The Two Churches

The church of Christ as a body really has two identities.

The one is the institutionalized, formal exterior church that many “attend” weekly. It is a business, with all the trappings of hiring, paperwork, committees, schedules, professionals, slogans, publicity, programs, properties and holdings, top-down communication, events intended to produce cohesiveness and motivational, self-help teachings. It is charismatic in mode in that it operates on the personal charisma of the pastor, who, as long as he can keep things interesting and exciting, holds this kind of church together. When he is not there for a “service” or when he fails in his motivational input, people do not attend; when he is at the top of his game, people attend and are supportive.

Efficiency of organization requires that sub-ministries be in place and that each be managed by an associate pastor who is in agreement with the vision of the senior pastor. Goals and/or standards are set for each ministry that are intended to contribute to the overall growth plan of the church. And evaluation assessments are scheduled to ensure that goals are on track for success.

This is a numbers-driven business. Minimum attendance and giving supports basic salaries, a mortgage, utilities and maintenance for a building planned to accommodate an optimum number of seats (temporarily optimum, until growth requires expansion). Attendance beyond the minimum number supports salary increases, vehicle expenses, travel and upgrades to facilities. And if the maximum attendance is reached, there may be funds available for missions and benevolence.

Tithing and giving into the general church fund are the lifeblood of this model, because without steady cashflow, it cannot be sustained. This model spawns mega-churches whose major focus is producing a culture of worldly prosperity, so that the manufactured needs of this model might benefit.

The Spiritual Church

The other church model is the vital, interactive and dynamic, living church that exists in a network of interpersonal relationships, all connected intimately with the Holy Spirit of God. It survives sometimes inside the institutionalized model, and sometimes, completely outside it. But, to be sure, the institutionalized church is not, of itself, the true church.

This true model is personal, relational and driven by love for God and love for one another. Love energizes faith to produce good works that further the kingdom culture. Love is simply the lifeblood of this model. Everything, from meeting the needs of its members to spreading the gospel, results from the vitality of the members’ love/faith/works character. Finances are merely a tool in true church, serving primarily to feed the hungry and further the preaching of the gospel, done with as little diversion to buildings and programs as possible within the bounds of love and compassion.

Exhortations with regard to money are toward a culture of giving freely what one has received rather than consuming resources on one’s own lusts, and specifically such giving as may be done as freely through the congregational coffers as through giving directly to the need because the focus of the leadership is the same as that of the individual giver: love a and compassion toward others.

In the organization of this church exist pastors, teachers, elders and those whose giftings involve evangelism, administration, giving, teaching, prophecy and helps. All are encouraged to use their gifts as the Holy Spirit directs, whether within the congregated body or in individual daily walking. The focus is on body ministry with oversight by leaders rather than on leadership ministry with no interaction by the body.

Because of body ministry, people do not so much “attend” church as “be” the church. If body ministry is not allowed to occur, it is because leaders feel they must maintain control, which means they have not done the job of training people, but have, instead, spoon-fed them, to maintain charismatic individual ministry.

Sub-ministries do indeed exist, but with the primary oversight of the Holy Spirit and without lofty titles and inducements to serve that necessarily rely on salaries so much as liberal provision by the congregation.

The latter model may seem to some to be too far from present realities to be attainable, and so they do not set it in their sights. However, it was far from realities that existed under the Mosaic law, and yet the Holy Spirit was enabled to accomplish it among the first church because of willing and obedient hearts.

Will people accustomed to the first model resist the second model? Certainly. Will numbers drop? Probably. Will buildings have to be sold! Possibly. But one has to ask, Is it more important to build fewer people even though it requires great love, patience and trust through the Holy Spirit, or to build large crowds that require large amounts of money to perpetuate facilities?

Jesus focused on building a few people who, each, would, in turn, build more.

The Hardest Job in the Church

What’s the HARDEST job in the church?

Is it being a pastor? (I have often thought so.)

Is it working in the nursery? (At times, I was sure this was the hardest.)

Maybe it’s leading worship? (Is it possible to really lead more than a small percentage of congregants in genuine worship at any given time?)

The truth is, we ALL have the hardest  job in the church, because the job is not a position or title. It is a condition of heart.

It is: to love God with all the heart, all the mind, all the soul and all the strength – the greatest commandment and the very heart of God’s will for every follower of Jesus. And that doesn’t mean just any love, but agape love, defined in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians.

Agape is the job description for every position or title in the church, regardless of how exalted or how low.

What about love makes it the hardest job in the church?

Your FLESH. Your old man, the carnal mind, the selfish life.

Agape love is impossible for the flesh. (Yes, it sounds unspiritual to call love a “job” until you consider the impossibility of living it without God’s direct involvement.)

That’s why Jesus said, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.

To follow Jesus means, first and foremost, following Him in character and condition of heart.

His incarnate character and condition of heart were shaped by fervent agape love.

Regardless of position or title, you will be an abject failure if you do not master the job to love God fervently.

In and of ourselves, you and I might sound good and look good, might appear to do our churchly tasks with excellence and according to the ostensible job description. But without agape love, you and I are nothing.

No matter where you serve – everything is secondary to the love of God. Why? Because if you love Him fervently, you will move to increase your faith, you will hunger for His word, you will share the gospel; that kind of love will motivate you to humble yourself and serve.

Agape is JOB ONE in the economy of God.

When you do master that love, your greatest desire will be to please Him.

You will love Jesus so much that the love you have for your family will, at times, look like hate. The love you have for your own life will look like hate. (Luke 14:26)

You will deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. You will be willing to forsake all for His sake. And as Jesus said, if you love Him you will obey Him.

If you don’t love Him that way yet, begin now. Your service in the church congregation is great training for loving Jesus in the person of those who come through the doors. (Training, because most people coming in, though they may be ogres, are on their best behavior for their brief visit. The real test of love comes Monday through Saturday.)

Loving God is the hardest job in the church (within the walls of a building or outside them) but once you deny yourself, fully crucify your flesh and renew your mind, it can make any task the easiest job in the church.

Don’t vie for a church position or title. Vie for the agape of God.

Pure Lust

Pure lust.

It sounds like an oxymoron, but it is not. At least not in this case.

The word, lust, has been backed into a corner and given meaning that is only a narrow slice of its real definition. It has been typecast as a raunchy, vulgar word reflecting the baseness of humanity’s craving for sexual pleasure. But in reality, it can reflect the polar opposite: i.e., the overwhelming desire for the presence and life of God in our hearts.

Christians ought to understand the full spectrum of its meaning: the purest, the raunchiest, and all that is in between, because when we think of the word with regard to the world and man’s misguided dependence on it as having the capacity to make life worth living, we may begin to see how misplaced our lusts are.

John said, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 John 2:16) In that statement, he revealed the stark choice mankind faces.

Will we lust for the things of God or will we lust for the things of the world? Will we give ourselves to the true riches of God, which last forever, or will we give ourselves to the temporal riches of the world, which never truly satisfy?

We might say, “Oh, I have given myself to God,” without taking into account our seemingly insignificant life-quests for higher social position, greater wealth, the addiction to entertainment, the lust for sights and experiences to fill voids, the hunger for exotic and palate-pleasing foods, the extravagant plans for leisure and self indulgence, on and on.

So, if we could place a percentage on the time and attention we give to every portion of our lives, knowing that the dichotomy is either for God or the world, with nothing in between, what would be the percentage dedicated to God and His pleasures and purposes versus the percentage dedicated to the world and its pleasures and purposes?

Do we understand that God purchased one hundred percent of each true believer in order to take us out of the world into the kingdom of God, and that He has a right to the entirety of our lives, unless we have not agreed to that bargain? Do we understand that even a little flirtation with the world is unfaithfulness to Him?

The Spirit of God directs us: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

We can only give God what He rightly deserves and owns if we lust after His life and presence so fully that there is no room for the lusts of this world.

Indispensable Obedience

Genuine faith presumes obedience. Let me say that clearly: if your faith is true Bible faith, you will practice obedience to God’s will as expressed in His word.

Should that come as a shock to anyone? Not if he or she reads the Bible.

Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” James said, “Show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works.” Paul said that the purpose of his apostleship was “for obedience to the faith among all nations.” Romans 1:5

Obedience to the will of God is Job One for professing Christians. If we do not do God’s will, how can we call ourselves Christians? We cannot.

So, is there anything more important in this life than doing the will of God? Absolutely nothing!

The first question you and I need to ask of the Lord is, What is Your will for me? Now, if we read the Bible, we know that His general will for every follower of Christ is to love Him with every fiber of our being and, from the overflow of that love, to love our neighbors to the same degree as we love ourselves. And that is no ordinary love, but agape love, as defined in 1 Corinthians thirteen.

Once you do that you will have no problem discovering the specific will of God for your life, meaning, how He wants you to express His general will in service to Him.

What? Did you not know that you are to serve Him?

Neither faith nor agape love is to be expressed in words alone, that is, without corresponding action. If faith or love exists without active expression, it is useless, counterfeit.

Consider that Jesus gave up His powers and privileges of deity to inhabit a human body, living solely by the power and reality of the great Holy Spirit of God in order to fulfill His Father’s assignment. The reason? He loved His Father with all His Being. And through that love, He loved His neighbor as Himself. Thus, the general will of God was expressed specifically in the mission His Father assigned to Him.

Your specific assignment from God will be somewhat different. Instead of being literally nailed to a cross, your assignment includes  becoming “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” As you follow Jesus in serving God you are to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Which, in everything you do, will be motivated by agape love.

Are you performing the general will of God, in love for Him that makes Him and His specific will the absolute priority of your life?

If not, then do not be surprised at the Judgment if He says to you, Depart from Me; I never knew you. Departing from His presence for eternity will be the natural and logical consequence of having departed from Him in heart during your temporal life.

That need not occur, however. Give yourself fully to serving God in obedience to His Holy Spirit and His word. That is your reasonable service.

Indispensable Obedience

Genuine faith presumes obedience to Jesus Christ. Let me say that clearly: if your faith is true Bible faith, you will be obedient to God’s will.

Should that come as a shock to anyone? Not if he or she reads the Bible.

Jesus asked men around Him, “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” James said, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Paul said that the purpose of his apostleship was “for obedience to the faith among all nations.” Romans 1:5

Obedience to the will of God is Job One for professing Christians. If we do not do God’s will, how can we call ourselves Christians? We cannot.

Neither faith nor agape love exists in words alone, that is, without action. If faith or love exist without active expression, they are useless, counterfeit.

So, is there anything more important in this life than doing the will of God? Absolutely nothing! Jesus declared, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

The first question you and I need to ask of the Lord is, What is Your will for me? Now, if we read the Bible, we know that His general will is the same for every follower of Christ. That is, to love Him with every fiber of our being and, from the overflow of that love, to love our neighbors to the same degree as we love ourselves.

Once you do that you will have no problem discovering the specific will of God for your life, meaning, how His general will is to be expressed in your service to Him.

What? Did you not know that you are to serve Him?

Consider that Jesus gave up His powers of deity to inhabit a human body, living solely by the power and reality of the great Holy Spirit of God. The reason? He loved His Father with all His Being. And through that love, He loved His neighbors as Himself. Thus, the general will of God was expressed specifically in the mission His Father assigned to Him.

Your specific assignment from God will be somewhat different, in that, rather than being actually nailed to a cross, you are to be “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” And if you are a follower of Jesus – which the title “Christian” presumes – you will follow Him in proving “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Are you performing the general will of God, in love for Him that makes Him and His specific will the absolute priority of your life?

If not, then don’t be surprised at the Judgment if He says to you, “Depart from Me; I never knew you.” Departing from His presence for eternity will be the natural and logical consequence of having departed from Him in heart during your temporal life.

However, it need not come to that.

Make obedience to Jesus’s love commandments the priority of your life. Ask God to fill you with agape love that manifests in loving acts toward your neighbors, serving for His glory and not your own.

That produces obedience that is indispensable to faith and love.

Our Primary Focus: Big or Strong Church?

The size of the congregation has nothing to do with the spiritual soundness of its members. A congregation of two might be better grounded in the word of God and in the leading of the Holy Spirit than a congregation of two thousand.

The question is, Why is it so important for many pastors to have a large congregation? Could that desire be a symptom of measuring up to men rather than pleasing God?

As to church growth, big ought to be secondary to strong.

The focus of Jesus seems to have been to thoroughly train a few, who then would each thoroughly train a few at a time to also thoroughly train a few at a time, and so to grow the body of Christ exponentially outside the walls of a temple. Such a plan would not prevent large congregations, but it might prevent large congregations whose main intent is to congregate.

That plan would also not tend to elevate individual pastors to the status of pope-like leaders, but focus on body ministry.

Strong will necessarily produce big, but big will not necessarily produce strong.