The Holy Spirit continues to minister fresh revelation to our hearts as we seek Jesus. There is an ache and a hunger inside of us for a newer and simpler expression of Christ in our lives. In many ways, as some of you have also done, from the time of our new birth, we’ve had to leave the many traditions, structures, and systems of men to discover and re-discover Jesus. For us, the profession of ministry no longer has the appeal it had years ago, having been replaced by a purer desire to simply build His kingdom in a Christ-centered way in the context of God-ordained relationships, being rooted and established in Him alone.
Our heavenly Father is preparing His family and His army for that which is to come on the earth. “…As you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). In light of the coming gross darkness that is increasing on the earth, we believe the glory of the Lord will also increase that much more. In the days ahead the true Church will look vastly different than it does right now. We are longing for His glory and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21) and praying earnestly: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
My wife and I feel like we’ve been going through a process of metamorphism of late. You could say that our personal constitution is being radically altered. We’re asking heart-searching questions that we were once afraid to ask. These questions may disturb some who have grown comfortable in their controlled habitats and predictable environs, but they beckon to be asked and answered.
This current journey began with one question and then many that subsequently followed. How did 3,000 new converts on the day of Pentecost move from their conversion to continuing steadfastly in their new found faith – from Acts 2:41 to Acts 2:42? Without buildings, without budgets, without paid staff, and without a head pastor how was the early Church able to function and disciple a harvest of 3,000 new people? Not 30; not even 300; but 3,000! Then two chapters later another 5,000 men were added to their company (Acts 4:4).
What if churches today lost their buildings could they still function as churches? If there was war, or a great crisis, or severe persecution against the Church, as there could very well be in the very near future of America, could they still function as a church? Would churches be able to continue meeting as a spiritual family and a body in fellowship, teaching, worship, and prayer and taking care of one another without a large facility? Would the believers throughout a city or region stay connected? Are our connections based on a physical facility or simply on relationship with the Lord and with each other? Or would the loss of a building mean the essential loss of the church?
What if a large church today lost its budget, or paid staff, or senior pastor? Would there still be shepherds to care for the sheep? Or would there be hirelings looking for professional “ministry” elsewhere?
What if a church lost its denominational affiliation, would it cease to exist? Or if a non-denominational church dropped their seeker-friendly philosophy or in-vogue style of doing church, or their various programs that attract people, would they still exist as a church? How much of our dependence have we placed on these things? And perhaps the biggest question upon which hangs all other questions is this: Without any of these things could the Church still have its identity in Jesus alone?
These are not easy questions, but here is the bottom line. How much of Christ do we have in our lives, our relationships, our churches, and our ministries? After all has been said and done, after we strip away all the props that are holding up these modern churches, how much of the Church’s identity and character is found in Jesus alone?
My point is not to be critical of any existing church or ministry. I have no axe to grind or bone to pick. There are many good churches doing wonderful things for the Lord and we are grateful for that. We should never criticize another man’s labors, but instead rejoice wherever Christ is proclaimed.
On the other hand, churches should be living extensions of Christ Himself, but too often they are extensions of pop culture, denominational traditions, or the leader’s personality. In these cases, they depend more on their own ability to keep the church going. In doing so, we are declaring that helpful things such as buildings and budgets become more necessary and essential to function than the workings of the Spirit of God and His people.
I am not saying that all the amenities aforementioned here are not helpful and useful, but if a church cannot exist without them then I would say that you have an inflexible wineskin that cannot contain the likely probability of an expanding national crisis and the anticipated outpouring of the Spirit’s richly condensed wine.
Let’s be honest. Many of our churches today have either become museums or monuments that celebrate the past, or Fortune 500-styled corporations that can too easily exert themselves without the power of the Holy Spirit. Peripheral factors have become so deeply engrained in our methodology that we cannot fathom doing church without them. We cannot even imagine Jesus doing His work without these amenities. It makes me wonder whether many of our churches today are really Christ-centered or consumer driven? I’m afraid we’ve substituted catering to people’s felt needs over catering to God’s demands. Keeping people happy has become essential, but the demands of Jesus have become optional.
Personally I believe we have begun to see a revolution of sorts in the Church. God is moving in an unprecedented way across the globe, but it is happening below the radar of the traditional church in a very quiet manner. Out of a deep spiritual dissatisfaction and a great hunger for God true followers of Jesus are leaving traditional church systems at an alarming rate across denominational and non-denominational lines. Many are not happy with their spiritual lives. The problem is not really their church, but it’s just “church” in general.
Even though we’ve been in ministry for many years we’ve sensed the same thing. There is a larger process of work God is doing in His people. He is bringing focus to Jesus and His kingdom. From all walks of life and church spectrums people are searching for something more, but most of them don’t quite know what that is.
Recently in prayer the Lord showed Carolyn and I two church worlds – a top and an underground one. The top had many limitations governed by the systems and structures of men, but the underground church was full of people hungry for the presence of God, relationship with one another, and training and discipleship in the ways of the Spirit.
In addition to some direction and instructions the Lord gave us, He also issued a strong warning not to be critical of other men’s labors, especially those within the traditional system, but to judge the fruit only.
Be much in prayer, beloved for everything that can be shaken will be shaken in this hour. May the Lord grant us much grace and wisdom for the times.