If it is true that the current structure of
the church will not accommodate what God is about to do,
Should we tear down the existing church and build
And here, I issue a resounding NO! NEVER!
We must not touch Gods anointed. But you ask, how can something so
fraught with error and so void of Gods presence be Gods anointed?
Remember the season when Saul, the anointed
King of Israel was in pursuit of David, Gods chosen successor to the
failed administration of the flesh? In the cave, in the darkness, in the
shadow, where nobody saw, where nobody would know, David realized the
golden opportunity to tear down the existing structure of leadership
in Israel and claim his rightful place on the throne of the nation.
And when the opportune moment arrived, David
reflected His ultimate devotion and submission to God when he said, The
Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord's
anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed
of the Lord."
Remember the occasion when David sought to
bring the Ark of the Covenant the tangible symbol of Gods abiding
presence back to its rightful place? The convoy of hope was moving along
well, the recently constructed cart carrying the ark creaking and
groaning as new wood sought adjustment against new wood. Oxen strained
as they moved uphill and dug in hooves as they were pushed downhill by
the burden they drew.
And then they arrived at Chidons threshing
floor; the oxen stumbled; Uzza put out his hand to steady the load and
Did this conveyance, this great procession of
anticipation bear Gods stamp of approval? No. In the first verses of
the narrative is the fatal flaw: "If it seems good to you, and if it is
of the Lord our God, let us send out to our brethren and let us bring
the ark of our God back to us, (1 Chron. 13:1,3). If it seems good to
you, and if it is of the Lord our God... There is assumption that it
is of the Lord our God but no request for permission from God. When the
second attempt to recover the ark is made, David repented to the Lord
and asked God for approval and endorsement to move the ark. When God
granted permission, the second attempt to return the ark resulted in
success because David followed the instructions God had given Moses for
the transportation of the ark.
Again, the lesson is clear: Dont touch it!
God knows better than we how to initiate necessary change. Some of us
are pioneers; as John the Baptist was a forerunner of great change to
come, many of us have emerged from a desert experience where our meat
has been meager, our surroundings austere as God Himself has initiated
the sculpting necessary to engrave on our hearts His compassion, His
grace and mercy and patience and goodness and His truth.
We see what others may not yet see. We hear
what others cannot perceive. We envision the change. We have touched
Gods heart and He has touched ours and has shown us the way.
And we must be patient while pointing the way.
We must allow God to do what man cannot do. To attack the institution of
the church is to waste away precious time and energy and faith, and to
bring injury to the Body of Christ. Use your zeal to point to the future
and not to denounce the past.
We must not deconstruct any structure or
system, regardless of what we believe and know about the weakness and
faultiness of that system.
The Hebrew writer promises: See that you do
not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him
who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from
Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He
has promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also
heaven. "Now this, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of those
things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the
things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom
which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God
acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming
Gods consuming fire will eventually burn out
every thing that is shaken loose when He shakes both heaven and earth.
Until that moment, God will use existing structures the same way we use
an automobile that may be old and worn and is costly to operate and is
often in the garage for repair and never is a reliable and
cost-effective vehicle, but it works! One day we say Enough! and visit
the car salesman. So too, one day (soon) God will say, Enough! and the
New Vehicle will replace the Old Vehicle. And we must wait for Gods
timing and action. We must keep our hands off what only God may touch.
And the next question:
Where do we go from here?
This is the big question; the foreboding
massif of mystery that causes even the strongest heart to cower and
drives doubt into courageous souls.
Where we go from here will no doubt determine
the final tally of souls that are swept into the heart of God in the
final days of this current dispensation of time on earth.
Where we go from here will be determined by
hearing ears and by seeing eyes. The warning is clear, Let him that
has an ear hear what the Spirit says.
Jesus recalls Isaiah when he declares the
hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts
and turn, So that I should heal them.
Where we go from here is dependent upon our
utter dependency upon Him. Let me say it again, clearly:
A ministry friend is currently ministering out
of a passion she calls Obsessed with Sanctuary an intriguing title.
In her communication with me
“There is a new fragrance in
the wind...the smell of fresh rain and refreshing of some dry, dry soil!
Let’s keep our fingerprints off of it! “
So we lean upon Him. We desperately reject old
ways and old systems not out of rebellion or out of caustic anger
but out of desperate desire to know Him, to see Him, to abide with Him,
to experience the immediacy of a risen Christ and a parakaletos a
friend that sticks closer than a brother. We must, if we are to know the
there I am in the midst of them promise as reality, cling wholly and
only to Him, in purity and in simplicity; in the childlikeness of open
and waiting hearts until He comes and reveals to us His ways and His
order that is without confusion and is filled with peace.
So, back to our question: Where do we go
And this question spawns others:
- What is the true structure of church?
- What does biblical government look like?
- If a better church appears what will
prevent us from spoiling it as others before us spoiled it?
Jesus said the religious leaders of His day
were making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which
you have handed down. And many such things you do" Mark 7:13.
This is the essence of religion: To strip
Gods word of its efficacious power by replacing the pure word of life
with the traditions the regulations and systems and governments of men
Our tendency is to put our fingerprints on
whatever new form the church may take. Our inclination is to touch the
thing God has forbidden us to touch.
As with first man and first woman in the
Garden, There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the
way of death. The ways that seem right in our limited understanding
will eventually and certainly bring death.
The things we reject within the
institution-bound church, we will most certainly do ourselves. We will
have new names and new descriptions for our so-called freedom, but the
net effect of our mishandling of things holy will be the same as those
who have gone before us.
Therefore we must be always alert to the
propensity of the best of us to re-fashion Gods creation in our own
With this reality in mind then, allow me to
suggest some things I have observed; others I have received by
revelation from the Holy Spirit; and some truths many others are saying
and writing, independent of me or of others, as the Holy Spirit speaks
in clarity to the Body of Christ in the earth.
For several years I have been praying,
meditating, searching, reading, listening, experimenting, asking about,
enquiring into and otherwise been consumed by a passion to understand
where we go from here.
I have processed through any number of
theories, rejected dozens of this is the answer edicts, and probably
have driven to near insanity many dear friends and family members in my
quest for where do we go from here?
The following is a partial result of the process not merely of a few
years, but as I have realized, my entire journey with God for the past
Please allow me to digress to the beginning of
my ministry, and draw an outline of the process that I now realize God
has led me through for these three decades.
I began full time pastoral ministry in the
rural and remote farm lands of Northwest Iowa in the Midwest United
States. I was assigned a church that boasted some 67 regular attendees.
When I left that church three and a half years later, we were probably
averaging something like 125 people on any given Sunday morning.
My ministry there was unlike anything my
seminary courses had prepared me for. I spent time chasing down stray
sheep (the animal kind, with wool coats) that had gotten through the
broken fence of an 80 year-old parishioner. I helped a farmer inoculate
cattle against black leg fever, and spent days driving a gigantic
tractor, chisel-plowing for the same man when one of his sons injured a
leg during spring plowing.
In those days, I found myself deliberating
about the differences between what I had been trained to do as a pastor
and what I found myself actually doing as a pastor.
I didnt see what was literally being shown me
in those years: The church was more family than it was institution.
It was Clint and Ruth Hoferman, on the night of Clints birthday, when
the family had gathered to share birthday cake, leaving the party and
driving out into a cold winters night to help me track down a deer I
had shot with my bow and arrow that afternoon.
It was Arlene Driver, making fresh coffee for
me and plying me with homemade pastries as I sat in the Driver kitchen
entertaining her two youngest children while waiting for Bob and the
boys to return from the fields a few miles away.
My memories of that first pastorate and our
small congregation take the form of homes and living rooms and kitchens
and sitting together along a river enjoying a picnic and thanking God
for sunny weather to shine on those picnic gatherings. I did not enjoy
those years as I should have, because my training painted pictures of
large sanctuaries, mass choirs, vast parking lots and first-class sound
systems and I was merely a young pastor in a tiny farm community with a
small, white-sided wooden church building.
Our second pastorate was located in a rain
forest, in the logging capital of the world. Again, we were in a
remote area. There was no Big City, only something like five thousand
folks in our little town in the middle of nowhere and everywhere.
As we first began ministry there, I became
excited about a new concept in church practice: It was known as the
cell group or growth group in our case. American churches had grown
wild about what Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho was doing in Seoul, Korea, and like
any good American Christian Leader should do, Pastors trekked to Korea,
took copious notes from Dr. Chos staff, came back home and started the
What few church leaders recognized at the time
was that they were not only importing a new way to disciple and meet
the needs of the church; they also were attempting to import Korean
culture along with this new phenomenon called the cell. The
resulting failures of the cell movement were largely the result of a
failure to consider culture as an element of the way we worship.
And so the cell concept enjoyed limited
success in America and in other western nations. But we were excited
about small groups of people meeting in homes on Thursday nights to
study a curriculum known as Lay Leadership Institute, or LLI. This was
really good material! The course began with New Life Studies,
designed specifically for new believers, but was also good to establish
a common foundation for more mature Christians. The material then moved
to levels called 101, 102 103 and so on. The heart of the teaching
of the one hundred-level material was the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5.
The graduate level material focused on soul-winning. And as I
mentioned, this was very good material. But it lasted only about sixteen
weeks from start to finish. The question in my mind when we completed
the course was, what now? Already I was forming a question that
remains with me today, where do we go from here?
It was then that I began looking at a map of
our city. I began to form questions in my mind such as what would
happen if we divided our city into areas of responsibility and gave an
area to each Growth Group? What would happen if we told the Groups that
each was responsible to observe their area and note when a widow woman,
for example, had a car that needed repair, or a neighbor suffered a
stroke and couldnt cut firewood for winter heat? What would happen if a
Group noticed a family with children who were ill-clothed or didnt have
enough food to eat and the Group just went out and fixed the car or cut
the wood or bought the clothes or food and gave their assistance away
without a fee or even the requirement that these hurting people attend
In short, I will tell you it worked. It worked so well, in fact that at
least one of those groups, begun in 1981 is still functioning
twenty-plus years later!
Later we accepted leadership of a larger
church in a larger city. There we saw growth on a much greater level
than we had ever experienced. We began to experience growing pains and
I attended How to Break the 800 Barrier conferences. We began a second
Sunday morning worship service. We were filling both morning services
and some of the men in leadership suggested we purchase land along the
Interstate and build a new church. Thats what successful churches
tend to do, so why not us?
As I contemplated the kinds of costs we would
incur, I shuddered. We were talking in the millions of dollars. We
didnt have that kind of money, but of course, like most churches, we
could borrow the necessary funds. That would mean a monthly mortgage,
but we would have our new church and we would have the status of a
super church or a mega church!
During that time I learned that the City Hall,
across the street from our existing church might soon become available
for purchase from the City. We could build a skywalk over the busy
street below and so attach both buildings. We already owned a former
Catholic church on another side of the church, and we could own three
blocks of prime real estate in the heart of our city!
But while I was struggling with our options, I
heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say to me, Start Branch Offices.
Confused, I asked, I dont understand, what do you mean, Branch
The Lord then asked, Where do you bank? I
told Him the name of my bank and He asked, Where is that bank? I said,
Its just a couple of blocks from here. He then said, No, its not.
Your bank is headquartered in San Francisco, California. You bank at a
And it hit me! I had no need to even know the
location of the mother bank I was associated with. Even if the Bank
was in downtown Seattle I didnt need that bank. A Branch of the bank
had been opened in my neighborhood that allowed me to conduct all my
financial business without ever going to the mother bank.
So we started Branch Offices. Our church was
called City of Hope; and before long I was meeting new believers at
various functions who told me happily that they attended City of Hope
but I had never seen them before! They didnt know me and had no need
to know me! They knew the men and women we had released to lead them and
to worship with them in houses and in community center rooms and in open
What I didnt know then was that God was
beginning to teach me about the rising and emerging structure His church
would flow into: A new structure as old as the Book of Acts itself.
We want our audiences, our overflowing
sanctuaries. We want to see our names in Charisma magazine or
Christianity Today and we want to see our own faces on Christian
television. Our bigger is better mentality, our craving for success
defined by largeness all this is contrary and diametrically opposed to
the teachings of Jesus and the experience of the early Disciples and the
primitive church. If big crowds and bulging membership rosters were
signs of success, the Apostle Paul would have gone down in history as an
abysmal failure. Even Jesus, after teaching the multitudes, healing the
masses and offering the only true Life left the planet with perhaps
eleven men and a few quiet women as His congregation and ensuing
leadership. Yet to suggest that Jesus somehow failed in His ministry
would be ludicrous.
There is another philosophy of bigness
hidden in the statement: You must get smaller to get bigger. This is
the attitude espoused by John the Baptist when he declares, I must
decrease that He might increase.
Jesus didnt call us to be Forests, but
He is the Vine the progenitor of our faith
and practice. We are not stand-alone trees. We are branches of
something of substance. We are arms of a body, the Body of Christ. We
are extensions of His life-flow that is grace and mercy and patience and
goodness and truth.
As offshoots of His nature, we extend into
neighborhoods and offices and fields of labor and schools and grocery
stores carrying Who He is and being literally, The Church!
But what do we do with the Scripture that
counsels us to forsake not the assembling of ourselves together, as the
manner of some is?
Am I suggesting the church abandon its
gatherings? Forsake its assemblies? Again, NO! NEVER!
But what I am suggesting is that we examine
the how and the why and the where and the when of our meetings
as well as the content and conduct of those meetings.
In our next session, Ill return to that third
and possibly most mysterious question: Where do we go from here?
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