No need to wait for March Madness, the Final Four are here today!
So without further cleverness, here are the final four issues that the Church in the West needs to address if she’s to be the light to the world that the Lord intends her to be.
4. Make the church for believers
Anyone who’s been watching the Church in the West, and America in particular, has seen the spectacular, meteoric flame-out of the Church Growth Movement. All sound and fury signifying nothing, the CGM gave us their new and improved Church without a Cross™. The upshot is that we now have a Church whose teaching consists of nothing more than milk 24/7/365, and mostly byproducts at that. It’s like casein —and anyone who’s ever eaten a $2 pizza knows how gross that tastes!
For 13 years I was part of a what was once a fantastic church that progressively fell on hard discipleship times because it swallowed the CGM whole. In our final grim days there, it got so bad that I alerted the church’s denomination that the church had gone so far to attract anyone they could that they’d actually stopped preaching the Gospel. Messages had become mired in Human Potential Movement garbage and a smarmy cuteness aimed at those who live for cultural relevance. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to get to the pastor to ask him what was up, my wife and I finally left.Only later did it come out that we weren’t the only ones. More than 40% of mature Christians within that church were bailing out year over year. Eventually the leadership of the church recognized the hemorrhage and repented, but we were long gone—and with a bitter taste in our mouths.The lesson here is one that all Christians should heed: the Church of Jesus Christ is for those who believe in Him. It is NOT for unbelievers. We are sent OUT to the world to bring the Gospel out to the perishing. Once the lost believe, we are to bring them IN to our churches. In their attempts to reach the unsaved, what our churches must never do is dumb-down the messages and training toward maturity that growing Christians need so that unbelievers can be accommodated. And especially if that accommodation looks no different from the world.
The Church consists of the called-apart people. Our teachings should be geared toward Christian maturity, not toward those who don’t even know Christ. The abject failure of the Church Growth Movement is that it didn’t spike the numbers in the truly converted. Sure, it attracted a few people who traditionally had skipped church, but that came at the expense of people looking for substance. Meanwhile, mature Christians have abandoned the typical church on the corner, delving into house churches, emerging churches, or skipping church altogether. They’re so fed up they don’t know what to do.
What to do is this: our churches should always hold Christ’s banner high so that those who can embrace it will, not low so that it gets trample upon. The Church has to be for believers first. Strengthening real believers into hardcore disciples is our mission. We send them out into the world equipped and ready; they bring in the harvest. No other method works.
3. Recover prayer & fasting—especially to repentance
Truthfully, I’m not sure I should add anything here. I’ve said before that we can’t expect miracles to happen, we can’t take down the Enemy, we can’t do anything at all in the Lord’s power unless we’re serious about prayer.But we’re not praying. We’re “practicing the presence” or we’re tossing up tiny “prayerlets,” but our frenzied lives have left us devoid of real down-on-our-knees prayer—though we’ve never needed that kind of prayer more than now.One of my all-time favorite Christian authors and speakers was Leonard Ravenhill. He said this about prayer: “No man is greater than his prayer life.” I don’t think a greater truth ever existed in eight simple words.Fasting. What can I say? Are we doing it? I knew a lot of guys growing up who fasted in order to find a wife. Sounds hokey, but a host of guys are nodding their heads as they read this. However, now that we have wives, we’ve let this one slip. The Bridegroom’s gone away, but if we want Him to come back to find faith on this third rock from the sun, we better be fasting along with our praying. Fasting goes with prayer like peanut butter goes with jelly (well, maybe that’s not such a great illustration—pairing food imagery with fasting—but hey, it’s late!) Both are great individually, but together they’re more than the sum of their parts.
And to what end should the Church be fasting and praying today? To repentance.
Does anyone besides me think that if every church in this country called the faithful to prayer and fasting toward repentance that God wouldn’t shake things up? People have called me idealistic before, but I still believe that if the Church in the West got down on its knees, fasting and praying until the gates of heaven shook, God would do a mighty work among us.
I believe that dire days are ahead for the Church in the West unless we repent. God has already removed some of His Glory from us and given it to the Third World because they have come to Him in their poverty, believed Him, and gone out to minister as if every day is the last. And what did the West do? The children of the world said, “Jump!” and we replied, “How high?”
I don’t ordinarily pick fights with people, but I will on this topic if people say, “No way.” We’ve lost something here in Western Christianity and if we don’t want to see our lampstand removed altogether, we better get serious about prayer and fasting, especially to repentance.
2. Live by The Golden Rule
I may have reiterated this particular case here one too many times in these twenty-one steps, but I promise this is the last time. Stay with me.Jesus wasn’t scourged for 401k accounts. He didn’t have a crown of thorns driven into His scalp so we could fight to get the latest iPod. He didn’t have three nails pounded through His hands and feet so that we could climb over the little people on our way to the brass ring. He didn’t die in agony on a hillside for the world to see so that we could pass by the homeless man on the street and feel good about our lot. Jesus Christ died for people—and not just you and me.I believe our hopelessly broken societal “norms” have led us to this grim place where our first inclination when we meet someone for the first time is to assign them a stereotype we believe they fit. We judge. We assess. We categorize. We assume.Jesus Christ annihilates that thinking. He says:
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
—Luke 6:31 ESV
I can’t help but think that if we truly believed this verse and lived it out, it would transform every single aspect of how we relate to people. We think the Golden Rule is good enough for our children, but when did it stop being good enough for us?
What would happen in the Church in the West in 2006 if every one of us who call Jesus Lord would view every relational encounter we have in a day through the lens of Luke 6:31?
I’ve got to believe that the world would be a far different place.
1. Show people Jesus
Earlier, I mentioned how a church I’d been a part of self-destructed by going completely seeker-sensitive.During a service at that church back a handful of years ago, the Lord revealed a great truth to me. I saw all those people in that huge church glued to some well-calculated, but throwaway, piece of church programming, yet the cry of their hearts was for what they were not getting. That cry was, Show us Jesus.Folks, are we showing people Jesus or are we giving them something (or even someone) else? The heartcry of every person on this planet no matter what it may seem to be on the surface is show us Jesus.Now I’m not so ignorant that I don’t realize there are people who are sworn enemies of Christ, but I still believe that even they want to see Jesus, if for no other reason than to steel their own resolve against Him, to hate His people more, to gnash their teeth at their own Christ-denying error.
But this is not about them. It’s about those people who are desperate to know Jesus, but have no idea where to turn to find Him.
What saddens me more than anything else is to see people crying out to see Jesus, yet we give them man-made garbage instead. For those of us who know Christ, why has it become so hard for us to show Him to others?
The problem starts in the household of Faith. If we’re to show people Jesus, then we have to know Him first. We must know His words, know His voice, and have spent so much time at His feet that we know Him better than we know ourselves. Only that kind of dedicated servant of Christ can show Him to other people.
That’s where the weakness is, though. We truly don’t know Him all that well. We know about Him to some extent, but we’re not spending enough time on our faces before Him to know Him as a person. So the world goes waiting while we get to know the cast of our favorite TV show, or the latest stock market trend, or whatever noise the world serves up to us to keep us from knowing the one person who can save the world.
Jesus. It always comes down to Him because He is all that matters.
I believe that if we took these 21 steps, the Church of Jesus Christ would be radically altered. If we only took these last four steps, nothing would be the same.
I can’t live like the middling throngs. The Christianity we live in the West doesn’t have to be toothless. Christ didn’t do all He did so we can be feeble in our living of the Gospel. The Church we see in Acts rocked the world! Strongholds were demolished, people were wrenched out of the hand of the Enemy, the dead were raised—and not just the spiritually dead!
Are we happy with the Church we see today? I’m not. My problem is that I’m the Church. If I expect to see change, then it starts inside me. Christ alone has the words of eternal life. Only in Him is true purpose found, true life.
Leonard Ravenhill, again, put it all in perspective when he said, “When are we going to get serious about getting serious?”
For 2006, let’s answer that question with the only answer that matters: Today.