the weblog of Alan Knox

Church: Impossible

Posted by on Jul 8, 2011 in discipleship | 10 comments

Church: Impossible

When I look at the church today, as we typically see it in the west (especially in the USA), and then when I look at the church as it is described in the New Testament, one word comes to mind: impossible.

Can you imagine the modern church relying on the service of the entire body for teaching, serving, proclaiming the gospel, caring for the sick, etc. instead of relying primarily on the work of trained leaders? That seems impossible to me.

What about the leaders themselves? Can you imagine the church recognizing leaders as those from among the church (people they actually know and have lived with) – people who are already serving and teaching and living as an example of a disciple of Jesus Christ? Can you image the church no longer asking for resumes and hiring strangers to be their leaders? Again, it seems impossible.

Then, there’s mission… Can you imagine churches sending out people from among their ranks – yes, normal, everyday believers – and helping them travel from place to place so they can proclaim the gospel and build up believers that they meet? Can you imagine them doing this without relying on trained and salaried professional missionaries? Impossible.

Then, when the church meets… Can you imagine the whole church coming together to build up one another through the gifts and through their own study? Can you imagine anyone being allowed to speak or serve as God directs them? Can you imagine a church meeting where the leaders are not emphasized or don’t take the prominent position? Is that impossible?

Like I said, when I compare the church today to the church described in the New Testament, I tend to think, “Impossible.”

I mean, we know how to plan meetings. We know how to train and pay professional ministers and missionaries. We know how to rely on our education and methods and formulas. We know how to allow our leaders to do the work.

But, to actually rely on God to work through each part of the body the way the Scriptures describe… impossible.

Yep, impossible. Unless, of course, God desires to work that way…


10 Comments

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  1. 7-8-2011

    Great post, Alan! I think it starts with the senior pastor casting a vision that is big and inclusive, a vision that is going to have to reach down into the seats and pews if it is going to work. The pastor and his team then have to create a culture/atmosphere of serving/leading among the next level of leaders. I think the pastor and his team create the DNA of the kind of church that they want to see, good or bad.

    I think it is easier in some ways, starting fresh with a new church plant to create a “Church Possible” than it is to change an established traditional church. Of course, God can do anything. The reality is, however, we can’t force change down people’s throats.

    Thoughts?

  2. 7-8-2011

    Perhaps when the days come when the church is operating from a position of weakness rather than strength, we will see the church operating as it once did.

  3. 7-8-2011

    Alan – When us crazy humans, thinking we know it all, try to find the perfect “system” to work for church, we just end up failing.

    Take the human aspect out of it and yes it is not impossible.

    Swanny

  4. 7-8-2011

    David,

    Thanks. I think many times the best thing leaders can do is get out of the way and let God work through the whole church. I think God is perfectly capable of communicating his vision to his people.

    Arthur,

    I loved your follow-up post. Weakness? We don’t want to go there… but that’s often where we find God using us.

    Swanny,

    But, if we take the human aspect out of the way, then who will be in control of what happens? :)

    -Alan

  5. 7-8-2011

    No, I cannot imagine based upon what I’ve seen. I do agree with Arthur that for God to be strong in us, we must become weak. For Christ to become more, we must become less. We need to recognize and live (and do church) from the basis of our new identity “in Christ”. We are crucified with Christ and we no longer live. Christ lives His life in us. For most of us, the God WHO IS not the God we think we have figured out. We have Him caged by our misunderstandings, theologies, doctrines, traditions, philosophies. There is hope, but it will only come by the way of humility. I think some wisdom from the past applies here.

    Before there can be fullness there must be emptiness. Before God can fill us with Himself we must first be emptied of ourselves.There must come a total of self-devaluation, a death to all things with/o & withn us, or there can never be real filling of the Holy Spirit. -A.W. Tozer

    God’s Word teaches us that God does not expect a man (or church) 2 live as he ought 4 one minute unless the Holy Spirit is in him 2 enable him to do it. A new life from above, the life of Christ, must take the place of the self-life; then alone can we be conquerors. -Andrew Murray

  6. 7-8-2011

    Arthur makes a good point. I’ve heard people speculate “The day could come when we’re forbidden to gather in our church buildings.” I think it’s more likely we would be forced to meet only there because it’s easier to “control” people when you know where they are and what they’re up to. But suppose the church does find itself in a “position of weakness” where all we have is God and each other (which wouldn’t really be a position of weakness at all IMO) …what is “the church” doing right now to equip EACH ONE to function that way?

  7. 7-8-2011

    In reality, living as a disciple of Christ is impossible – without the power of the Spirit. It seems to me that our problems come when we try to live, both individually and corporately, as if we could do it all ourselves.

  8. 7-8-2011

    Alan,

    Modern Christianism? Can I imagine? NO! And it will do whatever is necessary to keep things that way.

    “Can you imagine the church recognizing leaders as those from among the church (people they actually know and have lived with) – people who are already serving and teaching and living as an example of a disciple of Jesus Christ?”

    It did happen with myself, about 40 years ago. We had a pastor with whom I shared common thinking about the church and its function, who encouraged the church to recognize that I had been serving and teaching for a number of years, not only locally, but filling in for other churches in the area,

    We lived 30 miles from the church, and had up to thirty people meeting in our very large lounge room. Denominational tradition ruled. Further training “was essential”. After all, without training I may move a congregation away from the traditional norms.

    Ten years on, that pastor, who now lived 400 miles away from us, and myself,in the very same year, were falsely accused of the very same serious failure. Coincidence? I’ve never believed so. I resigned, my pastor friend, we learned a few weeks later, hurt so badly, he committed suicide.

  9. 7-9-2011

    Ah, Alan, you so often stir my heart.

    I think David is on the right track, this sort of change has to start with leadership. But we define, recognize and practice leadership far differently than God. Our thinking can be encumbered by the unfortunate worldly power model the church chose over Christ our Head so long ago.

    Is this hope of attaining impossible change limited to senior pastors? Of all to whom this path is available, it is least available to these men and women (and I have great respect for their sacrifices and their desires to serve God–at least these were sufficiently ill at ease sitting in a pew that they did whatever they had to do to get out of the pew). But is the pulpit God’s path out of the pew?

    Leaders are slaves to Christ and servants to others, having no authority over others. Their ability to influence others is based on their sacrificial lifestyle of love and the experience others have of seeing them and interacting with them and their influence extends only so far as others begin to voluntarily follow their example, becoming themselves slaves to Christ and servants to others.

    In fact, if one presently is in a position of power over others based on position, that power will need to be relinquished before they have a chance at becoming an effective leader, where they learn to give up all to follow Him, and others see and follow that example.

    What will others say when you let go of that hard won power of position and pedigree, which we attained with intentions to use in serving God and which we believed was necessary in doing so? That isn’t the question. “What will He say?” is the beginning and ending of these concerns. We can waste our lives by seeking and clinging to a “platform” from which we can influence, direct, vision-cast, control, implant DNA, etc over others. God’s platform is a broken and bowed servant, God’s foolishness confounding the wisdom of this world, overcoming evil with good. We set out to serve Him. Let us not hesitate now.

    And to those of us sitting uncomfortably in the pew, or worse, standing proudly apart from the “traditional” or “institutional” church–as though we could wash our hands of our sordid estate and leave our brethren to die in the wasteland–are the knees in our pants worn out? Are our eyes blurred with tears? Or, are we smug and arrogant when we should be beseeching God and getting on with becoming His glad slaves? Where, this past week, did you give up your own way and bow to Him? Where, yesterday, did you choose to sacrifice when you were already tired? Right now, today, He is seeking to teach us when we walk in the way, when we sit and when we arise. Listen for Him and you will hear Him. Obey Him and you will know Him and become like Him. That is how the impossible will be accomplished, little by little in each and any saint who bows their knee.

    I have nothing to say to those who are happy in the church as it presently is practiced. I only hope God will grant them to hear His voice again.

    Listen… do you hear His voice? Do you feel His nudgings? Have you not experienced Him opening your eyes in the Word and through everyday experience? God is alive. Our joy! Our Lover! Mary well said, “Do whatever He says.” It is an overwhelming privilege to bow before Him. At last becoming free from serving ourselves and our idols to serve Him more fully each day. Weightless.

    He knows what to do next.

    Our power comes not from position and not from pouting but from believing in an active, powerful, merciful God who is trusted with teaching us obedience and shaping us in holiness–and in knowing God can be trusted to do so in others. God is always active in our lives in this way, but too often, we are deaf to His hand at work in and on us. Seeing others submitted under Him and attentively walking with Him awakens us to God.

    THIS power is open to all today. What better weapon will we bear?

    We not only do not need degrees, confirmations, ordinations, or acknowledgements so that we can gain a hearing and influence change, these things are themselves barriers to the change we seek to foster. Instead, let us now simply get on our knees each moment, in season and out of season, and begin to entrust ourselves to God day by day, one revelation of our faulty trust in self and our penchant for self will and self glory-seeking to the next, as we learn to bow ourselves before Him and rise up little by little in holiness and obedience and submission and adoration of our savior and Lord. As we do this, God will show us how to serve Him and others, unrecognized by all but those who are likewise hungering and thirsting after God, and yet shining light about who God is and How He acts and loves.

    This revolution is always an open door and simple enough, but the cost is everything we are or hoped to be, to become instead His glad slaves and the servants to those from whom we once sought admiration and respect.

  10. 7-9-2011

    Wow… you’ve all made some great comments here. I still believe that the comments and interaction are the most important part of this blog. I’m just glad that I can be part of it.

    -Alan