When “church” Becomes Idol…

***Disclaimer: for this particular post the word “church” will be used in reference to church as a place, program, service, institution, gathering, etc. Obviously, these things should not define “church”, but we are going to look at what happens when the things above somehow sneak in and become more important than Jesus, and people knowing Him as Lord.***

Idolatry is very much still around today. Every single one of us could find an idolatrous area of our lives if we took a long enough look at ourselves. This happens when, for whatever reason, we are deceived into thinking that something else is more worthy of worship than our King, Jesus. Often times these idols sneak their way in because they are not inherently bad things…at all. In fact, they are sometimes very good things that have either pushed Jesus off His throne in our lives, or accidentally become the priority over Jesus. This happens when we believe lies, or UNtruths that are injected into our lives by the enemy. “How though, could ‘church’ become an idol!?”, some of you may be asking…

I was recently at an event with about 50 other Christians. During the event everyone took time to go around, and share “success” stories of things that had been happening in their lives as they pursued being a “Christian” in their context. The purpose of these stories was for edification for those who were there. As people shared others were ecstatic and huge smiles began to form on their faces. After a few minutes of these stories something hit me…and my heart grew very heavy…

First, here is a few examples of these “success” stories:

“…when my neighbor found out I go to church he came to ask me if he could come with me!”

“…it was so neat…after we met and started building a relationship she agreed to come to church with me.” (She had been invited several times before)

“It’s so great, several people have joined us at church.”

…and so on and so forth…

The entire evening, other than perhaps during a prayer to “bless the food”, the name of Jesus was not mentioned once. No stories about Jesus being introduced to anyone, or anyone being “invited” to experience Jesus as a powerful and living God right here and right now. No stories of anyone being impacted in any way by Jesus Himself. Again, the NAME of Jesus was not mentioned once. Was it on purpose? Of course not. Am I certain that everyone in that room loves Jesus? Yes. Was this neglect of Jesus intentional? Of course not.

You see, somewhere along the way the works of scripture got transferred out of the hands/responsibility of the ordinary believer, and placed into the hands of the paid clergy. The way “success” and “effective ministry” is measured shifted from individual life transformation (Which is very difficult to measure, fabricate, & force.) to a generic “how many people are here”? When the responsibility of the individual believer to make disciples was shifted to the paid clergy the ability to do so seemed to go with it. This is not the individual believers fault. Over time what it means to be a follower of Christ has changed, along with the methods and language we use to communicate such things…

When anything takes the place of Jesus in our lives the focus goes to that thing…and off of Jesus. That thing takes the throne. We are guilty of idol worship. When our primary goal is to get people to go to church (Of course, with the desire and hope that they will eventually “meet Jesus”, or make a decision to follow Him at some point) we have replaced Jesus with church. We communicate with our actions and words that “church” is savior, and forgiver of sins. We bow down in worship to church. “Church” did not die on the cross for our sins – Jesus died on the cross for us, His Church, His Bride, so that He could become all that we worship. As the TRUE lover of our souls our number one desire MUST be to introduce others to Him. As a part of the process we become a part of the body of Christ! We naturally gather with other believers as a result, but hopefully not spend too much of their time with those believers. Hopefully, we will then begin introducing others to…yes…Jesus…not our new church.

I am around different types of people all throughout the week, as I am sure many of you are. Something I have noticed in the people I am around who do not claim “membership” to a particular “church” as a building with a name, or institution is the things they place value in. Every single time I am with these people they are full of joy as they share stories of individuals who they have been discipling, and walking with. They share about how Jesus is becoming Lord to these people. Then, they invite me to this new believer’s Baptism after they have led them to Christ! A natural result is always that these new believers are connected with the body of Christ in some form or fashion-usually very healthy. They may not be filling the pews of a church on Sunday morning, or “serving” in a church program. But, they are actively out proclaiming to others this new love they have found in Jesus as He has become their Lord. There is much freedom in the above…it feels weightless, and light…it feels like a journey of obedience & dedication to Jesus.

This is far different from the conversations I have with others who have dedicated and given their lives to the “church”. Discussion is more about endless struggles with sin and trying to manage that sin. It’s about the uncomfortable invitation to church on Sunday they have extended to their neighbor for months-wondering why their neighbor won’t come. It’s about how good and funny their preacher’s message was the previous Sunday, and how much they loved “that one song the guy played”. Again, none of those things are necessarily bad, but when they take the place of Jesus as Lord in our lives we become idolaters.

Those of you who know me know that I am not a fan of any particular model of “doing church”. I think that conversation is silly – we don’t “do” church. We BE Church. If you are BEING Church, and obedient to Jesus at your church then these words are not for you. I am not at all submitting that this is the case across the board. I am simply sharing observations I’ve made in cities all over the country (three of which I have lived in for long periods of time) among people in both scenarios. If Jesus is your Lord in both words & actions then let’s praise Him for that! If something else has sneaked in and taken the place of Lord (perhaps “church”) then may we all run hard after Jesus together to place Him back on the throne in our lives.

“Jesus, we trust you. You are so gracious. Thank you that you pour out your grace over us when we can’t seem to “get it right” over and over again. Empower us by Your Spirit to see the You in us be reproduced into the You in those You have placed in our lives!”

A Kingdom Paradox {one of many}

A quick thought from my personal worship time with Christ this morning…thoughts?

It seems that we have pursued (Been taught to pursue) personal fulfillment, comfort, “self-help”, & our own happiness in our religious pursuits. Because of this we do not know how to actually hear God’s voice and be obedient. Even if we learn to hear/know God’s voice (based upon scripture, prayer & other disciplines) we don’t seem to have the capacity/faith to obey it because it usually is not what is easy/comfortable. (Most of what we have been taught in our Christian pursuit is how to manage our personal relationship with God, avoid sin, and be “happy” as a Christian) Everything we’ve pursued in our Christian life was in pursuit of comfort and an “easier” life. If something “hard” does come along we write it off as “persecution”, and the enemy trying to attack us.

“Lord, continue to teach me how to hear your voice, and obey even if it goes completely against what seems logical at the moment. Grow my faith to trust what you’re up to. I can say it all day, but I want you to give me opportunities to act out those tough decisions in real life. Thank you that there is grace for it all.”

Dependent.

I have been thinking a lot lately about things that we are dependent upon as Christians in America & in the church in America. Sadly, my thoughts have not brought me to the person of Jesus Christ, and the leading power of His Holy Spirit. It would seem as if HE IS NOT ENOUGH.

I have had many conversations with many of you over the past few months about things that we are dependent on. These are things that, if they were taken away from us, we would not know what to do/how to function. We MIGHT survive, but you can forget a flourishing walk with Christ that usher’s in His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

It is very odd to me that most arguments or discussions I hear regarding “church” and what it means to follow Christ are rarely about an individual’s complete denial of self, and pursuit of the Great Commission. Instead, they are about things other than that…things that are seemingly irrelevant compared to the above. We will talk about “how to do church”, “church structure”, doctrine, staff, gatherings, elders, pastors, programs, worship, sermons, podcasts, etc. etc. etc.

I began to think…in my thinking I began to discuss these thoughts with some individuals. I began to introduce scenarios that lacked the above elements (“church”, structure, institution, pastoral staff, programs, worship services, sermons, teaching, childcare, youth groups, small groups, Bible Studies, etc.) and those I spoke with started getting VERY uncomfortable. They began to speak back at me as if I had just denied Christ and the Cross. It was as if it were THOSE things that mattered, as if THOSE were the things that held the most value in the kingdom. It was as if THOSE were the things they were dependent upon, and if they were taken away there would be no way to function as a follower of Christ.

My mind began to wonder to other countries where the believers there have NONE of the things in either of the above lists. They have Christ. They are LUCKY if they have a few pages of the Bible, and enough food to eat on a daily basis. Chances are they do have a thriving community of other believers who are in the same boat as them, completely & utterly dependent upon Christ. You see, Christ is enough for them. They have nothing BUT Christ, and it’s enough. They don’t “need to be fed”, or tickled by some fancy guitar riff in the middle of a Hillsong….song. They don’t need to be entertained by funny sermons or podcasts, and they certainly don’t need a group of professionals planning out their monthly service project or weekly program. (Not all of these things are BAD, however, when we become dependent upon them, and cannot fathom life without them it is DANGEROUS)

It would appear as if we, as Christians in America, are dependent upon a lot of things; Christ does not seem to be one of them. We seem to be too wrapped up in idolatry to notice our need for a risen Savior. Yes, I said IDOLATRY because that’s what we do. We don’t worship Christ. We worship the things in the lists above. We worship & idolize & are dependent upon them because if they were taken away from us our “faith” would fall to pieces. We would be left in shambles.

“Christ, forgive us for our idolatrous hearts. Turn us back to you. Do whatever it is that you must do to cause us to place you above any other gods. We need you.”

What are some other things that you can think of that the church in America may be dependent upon? (Things that an average Christian might not know what to do without if it were taken from them)

“bASS Ackwards”

In continuation of previous post: “Compound Interest”

Our problem is that we are impatient. We want “get rich quick” schemes, and don’t typically like to work hard for things. We want things NOW, and we want them easy. We are this way with our money, and we are this way in our discipleship methods. Last week I posted “Where’s The Value?” suggesting that we do not value the things that Christ valued based upon how we refuse to disciple others in the way that Christ modeled for us to do so. (By pouring ourselves into just a few people at a time for a few years at a time in such a way that they can & will go and do likewise)

Not only do we want things fast, once we get them we quickly grow discontent with those things we so badly wanted. It intrigues me that we can have such a strong/pure desire to see someone come to know Christ (Neighbor, friend, co-worker, classmate, etc.) that we will pursue/invite them into a relationship with Christ, and think we’re “all done” once they have made a verbal profession of faith, and been Baptized. But, this is only the beginning! When someone commits their life to Christ they have simply committed to beginning a process of discipleship that will go on for the rest of their lives! How have we been tricked into thinking this is the END goal!? This is merely the FIRST step! For the disciples the first step was that they left everything the follow Christ. What if Christ had said, “sweet, I got you to leave everything to follow me, but now you can go ahead back to your life. I just wanted to see if you’d do it”!? Is that not what we do as Christians? We desire someone to “accept Christ”, and when they do we act as if we’re DONE! Picture it: A person has been shadowing us, and watching us. They have allowed us to introduce them to their future Savior. They’ve been wrestling for months with this BIG life decision. They’re finally ready, and we are excited. We lead them through what a decision for Christ means, and maybe Baptize them. Then, we act as if the “job is done” when all along the person thought they were just entering into the beautiful beginning by making that decision!

I know too many stories of people who were led to Christ, and then left high and dry. This is sad to me; I’ve done it before as well. At best we pawn them off to our church “leaders”, or a nearby church to do OUR job, as disciples of Christ, for us. It’s time we step up and take the call to live out the Great Commission seriously. It’s time we actually BE disciples of Christ, and not just call ourselves disciples. We must stop kidding ourselves. We must stop pretending.

So do we truly find value in “making disciples”, or just getting people converted? I would submit that the conversion is the beginning of a discipleship journey that is accompanied by life transformation. We must continue that process with a process of discipleship. May we all search our current lives to see who we are in the process of “leading to Christ”, and who we are discipling.