Sunday, March 3, 2013

Church- Consider Your Ways

Programs vs Relationships

Since finding out about the small church movement, I have begun to look at scriptures from a different perspective.  I have begun to see how the old wineskin of traditional church simply hasn’t done the job, and I see how the structure of the small, organic church is both scriptural and effective.

Take a look at the passage in Haggai about how we all are more concerned with our own houses rather than the house of God:
Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, 4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? 5 Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. 6 Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. 7 Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. 8 Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord. 9 Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. 10 Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. 11 And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands. Haggai 1:3-11 KJV
For years, I have looked at this passage and have seen it as a mandate to support the local church with your resources of time, talents and money.  But now I’m seeing this completely differently.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the reference to the house of God.  If you consider the New Testament verses that explain what the temple of God actually is, you can look at this passage and see how we’ve put all our resources into the “ceiled houses” of traditional church and have neglected actually building the Church by obeying the command to make disciples.
We also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 KJV (See also 1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22; Heb 3:6)
When Jesus came, the temple and its system was abolished. Jesus is now the temple, His body is the true House of God, and to think that there is something spiritual about the building is unbiblical.


Money Pit?

The house of God does not consist of the thousands of buildings across the land, it is the people of God. Consider our traditional ways- we have sown much into these buildings and programs yet have reaped little:
. . . institutional churches in the United States alone own over $230 billion worth of real estate.  And much of that money is borrowed (debt).  Christians give between $9 and $11 billion a year on church buildings. [1]
We have invested billions in local churches yet the return on investment is poor at best.  According to George Barna, the church is not doing her job:
The local church is one mechanism that can be instrumental in bringing us closer to Him, and helping us to be more like Him.  But, as the research data clearly shows, churches are not doing the job.  If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope. [2]
We go to church and listen to the music and the sermon, yet all too often we walk away unchanged. We eat, and are still hungry, we drink and are still thirsty. What is wrong?

To my way of thinking, much of this goes back to the fact that the church has been institutionalized, turning it into a programmed religious tradition with little or no life. The way the church has evolved over centuries has taken her further and further away from the way the Church operated in the New Testament.

One of the main departures from the biblical mandate is the traditional emphasis on evangelism as opposed to doing what Jesus commanded which is to make disciples.  We have sown much into evangelistic meetings and evangelistic programs, trying to bring people into buildings for planned events, but results have been dismal:
Statistically, 1 in 100 of the people who "make a decision for Christ" in evangelistic meetings . . . will actually start attending a church . . . This is not only costly in terms of money and people, but also speaks of a very low quality level of the conversions produced through such activities. [3]
If we would follow the command in scripture, we would be the ones going, going into all the world to make disciples.  And making disciples involves developing relationships with people who are out there in the world, the ones that are hurting and need God, but people who are very unlikely to show up at a church. That’s where the good soil is, out there in the world.  Instead of trying to convince the world to come to church, we need to change our tactics, and start going ourselves.

In the house church environment, relationships are developed and disciples are made through the time spent with each other. Churches grow as relationships grow, and so-called “organic church” lives by the life of Jesus that multiplies through those relationships.  The biblical way works much better than the way we’ve tried to do it:
Instead of making individual spiritual seekers parrot prayers- "Repeat after me to invite Jesus into your heart"- house churches would allow much more "relational conversions", often of whole families and households, who would help each other to "stay converted" afterwards. [4]
Traditional churches are far too often bags with holes, throwing money at real estate, buildings, paid staff and unending programs designed to try to bring people into the building to participate in man-made programs, and clearly, this has produced little fruit.

Jesus told us to do otherwise- to go.  Go into all the world and make disciples.  This is the model that we are to follow and that model will produce fruit. The old wineskin of institutional church will inevitably give way to the new wineskin.  Many see this as a revolution, some referring to it as the Third Reformation. Change is coming; traditional church will eventually either change or disappear as the next move of God begins to take over our thinking and our way of doing things, a reformation that allows Jesus to be the Head of His Church, not man. It will be the Body of Christ that lives and moves by His Spirit, abiding in Him and demonstrating His love to the world, unencumbered by the systems and plans of man.

We will no longer be throwing money at the institutional system that is ineffective at best; that money will be freed up to be used to affect the lives of those out there in the world, those who need to hear the Good News, those who are good soil that will produce fruit.  The Church needs to consider her ways.

Not long ago, my phone rang.  It was my husband asking if we might have an extra coat about his size or a little larger and a good hat.  He said there was a guy walking down the road using a garbage bag as a coat, and he was in tears when he told me about it.  That was one of those mornings that dipped below freezing.  I found a good, warm coat, a hat and a pair of gloves and took off.  He got the things to him, and came back, still in tears.  Later in the day, I found out that my son had given him a ride on down the road and gave him the two cans of soda he had; later yet, my husband told me he'd put a five dollar bill in one of the coat pockets. I think it's time to consider our ways and look around.

Now when I see big church buildings, I can't help but wonder how many hungry people that money could have fed. The harvest is ripe, and we sit in our "ceiled houses" once or twice a week while the world waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.
We spend so much time building nice barns with padded pews, air-conditioned halls, and state-of-the-art sound systems, yet we have neglected the fields.  We are as foolish as the farmer who builds a barn and then stands in the doorway calling all the crops to come in and make themselves at home.  It is time for the Church to get her hands dirty in the soil of lost people's lives. [5]
Footnotes:
[1] Viola, Frank.  Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity.  Colorado Springs, CO:  David C. Cook, 2008, p. 89.
[2] Barna, George.  Revolution.  Barna Books, an imprint of Tyndale House, 2005. p. 36
[3] Simson, Wolfgang.  Houses That Change the World:  The Return of the House Churches.  Emmelsbull, Germany, C&P Publishing, 1999,  p. 199.
[4] Simson, Wolfgang.  Houses That Change the World:  The Return of the House Churches.  Emmelsbull, Germany, C&P Publishing, 1999,  p. 199.
[5] Cole, Neil.  Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, 2005, p. 35.

Money Pit is free clip art from wpclipart.


Recommended Reading

When I first wrote most of these blog posts, I had been reading quite a few books on the house church movement. At the time, this seemed like the perfect answer to all the drawbacks in the institutional church system. I am sure there are house churches that work, but now I'm seeing this as just another attempt to force the Kingdom of God into a man-made form. It was Wayne Jacobsen that opened my eyes to the reality of Church as just simply living your life as the Holy Spirit leads, minus all the trappings of traditional "church".  His book, Finding Church is at the top of my must-read list.

Finding Church: What if There Really Is Something More? by Wayne Jacobsen



Reimagining Church by Frank Viola










Revolution by George Barna











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Clergy- Invitation to Idolatry?


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What Does a Wolf Look Like?
Making the Decision to Leave an Abusive Church
The Spiritual Covering Doctrine
Spiritual Abuse Is Not Obvious
Hold Fast to the Head
To Tithe or Not to Tithe