The gospel work of the church is viral and adaptive. It infiltrates and subverts established powers. It is a winding, weaving, rooting, climbing, spreading vine that can crack bricks and choke out competition. There is connection enough to get nutrients out to the farthest tips of the next burgeoning vine and leaflet. It isn’t a complicated structure; roots, vines, leaves. The New Testament picture of the local church was chaordic, a tenuous balance of chaos mixed with just enough order to keep it together. If your church becomes structurally heavy then you minimize your gospel effectiveness.
Bureaucratic committees with sub-committees reflect American political ideologies and Wall Street power grids but not the local church’s raw, ever-branching spread-ability. If you have to error between simple and complicated then fall to the side of simple. Simplicity is the faith step that releases individual members to be led by the Holy Spirit freeing them to contextualize the gospel message. Leadership and organizationally heavy churches stifle the very work they are trying to rally. The church is an open field and the gospel a seed. Hold it and you will choke it; release it and watch it grow.
For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field… – I Corinthians 3:9
One word breaks chains. One word frees slaves. One word confounds demons. One word shatters walls. One word upsets systems. One word unseats cities. One word unsettles hearts. One word helps the hounded, heals the hopeless, yet hurts the hardened. One word makes the fierce flee, the unheard-of happen, and the unthinkable come to pass. One word.
We don’t need many words, lengthy words, or complicated words. Not witty, pithy, catchy words. We don’t need to talk long nor say much. One word, the right word, the Spirit-filled faith-founded God-grounded word is enough to turn everything upside down. With one word, the Son of God freed two demoniacs, opened closed road ways, rocked the economic system of a region, gathered an entire city, and upended a spiritual stronghold.
In short, it takes a word, but it may only take one.
What will you say today, son/daughter of God?
And Jesus said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went… Matthew 8:28-34
We think about the timeless love of God as something that is distant future, it never ends. But, because God’s love comes to us outside of time, it bathes our yesterdays, our todays, and our tomorrows equally. It is close, on a personal level. God’s timeless love makes Him an intimate and immanent Father, not just at transcendent omnipotent. This outside-of-time love was given in light of all our tomorrow-mistakes. It makes us family members constantly called too, searched for, longed for, and desired within and beyond the frailty of our humanity. We may say, “But, God, didn’t you see what I did?” And he says, “Yes, I did. I saw it a long time ago. I love you.” We shirk in shame and guilt. The Father moves in closer for the killer blow, “I know what you will do today and I love you through it into all our tomorrows. You are my son, my daughter.”
Don’t let the love in your church be a conditional, country club, Sunday’s best-dressed type of love. God’s love is messy and close and down and dirty. It comes to sinners in all their filthy, mud-mucked rags. It showers them again and again and again. It sees them beyond yesterdays, and todays, and tomorrows. It is the door that is always open, the fire that is always warm, the chair that is always waiting, and the dinner table that is ready and set for a hungry family.
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ – The Apostle Paul (Ephesians 1:5)
The local church, the Body of Christ, was given to enter into the world’s pain because, simply, that is what Christ does. He incarnates our suffering. God enters our pain and trouble and sin and doubt. The church will not be the church fully until it learns to not ignore and avoid the suffering world but learns to seek out pain and bear the burdens of the hurting.The local church is to offer divine presence in human pain!
Henri Nouwen said, “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.”
We could just as easily say, “The local church that can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing…not healing, not curing,,,that is a church who cares.”
For more watch these from Henri Nouwen
Some one must see the whole road ahead. Someone must see with a wide angle lens all that God commands and expects. Covering our gaze to the more difficult parts of the path is easy and common. But, it leads to missed opportunities and broken lives. Just because a path is challenging does not mean it is not the right road, the path that must be taken! Some one in the church family must be the one to see. Oh, sure, there may be more than one but there must be at least one. Who ever is navigating must see out a clean windshield but they must also see out of the whole windshield.
- Check your sides. Full knowledge of God’s commands lets you see what might be coming from the left and right.
- Note your mirrors. Full knowledge of God’s commands lets you know how to read the past.
- Mind your map. Full of knowledge of God’s commands lets you navigate the better course for you and your passengers.
- Limit distractions. Full of knowledge of God’s commands enables you to cut out the clatter that might pull your attention off course.
A note to seers and leaders, prophets and kings: Rely on the gifts around you. It is one thing to see where to go and it is another to get people there. Both roles are important and both are full time responsibilities. It is hard to turn the wheel and read the map at the same time.
No church can deny the work of Jesus with the marginalized of society. He sought out the overlooked. He went to the abandoned. He slowed down for the passed over. (We call them single-moms, welfare cases, dropouts, minorities, addicts) Does your church keep the same company? Find how much;
- How many church programs are realistically available to and for your community’s under-resourced?
- How much of your budget is set-aside for local food banks and adult educational programs?
- What are the five closest, under-resourced communities near your church?
- What are the three largest marginalized people-groups in your area?
- What local advocacy groups have you partnered with?
It is disingenuous to preach a gospel for the poor without being a church with the poor.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress… – James
Who do you open your doors for? Who do you close them to? John 3 and 4, Jesus did church for Man and Woman, respectable and outcast, religious and “worldly”, night-walkers and day-dwellers, named and unnamed, seeking and sought out, Jew and Samaritan, the wondering and the wandering. Jesus’ only standard was human brokenness. Who can’t clear that bar?
If you want to know who your church welcomes than look who has stayed inside.
Protect your church from over commitment. Respect her rhythm. Give her rest. She is a Body just like you have a body. She has ups and downs like you. And, as a church leader, a disregard for the pace of ministry will most likely be reflected in your church being driven into the ground. The Body (church) does what the mind (leaders/pastors) instructs.
God wants you to balance this tension; pace vs. place. Or, what the church is doing vs. who the church is becoming. Overemphasizing mission at the expense of spiritual formation will result in over committed members and exhaustion. Remember, the whole purpose of our participation in Christ’s work is to produce Christ’s image in us. We are as much the mission as the world is.
I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. – II Corinthians 11:2
Yesterday was Veterans Day. I am thankful for the men and women who, like my grandfather, signed up to serve this country. I started to reflect on what the Church could learn from our country’s veterans. Here is the beginning of my list. I’m sure you could add a few more. They are not in any order and I am no soldier just a preacher;
- Once a soldier always a soldier
- Dying for your King and kingdom isn’t suggested but expected
- Preparation and training aren’t just “basic” but foundational for victory
- Experience on the field of battle saves lives and wins battles
- A soldier does what others cannot do for everyone to be free
- Authority demands respect
- Wearing the uniform is merely the outside proof of one’s inner commitment.
- Don’t fight alone
- Orders are to be followed
- An enemy at the gate demands soldiers at the ready
What truths do you see lived out by our veterans that the Church should learn from?
Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Jesus Christ. – II Timothy 2:3