This Sunday, like most Sundays, I will be fellowshipping with the “Church in D Pod” at the local jail.
D Pod is a unit housing around a hundred men, and God has been pouring out his new wine in an exciting way among those inmates.
A couple of months ago, I started shifting my focus from “conducting” church services “for” the men. God was challenging me to start mentoring and training them instead to “be” the church by learning to minister one to another.
At the same time, God sovereignly arranged for two brothers from Africa — where Christians generally are way ahead of their American brothers and sisters on these issues — to be jailed in that unit. They, too, understood the concept of ministering one to another and started fostering authentic fellowship among the men.
Since then, amazing things have been happening. The men have embraced the Biblical model of “being” the church — rather than “going” to church — by ministering one to another. They no longer have the mentality of waiting for the “preacher” with his worship team to come minister to them on Sunday. They have learned that they actually can do a better job by simply trusting God’s ability to minister through each of them to each other.
But it’s not just on Sundays. They gather each evening after dinner to share and celebrate God’s grace together, study Scripture, and bear each other up in prayer. And God is confirming his anointing over what they are doing by answering those prayers in mighty ways! (But that’s another story — the testimonies coming out of D Pod are awesome and transformational.)
Now when I go on Sundays, I’m just one of the brothers. I sit back and smile as I get out of the way and let them do powerful ministry one to another as God prompts! And the quality of the ministry that comes forth far exceeds what I’ve heard in any outside “podium church” over the last several years. In fact, the guys routinely shake their heads in wonder at how good “church” is in the jail!
When we meet on Sundays, the men go nonstop for two hours sharing scripture, songs, testimony, and the like with each other — and they don’t want to stop. Some never even get a chance to share what God is doing in their lives, or the song that God gave them over the past week, or that verse that came alive as they were studying Scripture, or that prayer they’ve been burdened to pray over another brother — because there’s simply not enough time. The two hours pass quickly, and they’d go even longer if they could.
Their enthusiasm is amazing! And as the men are transferred to other parts of the jail or to new facilities, this revival of authentic fellowship keeps spreading. All the while, the Church in D Pod keeps replensing its ranks with new converts for them to mentor and send out!
Sometimes I hear praise for how great it is that some, like me, go into the jails to “care” for those men. Actually, such praise has it all backwards. God is preparing those men, and will be sending them out, to care for and redeem his Church!
The men in D Pod — who have a passion and zeal for God and His Kingdom — have no interest in the old wine skins of the dying “podium church” where folks go to watch the weekly “God show” of scripted worship, nicely packaged teaching and supervised prayer (with maybe a few testimonies allowed from the pews over a closely guarded and controlled microphone).
“Church” as we know it has morphed from the New Testament model of Acts 2:42, 1 Cor. 14:26 and Eph. 4 (especially the end of the chapter on “every joint supplying”). It simply is not possible to follow those Scriptural principles with a “podium” oriented and focused church. God can use any forum to reach people — even podium churches! But we should always be asking if our old ways of doing things are still his perfect will?
Maybe the podium church has a future role as an adjunct to authentic, fellowship-oriented “churches”, where those smaller groups decide to come together for occasional common teaching and joint worship. Regardless, we generally have it backwards if we see those smaller fellowships as subservient to, or a subset of, the podium church. If anything, it must be the other way around if we are to take Scripture seriously.
Those men in the jail only know “church” as God is birthing it among them. It is not directed from the front podium, but is bubbling forth from within them. There is order and power, and it’s not the least bit chaotic because they are learning to let God direct things using the resources he has sovereignly provided within their own ranks.
Look out world, there’s a revolution brewing where you least expect it — plus I’m seeing the same things happen outside the jail. Christians are starting to recapture genuine ministry and fellowship, not so much to preserve their podium churches — as much as God loves even podium churches! — but rather as a fresh restoration of the Biblical model of being the church!
Being part of the Church in D Pod is powerful and humbling, and I watch them in awe. All they needed was for someone to point the way, tell them it’s OK to step forth, and they then took off running. It’s truly a God thing as he pours out his anointing for authentic church to this new spiritual generation!
Going to church (oops, I mean “being” the church) has become fun and exciting once again — not because of the quality of the “God show”, but because God shows up in a powerful way as we are willing to minister one to another, rather than always being ministered to!
New wine, new life!
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