The Spirit Has Left the Building—More Thoughts


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

Last Friday’s post, “The Spirit Has Left the Building,” needed more analysis, so I hope to provide that today. I noted in that post that much of the problem we have with the twin church killers of entertainment-based worship and dull routine is largely due to a lack of the Holy Spirit working in those churches. They either try to make up for the missing Spirit by substituting dog-and-pony shows, or they just make do with emptiness (and call it the norm).

I believe one of the greatest mistakes we make in our churches is to assume. In this case, too many churches fall under the assumption of “Here’s our church program for this Sunday, Lord, now bless it!” That’s highly presumptive on our part. Worse, it tells God that whether He blesses our service or not, we’re going to do it with or without Him. What a sad reflection on our churches that we feel we can get along just as well whether God is there or not!

The fix to this is to structure our church meetings along the lines of “Lord, we are not blessed unless we hear what you wish to do this morning.” That humble, godly openness to receiving what God intends differs greatly from the presumptive, “arm of flesh”-based format so many churches adhere to.

This is not to say that a meeting can’t be planned, only that the plans should never stand in the way of what God ultimately desires to do in and through us on any given Sunday. It instead offers an environment of reception, where the church as a whole anticipates what God will do in and through them.

This is the church that makes a difference in the world. It mirrors Jesus’ understanding that the only work worth doing is the work God is preparing for us to do. We do what the Father is doing. As we all know, God is a spirit, so He blows where He will. And that will may not conform to our own. This requires that we be discerning, able to draw near to the face of God to know what He is doing.

Are we daring to draw near? Not always. We Christians talk a good game, but whenever I’ve pressed people in the past, the truth comes out. We’re really not all that interested in seeing what the Lord is desiring to do. It takes time to draw near, and who has that kind of time anymore?

So we should not be surprised when we fail to discern the Lord’s leading, to be deaf to His voice. For all our talk of prayer, I would dare say that few of us pray more than an hour a day. In fact, I suppose that we spend less than ten minutes a day pressing into God to see what He is doing.

Some of us are just lazy. We’ve told ourselves that God doesn’t speak like that anymore, so we toss off a few prayers and go blithely on our way. Although I suspect that if most of us read a book on prayer by E.M. Bounds, we’d get a far different picture of what it means to travail in prayer.

Others only seek their answers in the Scriptures, but—as controversial as it might be to say this—we’re not necessarily going to find a specific word from God in the Scriptures to the need at hand. Jesus knew the Scriptures better than anyone, but he withdrew for prayer for hours at a time in order to receive power for ministry and for seeing what the Lord was doing in the situation at hand. Yes, we will see the face of God in Scripture, but we must also seek His face in prayer.

Here’s one reason why we need to diligently seek God for our raison d’être as a church:

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
—Acts 11:27-30

The church that actively seeks the working of the Spirit is the church that receives revelation for service. Again, that openness for hearing God direct us toward specific works in the here and now is critical to the functioning of the church. Otherwise, what we are left with is what God has done, not what God is doing. And we need to know what He is doing now.

The church of entertainment and the church of solemn contentment go stale because the Spirit is not there to guide them. In fact, I suspect they don’t really wish to hear from the Spirit because He might ask something difficult of the people gathered there. He might very well tell the people in a wealthy church to sell all they have and give to the poor. Or He may not. But how will we know if we’ve closed off the Spirit?

The church God uses is the one that lives in a state of openness to the leading of the Spirit, no matter the cost. But when we support churches that don’t want any of “that stuff” or are too busy buying disco balls, then we’ve shut down the very conduit of Christian life.

See also:

14 thoughts on “The Spirit Has Left the Building—More Thoughts

  1. Dave Block

    Thanks, Dan, for another in a long line of excellent posts. You write, “I believe one of the greatest mistakes we make in our churches is to assume.” I couldn’t agree more. I believe that’s the case in how most churches operate.

    To choose just one example, let’s consider the role of prayer in the typical Sunday morning worship service. Maybe it’s far different in some Charismatic churches (though not the ones I’ve attended), but in my experience at every church, a total of less than 10 minutes is spent in prayer during a normal service. Yet how could any sincere reading of Scripture lead one to the conclusion that prayer is so much less important than preaching and songs — each of which take at least twice the amount of time devoted to prayer — or is something that for the most part is not suited for the corporate body?

    We spend such little time in prayer during the service because it’s what we’ve always done, and what everyone else does, and besides, it’s not exciting to pray in a large group setting. There’s an unwillingness to do what Descartes so famously did he sought to prove God’s existence — throw out all assumptions and start over. If we truly did that, relying on Scripture as our model and praying earnestly for God’s leading, we likely would come to much different conclusions about God’s will.

    • Dave,

      No doubt. And as far as I’ve seen. most Protestant church are pretty much the same when it comes to the amount of time they spend in prayer in a normal service. Perhaps the only exception to that would be a Friends (Quaker) meeting that resembled the old silent meetings of yore, where there was no real order of service, and most people spent the hour in prayer.

  2. David Riggins

    I think one of the most presumptive acts of Christians today is to assume to pin a list of conditions to something like the fellowship of believers: “I won’t listen to praise music” or “I’ll go somewhere else if all they sing are hymns.” or “This service goes too long. I like to get out before noon so I don’t have to wait in line so long at the buffet.”

    I’ve fellowshipped with believers all over the world, under trees in Thailand, in mud huts in Kenya, in open fields in Mexico, in the Russian Cultural Centre of Dhaka, in a cloud of volcanic ash in the Philippines. I just don’t get the emphasis on the basically empty ritual so many of our congregations go through all over the world. Maybe it’s the churches I go to, or perhaps it’s an epidemic. I don’t know. But they all seem to follow this formula of Song, Welcome , song song song, prayer, possibly communion (featuring little chunks of what I assume is bread of some sort and a tiny plastic cup of grape juice), offering, preacher, invitation, song, close.

    Where did this pattern come from? And don’t tell me your congregation is different because you have the offering at the beginning of the service, or spend more time in worship, or give the pastor an hour instead of 15 minutes. It’s the same pattern Where did the pattern come from?

    Dan brought up an example of being flexible in the service when someone came up and gave a word from the Lord, which resulted in the whole plan for the service being torn up and tossed. We need to see more of that. I once spoke in a little church down in Mexico, a simple message about the reconciliation of God and Man through Christ. At the end the pastor hauled up a couple of people from the congregation and confronted them on a disagreement they were having. The congregation was still weeping and praying three hours later when I left. We don’t know what God will say through us. Why do we strive so hard, worrying about what we will say? But we need to change still more…

    …I would think that the original fellowship was probably daily, or near to it, took place in homes, featured a meal, where the “breaking of bread” was actually a part of the meal and not an empty ceremony, featured rather lively discussion about the very real presence of the Lord in people’s lives, involved a majority of the time spent together in prayer to God, silence, and the sharing of confessions and encouragement. People came away with a renewal of mind, body and spirit, a knowledge of community, a peace coming from joy in fellowship, and the strength to live “in the world, but not of it”. And above all, a peace that can only come from the knowledge, not the hope, of the nearness of God.

    Not “big-box”, not planned, not skillful. It was a part of everyday life, and everyone had a part to play. It was not “an experience”, it was life!

    How did we get here? How do we get back?

    • David,

      What’s your story that you’ve been to all those exotic locales? I’ve been to Canada once and to Paris for a week-long honeymoon, but that’s it. I’ve tried to go on mission trips in the past, but they always got canceled for weird reasons.

      I agree with everything you wrote, including the need to up our fellowship from once a week to as near to every day as we can. That makes such a difference; it really does.

      How do we get back to a more “organic” Church?

      1. We’ve got to learn to listen to the Spirit more.
      2. We’ve got to believe that Acts is prescriptive and not just descriptive.
      3. We’ve got to stop being afraid of what others think.
      4. We’ve got to start believing that the world is getting worse and will require drastic solutions to difficult problems if we’re to see us live as we should.
      5. We’ve got to stop being so self-centered.

      Those are all a good start.

    • Becca

      As a worship leader who feels very stuck in this formula, I really relate to your comment. This “organic” Acts-like church is a longing I have, but I can’t seem to see how to get there. Others I talk to about it in my town don’t seem to understand what I am describing or the need for change.

      I’m not sure where the formula of worship service originated, but I assume the British and American missionaries had a lot to do with sharing it with the far corners of the world.

      • Becca,

        You have to convince others before the change comes. They have to see it.

        On a positive note, I believe more people are seeing it. They’ve tried megachurch-ianity, weighed it in the scale, and found it wanting. They’re ready to hear what we have to say. We just need to keep saying it. Better yet, we need to model it.

        Don’t despair. Live what you believe and people will start noticing.

  3. Wow, talk about one-two punches! What a great follow-up to your last post. The comments so far are excellent as well. If we could just follow through with this, how far away would true revival be?

  4. M.E.

    Hi Dan,

    For some reason a song chorus once sung by the late Harry Chapin came to mind will I was reading your post. The Night that Made America Famous was never a a top ten hit, but it stuck a chord for a lot of us back in the Seventies.

    Is anybody out there?
    Does anybody care?

    The more I peruse Christian blogs, the more I’m finding what amounts to disenfrancihsed Christians longing for a true NT church and finding what’s offered by traditional churches or even the “emergent church” completely wanting. I’m hoping some of us can find each other and form communities where we and our family members can grow in the Lord. Truly, I think mainstream Christianity is on life support now and when it dies, I’m not so sure what institution takes its place won’t be worse.

    Sorry if this doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s been a very long day. Sigh……..

    • Happy

      M.E. – it’s true. We ARE longing for the NT church and finding pretty much everything we have instead to be wanting. It’s not the 1st century anymore, and I’m not sure we CAN regain what they had because times have changed – but at the same time, “there is nothing new under the sun” so maybe we can after all. The key is to not give up on the Bride. Jesus certainly hasn’t. We may not ever get it all “right” – but we can keep trying. Don’t give up on the Church, no matter how messed up she gets. Jesus didn’t give up on me, and He didn’t give up on you – and together, we’re the church. Somehow, someday, it’ll be okay. Hang in there. And pray. That’s what will change things. That’s what will change us.

  5. Oxysmoron

    Enjoyed reading this ” the Spirit has left the Building”.

    Only makes me want to cry more. I have felt the presence of the Lord Jesus more in my room than I have ever felt in the church I attend. No matter how the routine goes I leave with this haunting thought ‘what are we doing?” There are times when the overdose of pride is too much for me to handle…I have to get up and walk out the door to breathe.

    I tell myself over and over again ” persevere through it… things will change for the better”… then after awhile I start saying… “maybe I better check the door to see if Icabod is written on there”.

    Well, if this is His church she is really in need … GREAT NEED!, but if it isn’t His church, then we have an awful lot of tares and hardly any wheat assembling together each week. It really is vexing.

  6. John Tapscott

    “The Spirit Has Left The Building”
    I can think of no apter description for a church building in the town where I work. It’s (was) a beautiful cement rendered building with stained windows and spires. Today its windows are broken and it’s home to about 10,000 (hyperbole, I haven’t counted them) pigeons. Their droppings are climbing up the walls and I can only guess at the depth of guano inside. It goes without saying that no-one worships there any more unless I’m maligning the pigeons. Nevertheless every time I pass that building I reflect that the Spirit does not inhabit buildings but a body. He inhabits the Church as the Body of Christ and believers individually as members of that Body. When considered in that way buildings become irrelevant. My wife and I have been members of a number of different “churches” in our travels around the country. We have always had the joy of fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of the denominational tag attached to the building. Our “home church” belongs to the Presbyterian denomination. In the town where we work we attend an Anglican church. We also plan to join in with the brothers and sisters of the People’s (indigenous) Church and we have been involved in taking Sunday School to 2 local indigenous communities.
    It is beyond me why people strive to attain the New Testament Church ideal or the Acts formula. In Biblical times the Church was no more ideal than it is today. I think people need to get on with the business of being the people they were born again to be, that is, themselves. If one is born again the Spirit is living and working in one’s life. We live, then by faith and not by sight. Paul has told us that when that which is perfect has come then we will see clearly and not as through a glass dimly. We will know even as we are known. We will see Him face to face. What do you think?

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