We like to say it this way.
1. A service or event I attend
2. A denomination or organization I become a member of
3. A program I fit into and help build
Simple church, real church, is:
1. A way of life (extravagant lovers of God engaging the world 24/7 with love, power, and word)
2. A simple community (a spiritual family that gathers with full participation, led by the Holy Spirit)
3. Natural, organic multiplication (disciples influencing others to live as fully devoted disciples)
(This is a re-print of an article I wrote ten years ago entitled "Honest Look at Jesus.")
This is a blog about "church," so-to-speak, but maybe we miss the mark a bit if we don't keep putting the focus back on the One who precedes the church and everything else. The church is, no doubt, meant to be a much more radical movement than we have understood it to be. How much more important is it for us to see that Jesus, the head of the church, is a far more radical man/God than we can even begin to understand. He is the One we, His church, are designed to imitate. Perhaps if we get Jesus right, and our imitation of Him in keeping with who He is, we will naturally get church right.
Jesus is so... much... more than we can begin to define in a few words, or thoughts, or even a lifetime of both.
He is uncontainable, unpredictable, unorthodox, and unconventional. As soon as someone would try to put Him in a box, He would break the mold. If you thought He was meek, He would pick up a whip. If you thought He was kosher, He would start talking about other people eating his flesh. If you thought He was a paragon of mercy, He would pronounce woes and judgements.
But wait! If you asked Him to condemn a sinful woman, He proclaimed forgiveness and grace. If you told Him a man was a tax-collecting thief, he loved him all the more. If you nailed Him to a cross, He prayed for you.
He was (and is) radically and completely God... living above the expectations of others, the mores of his culture, and the rules of society. Tell Him that the Sabbath was for resting, and He would work. Tell Him not to touch lepers, and He would hold and heal them. Tell him not to socialize with Samaritans, and He would deliberately converse with a Samaritan woman.
He marched to His own drumbeat. He lived with a vision set only on kingdom. He walked out of a perspective that never placed value on temporal things. He was not of this world and every moment that He lived and word that He spoke portrayed this.
Do we really even know who He is, really? How honestly are we willing to look at Him knowing that our calling is to imitate Him and be like Him?
I'm just thinking that if we kept our focus really on Him, every church, house church, simple church, and mega-church would be absolutely, thoroughly, and completely transformed and turned upside down in more ways than we can imagine merely by the irresistible force of the life of Jesus pulsing through His imitators.
A disciple making movement coach recently gave me a list of “keys to sustaining movements.” I massaged that list to fit the African context where we work with leaders of such movements. Then I decided to massage the list again to fit those of you who are ‘organic catalyzers,’ i.e. catalyzers of organic/simple/missional churches and networks in western contexts. I trust it is helpful:
- Keep your focus. Our western culture offers so many distractions from Kingdom purposes.
- Let your commitment to reach the lost continue to grow. No time for contentment.
- Continue to depend on God rather than your tools. Prayer is the heartbeat of what you are doing. Lack of prayer will catch up.
- Keep spending time looking for and raising up other catalyzers. Those who are comfortable to sit and attend can take our attention away from looking for others who will go and catalyze.
- Be open to learn. You will hit barriers. You must learn, hear from God, and adapt to cross those barriers.
- Get up when you fall down. Admit when something is not working. Stay above the line of accountability and grow, adapt, and make adjustments when needed.
- Do not get distracted by negative people or persecutors. They are not worth time defending against.
- Model everyday what you want to see in your movement. Your life is what you replicate.
- Push for quality disciples as well as quantity. Maturity and depth matter long term. Don't sacrifice one OR the other.
- Keep your own joy of God alive.
My friend likes to say, “Too many Christians have their suitcases packed just waiting to be picked up and taken out.”
In other words, the ‘great event’ of life is a future escape from this world.
But Jesus’ message is the opposite. The ‘great event’ is already under way. His Kingdom is—right now—invading earth. He set this in motion and it is still in play today. And taking part in this heavenly invasion—His Kingdom come—is the greatest privilege and motivator life has to offer.
In chapter eight of ‘Joining Jesus On His Mission,’ Greg Finke does a masterful job describing the magnificence of what Jesus is currently up to on earth and what He is inviting us to participate in.
With the arrival of Jesus who is the king, the invisible kingdom of heaven is now coming into the created realm of earth… breaking in… taking root… taking over (Mark 3:27). The work of this kingdom is to reclaim and restore all created things (Revelation 21:5) but Jesus wants us to know that this “taking over” does not look like what the world would expect (Matthew 20:25)…
And what does he mean by it [the kingdom of God]? A working definition would be: The Kingdom of God is the redemptive presence and activity of God in human lives…
He put into play a plan to redeem and restore the created universe, and people particularly, to himself—or, as the New Testament would say it, to his kingdom. This plan of redemption and restoration is the mission of God…
From now on, heaven has come to earth. There is now overlap. Intersection. Invasion. The kingdom has arrived. The kingdom has come and is now on the loose in our very midst…
For what purpose? To begin what God had promised from the beginning: the reversal of what has become of the created world since its fall and ruin in Genesis 3.
This, then, is now what is in play. Right now! As Finke says, “Game on.”
No more promising or waiting… From now on, Jesus said, redemption is on the loose. The full restoration of all things in in motion. The Spirit of God is on the move in the created world and will not be turned back until all things are made new.
The point is that we are not sitting and waiting for God to bring about some eschatological event. We are joining Him right now in the greatest time in history as He is working powerfully, masterfully, and intentionally to bring about change on this earth that will bring about redemption and restoration in the lives of people who DESPERATELY need it. Today!
What a privilege to partner with Him in this season. What a joy. What an opportunity.
And, finally, the church is meant to be the expression of that Kingdom come. The church is not the Kingdom. It is simply our individual and collective best efforts to live it and express it. Thus we must continually reassess how we live, go, and gather to better align ourselves with who He is, with His intentions, with His kingdom mission, and with His presence. Church expressions that are simpler, more organic, more dynamic, everyone-participating, and always-going are characteristics that reflect, for me, key Kingdom earmarks.
From Simple/House Church Revolution book:
Know Whom You Are Called To
When someone enquired about visiting Mother Teresa to help with her work among the poor of India, she encouraged the person to find their own Calcutta. In other words, each of us must discover who it is that God has put on our heart to love and reach out to. This makes it personal and meaningful.
As we listen to God’s voice, we will begin to sense that we have a particular heart for a particular group, or several groups, of people. Jesus, in his human experience, was called to the people living in Israel. He knew his focus. In the same way, God has given a focus to each of us, and we will find great joy in our love-life towards others if we accept whom we are called to.
The most obvious focus for us may be those we are already living among: our family (church always begins at home), our extended family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and our friends. At the same time, we may have a particular concern for a nearby people group: homeless, youth, prisoners, children, elderly, etc. It may well be that God has put this group on our heart because we are specifically called to them. Finally, we may know the stirring for a people-group that does not live near us, i.e., the unreached of Africa or the inner city poor.
Knowing who we are called to and being willing to position our lives so that we can readily love those whom God has given us to love will allow us to begin expressing the passions and gifts that we were made for.