Still Burning!

still-burning

I wrote the following four years ago while still pastoring. I was still a year away from hearing “pancreatic cancer” pronounced over the love of my life. Retirement wasn’t even in my vocabulary. I thought I could possibly take a wonderful group of people I loved into an untracked era. It was not to be.

Four years later, no congregation, no weekly pulpit, and only a few who may or may not read it, it still burns inside. This was written for my eyes only, so it may not flow like my other writing, but I would sure like to know if this or anything like it resonates with you.

MY FOCUS:

That our resources (money, time, strength, passions, talents), be directed in the most effective way possible to the fulfilling of our purpose of joining Jesus in loving and saving the world.

 

The way we accomplish this now is through institutionalizing our resources, (Money, time, strength, passions, talents), and as a single corporate unit, acting as the agent of God’s love in our world. This creates the modern invitational/attractional model, a kind of “come and get it”, “one size fits all”, “we’ve got the answer”, “benefits”, mode of operation.

The result is rigid programs that are one-size-fits-all. It causes a separation between the spiritual Sunday lives of people and their daily work and play lives. We go to church, do things for the church and live the rest (Monday-Saturday) of our lives away from the church. Life purpose is lived out separate from the “spiritual” part of us unless we are professionally called to church ministry. This creates the separation between clergy and laity, with clergy being the more knowledgeable and elevated in all matters spiritual. “Other” people (laity) come to church to receive instruction (interpretation) on what God says about things.

Clergy aren’t necessarily expected to know much about “real” life. That isn’t their specialty.

Instead of one life that you live joining Jesus on mission in this world, you split it into two: The spiritual one you “soak up” on Sunday and the “real” one that you live out the rest of the week. This one that you live Monday through Saturday you are made to feel guilty about if you don’t somehow use it to grow the institution on Sunday. That becomes your “spiritual” purpose, growing the institution, because people who you invite to church may “give their lives to Christ”, go to Heaven and join the church. Since this hasn’t been as effective in recent times, we have moved to an “attractional” model, which uses less guilt. Instead, it makes itself attractive through having bigger and better buildings, programs, technology, music and preaching.

You give 10% or less to support the benefits package you receive through the “spiritual” programs of the church. A small percentage of these funds are then designated to paying for other “professionals” (missionaries) to join Jesus in saving the world. Another very small percentage is used for benevolence and other community ministry. The vast majority of money, time, strength, passion and talent are invested in buildings, structure, staff, technology, maintenance and internal programs. We have consigned our real efforts, not to join Jesus in loving and saving the world, but to keeping Him inside our lovely and comfortable sanctuaries of escape from the world, and to keeping these icons (institutions, buildings, services, programs) alive and prosperous.

 

The way I believe directing our resources to joining Jesus would be most effectively accomplished is:

  1.     Remove our reliance and dependency on institutions, buildings, services and programs as the means of accomplishing our purpose (joining Jesus in loving and saving the world),
  2.     Dismantle these icons via giving the corporate life to the common purpose (joining Jesus…). We must turn to dismantling for us and build for the common good, using what we receive back from the community. (“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Luke 6:38 NIV).
  3.      Our mode of operation must start with every person living out their God-design, fulfilling the unique calling to them by God’s Spirit in their spirit to do their part to make earth more like Heaven. This unique God-design may best be described as the topic in their lives that sparks a conversation that is the most alive, interesting and intense for them, with both God and others.
  4. This will create natural alliances, as common interests will surface in conversations that pique each one’s interests and desires. Groups will begin to form, acting in this world directly out of God’s Spirit at work in the heart’s of individuals and alliances. Some will be more “people” oriented and some more “project” focused; but all will be living for the common purpose of extending God’s Kingdom to earth; of reconciling people everywhere to God and making this world a place that is taken care of like God’s household, God’s family, again.
  5. Our times of meeting together must not be what consumes either us or our resources, but times of uplifting where we gather for teaching and joint worship and celebrating Kingdom progress and encouragement that helps us overcome whatever hindrances we are facing and whatever sins keep entangling us.
  6. Our resources (money, time, strength, passion, talents) must be prioritized for our purpose (joining Jesus in loving and saving the world). Our individual resources (tithes, investments, accumulations, time, strength, passion, talent etc.) and our joint resources (in alliances) should be invested directly where they will do the most good in accomplishing our purpose (joining Jesus…).
  7. Project and goal-inspired alliances will join with people and need-inspired alliances to actually carry out “God’s will on earth as it is in Heaven”.

My hope is that this will bring some thoughtful and thought provoking comments.

8 Comments

  1. Love every word of this Ben. Read it to Melissa and she loved it too! This is much of why many people do not like ‘Christians.’ I would not have a problem if ‘Christians’ were being persecuted for the right things in our country but the problem is the church is often persecuted because she is an elite club that says, come join us and be like us and for those of you who are not willing to change we will point the finger at or in fact many other systems or organizations that are not like us we will point the finger at. So very different from our LORD who loved people and thru and by His love they were changed. By meeting them where they were at they were changed. By valuing them exactly how they were, they were changed. This change did not take away there unique identity but reminded them of their identity. Much more to say about this but those are my thoughts for now. 🙂

    • Thanks Liz, I think I detect some passion in you about this!:) Very well said. I will be writing more. Please continue to jump in.

  2. Ben, this not only resonates with me but I believe it does with a lot of other people, including a number of fellow pastors I’ve served with in churches. I’ve been a part conversations where we voiced that the way things are done in the church in America doesn’t seem quite right, we had some difficulty agreeing exactly what was the root problem and cause but we all felt “there must be a better way but how do you change an entire existing church culture?” Even if it’s just one local body of believers?
    I think this is why Francis Chan left his church and started a ministry on the streets of San Francisco. I think it’s similar to what David Platt is calling for in his books and trying to do in some form with his congregation. I think the American church struggles with this idea because it’s form is very organic.
    I love the church, she is the Bride of Christ, but like you I believe we can be more beautiful in living as salt and light in this world..

    • Thank you Paul, your response is immensely encouraging. I also experienced other leaders wanting change. The difficulty, as you mentioned, is dominant church culture permeating any discussion you have. Even those who are not in the church, use the language of the church although it varies w-i-d-e-l-y in its connotations in each mind. I found this frustrating in preaching as people would interpret what I said out of their connotations.
      Everyone of the leaders that I knew were trying to change from within. So was I. I have, in the last 4 or 5 years concluded that the structures of current cultural Christianity are too pervasive and entrenched to overcome from within. I do not want to destroy them, but would like to find ways to distance myself from them so that the presumptions and assumptions when people say “oh, its a church” or “oh, you’re a Christian” can be overcome.
      I will be writing more on all of this in the near future with conversation starting ideas I have. I would love further interaction, as I consider this to very much need open sourcing. Thanks again for jumping in to the conversation.

  3. Love the end result as described in steps 1-7. I’d like to see this happen overnight, but as I’m experiencing living in a ‘new’ area and finding new friendships/relationships/community – it takes longer than I’d like. For me and the season I am in, this post challenges me to focus on 2 & 3 above – what can I give back to the community and am I consistently living out of my God design. My guess is this builds the foundation for the remaining steps as the relationships and alliances are formed and grow – provided we keep our focus on “joining Jesus”. Thanks for the post.

    • It sounds to me you are prime for someone to say “Let’s start the conversation”. “Let’s do this together”. Hmmm….?
      Thanks Carma.

  4. This is a first approximation to what I want to say, maybe harsher then it needs to be, but I offer it as a conversation starter.

    What you describe as the status quo, the institutional church, is a failed attempt to minister to the spiritual needs of the community in a way that defines success using the measurements of a materialistic society. Instead of a place for spiritual healing, our places of worship have become just another “business” whose foundation is the “truth” that one persons gain must always be offset by another persons loss. And this “assumption” seems to be the heart of many of our problems; as long as we think in this way we will always be approaching situations in which we could be of service to another by first “calculating” the cost to ourselves, our families and our friends before taking any action, probably erring on the side of safety. The divine secret is that when bend down to lift another, we also paradoxically lift ourselves. These are harsh words that anyone will have trouble accepting as applying to themselves … maybe others, perhaps many, are like this, but “not me.” We may doubt others, but we are uncomfortable accepting that the blindness that we see in so many others may, after all, be our blindness as well and this failure to sometimes doubt ourselves may stand in the way of our spiritual growth.

    • Bill, This doesn’t seem harsh at all, but rather a gentle attempt at bringing honesty to the discussion. In a time when “safety” fills our comfort zone of thinking, we make presumptions from that position that cause blindness to our selfishness. “Safety” often paralyzes our confidence to step out of the limits of our comfort. I know I am struggling with that in my own life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.