So, today was the morning I woke up and realized, I had no church home. It’s a very weird feeling. Remember, that for 27 years, I have gone to one of three very connected churches (each one a plant or mother church to another church). More to the point, I have been meeting with some of the same people for the entirety of those 27 years. Today those people are blessing others, are trying to find their way to/in a new church. I have no fear that they will be just fine without me, but I will miss them.
Given this sudden and strange freedom, my family and I did something which might seem odd to you.
Yep, we played hooky. We went to see Monsters University. It was a mini-vacation. For me a real one. Pastor’s rarely take real vacations. For an employed Pastor, you never take a vacation from caring. For 23 of those years, I’ve been responsible for “Church happening.” Not a Sunday has passed that I haven’t felt the joy/burden of making sure Sunday service happened. Even when I’ve been gone, I’ve been the one via delegation to see it through. I’ve checked in via text, and consistently through prayer. This Morning…nothing.
No people are waiting for events to unfold; no trailer needs to be unloaded, no people greeted, no sermon preached, no discussion led.
Of course I haven’t really stopped caring. I think about my former congregants today and I wonder how they are doing. I pray for them they are doing well. In fact, I will meet with many of them later today after church or green monsters..depending. We’ll be at Dion’s discussing how it went. It’s a testament to the authenticity and Grace of these people that I will feel no compunction telling them we opted for a movie today.
I have no fear that today’s excursion will confuse either me or my family about the need for church. For one thing 27 years of habits are not undone in 1 week. For another I’ve never gone to church because I had to, not even always because I wanted to. I’ve gone because of a deep seated conviction about its necessity. This is a conviction I still hold. In fact, this was one of the big ideas upon with Lifesong was founded.
Big Idea #1 The Primacy of the Church.
This is the big idea which is least “sexy” to people who hear about my big ideas. It’s not particularly post modern, and in fact sounds slightly archaic to people. But this is part of the point. Because I’m about to leave for the movie, and because it says it well, I’m going to explain by posting a section from a book I’ve been working on for at least five years, a book which I suspect will take me another five to finish. It’s a little long, but it serves two purposes. One is to let you understand my pilgrimage and my choices a little better going forward (and since you are reading you must be at least marginally interested) and two, it may serve as an encouragement to those of you who are wanting church but not sure why, and a challenge to those of you who don’t want church and know why.
“You’ve changed my life. I think if people could really see how you are trying, not to redefine Christianity, but to redefine how we “do” it, if they could really hear you, I think there would be millions here. I want to take that to other people to.”
There is so much about this statement that I love, that heartens me. Not the least of which is that it was spoken to me on our final Sunday by an 18 year old formerly “non-church” kid who is now striving to find a good church for himself with or without the rest of his family (preferably with) He sees how the Big ideas have a chance to revitalize the church in America. A friend of mine said that, as far as America is concerned, I’m just part of a dying industry. I hope he’s wrong. I believe there is the possibility in America for a new Christian era, and these 6 paradigms, these 6 big ideas have the potential to redefine the way we “do” church and bring healing, hope and good news to people. AT least that’s the theory. But then, how much theory do you trust from a pastor without one; how much talk about the importance of church do you take from a pastor who visited monsters instead of a church today? I recognize the irony without accepting it’s a contradiction. So I invite you to read the section below and let me know what you think.
I’ll let you know how lunch goes on Facebook, or possibly next week’s pilgrimage.
Chapter 1: (From the “6 Big Ideas” ) Why is Church?
That’s a funny question isn’t it? I thought about starting this book off with the question “What is the church” but I opted for this other more interesting question instead. Truly I think most of us are clearer about the nature of the church than we are about its purpose.
If asked, I am confident that the vast majority of the readers of this book would be able to give a pretty good description of the nature of the church. We know that it’s more than a building or the place we attend on Sunday Morning. We understand that the church is the body of Christ, made up of every man, woman and child who believes that Jesus is God and in His atoning death for our sins as the only hope we have for redemption.
Further, most of us understand that in practice, this large entity functions best when organized geographically into smaller groups–whether these groups meet in houses, schools, their own buildings or in the open air.
We know, or at least suspect, these things, but do we know why? Why is the church? What is it’s purpose? In fact, it’s probably telling that a small but significant percentage of my evangelical brothers and sisters, devoted to Christ, genuinely see no reason for attending a local church at all. The purpose of such gathering seems to them to be at best social, and at worst destructive to true faith. ( If you are such a brother or sister, I encourage you to skip to the appendix A.: What does Paul mean when he speaks of the “Church?” I then hope you will choose to make the journey with us and accept a respectful challenge to your current perspective on the local church.) Still even for most Christians, who do still attend local churches (in increasing numbers in fact), the true reason for going is often a bit of a mystery.
Is it an archaic social construct, mostly irrelevant and impotent, kept alive only for reasons of nostalgia? Is it a hospital for wounded Christians, a fortress for beleaguered ones, a cloister for those weary of engagement in the world? Maybe it’s an advancing force, a public meeting house for a political entity known as the moral majority or Christian conservatives. Why is the church? What does Jesus say? What does Scripture say?
I’ve been a Christian for over three decades, a pastor for over half that time, and I’ve come to strongly suspect that many of us are very much adrift when it comes to this question. That’s what this whole book is about. Why is the church? What is to be our impact on the world, what is to be our role, what are we to do?
For such a time as this
I fear, as with most issues of obedience, that our problem is not really a lack of understanding so much as a lack of faith. We find it hard to believe the incredible vision and plan which God has for the church. I hope this book will reinvigorate you, with a larger vision than that which you might have previously accepted.
Consider the story of Esther from the Old Testament. When we first encounter her, Esther is simply a young woman who becomes the Queen of Persia through no fault of her own. She is not apparently seeking the kingdom, but only becomes Queen after being drafted into a beauty contest. It is evident that it is God who has arranged events in such a fashion that Esther ends up one of the King’s favorite people at a very important moment in the history of the Jews.
One would think that Esther would recognize that God must have had some special plan to have placed her in such an influential position, and yet, when the time comes, the moment for which God had placed her in the palace, to prevent the destruction of the Jewish people, she almost balks. She probably would have balked in fact, if it were not for her guardian, Mordecai. It is Mordecai who reminds her of her special opportunities when he says, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
I believe that like Esther, we in the church have forgotten our faith in the face of our fears. Like Esther we’ve accepted for the moment the deception that our position is not really one of influence and power, but one of irrelevance and impotence. Like Esther, we’ve neglected to see the hand of God behind the events of our lives and history, leading us to such a time as this.
We stand at another critical crossroads, a confluence of events which has primed the world for a major philosophic and ideologic shift.
We stand at a moment when the American Church is filled with opportunity and power, but like Esther, we pause, and wonder if we dare believe in our own authority. As we buy into the myth of our own impotence, we put our hope in other institutions and people to save our culture. We need another Mordecai to remind us of the sovereignty of God and the size of His vision for the church.
There are Mordecais today. No doubt there are some in your local congregation, or on your radio, or in your bookstore. It is my prayer as I write that this book may be one of those Mordecais, calling the church to grab the opportunity, to recognize that perhaps we are here for such a time as this!
Here’s just a few of the ways God speaks of the church’s unique importance:
… you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15)
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:9-12)
You are the salt of the earth. (Matthew 5:13a)
Given God’s insistence that the church is a powerful force (perhaps the most powerful force on earth) why are we not already experiencing the realization of our influence? I believe the church’s lack of influence is largely because we do not understand what it is we are supposed to do or be.
Without this proper understanding of the church’s purpose and essence, we cannot act with any clear intention, and without clear intention the church flails and ultimately those passionate, devoted people who do have a heart for seeing God’s will done in America as it is in Heaven, are left to seek other institutions of purpose.If only, they say, we had a better grasp of politics or the media, for example, then we could change the world.
As important and influential as these other institutions may be, what we really need is a better grasp of the church.
This book explores six crucial paradigms which we in the American church must embrace regarding our purpose and power in order to see God’s order more rightly restored in America. I am certainly not the only one drawing attention to any one of these ideas, nor are all of them or even any of them, completely unrealized in any given church. These are not magic keys, nor are they the only important ideas, but I would suggest that a lack of conviction on these points may be preventing what ought to be the natural and great influence of the church in our culture.
Certainly no idea will ever supersede the intervening work of the Holy Spirit, but I would suggest that the growing awareness and acceptance of these paradigms is a significant part of the Holy Spirit’s current movement in America