“Could I be wrong about the church?” I started asking myself this question a lot last year.
Here’s some context. Being a pastors kid (pk) comes with a lot of baggage that you wouldn’t expect. Every PK has a different experience, but I think one thing that’s true for all PK’s is that, because of our proximity to the church, we can easily become apathetic about the things of God. Our familiarity with the things of God breeds complacency toward the things of God. I had all the behind-the-scenes experience and insider info. I was acquainted with the good, the bad & the ugly of ministry. I was surrounded by church stuff, and it quickly got old. Somewhere in the midst of being surrounded by a move of God, I lost perspective on why the church matters.
At some point in my young adulthood, I decided that there was something wrong about the church. Church was boring and it needed young people like me to step up and make it interesting. So I followed all the young church leaders who were doing all these exciting new things, and I literally copied and pasted everything they were doing into my own playbook.
I fell in love with doing ministry “differently.” I became obsessed with being “relevant” or “authentic” or whatever new buzz word was floating around. I paid big money for trainings and conferences so I could learn how to gather a crowd. As a result, I know how to get people in a room. I’m such a savvy church leader, that I’ve even figured out how to get people to “raise a hand” at the end of my sermons.
It’s really not that hard, here’s the key.
Make it all about them. Make everything about the individual you are trying to reach. In the parking lot, they are the VIP. In the lobby of the church, they are your honored guest. Give them free coffee, doughnuts, and other special gifts for honored guests. Make the musical worship time all about how hard their life is and how God is here to help them escape from it for a few minutes. The welcome, the music, the sermon, the prayer time, it’s all about them. The whole church experience is designed with them in mind.
They are special, they are unique, they are the world changers. No matter what Bible story I’m preaching from, I make them the main character of the story. For 35 minutes every week they can escape their reality and for just a moment they can be Abraham on a journey of faith, they get to be Noah who is credited as righteous by God, they get to be Joseph as he comes up from the pit and is elevated to a high position, they get to be David who kills Goliath. Basically, every old testament story that was intended to foreshadow the coming of the messiah is cleverly couched in order to inspire and motivate those listening to step into their own “God-given potential.” I’ll speak plainly about life’s tough circumstances, talk about the obstacles everyone faces, use illustrations and tell stories that invoke their most overlooked emotions. I’d leverage every Bible story as a way to highlight the potential strengths of the people in attendance. By the end of our time together I’ll have them laughing, get them crying, and then “give ‘em a next step.” This makes everything really digestible. As they are leaving, we make sure they get the unique privilege of “meeting the pastor” and get some tailored thank you cards and emails the following week called “follow up.”
This model of church is popular. It’s how we grow our own little kingdoms and feel good about the ministry work we do. But sometimes I just have to stop and wonder, have I cut Jesus out of it? I mean, I know that people hear Jesus name and all, but really, when you look at it, the whole experience of Sunday morning church is centered around the people in the seats. Is this what’s wrong about the church? Maybe.
We assimilate them into the church by telling them how gifted they are and how much potential they have to make a difference in the world. We basically get the freaking marching band to play for them every time they do something outside of their comfort zone and use some mysterious spiritual language along the way so they feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.
The more I honestly evaluate my motives, AND the motives that were handed down to me at all the big conferences and church growth seminars, the more I want to puke.
I was wrong about the church.
I’ve been building the church on the wrong rocks.
The church is not built upon people recognizing their own potential, doing their own “inner work” or dreaming “God sized dreams.” The church is not built on emotion, hype, clever marketing, or cool pastors. It’s not built on anything “different” than what Jesus built it upon.
What did Jesus say he would build the church upon?
Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.
The church is solely built on the recognition & revelation of JESUS as the Messiah. Additionally, it is established through the “teachings” of the apostles whose main message is centered around Jesus Christ’s life, death, burial, resurrection & ascension aka “the gospel.”
All the other things are minuscule compared to the MAGNITUDE of this truth. I have so much regret and a lot of emotions tied to how I’ve led in the past. This blog doesn’t even tap into some of the humiliation and embarrassment I have when I remember things I’ve said and ways I’ve led previously. And by the way, this isn’t discounting ANYTHING God has done in the lives of anyone through my ministry. It simply proves that God builds his church IN SPITE of me. And that’s another story for another day. But for today, I am deeply wrestling with my identity as a church leader, and questioning the motives and techniques that I, by default, have used to build his church.
This is why you’re seeing me transform from a preacher who used to preach man centered sermons with titles like “you can do it” “you’ve got what it takes” or “how to be a better _____” to sermons that are more Christ centered, gospel centered sermons. This is why I’m becoming more bold in my questioning of other leaders and their motives. It’s why I’m starting to deeply desire a church that is actually formed by Christ, a people who desire nothing fancier than the sum and substance of Jesus. While I think the way we do church is interesting, I’m saddened to see an entire generation of people who carry the label of Christian but are not actually being made into the image and likeness of Jesus. Our minimal prayer lives and our lack of true spiritual discipline reveals the reality that we’ve build the church upon another rock.
And I hope this year marks a renewed sense of urgency for the people of God to abandon our old self centered ideologies in hot pursuit of the one true messiah. I hope we can all realize how small our musical preferences, church styles, denominational allegiances and network affiliations truly are. My prayer is that anyone reading this, before disagreeing and justifying, before repositioning and analyzing, before critiquing and shaming, would step back and ask themself the hard questions about their own Spiritual Formation. If your faith doesn’t stretch much beyond Sunday morning, then it’s likely you are part of a church that is built on a Sunday morning rock. If the end goal of your church is to grow Sunday attendance, then that will also be the end of your spiritual growth.
In conclusion, I need to be reestablished on the rock, the revelation of Jesus Christ as Messiah. You probably need a similar revelation. And we will never be the prevailing, unstoppable church God intends until we get this revelation. There is something wrong about the church that is built on little rocks, but there is nothing wrong about the church that is built on this big rock…the rock of the revelation of Jesus as Messiah.