One of the little networks I am privileged to be joined to is my Harvest Time Brothers. The 3 brothers I have come to know and to trust there have helped me identify my mission in the kingdom. (That’s what brothers do.) One of them (the irreverent one) said, you are connective tissue (fascia) in the Body of Christ whose mission it is to stir *!#t up. While I am repenting for even thinking the “s” word, it doesn’t seem, if I am to be myself, that I can prevent from stirring things up. (Jack Taylor; one of my my wise spiritual fathers told me the kingdom’s sons were called to be catalysts. This little word helped preserve my sanity!) The irreverent one also proposed that I tack this communique on the door of GWO in the same vain that Luther was purported to have nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenburg, Saxony in 1517. I chose the internet route instead. It seemed slightly less presumptuous and defiant. (Wow! After looking up “fascia” on Wikipedia, I think with Christ in us, we are called to be fascia!)
One of the big words that God has planted in my heart in the past two decades is ownership. While most associate this word with capitalism and free markets, I think of it in a broader sense. It is a word that has to do with connection, trust, responsibility and community. When we claim something as mine or ours something dynamic begins to happen. When ownership happens at Cummins Construction, equipment is maintained, that same equipment produces with efficiency; policies are adhered to and we work more profitably, safely and harmonious with our governmental partners like ODOT, OTA, DOD, ODL, EPA, FHWA, ODAQ, (just to name a few) so that we don’t have to work with the FBI and the DOJ (again). That some of you claim the group that meets in my home as yours is also a dynamic thing. The second reason I am writing is simply to stay connected to those I love and care about. Here is some backdrop to the gathering at the Cummins’ home that may be helpful.
You should realize that at the inception of our group, *!#t was stirred up. The pastor of my local assembly, one of my closest friends, was told by me that his presence would not be constructive to the formation of our group. He had no way to process this statement. It pained me to say it but it had to be said. It was also was quite unpopular that this group was not formed with the traditional sign-up sheet at the back of the church auditorium. The people who came to our group were invited. They were invited for the simple reason that Daneille and I felt safe with them. Why, you may ask was the pastor dissuaded from coming? It was for the simple reason that, in our religious culture, the title “pastor” carries baggage with it; concepts that are alien to the gathering of the NT church (still an important reference point for me). In our tradition, “Pastor” is presumed to be the primary authority and voice of God where in the early church everyone was expected to come together with own their unique contribution. In our current tradition, Pastor is the primary one that takes ownership of the local Body and he spends tons of his energy (with another 20 to 30% of the church membership) trying to get others to take some ownership for the activities and programs sanctioned by the church which are often thought of as extensions of the pastor’s ministry. In the NT, as a functioning priesthood of believers, the Body itself, with mostly its own home-grown leaders, took ownership of the corporate (usually quite small) gatherings and affairs of the Church.
While many pastors may agree with the biblical references I have just made, they still defer to traditions which I believe contribute to the lack of ownership the Body actually takes toward its own healthy existence. I believe it can actually contribute to a spiritual welfare culture where the flock has inordinate expectations on Pastor. And, too often, Pastor has inordinate dependency upon the flock for their approval. He is placed in a no-win situation where he is expected to be to the Body what the Body was actually intended to be to itself. (It may just be the wiggly tail, but this issue is actually a part of the current elephant in the room some of us are becoming more intimately acquainted with.)
The Lord is going to have a Bride one day who has been weaned of all dependency upon anything but Himself. If He has to shake us and/or our old wineskins in order to expose our inordinate dependencies on circumstances, people and traditions, I suspect He will do it. While many pastors are looking at their organizational structures, God is looking at the heart, because its from the heart that all the issues of life (and I suspect His kingdom) flow; not from the structures that leaders oversee, which have tended to become central in our current and misguided dialogue.
What is in my DNA is to see the Bride of Christ (which includes all saints) living out her kingdom destiny out of the Life of Christ who resides in her heart, Who is vying for supremacy over everything that He might be competing with. While this will be controversial to the max, and probably a regretful affront to my pastor friends and traditionalists, it is time for me to say some things point-blank, direct and honest. Out of respect to those I love, you need to know my vision because it may be something you want to intentionally steer way clear of. I need to give you (and your group if you are leading one) fair warning and first-right-of-refusal to have nothing to do with me. Most do not have an appetite for stirring things up. (Ironically, that is the club I wanted to be president of; The We Don’t Stir Things Up Club.)
However, it is the Lord and His words that are sharper than a two-edged sword that I believe are doing most of the stirring. For me, it is the narrative of the New Testament that I cannot escape. In that story, the early church, in her simplicity, was the most powerful community that has ever existed on this earth. It had no clergy/ laity distinction. It had no policy-making home office or headquarters. It had little property of its own. It had few programs or overhead budgets to support them. It did not have a bible as we know it. It did not have a moral majority or any political influence. It did not have a militia.
It did however have the Holy Spirit who had distributed certain supernatural gifts among them. They also had trials in abundance in the form of poverty, bad doctrine, false teachers, hostility, persecution and every other common threat to human life. They did have a few articulate ones who had spent serious time being proven and refined by the Father (some of them face-to-face with Jesus Himself – these we have traditionally called Apostles) They possessed none of the things, that in our tradition, most consider essential to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. My belief is that they understood in ways that our structures war against, the 50-odd one-anothering verses we are given in the NT. I think their superior command of these truths equipped them to take ownership.
Yet, we persist in our attempts to refine, reorganize our existing wineskin-structures. From my perspective, our traditional-western-church paradigm overburdens and isolates brothers and sisters, shackling them with titles and responsibilities that they were never meant to carry by themselves; matters the Body of Christ itself was intended to carry. It is really no surprise that pastors and their wives are lonely, hurting and burning out. They have been harnessed by tradition to a no-win situation. I am asked (sometimes in a hostile way); “Then why don’t you get off your fanny and go back to work in the church and help that pastor?!”
My answer; “Because, I do not think that would serve his best interest or the Kingdom’s.” The assumptions the local church has about itself and its practices are hardened and sanctified by time and are untouchable. As an elder at times, and as a brother and a friend at others, I attempted to speak into this arena for nearly two decades. The ideas I proposed were alien and did not gain traction. In time, I came to understand that there are people’s identities and livelihoods that are tied up here making this turf holy ground.
For me though, I cannot remain a part of a system that perpetuates either intentionally or inadvertently, the clergy/ laity distinction. Originally, the Church was not run by professionals. I cannot be apart of a system that perpetuates the idea that some are called into full-time professional ministry and some are called to just attend church or support their pastor’s ministry. In the NT, there was never a track for a believer to follow that said – you can ask Jesus into your heart and fulfill your obligations of worship on a weekly or bi-weekly installment of attendance. There was never a track for disciples and another just for believers. Our traditional format accommodates these tracks to the Church’s and the attender’s detriment.
The Church that Christ died for; which we all belong to, is actually a network of people who have surrendered themselves to a sovereign King Who has bound us inseparably together in His Son. The saints are inside and outside traditional church settings. But they are all yearning along with creation itself for the kingdom at some level. (Regarding yearnings: Check out Wade Burleson’s blog offered at the end of this treatise.)
Many saints, as they are emerging from their own wineskin thinking, are growing restless in their traditions and are finding themselves at cross-purposes with their local leaders. Most have incurred wounds. Many are bitter and disillusioned. Nearly all are exhausted. On the surface this movement looks like defection and mutiny, especially to those who are trying to steer the ship and keep people aboard. These good people are some of the most needy souls in the family. They are not the enemy. The enemy remains; the world, the flesh and the devil.
Between here and the day that His Bride will emerge, vindicating the Truth, glorifying the King of Kings, the enemy’s lies will be exposed, making way for the kingdom of God. This is the earth’s destiny. And, it’s our destiny to participate as co-laborers and co-heirs in His Kingdom’s expansion. Between now and then, we will each have to take ownership where we have made peace with lies in our own hearts. Out of our repentance, when we have dealt with our hearts in His (and each other’s) presence, many of our problems will take care of themselves as institutions are transformed into communities of connected spirit-led and gifted sons and daughters of the Kingdom.
In the meantime, as things are stirred up, the first order of business is our hearts. Our well-disguised Sunday-go-to-meeting personas will have to be torn down in order for the Lord to build His house. Our participation in communion and our offerings of song and service, however sincere and passionate, are but a strange fire of pretense to Him until our hearts are right with each other. (See Matt 5:23,24) Until our hearts are right with each other, they are not right with Him, no matter what story we have sold ourselves.
I believe the leaders of the coming kingdom will be those who have humbled themselves or been humbled as the Holy Spirit leads them through the specifics of their own trials into new and fresh places of freedom where they have become disentangled from their flesh, this world and the devil; where their stories are updated and authentic authority has been birthed out of the inevitable pains of transition. This process of taking ownership of our hearts is how He ascends to His rightful place as Lord in our lives. The tide of battle will shift as Christ emerges as the glory of His Church and the radiance of His Bride. And, when the Bride has finally been made ready, we will collectively hear once again, for the last time, “Truly truly. It is finished!“
While I am keenly aware my views are out of sync with tradition, I am dependent on the Body of Christ, you who also have the Spirit and the Word to show me where I am out of sync with the scriptures. Or, has the Spirit led His church out beyond the authority and narrative of scripture? I am seriously asking if our pastor driven paradigm was officially adopted and sanctified somewhere along the way. I am not being facetious with this question. I am not a theologian. If you and I are joined relationally in any way, you will be doing me a big favor (and I think, the Body of Christ) by processing my questions and the questions my words may raise. Some of us know these are truly front-and-center issues for us in this hour. Please show me (from scripture) if and where I am missing it. That is my third reason for writing.
Wade Burleson and another friend suggested that I read books by John Zens and Frank Viola. They too have helped restore peace to my heart. The “Subject” of this email was Revolution or Rebellion? This letter will have to be interpreted as rebellion or even heretical by the traditionalist who envisions Pastor as divine authority. When I read Revolution by George Barna, my sense was that a revolution was well underway and that it was my job to speak to my co-leaders about the nature of this revolution because I recognized the seeds of it in my own heart and in the hearts of so many who had come and gone from the local church with no real exit interview. Because I would want them to do this for me, I have continued to try and be honest about an upheaval that I believed might blind side them at some point in time.
Your friend (hopefully) and Brother in Christ,
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PS; To those attending the Sunday afternoon GWO leader’s meeting; I apologize for my vulgar language. I know its not constructive. The only good news is that I didn’t use all the bad words I am still fluent with. Reading this in advance of our next gathering will save time and hopefully promote a dialogue as opposed to a monologue. Remember, I love you.
Also; I know that authentic community exists inside many traditional churches of all sizes. I applaud the courageous efforts of those with the gifting of pastor or administrator in overseeing the communities that you have been entrusted into. Bless you.