I'm sure you have. We all have. It's part of growing up from childhood to adulthood. Things seem so simple, then we realize how complex they are only to find out at the end of life, it was rather simple after all. Love others and be loved. Solomon, was it, said that the after everything he had went through, that life is all about serving God.
Okay, maybe this is not quite so profound, but it's been rocking my world. It answers alot of questions that I've had that I let go of because I never got a straight answer. It has much to do with my early discipleship in Christ and early ministry q&a.
The scary part is I've only just begun. I'm just starting to read about these things. Yet, somehow I know that it has significant implications for my life, for our lives, for our ministries. If I'd known about this years ago, many struggles would never have been struggles to begin with. Many questions would have been answered immediately. It wouldn't have been so hard and confusing. Remember at the beginning of the Matrix when he said, if you take the blue pill, you'll wake up and everything will be as you've always known it. But, if you take the red pill (or did I get it backward) then your eyes will be opened to an all new reality. I am becoming aware of this new reality.
Now, as it pertains to life, I've already experienced this eye opening experience. It was when I met Jesus. He rocked my world. He changed everything. He turned me upside down. He made me aware of my own selfishness, cleansed me from all my failures, set me back on my feet and started cleansing my heart and life. Nothing's been the same ever since. I see the world different. I see people different. I see "God" different. I see my purpose differently. My eyes have been opened to new realities that I know others are closed to.
This new thing is similar. It's not life changing in the sense of coming to Christ. It's not life changing in the sense that you may notice that many differences in me. But, it is life changing with how and why I do ministry a particular way. Ministry has been my "vocation" for over ten years. Initially, I wrestled with that. This answers alot of those questions. I didn't have the gifts, abilities, experience, education, etc to be and do the ministry. If only I'd known. I had so many questions going in because what I thought I was supposed to be and do (based on my limited experience in the church) were not really necessarily what I was supposed to be and do. Plus, I kept looking for the scriptural backing. "Our culture is so different from that of the Bible. That must be it," I told myself. But, I always wondered, why?
You see, since I didn't grow up in the church, I had little background and so I simply trusted those who were teaching me and showing me the way. Mind you, I questioned them, some would guess too much, but overall I trusted them and kept going. These were great people and none of them purposefully (ignorantly, maybe) mislead me. But, they gave me alot of pat answers instead of investigating the realities and complexities of my questions. If you're a parent, you know what I'm talking about.
Here's what I'm talking about. I'm reading this book called Pagan Christianity. (http://www.paganchristianity.org/)
It shows the historical evidence for how we got the church we got today. It explains the "evolution" of Christianity and church practices from the early church to our current version. As I was an young Christian growing, I wondered how/why what I was reading in the Bible was so different than what I experienced in church at that time. I would ask questions like why do we do this in church? Why is this important? When, as I read the New Testament, I could not find any real evidence or emphasis for my questions. And like I said, people gave me pat answers. So, even though it didn't make sense, I accepted it (kinda) and kept moving on.
In this last year or two, I've been putting some of those things aside, since now I've not be only responsible for a youth group but adult ministry and now the creation of a brand new church. So, I've been letting my convictions lead instead of doing things how others said I needed to do them. I've been speaking, er... preaching my mind. The messages that glare in the New Testament have become messages that I am speaking often, though in much grace, because they are not the messages that have been often proclaimed. For example, this idea of holiness = following more rules and staying away from sinners is hogwash. That's not the kind holiness that Jesus lived. That's not the kind of holiness that is continually talked about throughout the New Testament as different authors battle the early Christians desire to add rules to their relationship with Jesus.
Anyways, the book, of which I'm about 1/3 through traces the "development" of the church from the early church through the third century, the middle ages, Martin Luther, Protestantism, Evangelicalism, and our current consumeristic Sunday morning show. I've read about the "development" of the church building itself, the order of worship, the sermon and am currently working on the pastor. (ouch!) Not only does it trace these origins and the reasons that these things changed over time, but shows us the 2 most important aspects of them.
1) The way we do these things is not rooted in New Testament practice or scripture.
(You just can't say we do things "by the book," because it's more than likely simply not true.)
2) The we do these things actually work against the type of life that Christ calls us to.
The quick and easy argument against the book is that the church has progressed and has changed with the culture and times. (ie, methods change, but message never does (although that is an argument to be had in its own right)) However, that doesn't mean we have entire freedom to use whatever methods we want.
If our methods ultimately work against the message for which they exist, then we must not accept the methods.
Now that's a discussion worth having.
But, a few issues that have already arisen in my reading...
- The Church building did not originate in the early church and costs so much to maintain that it works against our call to love others, especially the poor. It focuses our time and attention on ourselves and our programs causing us to invest most of our resources which in turn cause us to be a "come and see" kind of people instead of a go and serve and tell kind of a people.
- The Order of Worship focuses more on the "show" that Sunday morning has become where we "go to church" (this mentality was non-existent in the early church) and observe/consume/watch the show and get emotionally excited/encouraged by the "paid professionals" instead of participating and encouraging one another the way they did in the early church. Our one direction type of monologue from the "paid professionals" to the "don't try this at home" type of people discourages people from using their gifts and letting the spirit lead them to exhort, encourage, prophesy, or teach one another. (except for those few churches that allow for a couple of minutes of this some weeks)
- The sermon origins are scary, yet kind of understood. The great greek philosophers provided much of the origins for our current "sermon." As I read about the purposes and philosophies behind the greek oraters, I was both dumbfounded and feeling ever so slightly guilty for following in their footsteps. This is the classic case of using the culture of the day to communicate a timeless message. Maybe it had its place for a while, maybe not. We could probably debate that. Maybe it has its place today, maybe not. We could definitely debate that. However, the modern sermon requires 1 hour of preparation for every minute spoken (according to my wonderful (that is not sarcasm) professors in college). Okay, most weeks, that's 30 hours. Maybe I've never given it quite that much, but it sure provides the necessity of paying someone to sermonize b/c volunteering an extra 30 hours a week only to speaking is not realistic. The costs that go toward paying someone to do what we all can and should do (if we're not following the modern sermon, but the biblical ideal) is not a wise use of money when we got people we need to love with those finances.
- The Pastor in most churches plays way too many roles and attempts to be SuperMan! Not because he cares that much or is that committed (though he may be) but usually just to keep people from complaining about what the Pastor isn't doing, after all, isn't that what we pay him for, to do the job(s) that we don't want to do or feel "super" enough to do? Even in those churches whose pastors spout from the pulpit about the Body of Christ doing the work of the ministry do way more than the scriptures mandate. Here's a scary note: the word pastor is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament. PastorS is mentioned only once in the context of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers as they all prepare God's people for works of service. It is not a title to be used. It is a function of shepherding that is to be performed. Now let's be honest, today's pastor does 100X more than just shepherding!
Okay, so maybe you have to read it for yourself to get it. I doubt it, but maybe it'll help you understand and convict you as well. Maybe you'll just shrug it off as hogwash. You can't argue the historical origins, George Barna's (the guru of Christian statistics) participation helps that. We can debate whether you believe our current mode of churchianity inhibits the church from BEING the Church. But, you can't say we've been doing it by the book and therefore go on without even considering the implications. We haven't been and the implications are great! The church is in a dying position in our culture. It is no longer impacting the culture, but it is being impacted by the culture.
We just read this week how in 1 John 2:15-17, we are called not to love the world, but to follow and do the will of God. That is a question we must wrestle with. Are we following the world and culture or are we changing the world and culture because we give Life the way Christ gives Life.
I admit the answers aren't all easy and they are open to debate. But, I know where I'm at in the debate and the convictions that God is placing on me. It's messing me up. It's turning my world upside down. And it's a good thing. A good thing indeed.