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What Must Change Now

What Must Change Now

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer distinguished talent from genius, “ Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.” Thus far the target has been to define the problem in the Church, now the mission shifts to the solution. The problem has been a target we can see and because of the intellectual talent of TACT, we have hit the target, probably not a “Bulls eye” but nonetheless, within the target. Now we turn to a work fit only for the genius, to shoot at a target that is unclear, that is illusive, and sometimes hidden. The only genius we have is the “mind of Christ.” The only access to the mind of Christ is the Holy Spirit, and so the target will be revealed via prayer, consideration of the scripture, and the wisdom of our years of knowing God and His work.

We know what the target is not, it is not the conditions and results that we now have. Another philosopher, a former Baptist from Missouri, Dallas Willard has said that our current system is perfectly designed to give us the results we are now getting. Some of that current system is;

  1. Worship as performance,
  2. Leadership as celebrity,
  3. Greatness measured by numbers,
  4. Salvation by agreement with religious facts,
  5. Evangelism without incarnation,
  6. Discipleship as optional,
  7. Catering to consumer mentality,

and I could go on. All this could be the result of the Gospel we advance. I am not adverse to Brian McLaren’s muse; “ It will serve the church if we spend the next 15-20 years asking the question, ‘ what is the gospel?’ So what is a different system that would give us different results? That would give us

  1. Worship as a heartfelt answer to God,
  2. Leadership as humble service,
  3. Greatness measured by character,
  4. Salvation by a decision to follow Jesus,
  5. Evangelism as love,
  6. Discipleship as normative,
  7. Catering to the committed.

So now I draw back my bow and release the arrow into the mist to a target I can only see in my ‘minds eye.’ It is not my purpose to be comprehensive, but to focus on three sweeping issues that dominate my present state of thought.

1. The cultivation of appetite
The growth of the church in the Global South has to do with spiritual appetite. The lack of goods and services in places like East Africa contribute to the growth of the church. It is not that these people are different in their spirits than Westerners; it is that when the material comforts are stripped away, everything around you screams, “I need help.” Whether it is slaves in 19th Century America or unemployed young men wandering the streets in 21st Century Rwanda, deprivation and oppression tend to create a hunger for God. This is sorely lacking in the West and particularly in the gluttonous life that is the United States. If we would exchange places with those lacking in material wealth, I am sure they would become like us as fast as we would become like them. What does this have to do with creating a coherent alternative to our present system? There must be a concerted effort to create a spiritual appetite in the existing church. It could be argued that there already exists a significant spiritual appetite in the general culture. There are many signs that even when your belly is full of all that the “good life” can provide, there is still an inner emptiness that cannot be filled by the glut of opulence and entertainment. But I contend this search for meaning is selfish, demanding a designer god that can give meaning without sacrifice, forgiveness without repentance, and success without cost.

So I say it very carefully, this appetite must be cultivated among those already Christian. The evangelical belly is full of CDs, DVDs, sermons, books, seminars, and packaged answers. Leaders look at this sumptuous feast before them and say, “ I can’t eat another bite” as they push back from the table. What is required is to find the kind of spiritual food that they are hungry for, that being I believe is the hunger to live and work from a satisfied soul. This means a radical change in what we teach, the environment that we create, what we reward, and what we punish. It will require a different kind of leadership, a rehabilitated clergy detoxified from the mania that drives them to cultural definitions of success. A newly defined laity that sees themselves as ambassadors and that the real action of making disciples is “out there” where they live work and play and, not “in here.” The gathered church.

2. Redefine what it means to be Christian
An interesting discussion that won’t take place here is why the word Christian won in general usage over Disciple. Christian used three times in the New Testament has been preferred over Disciple, used 269 times. Christian seems to be a word that has lost its meaning more so than those who think Disciple is passé. It seems that outside the Church Christians are thought of as intolerant, even hateful, they are critics and judges. It is a title that has disappeared into the fog of Western culture to define religious origin. Inside the Church, Christian has become a word that describes agreement with a set of religious ideas; it does not require action or movement. Some evangelical leaders don’t like Disciple because it sounds too demanding, too tired and out of reach for the seekers. This is not a call for the elimination of the word Christian; it is a call to recapture the richness of the word Disciple and how a change in language can be a change in mind set and then behavior.

Disciple is a robust word; it calls upon a person to give an answer to God, to do something, to follow and in doing so create an opportunity for transformation. Answering the call to discipleship means positioning oneself for spiritual formation. It requires intentionality, self-denial, and commitment to follow Jesus wherever He leads. As Bonhoeffer aptly stated, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” This really comes down to how members of the Church view themselves. Are we primarily members of an organization by belief or doctrine alone, or is the expectation that we are obedient followers of Jesus ready for a life of spiritual sacrifice? This redefinition is more than verbiage, it requires a change in the way laity and clergy alike see themselves and their work. This is at its genesis vital for leaders, because leaders create the environments in which the Church lives. In Working the Angles Eugene Peterson describes the problem of the pastor. “ The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeepers’ concerns-how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money… The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.”[1] The Clergy must be introduced and trained in what it means to lead people into a life of humility, obedience, submission and sacrifice. Helping others learn how to seek God, to listen to God, and to follow God on that basis.

3. Change the center of gravity
This will call upon everyone to make significant sacrifice. What must be sacrificed are the rewards and advantages of our present system. The center of gravity is now the church meeting. It must change to the church, as it exists in the general community. For thirty years I have been writing about this needed shift and some progress, has been made, but thus far, the church meeting still reigns. Church attendance, as the measure of success remains an idol that too many dances before. It is not that the church meeting is not important; in fact it is absolutely necessary. The problem we face is that our system of thought rewards what happens on Sunday much more than what happens between Sundays. This may seem like an old and tired complaint, but it does not make it any less critical to a redirection of our effort. They’re no commands in scripture for non-Christians to go to church. The natural flow of the church was set on its very first day. The people had waited and God filled them with Himself, they could not contain themselves, they ran into the streets to tell everyone. Disciples are called to gather for edification, then to go tell the world in which they live.

The present system rewards both the pastor and parishioner based on the success of a Sunday experience. That is where the money and talent is spent. The center of gravity needs to change from the church meeting and be reset in every home, business, club, where the kingdom exists in the hearts of its citizens. For this to happen, pioneers will be required to teach us how to make disciples where we live, work and play. The creation of communities of grace in the middle of the harvest field will be able to touch the people we are called to reach. As Elton Trueblood put it, “ If there should emerge in our day such a fellowship, wholly without artificiality and free from the dead hand of the past, it would be an exciting event of momentous importance. A society of genuine loving friends, set free from the self-seeking struggle for personal prestige and from all unreality, would be something unutterably priceless and powerful. A wise person would travel any distance to join it.”[2]

[1] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles Eerdmans 1987
[2] From The Best of Trueblood, Impact Books, Nashville, TN.

Related Topics: Discipleship, Sanctification