Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Meeting Centric Church Culture

    "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."— Matt 5:10

What do I mean by meeting-centric?

Here is the definition of “centric”: “located in or at a center; concentrated about or directed to a center.”

So when I say meeting-centric faith (or Christianity or church culture), I mean the cultivation of an entire lifestyle around an event. In this case, I am referring to the typical Sunday church service that takes approximately 2 hours out of that person’s 168 hour week. When a person becomes born-again into a meeting-centered mentality of Christianity, it is as if that person needs to wait till he or she goes to the weekly meeting to hear God’s voice. If an encounter with God is only centered on the Sunday meeting, then there is little to no discipleship. The hard work of mentoring and character development and modeling is left to the Holy Spirit whom new Christians are often never introduced to—or are even taught to ignore. We must teach folks to see that we are the church. We don’t just “go to church,” because we are the church! Yes, we go to those meetings and activities at the buildings the church is using. But we must look beyond meetings to see that being the Church means that we don’t act one way two hours a week and then another way the other 166. We must see that we are to live out our life in a way that fulfills the purpose God has for us as we manifest His presence on the earth.

    "From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it”- (Matt 16: 21-25)

As we read in this passage, even those who love the Lord deeply, like Peter, can assume they need to “help the Lord out,” and, even worse, feel like they know how. Many of the problems the Church has are tied to well-meaning people with good motives who are led by their carnal thinking and reasoning. Double-mindedness is such a regular part of the way of thinking in most churches and ministries that it is considered “normal.” In Matthew 4:17, Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand. This is what Jesus first had to say. He exclusively had one message to preach. Over 160 times in nearly every story and parable this Kingdom is mentioned. He was always talking about and referencing the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not the Church, but the Church is supposed to be an expression of the Kingdom on the earth. Is it? Most places I look, I don’t see it. Jesus said, “God is like this…The kingdom of God is like…” His statements absolutely confronted the religious system of the day.

He said repent (which simply means change the way you think and look at things); he didn’t say cry, sob, or run to the altar. When we equate an emotional response with repentance, we will always get an outcome which doesn’t result in lifestyle change. Repentance moves people to effect a complete turning around and a change of mind, ways, habits, and intentions!

Here’s an honest question: If the church leaders of today have the right message, then why does the response to their message appear to bring little to no change of habits, lifestyle, values, ethics, and morality? And why do all the polls indicate that righteousness, morality and cultural change is not only going the wrong direction in the church but our society as well? Why in the early years of our nation could one preacher like George Whitfield or Jonathan Edwards with the right message be so effective in changing his culture, yet today, even with all technological tools at their disposal, our leaders have such little success making that same difference?

I believe our present compromised system has helped fashion a compromised message. Most pastors, by and large, that I have known over the years of churches small, big, and huge are like anyone else attempting to do God’s will. Most feel like their job is akin to cleaning sand off the beach. Many are in survival mode or caution mode. If things seem great outwardly, “Don’t rock the boat”, if not, then “We need to be careful”. But these are apostolic mindsets! An authentic apostolic message will produce a real life-changing response, a change of mind & rending of the heart.

The Kingdom of Heaven (the regime, rule, and reign of God’s authority and dominion on earth or anywhere without limits) is at hand (which means right here, right now, in the midst of you, as plain as the nose on your face). While this is plain and simple, we seemingly have a hard time having faith for something we can’t see. However, Jesus said the Spirit was like the wind (see John 3:8). You can see its effects and its force, but it is not visible to the eye. He was talking of a real dimension right in front of all of us that could be accessed by faith which He modeled for His followers.

In this world the blind are blind, but in Jesus’s world the blind see! In this world the lame can’t walk, but in Jesus’s world the lame can walk! In this world the deaf need hearing aids, but in Jesus’s world, the deaf can hear! In this world the dead are dead, but in Jesus’s world the dead rise!

Up is down, in is out, rich is poor, poor is rich, last are first, and first last; it is a parallel dimension right alongside our fallen world, but the rules are different there! There are no wheelchair ramps, no handicapped parking, no deaf section! It is wrong that we spend so much of our life accommodating the failure of our faith and our lack of bringing in the Kingdom.

Jesus’ message went so against the flow of the religious establishment that they couldn’t deal with Him! He tweaked all the religious elements in His culture. Maybe we need to use His same approach since ours don’t seem to be helping us.

Today we have even the basic order and structure of the Church backwards. Imagine getting one of those “assemble yourself” kits for a swing set or BBQ grill or bike. You take out the instructions which go A, B, C, D, etc., and are to be done in the “manufacturer’s order of assembly”; you begin with F, then go over to Q, then make your way to D, and on and on. How do you think that would work for you? Not so great.

Paul wrote about how God designated things to be formatted in the Church:

    "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues."- (1 Cor 12:28)
    1) Apostles: senders
    2) Prophets: seers
    3) Teachers: search the Scriptures
    4) Miracles: signs and wonders
    5) Gifts of Healings: supernatural
    6) Helps: supporters
    7) Administrations: solutions
    8) Various kinds of tongues-those who receive and speak heavenly mysteries

While most pastors are well-meaning people, they are frequently concerned with only two things: salvation and protection for the sheep. According to C. Peter Wagner, pastors and administrators have done an admirable job in winning a huge section of the world to Christ, but, “What would happen if we could actually function by God’s design and intention?” Pastors, evangelists, and even administrators by and large are leading the American church, which leads to a church focusing primarily on what happens in and around the Sunday meeting, creating an atmosphere that is imbalanced spiritually. With administrators, pastors, teachers, and evangelists at the helm, we have a meeting-centric faith based on an excellently packaged, entertaining Sunday meeting. In this church culture, the only time God does something is “at church.” When does God speak, or when do we feel His presence? At church. By defining “church” as a meeting to attend rather than a lifestyle to be lived, we end up with a lopsided faith based on our definition of God and how He operates. Everything is about “the meeting” and “the service.” We even back off on being too bold or aggressive because we might “run off people.” It is as if the whole fate of the Church is resting on having a good service, a good meeting with excellent fluff.

Government Priorities

Here is what this meeting-centric church culture looks like:

  • Pastoral: people’s comfort and safety
  • Administrative: things and money
  • Teacher: doctrine we teach, often in order to defend our territory
  • Evangelist: salvation message only
  • The perception of God in a pastoral government is primarily anxiety and fear. The great concern is losing what we have. There is also a fear that if and when any obstacles or opposition come our way it indicates that the Lord is behind it, so this is “how He directs us.” In addition, in this type of church culture or atmosphere, the supernatural is suspect and thought to be deceptive and unreliable. With everyone protecting their turf, things, and assets, there is no forward-advancing mentality. And in this environment anything supernatural means “you can be and probably already are deceived, so I will protect you from yourself.”. A pastoral government is filled with anxiety and control. Why? By keeping you in line you will continue to need me, your pastor. In my view, the vast majority of people living in this kind of church are taught subliminally to stay powerless and mostly helpless, dependent on leadership. In this atmosphere, many times good reasons are made up for suffering to keep the leader in his job.

    In 1994, we pulled a church which I planted out of a church-planting denomination that operated and had an atmosphere like this. While it felt so strange to be leaving the supposed security and “covering” of it, within 10 days our church was caught up in a move of the Spirit that lasted over five years; God used it to send missionaries to nations like Norway, France, Romania, Jordan, and Israel. Also, other churches and ministries were birthed from it. When I pulled out of one thing, I wasn’t exactly sure what we were going into, but I knew God was doing it. I knew we needed to get out of the old to go into the new. While it was a major shift and shock, we have been pursuing it ever since. We had to make a choice to move forward for the Kingdom. I look back on that decision now, and it was absolutely not the safest or most comfortable way to go. But there has to be resoluteness, a determination in us that old ways must give place to the new.

      "He takes away the first in order to establish the second.- (Hebrews 10:9)

    The absence of a Kingdom or an overcoming mentality in churches helps create an attitude of “We are only lowly sinners working out our salvation…We’re not fulfilling our calling, for how can we know His will? We are just lowly servants waiting for further instructions.” In 1996, Rick Joyner prophesied a spiritual civil war coming to the American church. Like the Civil War, it too would pit brother against brother, and would be over the issue of spiritual slavery, to end the injustice on these ministry “plantations.”

    I think that the timing of the meltdown of American business markets in the last few months was a sign of the beginning of the meltdown of the giant “ministry plantations” where the Body was in slavery to a few. Let’s hope that what is happening in the natural, we also get to see happen in the spiritual. For many of these institutions it was over a long time ago. To relish or adhere to these ways of man versus the ways of God is a dangerous trap and will be a snare to us. Jesus even said, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matt. 15:6 NIV). The devil uses these things and the lusts of man to trap us into this world’s system of operation. This causes us to compromise our entire “way of doing business.” We attempt to fight the devil, but he has already us snared in his ways.

    One of the reasons people get burned out from going to church is that they were told a number of stories that never came true. And I don’t mean those wonderful testimonies of God’s love and mercy but just an idealistic and unrealistic view of living that revolves around only “going to church” instead of being the Church. This happens as we are reasoning in our hearts, not just our minds.

      "And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts?”(Luke 5:21-22 NKJV)

    The main reason for this double-mindedness is our need to resort to reasoning things out rather than hearing and obeying by faith. The problem is made worse by taking that reasoning out of our heads where it belongs and bringing it into our hearts. Because it is with our heart, we are to believe, not with our heads! We’ll never believe using only our logic and brain power.

      "For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Romans 10:10 NKJV)

    To resort to reasoning in our minds is simply prideful mental gymnastics to make sure we cover all our bases in case God doesn’t come through. One of the weirdest things is many times we do this especially when God authentically and legitimately speaks to us, when we have been given an authentic word from God about something. But unfortunately then we attempt to bring it to pass, do it in our own strength and with our own abilities!

      "This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:2-3 NKJV)

    The Greek word for reasoning is dialogizomai, where we get the English word dialogue from which means, “a conversation between two or more persons; an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue.”

    Here’s the breakdown of the Greek word:

  • Dia: through, on account of, because of;
  • Logizomai: to reckon, consider, regard, suppose.
  • To give ourselves over to reasoning is to entertain an argument with God in our heart: “How am I gonna do that?” or “Are you kidding me? Do you know what it will mean if I have to do that?” Peace begins to come as we learn to acknowledge and obey truth, but peace is only truly realized when the person (Jesus) who is the Truth is submitted to. When we learn to obey Him and His Word, we can begin to walk in that peace. And as we mentioned earlier, fear rather than peace is the prevailing atmosphere in most churches that are built around the meeting-centric culture.

    This was an excerpt for “The 166 Lifestyle” by Marc Lawson published by Destiny Image
    Reproduced by permission© Copyright 2010 – Marc Lawson

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