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.

Commune-ity Values (or Redefining “Church” Yet Again….)


Oy vey!

That’s all I can say after reading The House Church Blog’s post on what the Bible really says about house churches.

As someone who has even considered whether a house church was the “church of last resort” for a couple of square pegs like my wife and I, this semi-new definition of what constitutes a house church should have even Robert Fitts throwing a few of his namesake (minus a “t”—of course.)

A distressing—for all those house church proponents, at least—excerpt:

The implications of Gehring’s insights about the importance of oikos [Greek for “household”—Ed.] are huge! For one thing, it means that moving church from a special church building into a home does not go nearly far enough. The churches established by Jesus and his disciples were not mere weekly meetings. They were literally households—ongoing, 24/7, family-like communities.

Consider 1Cor. 16:19 – “Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house (oikos)”. If we read this from our 21st Century Western context, we would (unconsciously?) conclude that once a week a group of Christians met in this couple’s home for church. However, if we read this verse from the 1st Century context, we would conclude something quite different.

To say that we have a “house church” because we meet in someone’s home at 7 pm on Tuesday nights, falls significantly short of the New Testament concept of “house church”.

Yikes! Are we back to the redeemed hippie communes of the 1970’s Jesus People era? Well, from this assessment, it seems we are.

St. Chapelle Stained Glass by Dan EdelenThe perpetually moving target that is the method of some to capture the exact mode of meeting of the first century Church is bothersome. Methodology is great and I applaud those who are going for as pure a methodology as can be understood, but at some point we just need to get on with doing what the Lord commanded: making disciples. If every couple years we rip down the idea of what constitutes a “true” church meeting, then we are only forcing our churches through ever-finer strainers. Who or what comes out of that in one piece is debatable.

Perhaps we are asking too much of people. In the midst of a resurgence in house churches, this is an acid test that few can withstand, I suspect. “Now we have to live in the same house with these people!” is asking too much too early on in this nascent movement.

My wife and I have wondered if the best model is to get a group of six or seven committed Christian families to purchase about fifty acres of land near a smaller town and build a home for each family on that land, along with a larger building that can provide a centralized meeting place. One or two of the families can work the remaining land as a source of food and revenue for the community, not to mention a source for feeding the poor. A portion of the income of each family would be pooled and used to support the community, especially during times of duress (such as medical expenses or job losses), and for basic outreach benevolences. Childcare and homeschooling would also be provided in this model, with every family chipping in. Group meals could also be planned, as well as allowances made for private dinners devoted to the needs of each individual family. The items that many families duplicate (yard care, basic tools, even vehicles) could be pooled in order to save money, while time can be saved not having to work and shop for duplicated items, freeing folks up to spend more time in devotion to the Lord.

Despite this idea of ours, I’m not completely ready to give up on the current model we have used for so long. It may not be perfect, but that imperfection may lie more in our inability to stay true to the Gospel message than in our lack of replicating the Book of Acts’ style of church meeting to a “T.” There is much to be said for the synergy a church of two hundred or more can bring to a locality when all two hundred souls are on the same page spiritually, right with God and with each other. You just can’t get that with any other style of church meeting.

That’s what I am hoping for now in the church we just joined, at least. Should we grow that into something more “organic,” then great. But for now, I’m not going to get flustered by yet another (somewhat) new direction in ecclesiology. You shouldn’t, either.

The Curse of Monasticism Reborn


No sooner do I get done writing a far-between post noting how my posts have been far-between while I work on finishing up my novel, and offering up a link elsewhere to ponder just to prove the point, God grabs ahold of me and makes me write this.

I wonder if we are creating a new monasticism.

The Reformation drove a stake into the separatist mentality that is the core of monasticism, proving that the Gospel belongs out among the people, out in our communities, villages, towns, and cities. It was a call to leave the ivory towers and get one's hand dirty out in the "real" world. And not only that, it called Christians to be pillars in their communities, villages, towns, and cities, to have a real presence that brought Christ into the marketplace of ideas.

The True Light cannot be hid in us who cherish Him, so the Reformers told us to get out from under our bushels and shine. They taught that Christianity was not to be a religion of disconnection, but a relationship with Christ who gathers us in a Body and dwells amid that Body—a Body centered in our local communities.

This is why I wonder about the current moves going on in the American Church. There is a gung-ho attitude toward small groups, house churches, and select meetings of a few outside the large church assemblies. It is good that we think about those types of groups and consider their impact.

However, in a day and age when fractionalization and withdrawing from community are the norm are we Christians missing the bigger picture by de-emphasizing large assemblies while heaping praise on smaller groups?

My wife and I spent much of this year searching for a new church. More than three years ago, we moved an hour's drive away from our old church while continuing to go there. The outcome of this was that we did not plug into the village we lived in because our church was fifty miles away. Having one foot in the community we lived in and one in our community of faith many miles away meant that neither found a connection to the other. In the end, both were diminished.

Yet it is more than just a distance issue. It may also be a numbers issue. The church that we have landed in near our home has about four hundred people in it. That winds up being four hundred connections into our local village. That's four hundred reinforcements to a presence in town AND four hundred reinforcements to our community of faith.

A small group cannot do that. A house church cannot do that, either. When we wonder why we feel disconnected in our own communities, perhaps this is why. Neglecting our presence in our towns and villages in numbers that reinforce rather than divide is ushering in a new monasticism. We find ourselves cut off from the world at large and also cut off from the Church at large. Dwelling in this limbo, we gut our effectiveness not only to reach new people with the Gospel, but to enjoy relationships with a wide variety of people, relationships that have Kingdom potential ranging from a simple "God bless you!" to the clerk at the local grocery store to a deep discipleship relationship with a new believer at our church.

Synergy is also lost. It is one thing to cast the seed everywhere we go, but how much more effective can we be when we repeatedly cast it right where we live? The compounding of this synergy repeated four hundred times every day by the folks in our new church can also not be overlooked. A new monasticism cripples this kind of synergy, diluting its effectiveness.

One of the first verses I ever felt God illumined in me is this one:

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
—Isaiah 55:10

God's word does not return void. In some people it is like rain, soaking into the soil of a barren heart, that rain finally giving nourishment to the seed there. In others, it is like snow, piling up and up until something warms it, causing it to melt and seep into the soil.

When we Christians spread ourselves thin or withdraw into little groups, the storm is lost, and the blizzard is reduced to a mere frost.

There is something to be said for churches between two hundred and a thousand people. A church that size allows us to know the ones with whom we fellowship. It also can take a people of one mind and cause a storm in the towns and villages in which we live. And lastly, it affords us connections into those same towns and villages that allow us to be a vital part of their livelihood rather than just listing them as a place where we get our mail.

People wonder why we feel disconnected from the people who live right next door to us. They ask why our churches seem to be so ineffective, too. Perhaps our monastic mentality is the cause.

God helps us break out of our ivory towers and get out among the people, both those who know the Lord and those who hope one day to know. Let us be a vital presence in our local communities, bringing the Gospel Light into all we do. And let us also be the beneficiaries of the connections we forge immediately around us, to our neighbors, and to the community at large. Always for Your glory and Your Kingdom. Amen.