A Modern Woman's Perspective On The Kingdom of God on Earth

January 9, 2019

Trying To Understand "The Church"

     I recently read an article on the state of the Church, and I'd like to share the author's viewpoint, sprinkled with my own thoughts. This author wrote an article trying to explain why "people are leaving the church in droves" -- his quote, not mine. I'm always interested to see if the answer comes close to the reason I see so many people disillusioned with attending church (myself included). I was a little taken aback that this writer seemed to think most people pointed their finger at the lead pastor, and he went on to explain why this was merely "scapegoating" the pastor.
     The author suggested that it is important "to be rightly aligned and connected with church leadership". That's all good, if one discerns that the pastor's teaching is rightly aligned with Scripture. And being "connected" with the pastor can be a vague concept. Too often, I have seen that modeled as an inner circle that supports leadership, no matter what; regardless of how it might effect individual members or the church body as a whole. And sadly, far too often, there is a distinct separation between the "connected" and the "unconnected" -- a social order, so to speak.
     The author did say that he has no problem, himself, rocking the boat and challenging systems, motives and traditions that exist within the local church, while with honor and wisdom, advocating for reform. I agree. He goes on to say that he believes too many people leaving today's churches do so by surrendering their responsibilities as members of the Body of Christ, and become accuser's of leadership, and end up in hibernation. He then ridicules the idea that they can still "be the church" by making the statement, "You can't be the church if you don't go to church". That seems, to me, to be attaching the idea of "church" to a building, and I'm afraid that is where I have to wholeheartedly disagree with this author.
     In fact, what I have observed are Christians that have stepped in to their unique callings to exhibit the power of the Word in their lives; a move that was hindered under the authority of church leadership. The role of the Holy Spirit in people's lives was not recognized if it didn't align with church doctrine or traditions. And far from hibernating, these empowered Christians are actually "doing church" in their communities and seeing their territory expand as God uses them to continue the work of Christ in the nations. 
      We are all familiar with the Greek term ekklesia, from which we get our English word "church". It literally means "assembly", "congregation", or "meeting". It is important that we recognize that to New Testament believers, the word "church" never referred to a synagogue, temple, chapel, tabernacle, building or any other meeting place. The term always referred to the Christian assembly and, in the New Testament, it was used for both the local community of believers and the overall collection of Christians. It referred to the people!
     This is where a second author comes in. In this additional article, the writer points out that, from the beginning, the idea of "church" was dynamic. In other words, it was characterized by constant change, activity, or progress. He writes, "Never a prisoner of buildings, we see the church [an assembly of people believing in Jesus and His teachings] meeting in the temple, in a synagogue, in the street, beside the sea, in public places, and often in homes. The Book of Acts describes a community of faith in constant movement: “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved”. 
     Do our churches of today look like this dynamic picture? Or is it more correct to say that some of them are static -- unchanging, lifeless, and without power? I do not speak of this situation lightly. I have been a member for 20 years in a 5,000-member church; a member in a small 150-member rural church; and attended a small community church [without feeling I needed to sign on the dotted line to qualify as one of Jesus's own]. I have sincerely loved much of the community in each of these church buildings. But, as I look back over my "church history", I can see that with each move, God was growing and maturing my faith and understanding of Him, as well as my place in the Body of Christ. And each move came with new insight as to what the ekklesia is supposed to look like.
     Author One maintains that there needs to be a system for a pastor to effectively lead a church; that he doesn't have time to befriend everyone in his congregation. In fact, he writes, "So, if your church has more than five people attending, chances are the pastor simply won't have room for another close friend [meaning you]... Smart leaders will invest mostly in those who have proven themselves faithful." ... [Does that mean "faithful to Jesus" or "loyal to the pastor"? Just wondering.] ... The writer goes on, "Jesus devoted himself to 12, and then at a closer level to three. Pastors will hang with those who share his vision, who are fierce defenders of the church and who don't exhibit selfish tendencies. The pastor has a serious call of God to lead the church into an impossible vision, and he needs people around him who will empower that vision. If you are dead weight, they will love you, pray for you and do their best to awaken you, but they won't—and shouldn't—be close friends with you." I guess that all depends on what the vision is and what it looks like being empowered. Does it look like Jesus? Or is it fraught with human undertones and motivation? And I seriously wonder who that pastor defines as dead weight? People that don't agree with him?
      Wow! That really bothered me. Pastors will hang with those who share his vision ... Boy, have I seen that discourage more than one believer who was looking to be equipped to walk out Jesus's vision, which didn't quite coincide with the pastor's perspective. And that brings me to this point ... Author One wrote, "[A pastor's] mandate is mostly to pray and study the Word". Is that what the Bible says? Doesn't Scripture say that Jesus gave pastors "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 schemes". Praying and studying the Word should be routine for every Christian.
     Isn't it the job of pastors to equip and train us to walk out [in power] Jesus's commission; to be fierce defenders of the faith and to encourage us in our individual callings for God and His Kingdom? I understand the tremendous drain of time and energy that must accompany a pastor's calling -- Mark and I are experiencing it on a much smaller level with our own ministry. But when you say"Yes" to God doesn't that come with the territory? Author One decries all the demands on a pastor's life -- visiting people in the hospital, counseling members of his congregation, answering the phone at all hours of the night, and meeting all the needs of his flock. He says that there should be assigned a team that takes care of all that so that the pastor can spend his time on his knees. 

       But, if Jesus is our model, didn't He do it all? Visiting the sick and dying, counseling those who sought Him, and meeting the needs of His flock? Yes, it started out as just twelve, but the Bible tells us of the crowds that followed Him everywhere. And, yes, He needed to remove Himself from time to time and revive and refresh His body, soul, and spirit. But He never turned down anyone who came to Him in faith. We are to continue that commitment to the Body, bearing much fruit in our community with each other.

     As much as I disagree with Author One on many of his points, I do agree with him on this: "We need a new breed of leader...". Although he still maintains that there should be a team that takes care of the people, I would like to hear him say that this team does not replace the pastor, but supplements his care and guidance. I do agree with him when he says that pastors today should focus on "meeting with God, getting wrecked in His presence, gaining powerful revelation in the Word and, as a result, stand behind the pulpit with fire in their eyes and a tremble in their spirit."
     If they did that, I truly believe that you would find less people leaving the church buildings. In fact, I would love to find a community of believers with a dynamic pastor that challenged me to be who I am in Christ; who encouraged me "go out" and minister to the nations; and who trained me how to grow into unity and maturity in Christ. But even though I do not currently attend a church building, I do not feel separated or less of a follower of Jesus than my brethren who choose to attend weekly services. On the contrary, I love communing with them and sharpening each other's faith by sharing what God is revealing to us -- inside and outside the building. 
     For, I believe as Jesus forecast, and Author Two acknowledges, "the gates of Hades will not overpower it [the church]". I believe that we individuals who are walking a lonelier road are no less working for the Kingdom than those who can claim fellowship with hundreds and thousands. I see community being built among those who have left the church; community that is waking up to new revelation straight from the Holy Spirit and who is walking it out together; boldly and confidently. We are recognizing the need [and commission from Jesus, of course] to disciple new believers; to be examples and inspiration of how to live our lives. And most of all, we are understanding just how much Jesus loves His church -- every one of us! This is no time for division based on man's traditions. We are all members of Christ's Body. Let us each be true to our calling and work together to bring about God's divine plan for humanity. Go! Be the Church, anywhere and everywhere!

1 Peter 2:5           Come and be his “living stones” who are continually being assembled into a sanctuary for God. For now you serve as holy priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices that He readily accepts through Jesus Christ.  

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