Two Dangers To The Church
The church is meant to thrive.
It should be filled with life and vitality and animation and Spirit.
Considering the Corinthian church, they had all sorts of problems and issues, but they were a church where the Holy Spirit had free reign to move in power.
They would regularly come together as family, everybody had a part to play, they were ready to operate in the Spirit, and they were prepared to participate.
They functioned in a way that allowed the Holy Spirit to lead them efficiently and effectively.
For the people of God to become this kind of church, we have to confront two dangers head on:
2015, Portland, Oregon.
We eat, sleep, and breathe consumerism.
In the United States, our entire economy is built upon consumerism. Following the attacks on Sept. 11, what did the President tell the American people? Go shopping. And because consumerism is the air we breathe, we are blind to how heinous it is.
We bring this heart posture over into the church.
Generally speaking, most people don’t attend a church gathering to give, but to receive.
Think of the Christianize phrase, “I’m fed here.” Why do you go to church there? I’m fed. Why did you leave the last church? I wasn’t fed.
I still can’t exactly figure out what people even mean by that. It’s clearly a metaphor. It has something to do with the teaching. I think it just means they do or do not like it.
The gatherings are designed to equip the people of God, but I don’t want you to go away from church “fed,” I want you to go away hungry! And thirsty! For more. To live the kingdom of God in community in your neighborhood.
This is why we do Missional Communities, because they are a full frontal assault on the gods of American culture.
Community takes on individualism.
Mission takes on consumerism.
Give your life away for the good for your neighborhood. Doing that in community is the antithesis of American culture. It’s the way of Jesus.
Think of the language of “church services.” We call the weekends “gatherings,” not “services,” and that’s on purpose. Because this isn’t a store where you come every Sunday for religious goods and services.
The Church is a people. It’s a family that you gather with.
Don’t think of church as the spiritual equivalent of a donut shop. Some people like Pip’s Donuts in Northeast, while others are into Voodoo Donuts. Personally, I prefer Blue Star Donuts, so I go there. That’s fine, but don’t think of church that way.
Think of the Church as your family. Hopefully you like it, maybe you don’t! Either way, you’re in.
For so many of us, this just isn’t how we think about church. And because of that, church often has very little effect on us.
Mark Sayers, who is a writer and pastor in Melbourne, Australia, has this to say in his book The Vertical Self:
“The elephant in the living room of contemporary Christianity is people’s ability to simply sit in church, to consume the experience the way one would a great sporting event, a thrilling movie, or an exciting theme park ride, and then to dispose of it, totally unchanged at the soul level, as they leave the sanctuary. Sure, they might feel challenged, encouraged, or even moved, but the horizontal self simply ‘feels’ the experience and moves on.”
He goes on to write that in a consumer based church, this is what happens:
Worship service becomes a pseudo media event.
Church building becomes a theme park.
Christian leader becomes a Christian celebrity.
Teaching becomes entertainment.
Salvation becomes self-help.
Discipleship becomes lifestyle enhancement.
Soul becomes self.
Church becomes brand.
Gospel becomes slogan.
And so if we want to become the kind of church Jesus had in mind, consumerism has to die. There has to be a tectonic shift in how we approach church.
The church must become collaborative and participatory and interactive.
Come ready to give, not just receive.
2. The American Obsession with Order
A problem with the church in Corinth was too much spontaneity, and not enough order. It was wild and spasmodic and out of control.
We have the exact opposite problem; too much order, and not enough spontaneity.
We have planned each church gathering down to the last detail.
It’s borderline formulaic:
Four Minute Greeting (awkward).
We script it. I literally have an app on my phone calling “Planning Center.” It has the worship set, and the announcements, and the times of everything happening. And that’s not all bad. There are hundreds of people here so an open mic would be a disaster.
I’m sure Paul would have very different ideas for a church of 700 in Portland, Oregon than a church of 70 in an open air Mediterranean courtyard.
But still, I think we can agree, we take order to the extreme.
And I like it that way! I’m a (recovering) perfectionist, OCD, control freak. I hate weird church stuff. I prefer the intellectual over the emotional. But at the same time, I crave an experience with the Spirit of God. And the Spirit isn’t controllable. When he comes, he’s like the wind. He can be messy and chaotic and out of left field.
I’m not saying that we want things to get weird or spooky or uncomfortable. One of the things we’re really passionate about as leadership is going after all the Holy Spirit stuff – prophecy and healing and the rest – in a down to earth, normal kind of way.
What I’m saying is that we want more of the Spirit of God.
Sermons and songs are not enough. We want the Spirit to come and erupt in our church. We want prophecy to become a normal, ordinary, everyday thing. We want to regularly see healing of the sick. We want to see people set free from the demonic. And above all, we want God’s presence.
So the Church must be more than willing to go off script.
We usually end the teaching now with listening prayer. Myself and the leaders circle up and do our best to follow the Spirit’s leading for worship.
We want the pneuma, the wind, the Spirit.
Consumerism and the obsession with order can quickly kill the church.
To move forward, we need to shift these ideas from theology to practice, and from practice to culture.
Allow generosity and the direction of the Spirit to become the new normal.
Adapted from the teaching “Loose Ends” by John Mark Comer.