Where Transformation Ensues: Hearts Not Structures

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.

I feel so torn because my friends that are leaders of “nondenominational churches” agree very much with the abomination of the denominations, yet things like this are looked at as attacking their ministry as well. For me it is easy to say that, I give up my ministry and I just seek Jesus each day… but my heart goes out to these servants of the Lord who have faithfully served as pastors, etc. While I agree that we should have His church, His way part of me still sees so much good coming from the faithful teaching of the Word by some of these fellowships. Shall we call them all bad? What advice would you give to the young pastor of a Calvary Chapel who is faithfully teaching the word of God to many people each week and lives are really being changed despite the leaven in the church and the disconnectedness?

Then I got an email from Australia this morning after reading my blog on That Lot in Fairlee:

My husband is the pastor of our church in an Australian city. We don’t fit the muld though!! We attract large numbers of disabled, mentally instable, physically wrecked substance abuse ‘parishoners’. We have a core group of about 30 relationally oriented wonderful believers. So yes, we’re impacting our local area with the gospel but we’re not well enough resourced to cope with what we have on our plate. We have a heart to be effective as a church rather than successful. Can you help me to understand how we can make the transition?

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.

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16 Comments
  1. Bruce October 13, 2004 at 4:15 pm

    Excellent thoughts, Wayne. I appreciate your ability to clarify our thinking, and take the "hard edge" off our attitudes concerning the religious systems. I still need a lot of work in that area. Bitterness still rises in me from time to time, expecially when I encounter religious people who tell me how important it is for me to return to their system of rules and rituals. I’m getting better though!

  2. Bruce October 13, 2004 at 7:15 pm

    Excellent thoughts, Wayne. I appreciate your ability to clarify our thinking, and take the "hard edge" off our attitudes concerning the religious systems. I still need a lot of work in that area. Bitterness still rises in me from time to time, expecially when I encounter religious people who tell me how important it is for me to return to their system of rules and rituals. I’m getting better though!

  3. Tim P. October 13, 2004 at 9:48 pm

    Thanks for another good post, Wayne. I especially appreciated this statement,

    "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."

    I have grown weary in "maintaning machinery" that I have been a part of and hope that I will not be a part of setting up more machinery for someone else. 🙁

  4. John October 13, 2004 at 9:51 pm

    Thanks, Wayne. I admit I have wasted much time "trying to answer" those questions re: my future. I yield to His embrace. What an amazing life I can enjoy–in the PRESENT. After 20 years of pastoring I am transitioning to a new life outside of the traditional church model. I still struggle with trying to exchange one structure for another. I’m going to quit trying to figure it all out and let God be God! You are SO right. The issues aren’t institutional–they are internal.

  5. Tim P. October 14, 2004 at 12:48 am

    Thanks for another good post, Wayne. I especially appreciated this statement,

    "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."

    I have grown weary in "maintaning machinery" that I have been a part of and hope that I will not be a part of setting up more machinery for someone else. 🙁

  6. John October 14, 2004 at 12:51 am

    Thanks, Wayne. I admit I have wasted much time "trying to answer" those questions re: my future. I yield to His embrace. What an amazing life I can enjoy–in the PRESENT. After 20 years of pastoring I am transitioning to a new life outside of the traditional church model. I still struggle with trying to exchange one structure for another. I’m going to quit trying to figure it all out and let God be God! You are SO right. The issues aren’t institutional–they are internal.

  7. Dave Aldrich October 14, 2004 at 2:00 pm

    YES! YES! YES!!!

    That last paragraph really spoke to my heart! Thank you, Father for giving brother Wayne the ability to express these truths of yours so clearly and succinctly… so heart piercingly.

    I am seeing that this stuff doesn’t come from one’s own intellect… one’s own ability to figure God out. No way… it comes by ridding any and all attempts to do so. It comes by coming to Him at the end of your rope… when you’re just so tired of all the BS attempts to create Life on your own. Life happens as we die to ourselves… our man-made identities… and we find our only identity is in Him alone. Come Lord Jesus!!!

  8. Dave Aldrich October 14, 2004 at 5:00 pm

    YES! YES! YES!!!

    That last paragraph really spoke to my heart! Thank you, Father for giving brother Wayne the ability to express these truths of yours so clearly and succinctly… so heart piercingly.

    I am seeing that this stuff doesn’t come from one’s own intellect… one’s own ability to figure God out. No way… it comes by ridding any and all attempts to do so. It comes by coming to Him at the end of your rope… when you’re just so tired of all the BS attempts to create Life on your own. Life happens as we die to ourselves… our man-made identities… and we find our only identity is in Him alone. Come Lord Jesus!!!

  9. Kevin Tupper October 14, 2004 at 8:27 pm

    Wayne,

    I’ve read or heard several times your thought that, "in time institutional priorities seem to trump relational ones."

    I’d like to delve into that a little more. What exactly do you mean by that?

    When one looks at church as the gathering of a community of believers, often times the discernment of God’s leading for the whole may conflict with an individual’s understanding of God’s leading. Is that what you mean? If so, is anything really wrong with that? If not, can you give a tangible example so I can understand what you mean there?

    It seems to me that a lot of what people get upset about is when their individual preferences aren’t being followed by the "institution" or the community of believers they gather with. It’s very easy to point at the "institution", i.e. the community of saints and say they just don’t get it. It’s easy to blame the system and then run from it.

    True community, whether it meets in a building and has a formal order to an established service, or meets in a home "as the Lord leads", requires, at times, laying down one’s own preferences and desires for the good of the whole. A transformed person will be doing this joyously at times and other times is willing to do it because it’s right.

    If we look at the church as God’s family then it’s easy to understand that, especially for anyone who has a family.

    There are plenty of times where the desires of the Tupper family conflict with my individual desires and I "submit" to the will of the family as a whole. There are plenty of times that I serve my wife and children in ways that I wouldn’t necessarily prefer to, and it gives me joy because I’m doing what I believe is right. There are other times when I serve them in ways that I actually enjoy doing, not only because it’s right, but because it is actually a personal preference or pleasure of mine in some way.

    – Kevin

  10. Kevin Tupper October 14, 2004 at 11:27 pm

    Wayne,

    I’ve read or heard several times your thought that, "in time institutional priorities seem to trump relational ones."

    I’d like to delve into that a little more. What exactly do you mean by that?

    When one looks at church as the gathering of a community of believers, often times the discernment of God’s leading for the whole may conflict with an individual’s understanding of God’s leading. Is that what you mean? If so, is anything really wrong with that? If not, can you give a tangible example so I can understand what you mean there?

    It seems to me that a lot of what people get upset about is when their individual preferences aren’t being followed by the "institution" or the community of believers they gather with. It’s very easy to point at the "institution", i.e. the community of saints and say they just don’t get it. It’s easy to blame the system and then run from it.

    True community, whether it meets in a building and has a formal order to an established service, or meets in a home "as the Lord leads", requires, at times, laying down one’s own preferences and desires for the good of the whole. A transformed person will be doing this joyously at times and other times is willing to do it because it’s right.

    If we look at the church as God’s family then it’s easy to understand that, especially for anyone who has a family.

    There are plenty of times where the desires of the Tupper family conflict with my individual desires and I "submit" to the will of the family as a whole. There are plenty of times that I serve my wife and children in ways that I wouldn’t necessarily prefer to, and it gives me joy because I’m doing what I believe is right. There are other times when I serve them in ways that I actually enjoy doing, not only because it’s right, but because it is actually a personal preference or pleasure of mine in some way.

    – Kevin

  11. Steve October 15, 2004 at 9:32 am

    Wayne,

    Your last paragraph makes me think about why we sometimes feel we need so much structure and organization. Is it because we hesitate trusting Father for the spontaneous life that He provides so we try to plan ways to assure that it will be there tomorrow and in the future? I thought about the following scripture and I must admit, I’ve so often been that fool.

    Wisdom is in the presence of the one who has understanding, But the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.

    (Pro 17:24 NASB)

  12. Steve October 15, 2004 at 12:32 pm

    Wayne,

    Your last paragraph makes me think about why we sometimes feel we need so much structure and organization. Is it because we hesitate trusting Father for the spontaneous life that He provides so we try to plan ways to assure that it will be there tomorrow and in the future? I thought about the following scripture and I must admit, I’ve so often been that fool.

    Wisdom is in the presence of the one who has understanding, But the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.

    (Pro 17:24 NASB)

  13. Alex October 18, 2004 at 2:46 am

    Thank you!

    I sent your response to some pastors and have high hopes that it will alleviate much of the confusion… getting our eyes off earthly things and back onto things above 🙂

    Thanks,

    Alex

  14. Alex October 18, 2004 at 5:46 am

    Thank you!

    I sent your response to some pastors and have high hopes that it will alleviate much of the confusion… getting our eyes off earthly things and back onto things above 🙂

    Thanks,

    Alex

  15. Jim December 10, 2004 at 7:35 am

    Kevin,

    Your insight is to comended. I am just wondering if we should give up want we know in our hearts to be God’s will for oueselves to please a majority (institution). I once remember peaching a message about how children are special and each one is unique in God’s eye’s and he has a plan for their lives and the things He will desire for them to do will be special to them. I have found that this is true in many organiztions until they reach a certain age (?). Then they must become like every one else and follow certain paths that may take away their individualality. Are we to surender to others in leadership, ourselves? I remember once time the Lord spoke to me concerning a home I was looking at to rent for a short time and was told that it would be ready for me when the time came even though there was people living in it. My concern for a home went away and as time grew closer to be moving my family became a little worried about us having a home. My wife then spoke to the pastor about this and he came and talked to me about how sometimes we have to settle for things in life even though it might not may be God’s will at the time. There was still a couple of weeks before we had to move but I gave in and took another home that would not meet our needs as well as the home the Lord has spoken to me about. Well as we were moving to our new home I happened to drive by the house the the Lord has spoken to me about and there was that sign that read "House For Rent". At that time the Lord spoke and ask me if I was going to listen to Him or man. I have learned that there are times we may make a decission to go along with others but we better be sure it is God’s plan to do so. We are never to give up are personal relationship. Many times institutional priorities may not be God’s will for an individual. Relationalship priorities should over rule institutional priorities when it comes to doing God’s will. Who cares what the color of the carpet is but we should care that each person is doing what they know God’s wants them to do.

    May he continue to bless you and yours and may you continue to be a blessing

  16. Jim December 10, 2004 at 10:35 am

    Kevin,

    Your insight is to comended. I am just wondering if we should give up want we know in our hearts to be God’s will for oueselves to please a majority (institution). I once remember peaching a message about how children are special and each one is unique in God’s eye’s and he has a plan for their lives and the things He will desire for them to do will be special to them. I have found that this is true in many organiztions until they reach a certain age (?). Then they must become like every one else and follow certain paths that may take away their individualality. Are we to surender to others in leadership, ourselves? I remember once time the Lord spoke to me concerning a home I was looking at to rent for a short time and was told that it would be ready for me when the time came even though there was people living in it. My concern for a home went away and as time grew closer to be moving my family became a little worried about us having a home. My wife then spoke to the pastor about this and he came and talked to me about how sometimes we have to settle for things in life even though it might not may be God’s will at the time. There was still a couple of weeks before we had to move but I gave in and took another home that would not meet our needs as well as the home the Lord has spoken to me about. Well as we were moving to our new home I happened to drive by the house the the Lord has spoken to me about and there was that sign that read "House For Rent". At that time the Lord spoke and ask me if I was going to listen to Him or man. I have learned that there are times we may make a decission to go along with others but we better be sure it is God’s plan to do so. We are never to give up are personal relationship. Many times institutional priorities may not be God’s will for an individual. Relationalship priorities should over rule institutional priorities when it comes to doing God’s will. Who cares what the color of the carpet is but we should care that each person is doing what they know God’s wants them to do.

    May he continue to bless you and yours and may you continue to be a blessing

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