I know a man who is aware of and openly admits that he speaks both the wisdom of God and foolishness. (And don’t we all?) Yet any time I try to give him feedback about the difference between the former and the latter, he always falls back on traditionally accepted views. He believes that the institutional church, the structure of authority within it, the hierarchy, the doctrines, and the usual way of doing things is the only way. Yet he also makes a habit of pointing out how the institutional church is failing miserably and asking why no one is doing anything about it. He publicly prays for the Spirit of God to raise up people who will challenge the status quo, who aren’t influenced by money or status in the church, who are filled with passion and purpose, but when God answers this man’s prayer, he is right there, along with all the other leaders, who feel threatened by the people God raises up, agreeing that this new “troublemaker” is overstepping bounds, rebelling against authority, causing division in the church, etc.
It breaks my heart that the thing he longs for most is also the thing he strongly opposes. Go figure. This blog is intended for both the leadership in the institutional church and for those who have transcended the system, although I am almost certain that the former are too proud and entrenched in fear to be put in their place as a sheep among equals.
For the leadership in the institutional church who are like the man I mentioned:
1. Appreciate, protect, approve of, and learn from the explorers, inventors, and risk takers in your midst. Challenge those who oppose transformational ideas. That opposition can take many forms but usually involve some type of threat. “If he/she doesn’t _____, then I/we will _____.
2. Trust the Spirit of God to protect you should #1 backfire. Don’t create expectations about what the Spirit’s protection looks like. You may think that the Spirit of God doesn’t intervene to protect the flock because that is your job as pastor/deacon/elder, but what if the Spirit of God doesn’t intervene because the Spirit of God is orchestrating the upheaval? (Sometimes God tears down before He builds up – remember the patched garment and the old wineskins?)
3. Be aware that what you view as “backfiring” (see #2) may actually be an answer to your prayer. Remember that Jesus answered the prayers for healing offered up by Lazarus’s loved ones by allowing Lazarus to first die and then resurrecting him! The church of your dreams could never be as good as the church of God’s dreams. Go ahead! Dream big! I guarantee that God dreams bigger. You must be open to the idea that He accomplishes His purposes differently than we expect. Your dream is about here and now and the not-so-distant future, His dream is for all creatures in every time period in every space. If it seems as though God is sitting back and allowing the church to decline, remember that He accomplishes apocatastasis through DEATH. Too often Christians label God’s deconstruction of us (an ultimately redemptive act) as the power of darkness, the work of Satan. Do not fear. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble (thlípsis – pressure. Especially internal pressure, feeling there is no way to escape). But take heart! I have overcome (nikáō – conquer. The verb implies a battle.”) the world.” This is pressure that comes from within, trouble that happens inside of a person who feels trapped and helpless. The battle is “not against flesh and blood, but against principalities (arche – beginning, authorities, prominent positions) …of darkness.” Don’t you think that if your prayer is that God will protect you from negative consequences associated with letting spiritual “nobodies” with no expert training and no official credentials have a voice in the church, that if He strips the power from people in authority or prominent position, He is doing exactly what you asked Him to do? After all, the negative consequences of nobodies becoming somebodies is that the somebodies are probably going to be angry. Suddenly they aren’t so special any more. If you are in a position of authority, it follows that you should… (see #4)
4. Be willing to lose everything. The more intertwined your life is with the institutional church, the harder this will be. Are you willing to see some of your closest friends turn against you or silently stand by and do nothing as your feet are in the fire? Are you willing to risk a pay cut because attendance numbers and offerings decline as you make amazing but unpopular decisions? Are you willing to lose your respected position of influence and become an outcast? Are you willing to lose your job, your house, or your car? Are you willing to do the right thing, even if people in your own family turn against you?
5. If you are considering whether to actively discipline the “troublemaker” or approve of and support such discipline, examine your motives. Are your motives fear-based? If so, refer back to #2. Are your motives control-based? If so, refer back to #4. Before you make your decision to act or to support those who act, remember that Jesus’s strongest rebukes were given to religious leaders who disciplined “troublemakers.”
To believers who transcend the system as God’s spies infiltrating enemy territory or God’s global visionaries:
1. If you notice there is a practical problem to be solved, this is likely an invitation from the Spirit of God to flex your creative spiritual muscles. He is calling you to become an inventor. Don’t worry about trying and failing, because each time you fail, you learn what doesn’t work. When you try again, you are more likely to find a solution. Another thing to consider is that He may be calling you to collaborate. That’s the beauty of operating outside the religious system – you don’t have to wait on approval from a committee to get busy. The naysayers who, in the past, have always had the power to quench the Spirit and suck the life out of amazing new ideas have no more power over you. Their mighty opposition has become a little gnat buzzing around, so insignificant that it isn’t even worth your trouble to squash it.
2. Be in the world. Don’t let the time, talents, and resources God has given you be monopolized by the local religion factory. Many Christians quote, “Be in the world, not of it,” and place special emphasis on the “not of it” while forgetting that “in the world” is crucial to the world understanding God’s love. We share in the glory of Christ for a reason. Jesus prayed:
I do not ask that Thou mayest take [believers] out of the world, but that Thou mayest keep them out of the evil. Of the world they are not, as I of the world am not; …as Thou didst send me to the world, I also did send them to the world; …And not in regard to these alone do I ask, but also in regard to those who shall be believing, through their word, in me; that the world may believe that Thou didst send me. And I, the glory that thou hast given to me, have given to them, that the world may know that Thou didst send me, and didst love them as Thou didst love me. (John 17: 15-23)
3. If you notice there are contradictions in two truths, this is likely an invitation from the Spirit of God to use your imagination, dream big, and discover in the contradiction some overarching theme – it has been my experience so far that contradictions that are apparently unresolvable are like sign-posts marking the very areas where we lack knowledge. I’m not saying that we should invent truth to satisfy our own desires. God invites us to act according to what we know by faith, and faith, as the most elusive form of evidence, requires child-like wonder. With our minds, we find partial answers. With the faith of Christ, we understand that God sees the end from the beginning and has intimate knowledge of everything in between. He sees exactly how our lives intersect, how our choices produce certain outcomes, how those outcomes influence the world view and choices of others, like a huge, complex mathematical equation that ultimately produces His desired outcome. We are learning from quantum physics to discard normal expectations and embrace all possibilities, to explore with humility and expanded imaginations so that, perhaps, we will better understand the Observer of the Universe.
4. Live a life of joy as you become who He created you to be. There is no one else on the planet who can be you. Of all the billions of years past and yet to come, God has chosen to create you right here, right now, for a reason. Discover that reason, not by becoming inwardly focused, but by getting caught up in the work He has given you. Perhaps that work is raising children, being a performing poet, painting double yellow lines in the middle of the road, providing legal defense, manufacturing paperclips, or loving others as they care for you (because you are unable to care for yourself). Do what you do to the best of your ability, as if you were doing it for God Himself. If you are dissatisfied, then you are probably not doing the work He has given you, but the work you have given yourself. In that case, welcome to the joy of discovery – all things (including spending a long time on the wrong path) work together for good when God gives purpose to His called-out ones. There is a certain satisfaction in participating in difficult activities compared to easy ones. A life of hardship, well-lived, is more inspiring than a worry-free life of ease. There will come a day when there is no more crying or pain, but right now, we have the opportunity to share in His glory – fulfilling our purpose, no matter how wonderful or terrible that purpose seems to be in the limited, human view of history.
5. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. Perhaps you have no idea how to solve problems, you have yet to discover your talents, resources are limited, it’s all you can do to function with migraines and using your imagination would probably put you in bed for two days. God seems to be resigned to surrounding you with hardship. We are all works in progress. I think that’s why Jesus simplified the commandments for us in what could be further simplified into merely four words: Love God. Love others. There you have it. If you don’t feel much of anything for God, let alone love, ask God why. He will demonstrate to you that your idea of Who He is doesn’t jive with Who He really is. Anyone who even remotely understands Who God is will fall in love with Him very easily. So you are in that stage of spiritual maturity where He is still clearing away misconceptions, still destroying the old wineskin. Don’t despair. It’s all part of the creation process – destroying in the first Adam and creating in the second Adam. When you are able to love God, then loving others will come naturally – it will be pure pleasure to reign with Him, victorious in loving even the most unlovable people.