I last weekend in Sacramento where I had a BridgeBuilders presentation and then got to spend the weekend with some wonderful folks on an incredible journey. Five years ago these folks have gone from being a traditional congregation with a facility, staff, Sunday morning meeting and a full complement of the normal programs. And this was a group that did those things better than most and were very commitment-oriented and outreach minded. However, not content with the depth of their spiritual growth or their life together, they began to ask God what was the matter and what did he want to do with them. Over the last five years they have slowly deconstructed their institution out of existence and became even more the people of God. Over that time in simple steps of obedience that they were never sure where it would lead them they gave up their programs, opened up their gatherings, gave up the hierarchy of leadership and eventually the salaries of the staff, stopped their Sunday morning gatherings, and sold the building.
Anyone looking from the outside might conclude this church failed and went under. In truth those that made it through the process have discovered what it is to live as the body of Christ and their lives have been transformed as they live out that relationship together. We’re going to let them tell their story next week on The God Journey. While they don’t offer their process as a model for others, it’s encouraging to see what hungry hearts and following Jesus can do.
I’ve been with these people a number of times over the past three years, and no, I did not recommend the course they took. I’ve been as surprised as they have. What I noticed among them, however, on this last trip was how much ownership most of these people haven now taken for their own spiritual growth. No longer able to rely on the false substitutes of programs and leadership they have had to ‘sink or swim’ in their own relationship with God. And swim they have! The things they are learning and the initiative they take in getting together and in sharing what they are learning when they are together are incredible. All of them talk about how hard this process was, but they also recognize how much it has challenged them to live more deeply in Jesus. I didn’t meet anyone who told me they wanted to go back to the more comfortable, but less effective arrangement they had five years ago.
I see this same active engagement of spiritual growth in many who spilled out of organized religion, especially those that didn’t immediately find an alternative gathering, theology or leader to fill the void. Learning to walk with him is the essence of life in this kingdom. Can it happen inside a religious institution? It can. That’s where my life began. But it can also walk outside of it and not whither away to nothing, but actually grow and become even more dynamic.
I know we’re so worried that if people learn to do that they will live independently and not share life with other Christians. But it is an unfounded worry! People who are growing in the love for Father, desperately want real and vital connections with others in the family. The two go hand in hand. But if you let others become a substitute for his presence, you will miss out on both real relationships with him and effective relationships in the body.