lately on distinctions that are made in the Body of Christ. I talked the first go around about how it seems that the Graeco-Roman mindset has affected Christianity in causing believers to divide their lives into "secular" and "sacred" distinctions. This carries over into many areas of our lives. One such distinction that I feel has had a huge impact on believers is the division between what is known as the "clergy" and the "laity".

Before we get started, let me give you a little of my own personal history/journey. I have ascribed to the traditional model of church since childhood; the model that says that there is a specialized "clergy" that is to lead the "laity" into the things of God. As an adult, I decided to go into pastoral ministry. So, I went to Bible college and studied to be a pastor in the church as I knew it. I became an associate pastor/worship leader in a church, where I was in leadership for a little more than 2 years. I have just recently stepped down to pursue a more simple concept of church. Coming to grips with the distinction between "clergy" and "laity" is one thing that led me to this decision.

In the modern church, the clergy is the leading influence among the believers. The clergy is responsible for everything from preaching to counseling to administrating to recruiting volunteers to evangelism...and the list goes on. The clergy has become the professional caste in Christendom that performs all of the duties that simple laymen and women are not "qualified" to perform. In many circles, the clergy or pastor is considered to be the "head" of a local church; a distinction which the Bible ascribes to Jesus alone. It seems that the Church has adopted the hierarchial model passed on by governments and corporations. We have a "CEO" (the pastor), a board of directors (the elders/deacons), blue collar workers (the "committed" laity) and consumers (unbelievers and "apathetic" believers).

Jesus talked to His disciples several times about order within the Kingdom of God. In speaking of this He said:

"The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.
Luke 22:25-26 (NASU) Be sure to check out the references on this one too!

Jesus does not here condemn the oppressive domination of fellow believers. Instead, He shows His displeasure for any form of authoritarianism. Even when this would seem to benefit others, taking authority over brethren in the Body is denounced. Jesus says that we are not to excercise authority even as "Benefactors"--ones who excercise authority for the good of the ones under his/her control. How much authority does the "youngest" have? How much authority does a "servant" have? You get the picture:)

Typically, in a normal gathering of believers, a "professional" clergyman (or team thereof) leads the way and sets the tone. A worship "leader" decides what songs will be sung by all, only to be followed by a pastor or other single member of the clergy who gives a 30 minute to 1 hour "sermon" wherein he/she shares with us "God's Word" for the day/week. Contrast the current model of church to Paul's description in 1 Corinthians 14:

When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.
1 Corinthians 14:26 (NIV)

According to this verse, when we come together as believers, everyone has something to contribute and should be allowed to do so. Biblically, no place seems to be given to monolithic discourses in meetings with other believers. Every member functioning is not the exception but the rule. It has even been proven scientifically that a person only remembers about 20 percent of what they hear, while they remember 70 percent of what they say themselves and 90 percent of what they do themselves.

One of the pivotal truths that came out of the Reformation was that of the "priesthood of all believers". This came to the forefront in doctrine, but rarely changed the churches practices. While claiming that all believers have an equal standing before God, we have elevated the "clergy" to a place of preeminence in ministry. Instead of the functioning priesthood of all believers, we go to a building and listen to the same person week after week share with us the "word" that God has given them for us! While the Reformation put the Bible back into the commoners hand, the lay person is left to rely on the pastor or clergyman to interpret it for them. If there really only is "one Mediator between God and man" .........then why do I need to trust in a person to hear the voice of God for me? Didn't Jesus say that His sheep would hear His voice? I take it that "all" is the implied description of participants in that verse; that is, ALL of His sheep will hear His voice. If the Holy Spirit really is my "Counselor", as Jesus said that He was, why should I seek to have a "professional" work through my problems with me? Is He not up to the challenge? Do we really believe that the veil in the Temple was torn in two after all? Are we trying to live under a renovated version of the Levitical priesthood? Am I under the New Covenant, or the Old Covenant?

It seems to me that the role of a professional minister impedes the growth of the rest of the Body and contributes to many believers remaining in an infantile state of Christianity. Instead of letting God flow through me to others (and vice-versa), I pay someone to "do the work of the ministry" in my place.

As long as the caste system of "clergy" and "laity" remains the norm, it will be difficult for most of the Body to learn to function in the gifts that God has empowered them with. If this system remains in place we will probably see a continuance of ministry "burn-out", stagnation among "regular" believers and fewer disciples being released for Kingdom ministry. Until we truly look at all of the Body as "a kingdom of priests", we will remain but a limited expression of what God intended the Church to be. All of the Church must rise up and be the part of the Body that God has called us to be. Only together can we manifest the will of God in the earth. That's what I think:) What do you think?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Sacred Spaces? (A Divided Life? Part 2)

I am continuing to think about distinctions that we as believers (and myself personally) have often made. We talked last time about the distinction that has commonly been made between "time with God" and the rest of our day. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that God is more interested in us being aware of His presence all of the time than in us focusing on Him for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or for 1 hour of our day.

The next distinction that I would like us to talk about is the idea of "holy places" or "sacred spaces" (I love to rhyme!). In the body of Christ we have "church sanctuaries", "Christian retreat centers" and something we even call "the holy land". I know that during my childhood, I was always commanded not to run in the "sanctuary". During my time as an associate pastor, I have myself said "Isn't it great to be in the house of God today?". For a good part of my life, I thought that God was like the grouchy old neighbor in some movies I have seen; you better make sure not to mess up His flowers or track mud on His carpet or else! God's "house" sure was not a very enjoyable place to visit!

I would be willing to venture that many children who grew up in this type of atmosphere are now adults who have separated themselves from the experience we call "church". Was this simply because they were rebellious, and not willing to conform to "God's truth"? For many,I think not. Maybe, just maybe, it never really was "God's house" or "God's flowers" that we were protecting. Maybe God doesn't really care that much about owning a house or having the perfect landscape.?!

It seems that this line of reasoning led to the persecution (and ultimate death) of some of the first believers. Steven, the first Christian martyr, said something about the idea of a "house for God" that helped lead to his death:

"However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: "'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?'"
Acts 7:48-50 (NIV)

The Jewish people and leaders were so upset about these and other comments that Steven made, that they ultimately ended up stoning him to death! My, my, aren't religious people touchy?:) A young man by the name of Saul (we know him better as Paul) consented to Steven's death. Yet, we find him later saying essentially the same thing:

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands."
Acts 17:24-25 (NIV)

Paul went from worshipping in a "holy place" to declaring that there is no such thing as a man-made "house for God"! So, if God doesn't live in our buildings, where does He live? Well, I think you know where I'm going:) Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:16

"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" (NIV)

The reason that the veil in the temple was torn in two was so that God could move inside of us (boy, when God checks out, He sure does it with a bang!)! We are the temple! We are the "holy place"! God doesn't live in wood, brick and mortar...He lives inside of us!!! I was talking to a friend about this last week and he told me a funny story. He said that a pastor heard a member of the church correct some kids for chewing gum in the sanctuary. He corrected the member by saying "Don't you mean that the sanctuaries are chewing gum?"

It seems to me that the idea that a building can be "God's house" is very stifling to a believer's growth in Christ. Instead of recognizing the fact that we are the temple God longs to dwell in, we endeavor to get out of bed to meet in a cold, uninviting building that doesn't say a whole lot of good things about the Father's character. For many, these times are not enjoyable, but rather, non-optional, weekly pilgrimages that will somehow earn us brownie points with God. Sometimes we act as if Jesus never came. It's as if we are still trudging along under the Old Covenant. We go to the "holy place", listen to the "holy man" and give our "holy sacrifices" (tithes, etc).

One of the things that seems to have set the early church apart from every other religion and belief system is that they didn't have a temple, they didn't have a priesthood and they didn't offer sacrifices. They were not trying to keep their God happy; instead, they were basking in His joyful love for them! Instead of meeting in grand cathedrals that spoke of the "majesty of God", they met in simple homes that spoke of the intimacy of a loving family with a loving Father. If what the Father really wants is a family, wouldn't a regular old home be a good place for His kids to get together? I don't know of many families that get to know each other in a theater:) Maybe instead of building "holy places" for God, we should build up God's holy places (which just happens to be us)!:) What do you think?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Divided Life? (Maybe Part 1?)

I have been doing some thinking lately on distinctions within the believers life. For many there is the clergy/laity distinction, the sacred/secular distinction, the Sabbath/regular day distinction, etc. From what I have gathered, many (if not all) of these distinctions have been brought to us through the influence of Graeco/Roman thought. Our society has been so influenced by these ancient cultures that sometimes it is hard to distinguish what is Biblical and what is simply a cultural norm. It seems to me that God desires a more holisitic approach to our lives.

One such distinction that I have been considering is the idea of a "prayer time" or "quiet time". It has been instilled in me since I can remember that there is to be a special time each day that you set aside for "spending time with God". To me, daily Bible reading and prayer have been necessary, non-optional parts of my daily routine. But, lately I have been pondering if this is God's plan or simply the Christian "norm". Does God call us to give Him a "tithe" of our time (as many have said), or does God want us to continually walk with Him? The answer is obvious, but, do we really live like this is true?

I have felt for a long time that my prayer life was a time when I was to bring my thanksgivings, shortcomings and requests to God. There has usually been a certain order to my praying from which I am reluctant to veer. I have felt that there were certain things I was supposed to "cover" everyday in prayer (you know, requests for government officials, unbeliever's salvation, etc.). Well, I am finally asking the question "How's it working for you?", and to be honest, I have not enjoyed it very much!

Does God call us to give Him 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 1 hour of our day and then be on our way with the rest of the day's business? Or is prayer to be a continual experience as Paul told the Thessalonian church in 1 Thess. 5:17 "pray without ceasing"(NIV) or "pray all the time"(The Message)? I find it ironic that Paul said in 5:16 to "be joyful always" and then immediately said to "pray without ceasing", for these two experiences were mutually exclusive for me. Let me say honestly, the way I have prayed has not been very joyful! I have (dare I say) actually dreaded my "devotional" time on numerous occasions.

It seems to me that we have tried to separate our lives into "God's time" and "regular stuff time". But, is this really God's will? I personally am coming to the conclusion that God wants to be a part of all of my life. He wants to eat with me (Revelation 3:20), walk with me (2 Corinthians 6:16), and yes, even watch a ballgame with me (no reference for that one!).

I just had lunch with a friend of mine today and he drew an interesting comparison for me. He said that my relationship with God was like my relationship with him. If I always brought an agenda to our times together, our relationship would not go very far. If I felt it necessary to start with compliments of him, then move on to a pre-designated topic of discussion, there would be no time for a true, dynamic friendship to occur. Is this what we do with God many times? Instead of being in-touch all day long, do we reduce our relationship with God to 15 minutes in the morning or 1 hour in the evening of pre-determined prayer lists and "chapter-a-day" Bible reading? Am I throwing out the idea of reading the Bible? No! Am I throwing out the idea of daily-prayer? No! What I am asking for, though, is a re-examination of how we do these things and why we do them. Do we "spend time" with God each day to earn His favor or His blessings? Do we read the Bible each day so that God will smile upon us? If so then maybe we are denying the very finished work of Jesus, and instead seeking to establish our own righteousness (Romans 10:3).

Maybe we need to stop categorizing our lives and stop insisting upon a "daily quiet time", and instead, keep a listening ear to the Spirit all day long. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Your Gospel...Good or Bad?

Don't you think that the Gospel is the best news in the history of the world? As a matter of fact, the original Greek word for Gospel means "good news"! It is good news that Jesus came to save us from our messes! But, for many, the Gospel has been reduced to a series of statements formalized in a creed or doctrine. Maybe this explains why many who call themselves Christians look no happier than those who don't. In Luke 4, Jesus explains several of the reasons for His coming. He says,

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. Luke 4:18-19 NIV
What is good news to a poor man? That he doesn't have to be poor anymore! What is good news to a person in bondage? You are now free! But, if it's really true that Jesus came to set us free and to bring us good news, why are not more believers in Jesus enjoying these realities? Maybe it's because we are more concerned with what we believe instead of in Whom we believe!?! Things like systematic theologies, while sometimes helpful, can become a substitute for a true relationship with God. Instead of drawing near to Him, we get caught up in describing Him perfectly and getting our rhetoric right. What is more important, knowing Him or knowing about Him?

Many believers have made doctrines and creedal statements their source of identity and standing before God. Maybe this is why many avoid asking the question of "why" when it comes to their belief systems. My question is this: How's it working for you? Does what you believe about God cause you to want to know Him more, or does it make you feel the need to fix all of your shortcomings so that you can be "good enough" for Him to come around? If what you believe about God doesn't make you feel better about Him and about yourself, then are you truly holding on to reality or is your version of reality limiting your experience of Him? In Romans 14:17 Paul says that the Kingdom of God consists of 3 things: Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Spirit. If what you believe about God's Kingdom does not bring these realities into your life, then are you really believing the right things?

Do we really believe the "good news", or have we been duped by fools gold? Our version of the Gospel might look right and sound right, but in the end, does it really set us free? Do you really have to have all of your creeds and doctrines in perfect form to feel loved by God? When challenged about your beliefs do you feel threatened and insecure? I'm not saying that we need to throw out our intellectual search for truth. Nor am I saying that we need to live only by "warm-fuzzies" and the shifting winds of experience. But, if our doctrinal studies do not lead us to a deeper experience with the Father, haven't we really missed the point? What good is it to "believe" that God is love if you never really feel loved by God? What good is it to believe in the imputed righteousness of Christ if you never feel completely acceptable in God's sight? What do you think?

Let's Get Started!

Well everyone, I finally did it! Here is my first attempt at the world of blog. I am looking forward to having some great discussions on God, the Church and a little bit of Panther Football. While we will not always agree, I do hope that we can love each other anyway and disagree without being disagreeable:) I plan to write on many sensitive issues within the Body of Christ. I understand that this can lead to some heated debate and I welcome such debate so long as the motive is to build others up. I do have some strong views and opinions, but please realize that I do not claim to have all of the answers (OK, so maybe when it comes to Panthers Football I do:)). As a matter of fact, the longer I walk with Christ the more questions I have. This blog is an attempt to teach and be taught, to grow and help stimulate the growth of others. I want this to be a forum where dialogue can be initiated that will cause us all to think and rethink; to contruct, deconstruct and reconstruct our beliefs, views and opinions.

First, let's start out with a few guidelines:
1. Let's all be courteous and respectful of the beliefs, views and opinions of others.
2. No name calling or degrading someone else for ANY reason.
3. Agree to there is not separate sections in heaven for pre-tribers and post-tribers; for Calvinists and Armenians; for Cessationists and Continuationists!
That's it! Within these guidelines feel free to make your comments as brief or exhaustive as you would like.

For those of you who don't know me...are you sure you really want to?:) I am a Orthodox, non-Orthodox, evangelical, post-modern, Christian. I have been in various differing Christian "camps". I have been part of the "laity" and part of the "clergy". I went from having it all figured out to trying to figure it all out. "So what does this guy believe anyway?" you might ask. Well here is my list of absolute certainties...we will probably start tackling the rest on this blog soon:
1. Jesus Christ is the perfect union of God and Man. He is the God-Man and the only way to the Father.
2. God sent Jesus as the Substitute and Sacrifice for the sins of all humanity.
3. Jesus died for our sins and three days later literally rose again from the dead.
4. Eternal life is available to all who will trust in the sacrifice of Jesus on their behalf.
5. Jesus will return someday to set up His Kingdom with those who receive His gift of life.

Wow! That sure was more concise than the systematic theology books I read in Bible school! If you believe these simple, absolute truths then you are my brother or sister. If not, hang around and join the discussion. Your comments are welcomed and your questions encouraged!

I have no idea who will read this blog. If you stumble across it...please drop me a line. I want to hear from you all. Questions, comments, cheezy remarks about my Monday Night Football picture????? Alright. Nuff said. With God's help let's get goin..........................

My 5 Seconds of Fame...14:45 & Counting

This is me at the first Monday Night Football game of the season in 2004. Even Al Michaels commented on my sign! There's one life-goal marked off the list! Many more to go!!!!