Updated: Aug 24, 2020
I like to say that in one blink, everything we know will fade away. In a single blink, we will never have to preach the gospel again. In a single blink, we will never again have a need for prophesy, healing or casting out devils. In just one single blink, every ministry aspiration will die and every Christian outreach will become unnecessary. But there is one thing that will remain… love.
It is such a crazy thought. Because the truth is, the majority of us spend our entire lives honing gifts and talents that are only necessary because the world is broken. We wrap our entire identity in our preaching, or our spiritual sensitivity, or in our faith. We present ourselves as humble servants of the body, but in our inner being, we take great pride in how accurately we prophesy and in how well our teaching is received. But at the end of the day, that blink I referenced is right around the corner. And when it comes, the only thing that will remain is love.
So why is that not the center of the church?
As we have maneuvered through the world’s current crisis, many questions and objections have been raised, but one thing has become abundantly clear: That we are not in this together. On one side of the ring we have those who are accusing the majority of the church of having no faith because they are complying with government regulations, and on the other side we have those who are looking at Christians who are standing for their freedom as if they are terrorists, seeking to infect the world. Rather than locking arms and standing together as an example of God’s power and goodness for the world, we have turned on each other and have become the very labels the world has been slapping on us for decades.
Over the past few weeks, I have read a number of articles questioning why we are allowing ourselves to be driven apart by adversity, rather than maintaining our unity. But the truth is, we are not being driven apart. We are being exposed. This is who we have been the entire time. Divided. Broken. Alone.
But what if this is our moment to change that?
In a blink, the only thing that will remain is love. So my question is, what if instead of treating this current crisis as some unbelievably devastating attack of the enemy, we just treated it like the blink? What if we approached the other side of this crisis as an opportunity to become everything Jesus died for us to be come? What would that look like?
On The Other Side
It is a well-known fact that a majority of Americans view themselves as believers in God, and yet the culture of our nation is very decidedly ungodly. Even outside of our nation’s legislation, the moral climate of America is at odds with the nature of Jesus. How do we reconcile the fact that our nation is both largely Christian and culturally pagan? Perhaps we are so oppressed by our systems of government that the voice of the majority is kept beaten down. Or, and this option is much more likely, the voice that is declaring that it submits to God is not attached to a body that actually does.
I think the jury has been out for quite some time. The church in America has largely abandoned its responsibility to represent God well. And the only explanation for that is that we have also largely abandoned God.
So how do we fix it? I would suggest three changes that, if embraced, can shift the tide of compromise that has come to speak for this generation of the church.
1. ACTUALLY PRIORITIZE INTIMACY
In no way am I suggesting that we should abandon ministry. Never. The lost need us. The broken need us. The hurting and the immature need us. We must continue preaching, evangelizing, prophesying, teaching and healing the sick. Operating in the gifts of the Spirit is not optional. It is a part of what we are here to do. But it is not our identity. It is not who we are, and that is evidenced by the fact that the moment Jesus returns for us, we will never have to do any of it again.
Tell me, who will you have to teach the word when they are standing face to face with the Word, Himself? Who will you have to heal when everyone around you is whole and perfect? What demons will remain to take authority over? What lofty thoughts will continue stubbornly deceiving God’s people?
The gifts of the spirit exist to reveal Jesus, but when he returns for us, we won’t need to strive to reveal Him.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:8-13 esv)
For hundreds of years, the church has largely been measuring its maturity by a set of measurable standards. Are we reading at least a chapter a day in the Bible? Are we praying for an hour every morning? Are we showing up to church every Sunday?
As long as we can check off our list of spiritual disciplines, we can move ahead, sure that we are exactly where we need to be. But in the midst of our list of dos and don’ts, we are ignoring the central focus of the church: intimacy.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(John 13:34-35 esv)
While our commitment to developing incredible teaching ministries and dynamic outreach programs is beautiful, by abandoning our chief purpose, we are cheapening everything that we do. As long as it is about those teaching ministries and dynamic outreach programs, it is not about love. And if it is not about love, it is not about Jesus. So when this ends; when we are called out of our homes and welcomed back into society, I propose that we choose love before anything else. That instead of building ministries, we love. Instead of larger stages, we love. Instead of building projects, we love. Instead of extra offerings, we love. Whatever it looks like and whoever it benefits.
I am not telling you to abandon giving or to abandon serving, or even to tear down your ministries. All I am saying is this: choose love, and let anything that cannot be built from a foundation of actually loving people die. Measure your spiritual maturity by how desperately you have loved people, not by how wide of a following you have or by how well your teaching is received. Because when Jesus returns, he will not be measuring the height of your stage or the size of your social media following. His eyes will be focused on the men and women following you into eternity.
2. WE CORRECTLY APPROACH BIBLICAL LEADERSHIP AND CHRISTIAN RESPONSIBILITY
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemed. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
We are in an era of the church where being a leader in the body of Jesus means being responsible for setting, protecting and leading the vision of the church. In fact, the people of God expect to be led to such a degree that when they don’t enjoy a pastor’s teaching, they actually accuse that pastor of sabotaging their spiritual health. They will angrily leave the church, citing “not being fed” as a justifiable reason to abandon a body.
In the same way that Israel stood before the Prophet Samuel and demanded that God give them a King, the church has come before God and demanded He provide them an altar where they can lay down their responsibility to seek God at the feet of spiritual leaders who can seek Him for them. When a body finds Him, it is because of godly leaders. And when a church struggles, it is because of leaders who have missed the mark. However, Paul made it clear to the Ephesians that the leaders God had established for the body where there to equip the body so that it could grow into Christ and then build itself in love.
Consider the example of Paul’s leadership. If you examine the way that Acts records the growth of the Gentile church. Paul would spend time in a given city, sometimes months or even years, developing the church. And when he felt it had achieved some level of maturity, he would move on to the next city. After an extended period of time, he would return to that city, witness what God had done naturally without his influence, and then appoint elders. He didn’t decide who would lead based on their ambition, but based on gifts God had given them Himself.
In our day and age, leadership is power. It is something that must be earned through rigorous work and devotion, because being in charge means being responsible for the lives of everyone who comes to join the body under you. Being a leader means standing in the gap between the body of Jesus and God Himself, setting a culture of spiritual maturity and drawing the created toward its creator. The only problem with that is, 1 Timothy 2:5 tells us, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.
As a culture, the church has asked its leaders to fill a role that only belongs to Jesus. We call them “teachers” and “shepherds”, but we treat them as if they are the voice of God for us. As if they alone are anointed to represent God to the world and it is our responsibility and pleasure to help them in a mission that belongs to only them. We would never say it out loud, but it is evidenced in everything that we do. We give to the poor by giving to our church, never asking where the money goes. We serve the world by filling whatever roles our pastor asks us to, never stopping to wonder how the gifts God gave us could satisfy the needs of the world. We show up every weekend and listen to what our Pastors have learned about God, not questioning why there is no room for God to teach the rest of us anything. We quietly accept that our elder’s vision is synonymous with God’s vision and never bother to listen for His voice ourselves.
I am not questioning your pastor’s devotion to God. I am not even questioning their love for you. But I am reminding you that the Bible clearly paints a picture of Christian leaders who have laid their lives down to suffer for the body. It writes a narrative where the church’s leaders are a foundation, upon which the rest of the body stands and shines brightly. And yet, in our churches, our Pastors shine while the rest of us pour our money and gifts into helping them shine brighter. In our churches, pastors are getting rich and famous while the rest of the body contributes only to a stereotype of hypocrisy and judgement.
If we want to be a body that comes out of this season looking like Jesus, it is time for us to approach Christian leaders as if they exist to drive the body toward health, and it is time to approach the body as if it exists to boldly reveal Jesus itself.
3. WE HONOR MINISTRY AND COMMUNITY FOR WHAT IT IS
And they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.
Since the last Apostle who walked with Jesus breathed his last breathe, a battle has been raging between the clergy-led-church and the intimacy-led-church. It has been called many things over the centuries, but in our day, it is known as the institutional church and the home church. If you are familiar with those terms, you probably have pre-conceived ideas of what they mean, but what matters here is that elements of both existed in the earliest expression of Christian life. The early Christians did not reject the teaching of Christian leaders, but they also did not rely on Christian leaders to shape the identity of their community.
They respected the voices of the Apostles. They revered the insight of the prophets. They sat at the feet of great teachers. And then, they got up and they brought the church into their homes, where they all contributed to the life of the body of Jesus. The idea of passively remaining seated for their entire lives, watching those same teachers experience God never would have occurred to them.
At a glance, it may appear that one of these realities won out over the other. But that’s not the case. Instead of sitting at the feet of incredible leaders so that we may grow together and then actually begin to contribute to the life of God’s people together, we now sit at the feet of leaders and watch as those leaders are expected to do it all. There is very little genuine growth in our churches. Individuals may grow and find their place in the ranks, but as a community, growth doesn’t happen and intimacy is largely overlooked.
That has to change. I am not suggesting that there is no room for apostles and prophets and pastors and teachers today. I am suggesting that they must exist, but they must exist differently than we have asked them to. It is time to pull our spiritual leaders off of the top of the pyramid and to return them to the foundation. It is upon their shoulders that we rise. It is upon their gifts and their talents and their sacrifices that the many begin to express Christ. We sit at their feet so that we might be emboldened to go out and become a city on a hill. A people who shine so brightly and so fiercely that no darkness can silence us or hold back our advance. It is time for our leaders to return to the place of empowering the church, instead of solely representing it. If they do that, then instead of the world having a few bright lights to follow and a ton of passive Christians to muddy their image of the church, they will be surrounded by the image of Jesus and confronted with a light that cannot be dimmed.
This is a historic moment. One where we have been forced to step back from the structures we have labeled as Christianity and to reassess everything that we know about God, ourselves and what it means to be a Christian. And how we step back in the ring will define not only our generation, but the future of the body of Jesus. My recommendation is that we not settle for what we had. What we had was not enough. Obviously, since we still have most of it, and the church is crying out angrily that it’s not enough! We still have our preachers and our worship leaders. We still have our weekly scripture readings and life-challenges. Everything that we were receiving from the weekly stage-worship is still right in front of us on our phones or computer screens. And yet it’s not enough… because it never has been. There has always been something missing. Something that we couldn’t have real life without. And now is the time to pick it up and to walk with it.
I know I have given you a lot to think about, and most of it was conceptual in nature. But I do want to leave you with a few practical thoughts, because this is not just a concept to me. I genuinely believe that God is doing something in this moment that history will remember as a turning point in the church. I believe that he is shaking the foundation of the church and shaping something that will be remembered as the beginning of the greatest harvest the world has ever seen. And more than anything else, I want to see as many of God’s people be a part of it as possible, because real revival cannot rest on the shoulders of a few. It must be carried by the entire body of Jesus.
So here are three practical things that I believe the Holy Spirit is calling the church to embrace as we come out of this season of reflection:
1. I believe God is calling the body out of our buildings and into each other's homes. I believe he is calling his people to embrace a Christian expression that puts community before everything else. Which means a lifestyle of breaking bread together, sharing our lives with each other and living intimately united as we pursue Jesus.
Many of you have heard the term “house church” spoken with disdain. You may have even seen it associated with cults and insane overreaches of religion and authority. But at its center, Christianity is meant to be a culture of intimacy, where everyone contributes to the body. And it is time for us to embrace that culture again. (see 1 Corinthians 14:26-33).
2. I believe God is calling Christian leaders to start prioritizing discipleship. I know that the majority of America’s pastors would say that they do that now, but the fact remains that the majority of Americans consider themselves Christian while our nation resists everything about Jesus. It is clear that our weekly feel-good sermon is not actually developing Christians who are equipped to accurately represent Jesus. I believe that is about to change.
God is raising up prophetic voices that are calling the church to remember that every member of the body is meant to represent God. And as that happens, I believe that we will continue to see the structures we have relied on for far too long crumble to the ground around us, and a new generation of Christian leaders will step up to the plate and lay themselves down in humility in order to empower the church to actually impact the world the way we were meant to.
3. I believe that we are about to see a generation of Christians begin to reject everything that isn’t centered in love. I believe He is shifting our focus so that we will begin to revile superstar Christianity, where our focus is on ambition and career opportunities, so that we can return to a Christian expression that loves so desperately that we have no energy for fighting to build stages and followings and careers in the ministry.
While most of the world is outraged by what we are experiencing right now, with churches shut down around the world, I am excited. Because I firmly believe that in the midst of this, the Spirit of God is raising a people that refuse to go back to something that wasn’t working. To something that didn’t look like Jesus. And my sincere prayer is that if God has begun to whisper to your heart, that these words will ignite something in you that will drive you to be a part of what God is doing.
Whoever you are, whatever you thought your life would look like, I implore you… don’t go back to what you knew before. Because like many of us love to say… God has left the building.