“If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.” (Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen)
I come from a long line of church going people…my Father was a Church of God pastor (my Mother still is), my Grandfather was a Church of God pastor for over 40 years and my great Grandparents help found the Pelzer Church of God in South Carolina. I was a church going fool growing up…Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night FTH and Friday night prayer meetings were the norm for me and I didn’t think anything of it because that’s what was expected from you if you were a faithful Christian. When I became a follower of Christ in 1997, I was rabidly obsessed with Jesus, God, the Holy Ghost, the Bible and anything that vaguely had anything to do with spiritual stuff…I would have slept at the church if they let me. I was literally in church every single time the doors were opened and when I finally got a key, I would open the doors myself!
Now, if you would have asked me during that period in my life if I was a ‘disciple’ of Jesus, I would have laughed and said that OF COURSE I was! I read the whole Bible in a year, I prayed for an hour a day (really loud sometimes), I read all the right books by “Spirit filled” authors and I tithed 10% and even gave offerings on top of that. Over time though, it all lost meaning to me. The Bible became stale, my prayers became ritualistic and vain repititions, the books just blended together and my tithing became another bill I paid every week. Of course, to rectify the problem, I relied on my church going background and thought that if I did more of those things with greater passion, God would take away the emptiness I was feeling and replace it with the joy that I once had. That didn’t happen.
In fact, the opposite happened. In the midst of the hopelesness and despair that I was feeling, He spoke gently to me and said that true discipleship is not praying 24 hours a day or memorizing the Bible or raising the dead or ANYTHING that I can do…it’s being simply obedient to what the Father asks of me. The problem was that I didn’t have any clue what the Father was asking of me because I hadn’t shut up long enough to hear Him speak. I’ve tried to do that a lot more recently…just be quiet and allow Him to speak to me. And what He’s showing me is that our criteria for being a disciple is vastly different than His criteria. We think that a good disciple is someone who shows up to our church stuff, gives money and occasionally feeds poor people…and this is not to bash the ‘institutional church’ folks. You can be just as duped in an Organic Church, Missional Church, House Church or whatever else you want to call it.
To be honest, I don’t think we have the foggiest clue what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and I am the chiefest of sinners! As Mike Breen says “discipleship is having a life worth imitating! We are inviting people into our lives and asking them to imitate the parts of our life that look like Jesus.” I am taking a long, brutal look at my life and searching for the part of me that I would want someone to imitate…I’m still looking to be honest. I wonder if any of us can truly make disciples if we have never been discipled ourselves? How can we pass on something that was never passed to us in the first place? Have we lowered the bar so far on what it means to be a disciple that we’re satisfied with attendance, buildings and cash in the offering plates? I don’t know…I don’t have the answers to these questions but I have a feeling that Jesus will only wait so long for the church in America to get it’s act together and begin to do the ONE THING He actually commanded for us to do: MAKE DISCIPLES!
Paige and I began down this wonderful, scary road of church planting about 3 years ago when we felt Him tell us to resign our position at a great church where I was executive pastor. Since then, He took us through a desert place for about a year which tested our faith in Him but also “de-programmed” us of a bunch of stuff that was tradition of men and had nothing to do with what it meant to actually “be” the church. At the end of two years, God brought an incredible group of people int our lives and we made a commitment to God and each other that we would allow Him to make us missionaries to our world no matter how unclear that process may be at time…and it has been very unclear at times. We all have been tempted at times to go back to the “way of doing things” that produced visible results and made sense to us since we all grew up in church. Thankfully, we resisted that temptation and stayed on the path that God was showing us, step by painful step.
Well, here we are, a year later and God seems to finally be illuminating more than just the very next step in front of us…the path to becoming missional Christians is becoming a little more clear every single day. We have decided to forget about planting a church and focus on planting the gospel in our offices, homes, neighborhoods and wherever God takes us. The cool thing is that we are starting to see how that seed is taking root in people’s lives and God is the one who is causing the growth to happen…all we have to do is continue to sew seeds of justice, mercy and love and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. A network or “oikos” is beginning to take shape and it is very, very exciting!
About 6 months ago, a woman in our church befriended a woman who was in a homeless shelter with her 2 year old son. We all agreed that God brought this woman into our lives and we couldn’t leave her like this. So, we basically adopted her and her son, helped them move into an apartment, buy furniture/dishes/pots and pans/clothes for her, her son and the new baby and anything else she needs. It has been a slow, incredible, painful process but actually helping someone always is. When you don’t just ‘throw money’ at someone but instead to become intimately involved in their lives, you have to sacrifice time, money and convenience but it is SO worth it. So, the cool part is that we just found out that not only this lady wants to be a part of our church but now her mother (who she had NO relationship with as of a few moths ago), wants to check us out because she has seen how we have helped her daughter.
This has now become more than abstract concept to us. God is wanting to birth a rapidly multiplying, multi generational move of God in this country but it will only happen when we focus on planting the gospel, loving people and “being” the church wherever they are. For the first time in years, I am truly excited about the possibilities of what the church can be and what can be accomplished in this country for Christ!
So, we were in one our Sanctuary Church gatherings a few weeks ago and we started to brainstorm on who we could bless as a church and how we could best maximize the small amount of funds that we have coming in. The usual suspects were mentioned: homeless ministries, adopt-a-families, mission agencies, etc. But then someone came up with a crazy idea and the light bulb went off: instead of throwing money at people that we didn’t know and we would never meet again, let’s bless people that are already in our lives. So, the church would give each person $50 and we would all ask the Holy Spirit to lead us during that week to a person/people that needed God’s help. I have to say that in all my years in ministry/church, I have never actually received money from the church (other than salary, etc). So, needless to say, we were all very excited about this radical idea and couldn’t wait to see who God led us to that week. Here are a few of the stories of how God used us:
*One couple could not figure out who to bless and decided to hold on to their $100 until they heard God speak. So, as they were heading to our house for the Sanctuary gathering, they began to think they missed their opportunity and then they saw their neighbor struggling to change her tire. This neighbor and her family have been facing tremendous health and financial difficulties recently and a flat tire was not something that they could afford. As the husband changed the tire, he handed the neighbor $100 and blessed her…needless to say, this was perfect timing!
*One guy was led everyday to go the local gas station and just help people out. Since we live near a military base, he was able to buy a lot of soldiers breakfast and make their lives a little easier this holiday season.
*One thrifty couple found some tremendous deals at JC Penny and were able to pool their money and get $500 worth of gloves/blankets for $100. They are giving these to the homeless in their area.
*One person works in a call center and has 14 people on his team. He just wanted to bless them and got them each a $5 gift card to Starbucks…he was very popular that day!
*Other people sent anonymous gifts to people they knew knew were in need, helping out friends and families that are struggling this Christmas and some other really cool stuff.
I am so grateful that God has blessed each one of us and Sanctuary Church so greatly this year and we are humbled that He gave us the opportunity to give back to our friends and neighbors…it is truly awesome!
About a year ago, I was able to go to a fundraising seminar that Ecclesia conducted down in Richmond, VA. While I was there, I met a guy named Ben Sternke and began to follow his blog when I got home and I found out that he is taking his church in a very similar direction that we want to go. Recently, he put a series of blog posts about Missional Communities and what they are, how they work and how to get there. So, enjoy:
We had our 2nd Sanctuary get together last night and it was incredible! It is amazing the diverse group of people that God has brought together from different areas, backgrounds and cultures who all share one thing in common: an overwhelming desire to experience the true, pure Christianity of the New Testament. God is definitely up to something and I think we all just want to get out of His way and allow Him to do it. We had some great discussion last night but I think we all came to a general consensus. While we don’t particularly agree with the state of the “American church” and some of the things that go on within it, we are all ONE body and ONE family. Within a family, you are going to have people that do things differently than you do and sometimes it may get on your nerves, but you still love them and would give your life for them. That’s how we want our relationship to the “institutional church” to be…a relationship of cooperation, love and unity as much as possible.
So, that’s where we are right now. A great group of people that are praying to be more in love with Christ every day and seeking to be a solution to the hurt and pain that we see all around us. It is going to be an awesome journey!!
Over the past 2 years, I have become exposed to and have had many conversations with those who are deeply involved in the “house church” movement. I have found these individuals to be humble, intelligent and passionate to see God move in authentic ways in their lifetime. While I think the house church movement is awesome and is a fresh expression of church, I am beginning to think that it’s not THE only way to “do” church (as some in that movement ardently hold to). There’s a few different reasons for this that I may delve into later but Scot McKnight addresses it in his new book “The Blue Parakeet” better than I ever could:
“What we’ve got in the pages of the New Testament are first century expressions of the gospel and church life, not permanent, timeless expressions. They are timely expressions; they are Spirit-inspired expressions; but they were and remain first century expressions. We aren’t called to live first century lives in the twenty first century, but twenty first century lives as we walk in the light of the revelation God gave to us in the first century.”
I don’t know…I’m torn. I see the tremendous benefits of the house church movement and how it fosters intimacy and discipleship but on the other hand I do not think that it’s the ONLY way to do it. Most house church peeps that I talk to believe just that…the institutional church is dead and we need to abandon it completely. Now, don’t get me wrong…I think the current American, attractional church model is vastly inefficient and is not producing disciples but instead is perpetuating the ‘consumer’ mentality that is prevelant in our nation. I think there needs to be a “revolution” in ecclesiology and how we follow Christ as His Body. BUT, I’m not sure that house church is the ONLY answer. I think God is inspiring a “hybrid” mode of church that is heavy on mission and light on the attractional element, but it’s still there. I want to discuss this more in future posts but I would love to hear the opinions of those who may read this blog that are in to the house church movement…be gentle:)