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!”

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When Ordinary People Lead…

This past Sunday a few UT students who went through Student CPx back in August hosted a “joint simple church gathering”. They wanted to bring the other simple churches from their relational networks together for a time of sharing what God has been doing in Austin through these various lay-led churches, as well as hear from some students who had taken trips overseas during the winter break.

What you see represented in the pictures above and the videos below is the fruit & result of the obedience of students living out the Gospel being the Church. Yes, this entire gathering was student organized & led. Most of the SC’s displayed here represent the actual local churches these students belong to. They are seeing much fruit through the individual communities as they step out in faith to obey God. The coolest part is that there were NEW BELIEVERS at this gathering who have recently made decisions to follow Christ! One of them will be Baptized by another student this Friday!

It is so important to recognize what happens when the works of scripture are lived out by ordinary people. (lay-people, students, new believers, unpaid, non-professional, etc.) The growth of the kingdom and spread of the Gospel is no longer dependent upon how much money exists, where we “meet”, who will “lead”, how “big” are the projects, etc. When a 20 year old college student realizes they have “permission” from Jesus to go make disciples, Baptize them, and watch as a new community of faith (church) is birthed it sparks something very powerful. When several students come to this realization it marks the beginning of a movement…

I captured some little bits of the evening with my phone – let us imagine together this scenario multiplied in homes & cities across our nation!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

At Intentional Gatherings we seek to equip, & release ordinary believers to live out their full potential in the kingdom of God. We do that in many ways. Whether it be a Student CPx Training, involvement in a new simple church community, or just walking through real life with someone from our team, the desire is not to build or grow a church or organization. Success in our organization is based upon spiritual transformation in the lives of individuals whom God places in our lives. Spiritual transformation is measured by those individuals ability to hear God’s voice, and be obedient to that voice (No matter what that looks like-yes, even if it means they don’t “join” our org., or one of our churches). Essentially, we want to disciple in such a way that leads to the empowerment of those disciples to go make more disciples. It’s been a long journey thus far, but we’re excited about what God has done, and will do in the days to come.

Lord, may you continue to release your children into the harvest to fulfill the Great Commission! We are available to You, and earnestly desire Your Spirit to sweep across our city and nation!

“Good Teaching…?”

CB064071What is “good teaching”? There is one class of people who would name their favorite pastor, or conference speaker to answer that question. (Usually based upon how that person measures up on the laughter meter, or how “deep” & theological that person can dive with their eloquent sermons) Others would say that “good teaching” is a non-negotiable when searching for a “church home”. Many venture out on a journey to find a church with “good teaching”, never to find what they’re looking for. The sad thing is that the phrase “good teaching” is usually measured with an improper “scorecard”. It is usually a question of, “good entertainment”, or “did the person on the stage say anything in particular that caused me to perk up in my seat-based upon excitement, or conviction?” Or, “Did the sermons elicit any emotional response?” What then, really, is “good teaching”, and how can we shift our minds away from an inaccurate perception to a healthy, Biblical one?

My friends Tony & Felicity Dale, along with the help of George Barna, have recently come out with a book I have been reading called, “The Rabbit & the Elephant”. As soon as I am finished reading the book I will be posting a more extensive “review” if you will. Today, however, I wanted to share with you a bit of what the authors have to say about this topic of “good teaching”. I need not add anything to their words…

“Let’s look at the Apostle’s teaching first. If our simple churches are going to multiply rapidly, we no longer have the luxury of taking several years to train a Bible teacher. Anyway, the goal is not a few gifted teachers but a lot of hungry learners. Paul the apostle faced this dilemma as well-in some instances he was forced to move away from the new believers almost immediately. For example, in Philippi he only ‘stayed there several days’ (Acts 16:12, NIV). Therefore, we like to use an approach that allows the Bible to teach itself, enabling even young believers to lead. In New Testament times, teaching was far more interactive. For instance, the word used for Paul’s lengthy teaching in Ephesus is the Greek word dialegomai, from which we get our word ‘dialogue’ (Acts 20:7). Jesus’ informal teaching was frequently discussion-based and interrupted by questions He either posed Himself or was asked by others. Evangelical Christians tend to emphasize the importance of good teaching, but we believe that this is missing the point of helping people to genuinely learn Scripture and apply it to their everyday lives. Statistics show that we learn far more by actively participating than we do by hearing alone. People remember approximately 20 percent of what they hear, 50 percent of what they see and hear, and 70 percent of what the say themselves. In simple church, everyone is involved in the learning process. More than once, we have had people tell us they have learned more in just a few months of simple church than in years of listening to good sermons!”

The authors then go into a few methods of scripture study and teaching they’ve experienced in different simple churches, but you’ll have to get the book if you want to learn about those! Many evangelicals get worried that this type of teaching is dangerous, and allows potential heresy to creep in…

“Many who come from traditional church backgrounds are concerned that such an approach opens the door to heresy. We can attest that in the dozens of groups we’ve been part of over the years, we have never seen anyone sidetracked by wrong teaching. Even with the youngest Christians, we’ve found that when anything too outlandish comes up someone will usually point it out.”

Some other good tidbits from the book:

“Larger groups may run more smoothly if someone acts as a facilitator-to make sure that the study keeps moving, that everyone is taking part, and that no one (particularly the facilitator) dominates. It is not the facilitator’s job to answer questions but rather to direct the questions back to the group…by continually pointing people back to the scriptures, the facilitator ensures that the Bible remains the authority.”

“…The Bible itself is the teacher, and everyone in the group is involved in both the teaching and learning, as well as applying what is learned to daily life.”

“…The hard fact is that listening to long discourses does not turn people into disciples!”

“…Research by the Barna Group has revealed that in conventional churches in the  US, within two hours of having left a church service, the typical attender cannot identify the topic of the sermon, much less the key points communicated within it!”

“While there are many people who appreciate well-crafted and flawlessly communicated sermons, there are even more who appear to get little value from them.”

***All exerpts from “The Rabbit and the Elephant” – Chapter 10: Simply Reproducible***

Click Here to purchase the book!

City-Wide Missional Community Network

Two years ago there was only about one group of people pursuing simple/organic/house church, or what we call “missional community”, in Las Vegas. It was Apex Church. When Intentional Gatherings moved into town we were told by many in the city that we were “crazy”, and that the vision of seeing “MC’s” multiplied throughout the city was “unrealistic”. They said that it “just wouldn’t work in this city”. Since then we have connected with Apex, and met many others who are also on this pursuit of living in tight-knit Biblical Community through the multiplication of simple expressions of the ecclesia.

A few months ago some of the leadership of these organizations got together to discuss what it would look like for us to partner, unify, and cooperate as similar organizations in the city. As a result, the “Vegas Valley Missional Community Network” was birthed. There are now about seven organizations/churches representing 16 different “missional communities” spread out all over the city.

There is an inward purpose, as well as an outward focus behind why this network has been birthed. (Missional – outward. Community – inward) Because of this network, each of our individual organizations now realize that they are a part of something bigger throughout the city. We know, and are affirmed because there are people spread out all over the city who are pursuing the same vision; the same vision that we were told was “unrealistic”. That is the inward focus, which we pray never becomes dominant in this network. The outward focus should be a natural result, or response of each individual community as they pursue life with others centered around the Gospel. The outward purpose of this network is to see “missional communities” multiplied throughout the entire city. Our prayer is that this will happen through the training, and release of apostolic leaders to start new communities where the Gospel is not rooted deeply.

This past Sunday evening believers from the different organizations involved in the Vegas Valley Missional Community Network gathered for the first time to meet one another, celebrate what God has done in their communities, and pray for one another as they are on mission together in the city. Here are some pictures from the evening…

What a beautiful, and God ordained evening. It was the first of many. Thank you to all of you who joined us, and helped out with everything. Until next time…