How did we get here?
This has been the recent topic of discussion between William and myself. It took roughly 17 years into my journey with Christ to ask this question, only a couple of years ago. William is diving into the paradigm shifting question of how and why we do church less than a year after becoming a Christian. (He has an awesome story of life transformation and will share it with anyone who asks, and really everyone that doesn’t as well).
The other day, I was over at the compound where he works with Water Harvest International, and William said I had to watch a certain section from a sermon by Francis Chan because it sounded like something I had mentioned the other day. Chan talks about his conversations with Mormons and Jehova’s witnesses, trying to understand their faith. He wanted to know, starting with the Bible, how they arrived at their theology and beliefs. As a Christian, to him, it made absolutely no sense. The line drawn to connect what they saw as two truths was incomprehensible.
Then, Chan arrives at the destination of this story. Maybe they aren’t all that crazy? Here is the next question posed, and if you decide to continue reading, only do so if you are serious about asking this question. Ok. If we start from scripture, if begin here, with the Bible, is this [modern day church] Biblical? What we do every Sunday, did we arrive here by following the New Testament?
Let that breathe for a moment. If you are taking this seriously, you’ll need it. I have written about this before, and if you know me, you might be sick of hearing me talk about it. Could we have church without a building? Could we even have church without a paid pastor or an army of staff? Could we have church without a sound system? Could we have church outside of Sunday morning? These shouldn’t be radical questions, but they are. I have had time to answer these myself, but I have watched William, a new believer, struggle trying to make sense of why we do church the way we do in America. Maybe the reason is because it doesn’t make much sense when you think about it.
Sometimes in America, it’s hard to see the shackles we put on the potential for the Holy Spirit to work, for Christ to build his church. We’re usually too busy trying to achieve our vision. Christ even told us “I will build my church…” (Matt. 16:18). Overseas, I have seen amazing church planting movements in the Middle East and Africa. One of the biggest threats to holding back the potential for radical disciple making and church multiplication is the American congregation. I’ve seen African churches desperately trying to be like the American church. There are churches in this country, one of the poorest in the world, that believe a building and a sound system are necessary to being a “successful church.” These are congregations that have members who can’t send their children to school, but want to take up an offering for a generator and speakers. I hold myself responsible for this tragedy.
This brings up a second and equally important question. How do we define success? The answer to this question lies plainly in the New Testament, but is equally as elusive as the first. If you can find the archetype, Joel Osteen, or dare I say it, Mark Driscoll or even Matt Chandler, follow, let me know. I know I’m not supposed to call out those guys, but I did. Why? Because it’s not about numbers or a ministry franchise. It is about horizontal growth (multiplication) and community transformation through radical follower-ship of Christ. Tony and Felicity Dale illustrate the difference between the congregational model and organic (house) church model through comparison of elephants and rabbits, in regards to growth. Hint: one grows slightly faster than the other.
I hear a lot of people talking about how they read Crazy Love by Francis Chan or Radical by David Platt. They then tell me that I have to read it. It will change my life. Maybe. We read a lot of books, but it hasn’t translated into what I view as an equally proportional amount of action. What I mean, is that we don’t change in a fundamental way. In general, most of us won’t do anything different but will feel convicted for a little while. I don’t say this to take jabs at people. Change is painful and uncomfortable. That’s why we aren’t very good at it. Being honest and acknowledging that fact is a good starting point.
When it comes to church, there are two ways we need to grow, internally and externally. My dad describes the feelings of discomfort and restlessness in this way, “I look back and realize now that I was yearning for my natural habitat as a believer.” If we pursue the Holy Spirit, it can take us deeper into a life of community that brings continual spiritual renewal and transformation. In our neighborhoods and cities, we can turn outreach into ministry that is a natural extension of our daily lives, something that is committed and relational. We can connect with people and transform communities through radical love and sacrifice.
I will stop here with the question: How did we get here? And now, where are you going?