This is a re-post of an article I wrote for House2House Magazine. As I told my good friend Keith Giles, the Managing Editor, it is probably somewhere between a rant and a cry for help...
Anyway, I hope it stimulates some thoughts about where God is leading each of us.
You know how it works…
We get all excited about what the Lord is “showing us” and we want to immediately run out and do it before the vision dims or the fire goes out. So we get some folks together that have a similar appreciation for what is moving us and test the idea of doing something together.
That goes great, so we schedule some planning meetings at the local Starbucks to rough out what we want to do next. We figure out what we hate about where we've been and what we've been doing; talk about what we thing works best and what would be cool; figure out who we want to invite and where and when we are going to meet; and finally decide who is going to bring what for the potluck. Then we do some praying, give each other a big hug and count the moments to the big launch.
There are any number of endings to this story. Some truly precious. Some tragically sad. And the rest somewhere in between.
In the vast majority of cases, contemplating ‘where we are going’ revolves around the questions of who, what, where, when and how.
But the most important question we should be asking is, “Why?”
Do any of the following touch on the 'why' of where you are contemplating going?
- I see God’s ‘pattern’ so clearly and it needs expression for God to get the glory.
- I am reacting to some negative experience that has deeply wounded or offended me.
- I have a pet doctrine that nobody else seems to appreciate, so I want a platform to drive that ‘truth’ home.
- I have a need to be recognized as a ‘somebody’, to feel relevant and significant.
- I am hoping to escape the criticism and judgmental attitudes of others.
- I am fed up with the pettiness and politicking of where I am.
- I have a ‘better’ model and a ‘better’ system that will make things ‘better’ for everyone.
- I am frankly just worn out or burnt out and need a break from it all.
- I feel smaller is always better than bigger.
I have to admit that most of that list constituted my why at some time or another in my life!
But at this moment in time, the big why for me is, “Why do we have to ‘formalize’ the vision?”
A huge piece of my spiritual DNA involved adhering to the ‘pattern of the New Testament.’ That involved a very specific protocol for worship, ministry, teaching, outreach, community, even ordering of our personal lives. Think Plymouth Brethren meets Jesus Movement. It was an intensely formalized ‘organic’ fellowship that had a profound spiritual impact on those who were involved…and eventually came to ruin.
Now, I understand that part of our cultural and religious programming involves thinking that any time something significant is going to happen, regardless of size, it must be ‘formalized’, i.e. there must be some structure, organization, hierarchy or institution that gives legitimate expression to it. Leadership needs to be appointed, groups formed, churches “planted”, ministries established, outreaches organized, programs developed, meetings scheduled, facilities acquired, staff hired, etc. After all, until then it’s just a concept, an idea, a wish dream.
But what if formalizing our vision killed it?
Frankly I have been wrestling with that question for the last several months. I believe with all my heart God has called me to be a catalyst for authentic community and yet I have been wrestling with what that really means. I have visited a number of evangelical churches, fellowships, organic gatherings and really have never felt called to stay for any extended period of time. I have a desire to plug in and be part, but there is a check in my spirit that keeps me on the periphery.
In some cases, the longer I stay, the more frustrating and discouraging it becomes. It is difficult to see really good-hearted, loving people stuck in structures that do not nourish, cherish, equip or protect them. They are reduced to audiences and ATMs for others to perform ministry on, while their spiritual aspirations are frustrated and their spiritual growth is stunted. And though they see the issues and are not shy about complaining, they seem to need to cling to that which has an evangelical stamp of approval – be it institutional or organic.
But what if to truly realize what God was calling us to, we had to disengage from the idea of “home church” and formalized structures of community? What if we had to constantly trust God to lead us into relationships with those who are like-minded Jesus followers and yet come from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences? What if we had to accept that these relationships may be transitory, but that we should embrace them to the fullest because they are key to our mutual development? What if by dropping the artificial barriers that divide us we were able to experience ‘church’ in the ever-expanding way God had intended it – the free, open community of those he calls friends and we call brethren?
What if ‘meetings’ were Road to Emmaus encounters where the things of God become more clear in the midst of our discussions? What if worship was more than a sing-a-long on Sunday and was rather the opportunity to personally give voice to our appreciation of his person and work. What if we agreed to work together on a project without feeling the need to incorporate? What if we had the courage to call it quits when the purpose for our gathering was complete? What if the most important thing was loving one another, washing each other’s feet and building up the body in love? What if we weren't walking away from anything, but that we were walking toward Jesus?
And what if the why of ‘were we are going’ was loving God with all our heart, mind and strength and being committed to doing all that he commanded us?
And what if that was absolutely enough for us and we were willing to lay everything else aside?