Last week, I wrote two posts concerning the start of a church. The first post was called “Hypothetical Situation… what do you think?” The second post was called “More about the hypothetical situation“. In this hypothetical situation, I projected Paul’s first visit to Thessalonika into modern times.
When Paul first went to Thessalonika (Acts 17:1-10), he was only able to spend a few weeks in the city. Several Jews and later some of the Greeks became interested in the Gospel and began following Christ. Paul makes it clear in 1 Thessalonians that the birth of this church was miraculous, because the church was not birthed because of his teaching, but because of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, the Spirit used Paul and Silas and others, but Paul recognized that the birth and health of the church did not depend upon him, but depended completely on the work of the Spirit.
I’m concerned that we have replaced dependence on the work of God through the Holy Spirit with training, planning, marketing, leadership skills, etc. I’m concerned that some leaders (some, not all) have built something that depends on them and their team, such that, if they left, what they built would crumble.
Now, I want to say something that most people reading this blog will agree with. However, please think carefully about what I’m about to say, and compare it to how the church functions today.
Many groups of belivers today are more dependent upon leadership, training, programs, buildings, finances, etc. than they are dependent upon the work of God through the Holy Spirit. Many believers today are more dependent on good business practices than they are dependent on the Holy Spirit.
If removing leadership or programs or buildings or finances or anything else would cause believers to stop meeting together, stop disciplining one another, stop growing spiritually, then that group of believers is not depending on God.
Yes, I know this is a strong statement, and perhaps many will disagree with me. However, at least one author agrees:
We in the churches seem unable to rise above the fiscal philosophy which rules the business world; so we introduce into our church finances the psychology of the great secular institutions so familiar to us all and judge a church by its financial report much as we judge a bank or a department store.
A look into history will quickly convince any interested person that the true church has almost always suffered more from prosperity than from poverty. Her times of greatest spiritual power have usually coincided with her periods of indigence and rejection; with wealth came weakness and backsliding. If this cannot be explained, neither apparently can it be escaped.
The point I am trying to make here is that while money has a proper place in the total life of the church militant, the tendency is to attach to it an importance that is far greater than is biblically sound or morally right. The average church has so established itself organizationally and financially that God is simply not necessary to it. So entrenched is its authority and so stable are the religious habits of its members that God could withdraw Himself completely from it and it could run on for years on its own momentum. (A.W. Tozer, Tozer on Christian Leadership)
I think that we are currently witnessing the result of the church (for the most part) being run on its own momentum for too long. The momentum (which is not powered by the Holy Spirit) is running down.
Now, we must ask ourselves… are we willing to forego all of the stuff that we think is necessary and rely completely on God and only on God?
Whether we are Baptist or Presbyterians, Institutional or Simple, Emerging or Lutheran, Missional or Attractional, we must all ask ourselves this question: Are we truly relying on God for our health and existence or are we relying on other people or things? And, we can’t just ask ourselves this question once. We must continually examine the way we live, the way we meet, the way we evangelize, the way we serve, the way we lead, everything.
For those of us who are leaders, this is an especially important question. If the church would stop functioning or growing if we disappeared, then there’s a big problem. We are – even if unintentional – building something that depends on us, not on the Holy Spirit.
The church is not the church unless we are following and relying completely on the Holy Spirit. We may birth something on our own, and we may keep something running on our own. But, only the Spirit can birth and grow a church.