What You Won’t Hear Christian Leaders Say—And Why That Makes All the Difference


NOT overheard at a local church board meeting, parachurch ministry press conference, year-end megachurch round table, or big Christian conference:

“We’re not going to make plans, set goals, commit to any programming, buy any teaching materials, start any further ministries, hire or fire any staff, or even talk about the future until we see what the Father is doing.”

No, that’s not something you’re going to hear any time soon—despite the words of Jesus:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise….”
—John 5:19

How is it possible then that we consider ourselves better than our Lord by acting without first checking to see what the Father is doing?

It seems to me that we Christians in America would be far more effective in nearly everything we do if we stopped with the Type-A personalities, stopped all the works that aren’t working,Seeking God and instead did whatever it took to see what the Father is doing—and then did it.

If that means prayer for months on end, calling an all-church/ministry/organization fast, and actually practicing the revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit, then that’s what we do. Then maybe we American Christians would see some success and see a changed nation.

Because if we’re truly doing what we see the Father doing, that thing He is doing WILL be effective, and all the more so when the Body of Christ gets on board.

It seems so simple. Why then do we not do this? Why do we charge ahead and waste time on works that God is not in?

The answer: We’re spiritually lazy and unwilling to let our laziness be found out.

Jesus didn’t see what the Father is doing by any means other than a deep prayer life and listening to the Holy Spirit. You can’t fake that, though, and expect to see what the Father is doing. Sadly, many churches, parachurch ministries, and national-stage Christian leaders make the attempt.

Which is how we’ve gotten to this place of disparity where our nation is brimming with Christians yet they have little or no effect on the culture and society at large.

What if a church was bold enough to drop all the worthless running around and instead prayed, fasted, and learned to hear the voice of the Spirit for the purposes of understanding what the Lord is doing? What if a parachurch ministry said, “Honestly, we’ve been wasting your donations because we didn’t first check to see what God was doing before we barged ahead with our plans”? What if a nationally known Christian leader said that he was going to take a year off to seek God so as to know what He is doing so that leader could present that to his followers?

I keep hoping to see this happen, but I’m not getting any younger.

Banking on God: Crisis, Part 5


The picture of dark daysSo here we are a month later at the penultimate post in this series. Today, I’ll be expanding some of the general ideas I discussed yesterday, while adding practical ways we can address crises better as a body of believers.

In times of darkness, we must be Spirit-led, radical thinkers who take chances that flow against the status quo’s stream. Truth is, the status quo got us into many of the troubles we face as Americans, as no one wished to buck the system to make things better. Too often, though we say we love the rugged individualist, the strongest voices for godly change are the ones we shout down fervently. Remember: they stoned the prophets, but the prophets were right.

Here are a few ideas I believe we must seriously consider in our churches if we are to prevail and be a shining, countercultural light for Christ in dark times.

Healthcare is troubling issue because fewer and fewer people can afford it, yet none of us is immune to entropy. The early Church made its name in Rome by caring for the sick. Most of the world’s hospitals were founded by Christians. Yet Christian leaders today seem utterly flummoxed by the issue, preferring to ignore it even while their congregations suffer.

I had a taste of this Easter Sunday when one of the key members of my church’s worship team was laid out by a condition easily treated by a physician. The problem? He couldn’t afford to see the doctor and get the prescription medicine he needed that would have enabled him to join us!

For this reason, I believe that churches need to start stepping up to the healthcare plate. Many communities are home to retired doctors. No reason exists that a church (or a communion of churches) could not approach these retired doctors and offer to pay them a stipend to look after those people in the church who lack healthcare options. A retired doctor could see the sick on a Saturday for a few hours. House calls are even possible. This kind of thing is easily set up.

To be even more radical, why can’t a series of churches in a community band together with local politicians to have the entire community buy the services of an actively practicing doctor—or three or four? We pay for fire departments and police, why not community doctors? Keep it local by keeping the county and state out. That keeps if from becoming a big government initiative while continuing to benefit an entire community. With most office visits handleable by general practitioners, there’s no reason why this can’t work. Why then are we not pursuing it?

For funding such an idea, or any other benevolence fund, most of us, as I noted yesterday, could get by fine without 75 percent of what we own. The early Church divested itself of all sorts of extra goods, including houses, but we seem loathe to give up even the smallest thing. Just how stingy are we? Look at how many families are failing around us and see how the cultivation of our island (every family for itself) mentality has damaged even our church families.

We need to get some sense about how we spend our money. When we’re starving, we can’t eat an iPod.We spend millions on junk, yet what really lasts escapes us. God will judge our generosity some day. Are we feeding Christ by feeding the hungry or are we simply out to feed our own desires? Which one makes us sheep and which makes us goats?

We Christians will collectively spend umpteen millions of dollars each year on Christian conferences that we attend and then forget about a month later. Imagine what we could do if we channeled that money to worthy preparation and stopped our fixation with one religious high after another. Could we strategize new ways of living and fund those initiatives?

Take housing, for instance. A coalition of churches could buy older apartment buildings, rehab them, and offer housing to those who fall prey to bad times. We had a family in our church lose a home to fire just a couple weeks ago and another family offered the use of the home they just left. That’s one way to go. Or a couple churches working together could buy up foreclosed or auctioned properties and rehab them for families. Or they could work deals with families who are moving to donate their old homes. Heck, that’s even a tax writeoff! These are all readily workable ideas.

We need to re-explore Christian communities. I’ve written before that I believe it a wise thing for a group of Christian families to buy available land, build their houses together on that land, have a common meeting building, farm the land, and maintain some percentage of common purse for use when tough times hit. Or a couple families could build condo-type houses with common areas linking two homes. Or we could work to rent out apartments together in the same building. We are not limited here if we set aside our faulty ideals on what it means to be well-off!

Food is big issue, too. Dark times almost always mean less food. I was in the store today and was shocked at how prices continue to rise either outright or through what I like to call “packaging fraud.” (Your half gallon container of ice cream is now 1.75 quarts, or even 1.5 quarts. I noticed today that packs of cheese that were once half a pound are now six ounces. Same price, but no fanfare on the smaller size. I consider that fraud, frankly.)

How do we deal with the problem of food? We grow our own.

I catch a lot of flack from naysayers on this, but if we have a backyard and we’re not growing food on it, we’re wasting our property. We can’t keep relying on others to feed us. It’s time that we Christians started assuming leadership on the back to basics of growing and making our own food. No excuses here, either. If I, the world’s worst “black thumb,” can grow food in raised beds on my property, you can, too. I have a fruit orchard, also. No reason why you can’t, either. And it’s far cheaper to grow food ourselves and preserve it than it is to buy from big food conglomerates. Tastes better as well.

Every family in our churches should be growing food. End of story. And for those with bigger properties, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and cows can supply meat. (I’m exploring that for my family even now.) Those people who have more resources for food production can assists those with less. Folks, this is about survival.

As for other skills, your church directory should list not only the basics like a phone number and address, but the skills and talents of each person listed. Someone got car fixing skills? Time to use them to the bettering of everyone in the church. Who sews well? Who can teach others sewing? Who has legal training? We need to know this. Every ability should be noted and made open for use. People who can pay should. Those who can’t should try as best they can to, yet that inability to pay should not keep them from getting services from their brethren. People with plumbing skills should be fixing plumbing in the homes of people in the church. Same for electricians, accountants, and whatever other skill is needed. We need to start depending on each other and living up to real community, even if it hurts. Again, the days of our privacy are gone. The government already knows everything about you, so privacy is a myth anyway. Our churches need what we have to give, money, skills, and all. Time to pony it all up.

Jobs are a big issue. Those people in the congregation who can make hiring and firing decisions need to understand that they should be hiring their out-of-work brethren. For those people in our churches who can train others in worthwhile work, they need to do it now, not wait till bad times come. An out-of-work person in a church is everyone’s responsibility. You can tell how loving and godly a church is by how well they meet the needs of their weakest members. And nothing in our society renders people weaker than being out of work. If our churches are filled with out-of-work people, then we’re not living up to the high calling of Christ. Jobs training, networking leads, anything that works we should be exploring. Absolutely no excuses on this, either.

Churches need to be working with local businesses to ensure them that they can provide ethical employees. Our churches should be able to go to any local business and say that the people in that church will make the best employees because they are godly, moral, ethical people who will do a company right. If we can’t say that, then we fooling ourselves concerning our discipleship programs. Church leaders need to be able to make that promise and fulfill it. They should cultivate relationships with community business leaders that will ensure that, even in down times, their congregants will have work.

As you can see, this takes on an alternative economy kind of thinking after a while. Underground economies exist all over the planet, but we suburbanites do a lousy job of creating our own. We need to learn how to barter and exchange outside the system. One day, off the grid and outside the system may be our only means of surviving. We better start planning those means now.

Why aren’t we training our children to survive? For all our obsession with homeschooling, how many homeschoolers are teaching real survival skills like animal husbandry, power generation, farming, and the like? Knowing Latin won’t fill an empty stomach. Our kids need to know how to live like the pioneers of old if they are to live in the days to come. (We adults also need that wisdom, too, though I suspect too many of us spent our precious time learning how to play video games or memorizing sports stats and not enough learning how to sex chickens.) Who in our churches can teach the next generation how to do these things? We need to identify them. And if we can’t identify those people, then we need to drop all the other junk we’re doing and start teaching ourselves those skills.

Our churches need to learn what real persecution looks like, too. How is the Church persecuted in other countries? We need to know how those persecuted churches survive. What happens if we have our church building taken away? How do we keep meeting? How does an underground church work? Our church leaders should stop assuming that tomorrow will be all milk and honey and start finding ways to test-run persecution. Break your church up into house churches for a while and see where the pressure points and weaknesses are. Who are the leaders of the church? Who will run things if the pastor or elders get taken out? How are we training people to assume leadership roles? This is basic discipleship training! How are we living it out?

Do we have prayer meetings in our churches going on all the time? Why not? Dark times call for serious prayer. Why are all the old ladies filling our prayer meetings? Why are all the able-bodied men camped out watching sports? What a waste! Are we serious or not? I’ll tell you, we’ll be serious when we lose our houses or can’t put food on the table. But by then, it may be too late.

Bad days call for fasting and repentance. I read all sorts of headlines about the dire economy, but I hear no Christian leaders calling for repentance, fasting, and prayer because of it. Why not? How badly do we want to be caught unawares? I don’t wish to be and I don’t want my church to be, either. Are we serious people or are we dancing when we should be preparing for winter? Dance when the stockpile is in place, but not before.

I could go on and on here, but I think the time has come to wrap this up.

I ask again, How serious are we? When did we Christians get so “fluffy”? Tough times call for tough people and brave ideas with committed follow-through. Good times won’t always be here, yet we act like they’ll last forever. How foolish we are when we, of all people, know how things will end, yet we are not prepared for that Day!

In the next post, I’ll wrap up the “Banking on God” series. Stay tuned.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

My Hope & Prayer for 2008


I have a hope and prayer for 2008 that I wish to share. It started off from a series of negative experiences, but I want to make it positive because I believe the positive word comes from the heart of God.

I’m late to the show on the book Simple Church by Rainer and Geiger. Judging from Amazon’s rankings of the book as #1, #2, and #3 in various evangelical categories, it’s still hot long after its release in 2006. I’m also amazed at the number of strongly approving reviews. Amazed. In fact, if I could sum up my review, I would describe the book in one portmanteau word: Craptacular.

That encapsulates almost all the hottest books on “How to Do Church” that I’ve read in the last few years. The same hot churches are held up for mimicking. The same church problems are cited (correctly, I might add—the one nod I’ll give these books). But the solutions are always wrong. Always. Nearly all are just business principles given a good shellacking of Christianity to make them look smooth and shiny. Honestly, if Google and The Gap are the models for effective churches, all is lost. (That author Tom Rainer is the head of Lifeway Christian Stores should not surprise anyone.)

What is my biggest problem with all of these modern “How to Do Church” books? Every last one of them offers solutions that can be instituted without the Lord. The fixes are universally man-made. This, universally, makes them the arm of flesh. And the arm of flesh will always fail. Always.

But one fix never fails.

That fix is not a thing, but a person. We know Him as the Holy Spirit. He will lead us gently if we allow HimHe’s perfect. Unlike one craptacular, modern, “How to Do Church” book after the other, the Holy Spirit guides into all truth. Not some truth, but all truth. He’s the ultimate source for making the Church all She can be.

Here’s how I can save you hours of reading lame books on how to fix your church and turn it into the church God desires. You only need to listen to the Holy Spirit.

I suspect that’s not a very satisfying answer for some people. You can’t make money selling curricula, church models, and seminars by telling church leaders they need to dump all their craptacular books and start listening to the Holy Spirit. But that’s what church leaders need to do.

A church is made up of too many diverse people for a “How to Do Church” book to succeed. If you read the Bible closely enough, you’ll realize that it doesn’t even attempt to provide all the solutions to how a church should operate. Yes, some general ideas exist, but when it comes down to the specifics, that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.

Take this passage:

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
—Acts 13:1-3

No “How to Do Church” book is going to give you that. They’ll tell you a process by which you have to funnel everyone, but they won’t get down to this level of leadership.

Why not send Lucius? Or Manaen? Why send that guy who used to persecute the Church, that Saul character?

I would suspect that at the board meeting of your typical church, simple, complex, traditional, emerging, or whatever, the process would dictate who got chosen and for what purpose. What God thinks and the ones He would choose would probably be far down the list. Too dicey to depend on the Holy Spirit; just let the established process make the decision instead. We send the ones WE think are best, the ones who best fit our idea of who should go for the given job. And aren’t we the ones deciding what that job is anyway?

Give me a thousand copies of the bestselling Christian leadership books out there and I’d burn them all than trust one over what the Holy Spirit thinks. Why then, do our church leaders trust books so much and God so little?

The Holy Spirit provides perfect answers to intractable problems. He also provides specific answers for dealing with specific people in specific situations. He alone makes a church what it should be. He alone makes genuine disciples out of wrecked people.

We need to stop this craziness and get back to the Lord. If our churches are not run by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then they are not churches. We must also keep the Scriptures ever before us, but with the understanding that people—sadly—can use the Bible to justify all manner of leadership styles that rely not one iota on the Holy Spirit. These “How to Do Church” books quote a million Scriptures, but they use the Scriptures to support their foregone premises, rather than seeing what it actually says. And what it actually says is that we’re blowing it if we’re not dependent on the Spirit for guidance.

My hope and prayer for the Church for 2008 is that we find a way to get back to depending on the Holy Spirit to guide our churches. And not just lip service, but genuine dependence so that we don’t do a thing unless the Spirit confirms that thing one way or another.

How do we get there?

1. Know the Scriptures—We’ve got to really know them,our leaders especially. The Holy Spirit calls to mind the Word of God, but if the reserves aren’t there, we won’t hear.

2. Holiness—It’s time to get serious about holiness. That means dropping out of the world’s game. That means being a people separated unto the Lord. You want to hear from the Holy Spirit? You want your church to prosper? Then tear down the altars and purify the temple. That never fails.

3. Waiting—The Holy Spirit answers on His time, not ours. Just because our society is enslaved to busyness doesn’t mean our churches must be. We must stop trying to force things to happen that aren’t in God’s playbook.

4. Humility & Repentance—We must repent and humbly admit that we’ve attempted to take the world’s ways and make them the Church’s. But what fellowship have Christ and Belial? None. We cannot continue to swallow fleshly business practices within our churches. Those ways end in ashes.

5. We must desire the leading of the Holy Spirit—The Holy Spirit leads where Christ is hungered and thirsted for. He is faithful to those who desire to hear from Him. The Lord does not leave His people adrift. He never has and never will. However, we did not believe this, so we gave up on His leadership and instituted the world’s. It’s time to get back to the Lord and desire Him above all.

I wrote this several days before it posted because I cannot escape the message. The Church that is not led by the Holy Spirit is utterly directionless, not matter how smoothly it may operate. God has a better way. My hope and prayer is that we rediscover that leadership by the Holy Spirit in 2008.

May you find the Lord in 2008, and know his guidance, when you seek Him with all your heart.