F. from the U.K.: The journey we have been on has been long and somewhat difficult. We have tried to keep away from all the good ideas that flood our land, choosing instead to trust all to Father-much easier said than done. We have been through many changes as a group; we have enjoyed God in a new way, and have seen expressions of love and grace shining through in the most amazing ways. We have also had times of deep sadness. The difficult days have been around the things you write about in BodyLife, however from a direction that I have not read about yet in the things you have shared. I read BodyLife and it is so helpful, the many letters you receive are obviously from good and honest people, but they present me with the reason for writing. I know at least 20 people who could write such letters, people who left their fellowships, who have found now a new sense of freedom and integrity that they couldn’t find elsewhere. The people I write about left our fellowship, some had been loved in practical ways, jobs had been found, finance given and all greatly loved. Yet when I read the letters in BodyLife I know that is what these people are saying, they now choose to meet in their new group adjacent to where they live. What I’m asking is when I read the letters published, what really happened? Does anybody really know-in their striking out, have they left behind unfinished issues? Those that I know, walked away without any discussion or sharing of hearts.
I know the letters I receive are only part of a story. In many cases there are groups behind the story who feel as you do-that they loved them and that they were left with ‘unfinished business’. That is sometimes necessary because those ‘in control’ don’t often want to hear from folks who are struggling with institutional priorities. In other cases as they discovered new things, they wrongly assumed that those they were leaving were ‘the enemy.’ The result is pain on all sides. As a mediator I am always looking to connect people, even through past hurts, to have a fresh chance at effective relationships.
A brother in deep frustration sighed out a few years ago to me, “Wayne, we have to figure out what it is that separates believers!” That statement has never been far from my thoughts since that time . He’s right. One of my struggles with institutional systems is that they often love well as long as people conform to the group, and treat harshly those who don’t. Of course I am not saying that is true of your group. But I do think part of the ‘programs’ and ‘shared power’ that many groups fall into will continue to produce difficult moments on both sides when people don’t fit in with the direction the group is headed. Wouldn’t it be great if we could affirm each other’s journeys and let people move as God leads them without so much pain and suspicion?
God has only one church in your community and whether people gather at the same place or not doesn’t change that reality. I suspect some of those people may be hungry for relationships to be rebuilt in love. It pains me to see the Body of Christ continually splintered and the damaged relationships that result. But that may be the unintended fruit of the systems in which we invest God’s revelation. Instead of freeing people to follow him, they feel forced to conform or leave.
J. from Singapore: I’m a Chinese Christian (and) I know it isn’t the will of the Lord that a Christian should live individually but rather to grow in a Christ-centered community. But what happens to one who has left the institution and cannot find a like-minded member? Won’t he or she be deprived of community living, even though he could be maintaining interpersonal fellowship on a one-to-one basis?
Wayne responds: While I agree with you that Father wants us all healthfully linked to his family, I don’t think that happens in the programs of most institutions. It may happen in spite of them or alongside them as people walk in love with each other, but the priorities of institutions and the priorities of family are at odds with each other.
I’ve noticed when God makes his people hungry for real relationships, he may call them to some time apart from others so that they can get the first relationship right-their life in Him. I am convinced that real community flows out of right relationship with Father and not that right relationship with Father flows out of right community. That’s why I’m not bothered if people seem to be alone for a time. (Of course some do this out of hurt and rebellion, but I still think God has a better chance to work with them as they are real about that, too.)
Often as God begins to set his followers into his body it begins with one-on-one fellowship. Then, as God links them to others something more visible or more intentional may arise. I think this is his process because He is the only one who can build his church. Unfortunately, many of us are trying to build the church in his name and it doesn’t work that way.
The church is growing into the fullest measure of the Son of God, but that is a relational reality. I see it all the time, even when I show up among a group of strangers and we discover how much we have in common because of his work in us. We don’t have to organize it or police it. I, too, tried to cram Scriptural priorities into institutional environments and found it only hurtful to people rather than helpful. But now that I’ve learned to apply them relationally, I find them far more effective. All we have to do is give up control, and realize the body is in Christ’s hands not ours and our institutions rarely reflect that reality since they often end up fragmenting the body that Father wants to bring together. But giving up control is the hardest thing to do.
J responds: I understand what you say. In fact, (as I have moved out of) the institutional church I feel I lack Christian fellowship. I do know that Christ is sufficient for me but it does bother me that He has given us the new commandment which clearly presupposes the interaction of life in the Body. In the past month, I came across a small community which seems to be institutional but it also seems there is a sense of genuineness about them. Now, I am not so sure if I should join them, so I’m proceeding cautiously. I do know, as you say, body life is possible even in the midst of an institution.
Wayne responds: You are right to proceed cautiously regarding this new group. That they seem genuine is a great thing. If Jesus leads you to do so, why don’t you hang out a bit with them and see how things develop? Of course, they will want you to ‘join’ and ‘get involved’, but you don’t have to. I think you’re in a great spot, though I know it may not feel that way to you. Here is where we really learn to trust Jesus–to keep us in his will and purpose even when we feel alone.
It is also a good time to learn to listen to him and let him teach you how he wants to join you to his body. Even though you may not know others yet who share your hunger, Jesus has some amazing ways to connect his body. Just listen as you walk down the street, ride mass transit or stand in line at stores. You might hear people near you talking about their faith in a way that draws you. Open a conversation with them and see how God leads. Jesus is building his church and you only need to stay with him as he connects you with it. I know it can be lonely at times, but use that time to be with him. He may want that now–more of you before he gives you away to more of his body.
J responds: Thank you, brother. Your sharing confirms my perspective. It remains for me a matter of walking by faith according to this perspective of the gospel. It doesn’t appear easy to apply it. There is a tight balance to maintain, especially because you do not want (people to misunderstand).
Wayne responds: Don’t worry about keeping a ‘tight balance.’ Instead just follow Jesus. Some will understand, some will not. He did not make it our responsibility to appeal to everyone, only to treat everyone with honesty in love mingled with a dose of gentleness and respect. God has far more options than you see yet. I think you might be trying so hard to solve your ‘church problem’, that you’re forgetting to enjoy your relationship with Father and whatever fellowship he provides for you. Yes, I enjoy gathering in a regular way with folks that want to share his life together, but I wouldn’t fill that void with people who are caught up in religion. It’s not the same. Don’t force an answer before his time.
J responds: Brother Wayne, you’re right! I felt this way shortly after I wrote you. I was made to realize that the Lord is building His church and I cannot build it for Him. I just have to learn to wait for God’s time.
How do you fit the scripture Eph. 4:11 about the five-fold ministry that is preached and taught in so many churches today into the relational church?
I’m not sure how to take on a question like this since I think you have to twist this Scripture a whole lot to make it fit into more institutional environments which is why after 2000 years we still don’t have it right there. Perhaps the main difference between institutional and relational is how we view ‘leadership’. Traditional environments see it as management, where men and women exist to organize the body and tell folks what to do. In relational environments
Read Ephesians 4:11-14 carefully and there is no management function ascribed to these ‘gifts.’ Instead they are people who have the ability and disposition to help other saints be equipped to the fullness of knowing Jesus and fulfilling his purpose for them in the world. That’s an equipping function not a management one. In fact, most of these five-fold types I’ve met in the last 10 years of my journey refuse to accept management functions in the institutional environment because they see how it undermines the very desire they have to see people released to be all Jesus wants them to be.
I meet these folks everywhere. They are men and women who demonstrate by their lives and character (read peacefulness, gentleness, humility) that they don’t need to control anyone, but only want to help others know Jesus better and be transformed by his life as well. They would never think of trying to substitute for Jesus’ presence in someone else’s life, nor think that people exist to fulfill THEIR ministry.
You’ll find them around your life when you need them most. Very gently they’ll offer you choices to follow and encourage you to go after the best Jesus has for you. But they will not push or manipulate nor grow defensive when questioned or challenged. But they can simply speak a word or ask a question that causes your eyes to open a bit wider to see more of Jesus and his work in you.
How do you do the home churches?” Do you have a format?” I am very interested in this.
Nope! I don’t have a format. In fact, I think following a model for ‘church’ is a step away from being the church. If we’re going in relationship to God and looking for ways to share that with others, it is not so difficult a thing to do. And God has an infinite variety of ways to do it among his people. I’ve seen so many different ways for people to share God’s life together, that trying to force it into a one-size-fits-all package really is impossible.
Rather than starting home churches, we encourage people to connect with each other and ask, “How might we encourage each other to grow on in Christ?” The answer to that question will be closer to church than replicating any model ever could. Remember the only model of church Jesus gave us was hanging out with his followers in the homes and hillsides around Galilee and Jerusalem. He didn’t start meetings, he gathered with people to help them know his Father and learn to love each other. He asked us to make disciples and he said he would build the church. If we’re focusing on helping others grow in him, we’ll find the church emerging all around us.
Of course I love the household setting as a way to gather. A meal often provides a relational connection that helps people get out of the meeting mode. As they walk together they will find ways to celebrate God’s presence together, grow in relationship to each other, and pray for each other as they listen to God’s leading together. Simple, real and focused on Jesus lie at the heart of all healthy fellowship. He’ll show you how he wants to connect you to the body and how he might invite you to share that life together in various seasons of his work in you. Too many people ending up serving a format of ‘church’ long after Jesus has moved on to something else. That’s how we got in this mess in the first place.
Joining the Revolution?
So you think that if God wants a person to do something unconventional — revolutionary if you will, that He will make it beyond clear what that person is supposed to do? Will he at least make the next step clear, like he did for Abraham? Does God give a person knowledge only for them to live in and function in the institution, but with frustration? That doesn’t make sense. Is God waiting for the individual to have enough guts to step out? What is this God of ours up to? Patience I suppose is the answer, but there is a fear that if I wait too long I might miss what God is up to. What do you think? I need to be real. I need to be truthful. I need to admit my flaws. I need to teach God’s word and encourage, shepherd, and coach His people. I need to hate religion. I need to be emotionally healthy. I need to provide a healthy environment for my family. Problem is, from what I see – most of these things can’t happen in full time ministry. I am discerning enough to figure out the problem – am I innovative enough for a solution? My question to you is – do you think that I should wait on God for the solution, or is he waiting for me? Should I join the revolution?
Joining the Revolution?
Let me just make some comments that may be helpful. This is not a revolution. God is inviting people to know him better and love him in environments that encourage their pursuit, not discourage or demean it. In other words, there is no bandwagon to jump on here, no rebellion needed against the system or those who unwittingly or intentionally manage it. The call is simply to live free. The system may eventually expel you. God may ask you to leave it, but if he does it will most likely be as quietly as possible without destroying others. If you haven’t read Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards, this would be a good time! It will help.
Hating religion is OK! I think Jesus did too, actually, and certainly Paul came to do so. We all need to be real and be truthful, admitting our flaws and embracing his grace. But we need to do all that in the way he asked us to do everything else–in love.
I am concerned, however, over your feeling the need to shepherd or coach people. He is more than able to do that himself. That was the fix in Ezekiel 34. God wasn’t going to get rid of the bad shepherds and look for good one, but to shepherd his own people. I know you probably already know this but if ministry rises from need in us it really isn’t ministry because it doesn’t have to do with him and them, but with us. That’s the wrong place to start no matter how you look at it. I know those are hard words to hear, but it is truly the only place from which ministry springs. If God wants to use you to help people discover who he is, he has more ways to to do that than you’d believe.
Yes you do need a healthy environment for you and for your family. And Father will provide it, you just watch. You’re quite discerning to realize that most of those things can’t happen in the environment most people call “full time ministry”. As someone said, “He who takes the shekels wears the shackles.” I watch so many pastors go through it. The money and the job descriptions often end up owning them. They are afraid to follow God because they don’t see him as their source, only their vocation. As long as they do they will make compromises to fit in as best they can and the result is that it is destructive to them and the family pays a huge price for that.
But if God wants you to be free full-time to love his people, he’ll provide a way for you to do that. You won’t have to beg, borrow or steal. You’ll just find that he is an incredible provider while you live in him. That provision can come in a million different ways, including picking up odd jobs or tent-making at times. The call to trust God for provision every day is the very thing that ought to discourage almost everyone from ‘full-time ministry.’ If we can’t trust him for that, then we’ll only turn his people into resources for our own living and then we cannot truly minister to them in freedom.
Whether you leave or stay is less important today than that you find peace in your relationship with him and the freedom to live authentically right where you are. That’s a process and only he can do it. You can wait on him, but I don’t think he is waiting on you. This Father is always working. We don’t always see it, but he is. Let him lead you, doing only what you’re convinced he’s telling you to do. Don’t fear what men will think or say. (Yes, I know this is far easier said than done.) And don’t try to force yourself into a place where you’re not welcome. He will make his work clear in you each day, but I think that is far more in little steps, than in huge decisions we struggle with. Following every day will resolve those bigger issues, in a far more healthy way than if we knew now and tried to force it to happen.
You sound as if you’re right where Father wants you, asking the right questions, struggling with the right realities. To the degree that you can, relax. (Also easier said than done!), let him carry you through this to whatever place he has for you and your family. If you just jump from this fire on you’re own, you might well end up in another one and have to learn this same lesson again.
What is your and Sara’s secret for a seemingly perfect relationship? (I sense your laughter). I’m sure it’s not perfect, but you both at least appear to be on the same path with the Lord. I am thinking of my own relationship with my wife and how I wish we were together on this journey into deeper and real body life. I have given her the option to go back to our (former congregation) but she won’t. I feel like I have robbed her of what made her happy. How I wish we were together on this journey.
Our ‘secret’ sounds like its something we have done, and we both look at it as a gift from Father. We know many couples that are not on the same page on this journey and we hurt for them. We know it is not easy having different insights into God’s working and how frustrating that can be. I wonder if the ‘Incredible Father’ parable (formerly, the Prodigal Son) doesn’t have some bearing here. The father and the son were not on the same page and he allowed his son (even paid for it) to run to the end of his perspective until he saw how bankrupt it was. When one partner grows disillusioned with traditional church before the other one does, they can often prevent the other one from seeing it in their time.
If Sara were not supportive of the way I want to relate to the body right now, I would go with her to whatever she felt comfortable with. I would genuinely support her involvement (that would take a lot of God transforming me). I wouldn’t get too deeply involved in all the management needs that usually consume a place like that but I’d encourage her to, if she wanted. I’d share my journey with her without picking apart what she enjoys. I’d seek to understand how it touches her and celebrate the positives with her. I’d let God lead her at her own pace, and put my relationship with Sara above any particular way I’d prefer to experience church.
In the meantime, I’d still live out a relational church in early-morning meetings, lunches and gatherings at other times. I think the best part of relational church is that it can be incredibly flexible. We can do what we do anytime, so that we are in a better place to ‘serve’ those who are more locked into rigid institutions.
As people genuinely seek to celebrate their partner’s journey, they are more easily able to celebrate where we are. When we get people to try to see what we see, we usually push them deeper into the very thing we’d hope they would walk away from.
Reconciliation of Damaged Relationship
I do seem to recall you sharing that leaving the institutional church was not a painless experience. I know Jesus taught that we if expect to be forgiven, we need to be willing to forgive. Any practical advice on how much time and energy one should spend in trying to reconcile? Is the forgiveness Jesus was talking about internal and for our own benefit (as in “let it go and move on”) or did it imply the need for a face-to-face reconciliation?
Reconciliation of Damaged Relationships
There is a real difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. God asks us to walk in forgiveness for our own freedom. Wherever people have hurt us or manipulated us we are asked to forgive them so that we are not devoured by the ill-will in our own lives. That forgiveness, however, does not mean that we put ourselves in the place to be their victim again unless God specifically asks us to. Forgiveness is not denial.
Reconciliation is a different process. It demands two parties who are willing to LOOK honestly at what happened, and communicate through real love to a place where the abuses will cease to happen and they can then walk on as sisters in Christ. This is a rare process, and I think God is more in charge of it than we are. We can only be willing, but until the other party is ready to deal openly, honestly and compassionately with the pain he/she has caused you, you are absolutely right to put boundaries around that relationship. What is our responsibility with such people toward reconciliation? To be honest with them about why the relationship is broken when it first happens, available to God and to her if ever there is an openness to see God cleans and forgive. This is an honest process, however, not just a “let’s pretend nothing happened and be friends again.” For your part you would have to be comfortable that this woman has seen how she manipulates and controls others and is making honest steps to see God transform that. Of course in that process you will honestly deal with whether in fact your perceptions of her actions were also legitimate. Were there misunderstandings, etc.? I honestly doubt this in this situation, but we must always be open to it. Inviting people to ‘board grillings’ when they offer reconciliation is a sign that something is desperate is going on. But even in things like this are people on the other side rarely as evil as time and feelings make them seen. They may be people caught in an ugly view of ministry that keeps hurting folks around them.
And even full reconciliation of relationship doesn’t mean you’d necessarily walk in close fellowship again or co-labor in ministry. God may well have called you to other things by now. I do think our Father always delights, however, in healing past broken relationships if both folks are open to it. I’ve gone through a similar situation with a brother who did horrible things to me and my wife. I still love him, because we had such an awesome friendship. But I don’t have anything to do with him at the moment. I’ve tried to talk and he’s been resistant or duplicitous about any attempt to do so. So I give him a wide berth, even as I pray someday we’ll be able to heal what happened in our relationship. That was nine years ago. I happened to see him recently. Somehow, he seemed a bit more tender this time.
I would only give this process time and energy that Jesus makes clear in your heart he wants you to give. We can be overwhelmed trying to fix everyone’s problem with us, and I don’t think that’s the point. Healing broken relationships is a great thing when they and God are ready, especially with people we have been close to in the past. Stewing over it is not… God will show you when the time is right.
I don’t know if this will finally be the time or not, but I’m always open to it. Our God is a reconciling God.
I found your home page last night… Reading some of your material, it was like I could have written most of it. I am 63 year old and live in a little town of 195 people. I have been saved since 1972 and been involved in both planting a new church and been through a couple of ugly splits. We spent the four years before moving up here downtown Denver. We helped start a new church and spent a lot of time working with the people from the missions and rehabs. We felt called down there but after a lot of time to think and pray about it I’m not sure it wasn’t just ego talking. Needless to say, it was like pouring all your spiritual energy down a black hole. My wife is still now over it. I have become involved with a small community church here in town. I have finally got an adult Sunday school started and the Holy Spirit seems to be working on a couple of the people. (Some have told me) to walk away because no one will ever be able to change anything. I don’t feel that I can walk away at this point and am looking for some direction.
While I agree that it is extremely rare that anyone really changes things in institutional settings (and I’m pretty certain that God has NOT asked us to change others), that doesn’t mean he won’t call us from time to time to walk alongside those who don’t quite see things the way we do, or even the way God wants them to. I would tell you to make no effort to change them or the setting. Just love them. If change comes, GREAT! If not, God may well call you to move on at some point. I think the most critical thing is for us to simply be obedient every day to what we sense God is asking us to do. He can take care of the details.
What Do You Think of Tithing?
What Do You Think of Tithing?
The short answer is that I am convinced that all old covenant forms are a shadow of a greater reality. For our giving that reality is described in 2 Corinthians 7-9, where we are encouraged to live in God’s generosity and give of our lives accordingly, not to pay some obligation to God to appease him. Tithing was a command given to Israel as part of their covenant and temple-system. There is nothing in the New Testament that would indicate it to be binding on any other group of people and the early church certainly saw their giving in far different terms.
That said, I do think that Jesus’ followers who live in abundance (which in world terms includes anyone living in a developing country) will find God’s work in them will show them how to live generously with others who suffer in the world for lack of basic necessities and how to participate in sharing God’s kingdom in the world through projects or people God might call them to support. Living in the reality and not the shadow means that, unless we are in a time of great need, we will find ourselves giving well over 10% wherever God might lead us.
Further resources on this topic may be found in the BodyLife article, “Giving and Generosity” or one of our podcasts God, Mammon and Tithing.