God seems to be laying a foundation for yet another of His periodic, history-changing interventions in the affairs of man. Over the last two thousand years there have been many such paradigm shifts, and it’s naive to think that our current, settled status quo will somehow be exempt from the unsettling but progressive advance of His Kingdom.
This newest paradigm shift is starting with pioneers who realize that God’s primary goal in history is to change not only individuals but also whole cultures and nations — as per the Great Commission.
Likewise, as with all prior interventions in history, His will is being applied to more and more aspects of His creation here on earth, just as it is in heaven — as per the Lord’s Prayer.
We also are coming to realize that the Kingdom of God — His will being done on earth (including all spheres of human endeavor) as it is in heaven — is bigger than the church. Nonetheless, we are beginning to understand that His Kingdom is not going to advance much further unless the church re-discovers her New Testament roots.
Admittedly, there is comfort in the familiar status quo of “church” as we’ve all come to know it. Some, however, are so hungry for God’s Kingdom — as it continues to progressively advance through history — that they’re willing hit to the reboot button and look afresh at God’ s purposes.
For me, that reboot came when I finally confronted the fact that our pastor-centric, podium-focused, program-based churches — dominated by performance-oriented Sunday “services” and “go to church” mentalities — look nothing like the pattern given in the New Testament.
Other pioneers, who I often think of as Kingdom entrepreneurs, are also catching hold of a vision that transcends “church” as we’ve known it:
- By seeing the church as the launching pad, rather than the destination, for bringing the blessings of the Father’s will (i.e., His Kingdom) into all aspects of life and society.
- By realizing that God calls us to advance His Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven, by going forth into the world — the marketplace, the workplace, the halls of government, the arts, our communities, our educational institutions, etc. — rather than perpetuating churches that have become little more than self-consumed Christian ghettos.
- And by coming to understand that the church is tasked with advancing His Kingdom by identifying, equipping and then unleashing His people to use their individual gifts in service to the King in all spheres of life and human endeavor — rather than simply in service to the church and it’s programs (which all too often are defined and limited, unfortunately, by a particular pastor’s own gifts and vision).
The sad truth, however, is that much of what we call “church” today is focused primarily on advancing itself, and secondarily on advancing the goals of its sole-proprietor pastor(s), rather than advancing the much broader, all-encompassing Kingdom of God. Equipping and unleashing individuals to transform lives, cultures and nations with their diverse God-given gifts, of necessity, requires that we transcend the specific gifts of any one pastor or group of church-focused leaders.
It requires facilitating leadership:
- That has a vision for the Kingdom, rather than simply “church”;
- That values true fellowship rather than podium-focused meetings;
- That is engaged in real, enabling ministry rather than applying band-aide platitudes and plugging people into cookie-cutter programs; and
- That is secure enough to allow God’s people to fully mentor and minister one to another in giftings and goals that go beyond, and are different than, the pastor’s.
The fact that some are nonetheless able to find these things in podium churches, despite everything to the contrary, is not an endorsement of such churches but a testament to the growing hunger in God’s people for real fellowship and spiritual growth! Often, folks will carve out isolated pockets of authentic fellowship and spiritual mentoring within a podium church, but usually these isolated pockets are outside the church’s formal structure.
For me, however, I simply have no desire to go back. The time finally came to break out and take a chance that God actually knew what He was doing when He devoted so much of the New Testament to showing us what church, community and leadership are supposed to be.
In my own life, it was a shock to discover five years ago that the Kingdom of God is much, much more than the church (authentic or otherwise!). Over the intervening years, I started seeing how God’s Kingdom — His will being done on earth as it is in heaven — was being stifled as our churches consumed all of our resources with their voracious budgets, extensive infrastructures, costly buildings (that often are little more than monuments to pastoral egos that find validation in the size of their “church”), bloated staffs that are too busy to do actual ministry, and ever shifting programs.
Such churches all too often trapped God’s people in self-absorbed spiritual ghettos under the mistaken belief that adding to the church is God’s highest goal and purpose.
This generation’s emerging pioneers, who are willing to break out of this paradigm, nonetheless know that authentic church is critical for advancing God’s Kingdom. They also are discovering that the new wine of God’s renewed focus on authentic church requires new wine skins.
But here’s my dark, deep secret: Although I’m on that journey, I don’t have it all figured out. Not by a long shot!
I may see the outlines of what God wants, but I’m constantly having to be willing to explore and make mistakes and lean on others with their different gifts and perspectives to finally figure out the details. But that’s OK, and that’s often how God causes us to learn.
Those of us who have been willing to reboot by seeking what it means to “be the church”, to build real community and true fellowship, and to minister one to another under diverse, facilitating leadership — rather than “going to church” to watch the “God show” each Sunday morning — still have much to learn. God is using us to constantly question and rediscover His original purpose for what “church” is suppose to be, and it can be as unsettling for us as it is for others.
Lately, I’ve had a strong sense that God’s newest intervention in history is at the quiet foundation-laying stage. God is recruiting pioneers who are willing to struggle and leave behind the comforts of the familiar in order to discover how to authentically “be the church” according to New Testament principles. God is positioning these pioneers to eventually teach others what they are learning — when the time is right and old wine skins finally start bursting on a grand scale.
As we reboot and rethink “church”, we’re having to learn how to create a framework that actually equips God’s people to launch forth with their unique, individual gifts — both into the church and also into the world — without limiting them by our own gifting and vision. In fact, I think that identifying, equipping and unleashing God’s gifts in his people (not as a slogan, but as a real, dynamic focus that is broad enough to encompass whole cultures and nations) will be a defining aspect of God’s new move.
If I’m right, and I’m correctly sensing God’s heart, the time is coming when God’s people will finally move forward in authority and anointing to bring the Kingdom of God (i.e., the will of the Father) to all areas of life — not by imposing “church” on society, but through transformed and equipped individuals who then glorify the Father by bringing (and being) blessings through their own unique gifts.
Unfortunately, this will require new wine skins because the old way of “doing church” — by simply seeking to “equip” members to support the voracious, consuming needs of bloated and self-perpetuating ministries, infrastructures and programs — is no longer viable.
I don’t have it all figured out, and there’s so much yet to learn. But it’s an exciting journey nonetheless!
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