A theme seems to be developing in my life over the past few days. First Alex posed a question on one of my previous blogs, Meeting Together. It is a significant question for anyone struggling through how we live out the life of the church today.
Then I got an email from Australia this morning after reading my blog on That Lot in Fairlee:
Finally I spent some time on the phone today with a staff pastor at an outwardly successful congregation who is beginning to recognize a greater reality in Christ than he has experienced. Concerned about where his passion might take him, he wanted to ask me some questions about how this journey might affect his future and whether God can use the pastor/congregational model so prevalent today.
While I was talking to this brother we hit upon something that I think addresses the other two as well. First, let me say that nothing on this website refers to the abomination of denominations, or that those in pastoral roles are bad. That’s not language I use or encourage. We are caught in an interesting time. I’m convinced that the pastor/congregational/denominational structures we’ve inherited after 2000 years of Christian history are simply at odds with the priorities of the kingdom as Jesus lived it. Many people are starting to see that and hunger for a greater reality than these environments can offer no matter how hard they try.
Our structures seem to propagate religion more easily than the equip people for relationship and in time institutional priorities seem to trump relational ones. Does that mean they are valueless? Should we all leave them or close them all down? Is everyone in them working against the purpose of God in the earth? No! No! And no! It is one thing to recognize the weaknesses of a system and another to judge those involved in them as evil, or not recognize how God still works through our flawed attempts. He’s a pretty gracious God. I got much of my knowledge of Scripture and hunger to know God through those kinds of structures. They just couldn’t fill the hunger they gave me. We can be active in those structures and miss what true life in Christ and in his family is all about because maintaining the machinery exhausts our resources and distracts our passions.
What I hear in all of these contacts this week is an underlying concern: Do we have to figure out congregational life and do it the right way to live deeply in Jesus today? No! No! And no! In fact our preoccupation with the structures, whether we’re embracing them or reacting to them still keeps our eye on the wrong place. The transitions God wants to make in us are not primarily institutional. They are in the heart. As we embrace what he is doing in us how we need to respond on the outside will be clearer.
In the phone call earlier today I sensed that this staff pastor, like so many of us, was trying to sort out so many things that he couldn’t even see yet. Somehow he had become convinced that his life in Jesus would suffer until he got the structural issues figured out. It became obvious to us both how backwards that way of thinking is. Jesus is not waiting for us to get all the structures right.
Every bit of his life is available to you today in your relationship with him. Right now! Right where you are he wants you to know his reality and his work in you. If your mind is constantly trying to answer all the questions about your unknown future you will miss his work in you today. He does not live in your illusions, dreams or fears of the future. He lives in you. Embrace him today. Yield to him. Listen to him. Follow him without ‘taking any thought about tomorrow’ and he’ll be able to do some amazing things in you. Don’t think it awaits the perfect environment. Your submitted heart to him is all the environment he needs and whatever transition he wants to take you through in your activities or structures will rise out of the reality of that relationship. We get the cart before the horse when we’re more focused on our structures than we are on our King and Priest and Friend.