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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Prophets

 
Prophets have always been perceived as those who are in the know. In OT times, where the roots of any biblical understanding of prophetic ministry lie, they are seen to be the God-intoxicating, biblical existential, calling all to live faithfully in covenant relationship with God and consistent with His kingdom and rule in the world.
Although prophets have a futuristic orientation, their real focus is a call to live in the existential here-and-now of faithfulness and obedience.
The prophets essential task as declaring the word of God to the here and now; disclosing the future in order to illuminate what is involved in the present.
Prophetic ministry can be said to revolve around two questions:
1. Who is God (what is His nature)
2. What does God require of us in this particular place and time (How shall we live)
Prophets tend to be passionate and spiritual people. They feel strongly and deeply. This is given them from God. And because of the primary concern for God, His values, and His vision for the world, they seem to be able to sense situations where those values are not reflected. They notice what goes unnoticed: injustice, unfaithfulness, indifference toward God, and cruelty etc.
This experience of encountering two contradicting realities causes the prophet to passionately call into question the existing order of things.
The prophets eye is directed to the contemporary scene; the society and its conduct are the main theme of his speeches. Yet his ear is inclined to God. He is a person struck by the glory and presence of God, overpowered by the hand of God. Yet his true greatness is the ability to hold God and man in a single thought. Holding these two realities together creates tension within the prophet. The prophet identifies the gaps between Gods reality and our own. By forcing us to face up to these gaps in our faithfulness, the prophet creates a context that allows us to perceive the truth of our situation. It is in this space that prophetic intelligence (or sensibility) plays its most critical role.
The prophets recognition of this gap often requires a confrontation with personal and collective idolatry, especially in contexts where the institution has legitimized its particular worldview that makes some ideas possible and others unthinkable.
In such situations we need prophetic imagination to deconstruct and dismantle these systems of justification that so often conceal our fears and selfishness. Recognizing the prophets distinct, focused role to awaken our imaginations partly explains why the prophetic person can often have an aversion, even distain, for strategy and structured planning.
As a result of all the work of bridging God and humanity, prophets generally are not content with the status quo. They tend to be always calling Gods people to greater degrees of faithfulness. They question everything that does not seem to be God honouring and force us to face up to the distance between us and God. They stir the pot, rock the boat, move our cheese, harp, nag and agitate us until we pay attention to the areas or our individual and communal lives that do not reflect the values of the gospel and Gods kingdom. As such they often evoke the darker, more self-protective human responses. No wonder they tend t be killed, exiled, or simply marginalized.
Prophets generally draw attention to the gap by calling into question the current social, political, or theological arrangements. As the quintessential questioners, prophets play a critical role in developing a community’s capacity to adapt to its environment.
The failure to ask questions allows us to operate with a distorted sense of reality. Organizations that are unable to question their prevailing view of reality are like walking corpses, they just might not know it yet, because it has created an insulated culture that systematically excludes any information that could contradict its reigning picture of reality.
Prophets initiate the process of critical feedback that is necessary for organizational learning. We need to give permission to prophets and their dissenting voices. “Turn off your radar and your will eventually hit the side of a mountain.”
The prophetic function is more that purely a critical one; it can also play an animating, profoundly revitalizing role. In fact, in calling us to repent and change, the prophet opens us up to the ever-renewing encounter with God. Walter Brueggemann therefore rightly characterizes the role of the prophet as one who both criticizes and energizes. These two categories suggest a continuum between criticizing and energizing on which prophetic ministry can be located, which points us to an important distinction: Criticizing and energizing are not always given equal attention. Genuine prophetic ministry will always include both, but with different degrees of emphasis.
First the role of the prophet is to call people back to God. Prophets is the new covenant not only call us back to God; they also call us forward to Gods preferred future for the world-one defined by the ministry work of Jesus the Messiah. In other words, it is messianic as well as missional in nature.
Second, criticism is not a licence for cynicism. Cynicism denies the possibility of future transformation and keeps prophets from engaging their context. All faithful prophetic ministry should both criticize and energize, even if one of those functions receives more emphasis than the other.
The third important qualifier for prophetic ministry is love. Because prophets are the guardians of the covenant, they must maintain a deep-seated, covenantal love for God people no matter where and in what state they are in.
Fourth, critical distance should not translate into permanent distance. The prophetic vocation sometimes has to learn how to be the loyal opposition of remaining connected to the system while consistently challenging and prodding the system toward greater faithfulness.
Fifth, prophets are not infallible, and we are encouraged to test the prophets message to see if it is from God. As highly intuitive types, prophets have an uncanny knack for seeing things others cannot, but intuition can be right or wrong. Collective discernment by the community needs to be applied to the prophetic insight.
Finally, prophets need to be aware of their humanity and the possible ways that they might actually be contributing to the crisis they so passionately address. Spending time away from the community and inhabiting Gods reality through prayer and meditation and identification with those on the margins can blind prophets to ways in which their own lives and choices may be perpetuating problems within their own context. The mystics were susceptible to an other-wordly ethic that detacvhed them from the life of everyday. Mediating revelation does not absolve participation in todays reality. Prophetic ministry stands in the gap for sure, but it does so with one foot in Gods reality and one foot firmly anchored in the existing reality.
Reasons why it is so important to allow the prophets to speak:
· Without the prophetic voice, we become overly pragmatic and mechanistic in our orientation towards effectiveness and success as a church. From the prophetic perspective, the goals are wrong, and therefore the methods and metrics are too.
· Without prophetic witness, most western Christians don’t expect God to speak to us. His voice remains stuck on the pages of a book that only a professional can access and then spoon feed to us.
· Without prophetic imagination to show us the possibilities, we don’t expect God to perform miracles in our midst and in our present era. There is a concomitant loss of the sense of the God who is Lord of, and who intervenes in history.
· Without prophetic urgency, we don’t question status quo and are afraid to disturb social and traditional equilibrium – something that the prophetic consistently did to a stagnating people of God in the Old Testament.
· Without prophetic perspective, eschatological living (where past, present and future are held together) has also been lost. Eschatological living is the kind that asks “what kind of people should we then be?” The future, as a meaningful concept and motivation, is relegated to a distant reality, not a present one. And thus we function primarily from the past rather than the future in how we live out the present – which slows the pace and flattens the peaks of what can really happen.
· Without prophetic modelling, we lose our transformational and radical edge: prophets always model an alternative reality. They call us to live differently, to choose God’s ways over the ways of the world.
· Without prophetic spirituality, our spirituality becomes intellectual, predictable and segmented. We don’t embrace mystery and the mysterious aspects of spirituality and of communal life. Faith takes on less and less risk and more and more intellectual assent in pursuit of “certainty”and orthodoxy.
· And without prophetic longing, we are content with God being a distant Savior and creator but lose the sense of Him as Lover, Friend, Judge, Comforter etc. Spirituality becomes about right belief or even right practice – not right relationship.
(from “Permanent Revolution” – Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim)

Did Jesus Really Teach The Law On Steroids

I have noticed a concerning factor! Many people in the grace renewal are excluding much of Christs’ teachings.
There is a misconception that has arisen in this renewal of the gospel of grace over the past 6 years that is causing many in the church to not embrace some wonderful teachings of Jesus. This misconception is that“Jesus preached the law on steroids” or that “Jesus preached the law to the fullest extreme.”
It is important that we clear this up, and are able to see that Jesus in fact did not preach the law on steroids but preached the Kingdom. We only have to do a brief study in order to see this and clear up a lot of these issues. Without any long intro I would like to dive straight in.
To build this case we will need to look briefly into the Rabbinical order of the Hebraic culture, both the ancient and the one in which Jesus ministered.
Rabbis taught from the Torah and from the Prophets. This is known as the Tenakah (The scriptures)
A Rabbi had a body of teaching that would be called a‘Yolk.’ This ‘Yolk’ was not just a teaching but also a way of life that embodied that teaching in a practical outworking.
There were two types of Rabbis: 1) A general Rabbi; or 2) one that had ‘Shmekah.’ ‘Shmekah’ means ‘authority.’ A Rabbi with authority was allowed to have his own ‘yolk.’ If you did not have ‘Shmekah’ you would have to teach the yolk of your Rabbi who had ‘Shmekah.’ Only every 3 to 4 generations would there be a Rabbi with ‘Shmekah.’
In order to gain ‘Shmekah’ you needed two witnesses to publically confirm you. Jesus had these two witnesses at his baptism. One was John the baptizer who was a Prophet and the other was his Father who’s voice spoke from heaven at the same event.
To have ‘Shmekah’ would allow you to interpret the Torah in order to bring forward the very purpose the Torah was set in place to do. The Torah was set in place by God as part of the covenant He made with Israel and was primarily to establish the best ways for them to live in love towards Him and each other. It was very much also a social standard. After being slaves for over 400 years they needed to understand how to conduct themselves in a social, loving, honouring and respectful way towards each other. Things such as not killing someone because you covet his belongings was one such standard. Another was not to have relations with another man’s wife, and etc. This was effectively the heart behind the Torah (the Spirit of the Torah or as we know it the Law of the Spirit) After being slaves and having a slave mentality imbedded into their lives for generations these were pretty good standards to put in place in order for them to live in community as a nation who would reflect the glory of God. Over time Israel created human traditions and their Rabbis began to produce their own ‘yolks’ that began to bind and loose the nation. Binding and loosing had nothing to do with the demonic; it in fact has to do with what is allowed and what is not allowed. Most pastors/elders in a church are binding and losing all the time. For example: If I say to my congregation that there is not to be a drop of alcohol consumed by anyone at any time, then I have just bound the people to not drink. Anyone that even one drink will begin to feel guilty and even condemned. There should be a bit of clarity starting to come through now? The problem now came in that Israel began to believe that they could gain a right standing with God and justification through obedience to rules and regulations. Even the sacrifices were just a constant reminder of the saving blood on the door posts at the Passover. Yom Kippur was a yearly reminder of the covenant cut with Abraham, which Israel believed was their reason for being righteous, because they were Abrahams seed. The issue was not the law but sin and what it did in “taking its opportunity afford by the law…, therefore bringing condemnation.”
So the Rabbis began to bind and loose the people through their ‘yolk.’ The unfortunate thing is that in their human error, greed and pride they began to produce ‘yolks’ that were very restrictive and began to bind people up so tightly that eventually they lost most of the ‘Spirit of the law (Spirit of the Torah).’ By the time Jesus comes on the scene there is so much confusion, guilt, condemnation and religious traditions that people are living distant from God, except for following His festivals and sacrifices.
Jesus is baptized, is witnessed to have ‘Shmekah’ and begins his ministry. Now Jesus himself says “I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it.” What does this mean? Well a Rabbi would choose for himself some disciples. These first born males were the best of the best in society. These students (disciples) would sit under the teaching of the Rabbi and follow him around, living immersed in his life in order to learn from him, not only what he taught but also how he lived it out (his yolk). Their desire was to be just like him. Now, what he would do is ask questions based on the Torah and they would have to give an interpretation and an application to what he was asking. This application would have to be able to bring life to the hearers. If the disciple got the interpretation and application wrong, then the Rabbi would say“you have abolished the Torah (law)”; but if they got it correct then he would say “you have fulfilled the Torah (law).” However, this interpretation and application was in accordance with the ‘yolk’ of that Rabbi. So, when Jesus says that “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it,” what he was in fact saying was “I have come to show you how to interpret and apply the Torah so that it will bring life to you.”
Later on we see that Paul writes in Ephesians 2: 14-16 “ For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinance, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing their hostility.” (ESV)
But if we look at these verses in the Amplified bible we see something interesting that explains it more clearly: “For he is (himself) our peace (our bond of unity and harmony). He has made us both (Jew and Gentile) one (body), and has broken down (destroyed, abolished) the hostile dividing wall between us, by abolishing in his (own crucified) flesh the enmity (caused by) the law with its decrees and ordinances (which he annulled); that he might create in himself one new man (one new quality of humanity out of the two), so making peace. And (he designed) to reconcile to God both (Jew and Gentile, united) in a single body by means of his cross, thereby killing the mutual enmity and bringing the feud to an end.”
Now, have a look at how the message put its: “The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody. Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of hostility.”
In this above text it is related to the fact that the law was a divide between Jews and Gentiles. It is clearly shown that this divide was abolished. To the Jews the Gentiles were classed as unclean “dogs.” There was a great divide between them. A nation such as Israel who were chosen to be a nation of priests were living an elitist life, scorning others. It was clearly not a life of love. This also became the standard for how they treated their own people who were sick, born with disabilities, had issues of blood, leprous, demon possessed etc, They classed these people as unclean sinners who were being judged by God and they warned people to stay clear of these people. Clearly their traditions had warped the heart of the Torah.
So what part of the Torah was fulfilled? It was the law unto righteousness that was fulfilled in Christ. This means that we do not need to follow the external rituals of the law in order to gain righteousness. The Torah (law) has now been written on our hearts enabling us to live it out as we walk by the Spirit. (This is another discussion)
We know that the law is fulfilled unto righteousness and that this is a free gift from God through Christ and not by our own efforts.
But, back to the discussion about Jesus not teaching the law on steroids. Jesus would have used the only scriptures available in order to teach; this was the Talmud. He would have taught from the law and the prophets, which we see him quoting all the time. There was no new testament writings at this time. Having ‘Shmekah’ he would have been able to bring about his ‘yolk’ which was ‘easy.’ This means that it was not heavy or hard to live according to because it was based on loving God and loving each other. It had nothing to do with elevating man and placing barriers between man and God that were impossible to cross. His ‘yolk’ also took guilt and condemnation away, therefore bringing freedom to those who heard it. He was also bringing love and dignity back into the community, where-as the‘yolk’ of the Pharisees brought guilt on people and was causing people to ostracise each other, pointing out peoples faults all the time and therefore claiming many as unclean. This also gave the Pharisees a high position among the community as they appeared to be holy and without blemish. The more the peoples external errors were pointed out the better it made the Pharisees look, since they had great external appearances. Jesus calls them “white washed tombs” because anyone who came into contact with a dead body was made unclean, so in calling them this was saying that “you are louring people into your teaching because you look good on the outside, but when they embrace your yolk they are made unclean by trying to apply it since it is not bringing them any life.”
So, as Jesus comes in and brings his yolk the people are amazed and say “we have never heard such teaching, and with authority“Shmekah””.
Now I want to point out that never does it say that anyone felt condemned by Jesus’ teaching; not even the Pharisees. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were angered by him, but it does not mention condemnation. The law as it was being taught was bringing condemnation at the time, so if Jesus was to have taken it to the fullest extreme then it would have made people feel even more condemned than hearing a Pharisee teach it. We also need to understand that Jesus was addressing the Jewish people and the Pharisees at the same time; some were amazed and others angered, but non condemned. The Pharisees would approach Jesus while he was teaching people to question him on his ‘yolk’, something they would have done with each other all the time, since it was customary for Rabbis to sit with their disciples and debate other Rabbis on their ‘yolk’, and this was done publically. The thing is this, Jesus was undoing a lot of bad teaching done by the Pharisees, which was slanted to elevate themselves, therefore bringing an equality between all before God, which would have been embarrassing for them. Their main issue with Jesus however, was not that He was bringing condemnation to them, but rather that he was claiming to be the Son of God. Their second main issue was that through his teaching he was disabling their positions of power held over the people.
The teaching of Jesus was bringing the law of the Spirit which brings life, and not the law of sin which brought death. A classic example of this was the woman caught in adultery. They catch this woman in the act. They bring only her to Jesus. The reason they brought her to Jesus was because He was a Rabbi with ‘Shmekah’ and so he was allowed to pass judgement. They cast her at his feet and expect him to give the order to stone her. Now according to their law she did in fact need to be stoned, and Jesus knows this to be true. But, being a Rabbi with ‘Shmekah’ he is able to interpret and bring the application of how that ‘mitzvot (command)’ is followed out. He responds by saying “you who is without sin cast the first stone.” What is he saying here? Well, he is not saying they can’t stone her; but that those who are themselves righteous before God can carry out the judgement. They all leave because they know the truth. But note that it does not mention they leave condemned. He then asks her “where are your accusers?” to which she notices they are all gone. He then says to her “neither do I condemn you.” Jesus by rights could have condemned her and stoned her because he was the only righteous one there, now left alone with her. But the Torah states that you can’t bring a case against someone and have them judged to death unless you have two or more witnesses to accuse. Jesus being the only one left then applies that commandment, and in a sense says “well no one else is here to accuse you except me, and we need more than one, so you go free.” He then loosens her by saying “go sin no more.”
What about the time Jesus says to the people “It is written that you shall not murder, but I say (my yolk is. My interpretation and application is) that if you hate your brother in your heart you have committed murder.” Obviously to hate someone is not actually murdering them, so what was Jesus trying to say here? Well the Spirit of the Torah was life, and to hate your brother in your heart was to not show love toward him, therefore not bring forward life. It was one thing to not murder (do any physical harm) but what was the point if you still harboured hatred towards him. The whole of the Torah is summed up in this “to love the Lord your God (Yahweh) and to love each other.” It was about living in the light and bringing forth life and love. Apply this principal to everything you do; does it bring love and life or does it bring darkness? “We were once darkness but now we are light.”
Some of the scriptures quoted by Jesus seem to be harsh and contradictory to the new covenant life that was being brought forward. What we need to understand is that everything in the new covenant has a foundation found in the old covenant; and that no scripture contradicts itself. One style of teaching which was called ‘Remez”, was when a Rabbi would quote a text or verse but his point was found in the surrounding text, usually the verses before or after, so it is good to go to that text and read the context around it.
Jesus also used idioms in teaching. One example is when he speaks about plucking out you eye or cutting of your hand or feet. It will help to understand what these things represent. The hand represents your own works. The foot represents your own path. And the eye represents your soul (mind will and emotions). Sin is unbelief. To pluck something out or cut something off is to say “allow it to be put to death.” So what Jesus is saying is this: ‘If your mind, will and emotions, your own works or your own path is going to cause you to live in unbelief, the allow them to be put to death in order to enter into the kingdom (eternal life).’
It is important for us to start to read the scriptures with a Hebrew mentality and not try approach them intellectually. The scriptures are not a textbook, but a narrative about the person and nature of God. Everything centres around Jesus the Saviour, God the Father and the Holy Spirit, and how man can live in relationship with Him, living in the light. If we look at it like this we will find in every teaching from any particular book of the bible, the application to live in that light. We always remember that it is through Christ alone that we are able to come into this life and it is not by any means of our own
We also need to realize that Jesus is our Rabbi, and therefore we are not allowed to teach any other ‘yolk’ except the one of our Rabbi. So if Jesus preached a mixture then so must we, and if Jesus preached the law on steroids then so must we. Obviously we know that this is not the case because Jesus himself said “that the law and prophets were until John, but since that time the KINGDOM of heaven has been proclaimed. This tells us that everything that Jesus taught was in fact kingdom, hence it brought life to his hearers and it was followed by power.
So what we need to do, instead of putting aside the teachings of Jesus because we can’t fit them into our personal interpretation of grace, is rather ask the Spirit to help us study and interpret the teaching, to understand the idioms, euphemisms and teaching style of the Rabbis (in particular the style Jesus himself use) in order for us to teach what he taught with the same attitude that he taught, in order for us to be able to bring life through that word to our hearers, the same as it did for those who heard Jesus.
Paul did not teach opposing messages to what Jesus taught. When Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatians that “all who rely on observing the law are under a curse”, he is speaking about those who rely on observing the law in order to be justified. It is by faith that we are justified. You can see him address this issue with Peter when he came to Antioch. The issue with Jewish believers was they were trying to get Gentile believers to also adopt Jewish customs as part of their justification. Paul was not having this. If even the Jews did not have to do it, and they were given the Torah, then how could they expect the Gentiles to try fulfil it, who had no understanding of the Torah. The Spirit of the law, however, was for everyone. The Torah is now written on our hearts, and is internally fulfilled as we walk by the Spirit.
We have people who now hate the law, when it is perfect and it was given by God (Paul mentions this). Yet these folk do not hate sin. We hate something that God gave, but are neither here nor there on something the devil brought in. God hates sin, and it was sin that separated us from God, it was sin that brought destruction to the planet. We have been set free from sin. We have died to the law so that sin can no longer seize its opportunity through the law. We are no longer administrated by the law but by the Spirit, and He fulfils in us the Torah so that we live within the blessings that are afforded by it.
We cannot exclude the teachings of Jesus from our pulpits, but rather teach them in the same attitude that He did and watch the power of the truth transform people’s lives.

The Foundation of Apostles and Prophets

I have just been meditating on this scripture and something dawned on me that I guess we have somehow known in the back of our minds, but a deeper layer has been revealed. Moving forward into what God is calling us to do apostolically in reaching our cities, countries and nations I believe it is imperative that we understand what this following scripture means:
Eph 2: 19 – 20 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
Over the past 20 years, and in our “heavy” Ecclesiology, have place the main emphasis on the “apostles and prophets?’ Rather, I believe that the emphasis should be on the ‘Foundation’ and the ‘Cornerstone,’ as well as being‘fellow citizens.’ The foundation is the gospel, the revelation of the Messiah coming, his death and most importantly his resurrection. The revealing of the kingdom through Christ and the bringing of all people groups (ethnos) into that kingdom, therefore making them fellow citizens and partakers in the promises. How that kingdom was outworked and revealed through the church, by the Holy Spirit. The foundation was never “wineskin” as we have known it, since most of our understanding of wineskin is actually structure/model. Was this what Jesus even meant when he used the word wineskin? Was he not talking about covenants?
I believe that because we have focused more around structure we have focused the attention of apostles and prophets towards “helping”churches see the correct “apostolic, prophetic” model (whatever that is) and how this is the important partnership towards getting your church “running well.”Has the focus shifted from the gospel? Is Jesus a name used in a sermon to give it credibility? or has he actually been the key focus? Has his life been something that we are helping people to model? Has the reality of seeing his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven been something we have encouraged people to believe for, and even more so, to release? I think if we look back over the past few years, we might finds ourselves a little shocked. I heard Chris Wienand once say “if you asked me to write a book on Ecclesiology I would write 7 volumes; But of you asked me to write one on the gospel I would only be able to fill half a page.” I was as shocked to hear him say it as he was to realize it.
We need to demystify apostles and prophets, apo teams and team leaders, without devaluing their important role in the church, (a role that is no more important than the other gifts but clearly has a certain and important function) and replace it with what they actually release, which is revelation of the mysteries of the kingdom. We need to take the focus off an external “team” and place it on the local church. When we do this we see the value the ascension gifts have in building the local rather than trying to get the local to serve an external “team”.
I know that apostle is referred to more than any other gift; but I believe it is because of the revelation of the gospel and the kingdom they carry, and their ability to release that revelation into a congregation in order to establish that local church in kingdom reality, therefore enabling and empowering them to bring real transformation to their cities, towns, villages or neighbourhoods. This again reinforces my case. It is the gospel foundation, and the revelation of the mysteries that are revealed within it that is the important message they carry. Their message is not about structure, although they can advise and assist on that. It is not on model, although they naturally walk it out. But their message is to make plain the truths of this mystery. Paul does say he is a master builder, but a builder of what? Of the church? Jesus said he will build his church! We are to build up people, alongside Jesus, so that they reach full maturity in Christ and come to the full stature of Christ. It is the gospel that transforms. It is the revealed truths of the mysteries of the kingdom that matures believers to grasp hold of the life of Jesus and walk as he did, by the Spirit in us. It is fathers that raise sons to be stable and steadfast in their beliefs.
If an apostle or prophet is not coming into the church to lay in this gospel or releasing the revelation of the mysteries of the kingdom, then are they building the church to maturity? Are they raising believers to the full stature of Christ? They might be helping with our administration and how we have our church meetings, looking at our structure and programs, but this is more of a consultant role rather than a revelatory role. We need apostles and prophets to reveal revelation of the kingdom, not consult us on how our lighting should be, whether people should go to the toilet or not during a preach, a deacon we should bring on, how long our worship should go on for etc. It sounds even foolish to mention these things, but I have seen this done first hand. I know Paul addresses some administrative issues in some of the churches, but these were churches that he had planted and fathered, and it was these issues that were showing lack of revelation of the gospel and the kingdom. In such letters he mainly addresses who they are (identity), what Christ has done (the gospel), their kingdom position, the task at hand (all these things would help the people see beyond their fleshly desires and draw them into the new nature they should be living in), besides, these day to day, family, marriage, social, cultural, parenting, moral etc. issues in the local church should be the role of elders/shepherds to deal with and not so much the apostles and prophets (although we can draw on them for advice). It is humorous to know some of the stuff that “so called” apostles and prophets are doing, but the health and maturity of churches are at stake if the genuine gifts don’t function as Christ intended them to.
Now I know that the first reaction of some will be to disagree. I am happy for that to happen and for all of us to discuss (if you so wish), but let’s ask ourselves why we disagree; is it because this is the way we have always done it in our model?
Also just let me clarify what I am not saying: I am not saying that we don’t need apostles and prophets (or any of the ascension gifts), I am a firm believer that we do need them and that they are imperative for the building up of the church. I am not saying that they can’t assist with some of the local church structure or administration (but this is not the primary revelation of what they bring).
Why do we question these things? Questioning is one of the best ways to learn, it’s a great way to assess ourselves. The Jewish rabbis taught by asking questions, Jesus taught by asking questions. If we don’t like people asking questions then maybe we have become possessive over our “thing”.And most importantly we question in order to learn and to go beyond where we currently are. We don’t disregard the past but rather build on it, leaving behind the old scaffolding that is no longer needed.
We need the gospel to take the stage again, we need Jesus to be at the centre, we need the mysteries of the kingdom to be revealed and made plain so that the church can once again rise up in power and boldness and truly fulfil the commission given to her.

Re-imagine

In Western society today (Namely Western Europe, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, and even South Africa more-so in the last 5 years) there has been a major shift in Christianity. Christendom as we have known it no longer exists. We are living in a Post Christendom era. Congregations in the West are in the decline. In the USA there are around 1500 Pastors that lose their jobs each month and around 5000 churches that close their door every year. A survey done in Australia showed that 70% of Australians despise hearing celebrities talk about their faith publically and 80% of Australians dislike hearing Christians tell testimony about healing. Around 80% of people said they want nothing to do with religion but are interested in some form of spirituality. It is very unpopular to be a Christian, and mentioning that you are one can stop a conversation quite quickly. In Western Europe (especially in countries like Germany and France) they are practically atheistic. The average size congregation in France and Germany is around 15 people, in USA and Australia its around 50 people. These statistics are alarming. The question we need to ask ourselves is: ‘Have we been trained to reach a generation that no longer exists?’ In many cases, to enable the church to survive pastors have had to resort to satisfying the consumerist society that we now find ourselves living in. People get bored with a phone within 6 month and there is always a newer, better one that comes out each month. The same with cars, toys, games, TV’s, computers, ipad’s etc. So many churches have resorted to entertainment programmes to keep “bums in seats”and money flowing in. They have had to resort to this in order to keep the system running. The bigger the system is the harder we try to keep it running. Eventually we become a slave to the system that we created. We can’t stop it because what if the church down the road upgrades their programme, music equipment, lights, building, kids programme, and then advertises it (which is seen a lot here in Australia and in the USA), then we end up losing people to the church down the road.
In the past 25 years we have used the Sunday service and homegroup/cell group model. This model seeks to get people to come to these weekly “events” as well as invite people we know to come along to them as well. I believe that this is still incredibly valuable, and corporate gatherings like this play an important role in church life. For the more “integrated/mature member” the weekly prayer meeting will be another one of those “events” that they add to the week. Social times have been bi-yearly events set up by a deacon in the church in order to show that we are a “relational” church that values “friendship before function.” While this is a great sentiment, I am not sure that we actually lived out relational/family to the degree that we see in scripture; particularly in Acts 2:42 -46
Reaching our communities was reduced to handing out tracks, hosting a yearly event (normally around Easter or Christmas), and for the adventurous, a trip abroad to a leadership conference or to a Third World Country to support a Pastor in his ministry.
Now, there is nothing wrong with these things in and of themselves, and they are important, but only within the context of the bigger picture; which is to make disciples of people, for Jesus. The attractional way (meaning: getting people to meetings) causes us to judge the success of the church through how well a Sunday service goes; did we have lots of people today? How was the atmospherics in the meeting? Did all the equipment function well? Was the message not too long and not too short? Was the offering collected a reflection of how many were in attendance? Was the music played well. I understand that a well-run Sunday service can show a level of excellence that reflects kingdom, but I do think that in our western nations these things have become the focal point of our church life. In fact I think we may have become a little over obsessed with this once a week meeting, which only reflects less than 2% of our times spent together. We also end up needing to bring on staff (normally a deacon) who will work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week (and 3 hours on Sunday) to ensure that this 2 hour meeting is well run. The larger the church grows the more of these staffed deacons we need to make the meeting run well. We are generally not happy when everything doesn’t “work”according to plan and then need to have a meeting about it during the week because we don’t want the folk in the church to become upset or distracted by the minor mistakes that we make. (I know that many may not agree with what I have just said and I know that I am pressing some buttons on the way we have been and are “doing” church. My intention is not to break down these things but rather to get us to ask ourselves some honest questions as to where we placing most of our value and therefore where we focus most of our efforts. This is also by no means a call to end these types of meetings, as we here at Crossing Point will continue to meet in such ways. We can also all meet differently and have different settings in which we meet and how those meetings look. This should reflect the environment that we are in as well as our own personal styles as this reflects the diversity and creativity of God. What I am saying is do we place more emphasis on these meetings than on “Doing life together”)
I also believe that we may have placed an over-emphasis on leadership that scripture itself does not do. We have had leadership training times/conferences, leaders meetings, leaders courses etc. Now, again, these things are not the issue, but don’t you think we might be undervaluing the priesthood of all believers. And while I know that this has been a value that we say we have, I think we may not be modelling it out. What if someone is not called to be a homegroup leader, a deacon or an elder? Do we sometimes through over-emphasis on leadership make those who are not called feel unimportant and inadequate in the community and kingdom.
When I look at the Jerusalem church in their early days, they had around 15000 to 20000 people. This was led by 12 men, who were the apostles that walked with Jesus. There was no lead apostle, nor lead elder/lead pastor. Some may say that Peter was, then James, but there is no way of knowing for sure (this can be a later discussion on the dynamic of how these guys worked). However, even with this large group of people they only chose 7 men to assist in the social wellbeing and administration of the church. This must surely raise some questions? Why only 7? How can 12 apostles and 7 others look after the leadership of so many? For me the key is found in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 2:32-36, this community of people were so involved in each other’s lives that they took care of each other. The point is: family was being formed.
The above points out where we, in the Western church, might have drifted to. Now it’s easy to point out the error, flaws and misdirection’s that we might be living in; but we need practical solutions. The problem with the “consumerist-satisfying” method, is that we aren’t really concerned about where the people are at; as long as they come to our “stuff” we are happy, because momentum in our services is created when people are there (this could be a false momentum, because we don’t actually know if people are connecting with God or each other. They could just be attending).
For me the practical solution is always found in discipleship; the model we see Jesus use. He wasn’t after numbers (although he did value and speak to the crowd, and we need to make room for the crowd. But at one point we see him challenge the crowd and 3000 leave, which shows that his main concern was not for fans but for followers.)
He was after making disciples, He was after creating family. Family do life together. They live in each other’s space. They challenge each other. Many say that the optimum church size is 150 people, because you can still retain a family, relational feel and people can comfortably be disciple and not fall through the cracks. Obviously as growth occurs we need to allow that community to grow to whatever size it can be. I think this means that we need to possibly rethink the way we administrate this. We need to ask ourselves the questions about the role of elders and deacons in the local church and how and who are appointed, as well as the role of ascension gifted men based in the local congregation. We might also need to rethink, biblically, who sets direction, makes decisions on vision etc. (Just some questions we need to ask of ourselves and open the scriptures around this.) The reality is, that although we might be able to lead a group of 300 people, we could probably only disciple a group no larger than 20 to 50 people (depending on our personal capacity.)
In a church of say 500 people with 4 elders, the reality is that not everyone in the church is going to be discipled by every one of those elders. The truth is that one of these elders will have, let’s say 30 people that see him as a ‘father figure’/leader. They are going to connect with him, ask for advice on matters of life, play golf, have meals etc. Let’s says that each of the 4 has a capacity for 50 people with the help of 2 deacons as part of that group, each of them being able to effectively handle 16 people each. This means that 4 elders can handle 200 people, with the help of 8 deacons (the deacons themselves being discipled by elders.) As you can see there are now 300 people that become fringe and are not sufficiently taken care of. Now some might say “that’s why we have more deacons!” Granted, but who disciples those deacons? Is a monthly deacons meeting sufficient to disciple those deacons if we established that “doing life together” is the best method of discipleship?
The method used by Jesus was this: To invite people into his life, and then challenge them to live kingdom. This method cannot be used through simply having home groups once a week, a Sunday meeting for 2 hours, a prayer meeting once a week and a deacons meeting once a month. People will have to actually live life together as a community within a community in order for true effective discipleship to occur. Remember that our goal is to get people to be like Jesus in the world (1 John 4:17) in every sphere of influence they have. Remember what I wrote at the beginning, that we need to effectively reach a post-Christendom society. The way Jesus did it was to embed himself in community and teach his followers to do the same. The most effective way to disciple is through immersion (being totally imbedded into a culture). It was intended that we would integrate into society yet stand out from it (a skill we will need to learn.)
He said things like “when you go into a town find the man of peace and stay there.” The man of peace was a person that we will come into contact with that will be open to receive the message that we carry. This person will also be the door into others’ lives. This process could be slow, but it is an effective way of building. Paul followed this same pattern.
When I have spoken to people in this country many of them have said that they are over church. Many have said that they used to go to church but all they saw was a lot of talking about stuff but never any action to the teaching. They never had any practical application that they could put to what they heard. Many have said that they didn’t care about the fancy building, music, lights, videos, and programmes. All of them desired two major things: 1) To encounter God and be able to practically take Him into their spheres of influence. 2) They longed for real authentic community relationships.
These two things are what we see Jesus living out with his disciples.
I believe that these two basic things is what a Kingdom community does. All of our life’s lessons can be learnt through effective kingdom community. Young men can learn to become solid men through rubbing shoulders with older, wiser, more godly men. The same goes for young girls with older ladies. We can learn about finances from those in the communities that are dealing well with their finances, sexuality and so on. In the past we have mainly sought to get this type of teaching through on a Sunday from the pulpit, but I’m not so sure that this is the most effective way anymore. The Sunday preaching achieves many things, but discipleship at the level that is required to make Jesus followers, I’m not sure it does. There is a lot we can learn from the Hebrew rabbinical way of teaching and living (although we do not become Jewish rabbis, but we can learn from their style, which is in fact the style Jesus used. We can adapt it to suit our current culture.)
This type of reimaging of the way we are doing church can cause us to become a powerful missional community that reaches people on a level that we haven’t seen since the early church. After planting this church into this environment and after following the journey of many other who are in a similar culture (some planting, some replanting, and others having led churches for many years) it has caused me to re-look at how we do things. For those who have been going for a while or those who have taken over churches that were planted by others you might be noticing the shift within your current community, however this might be a bit slower because there is already an existing group of people that have been in the church for a while. But looking at the trend in the USA and around Australia, many leaders are voicing their concern that people are leaving their church at an incredible rate.
I would like to close by saying that this kind of conversation is far greater than can be penned down in an email or blog. I would also like to point out that I am not advocating the removal of Sunday meetings, prayer meetings, home groups, buildings, courses or conferences, eldership, deacons or leaders. What I am doing is asking questions of myself and others in order for us to explore beyond what we have known for 25 years, tried and tested as it may be, because we need to reach a different world to the one that was being reached back then (it’s easy to say we have done it this way for a long time and it worked. Well it’s not working anymore and we need to explore, through scripture, the way Jesus wants us to build NOW in this era. People who aren’t changing are closing the doors to their churches, as seen earlier the statistics are frightening.) We don’t want to conform to the worlds way of doing things to reach them. We don’t want to water down the gospel in order to make it more palatable. We want to hold these truths and effectively reach our communities.
I would love to spark some discussions around some of these things.

The "Who" of Planting

Church planting has been the “talk of the town” for the last 20 years now. It has become a romantic possibility for anyone who has a desire to see the kingdom advance. Movements, models and churches have shot people out at a rate of knots to plant churches. Many have succeeded, and many have failed. In both the successful plants and failed plants people have been burnt. Most of the burnt people are those who have gone out to do the planting.
There can be no more fundamental step in the process of watching a church become healthy than finding the right spirit filled and God-gifted leader. Those called of God, prepared for ministry, and wired to plant new life-giving churches. Who leads the church plant is one of the most important issues to be determined. Too often the wrong people are placed in the wrong circumstance, with the wrong expectations and a new church becomes at best anaemic or at worst, dead.
When will we learn that a personal proclamation or desire to plant a church shouldn’t be the qualifying factor for sending someone out on the field? Just because I say I am a brain surgeon, doesn’t make me one! Likewise just because I say I want to plant a church, doesn’t make me a church planter. Yet too often well-meaning leaders are moved by an individual’s “call to plant” and send these self-proclaimed leaders out into field. Paul says “do not be hasty about the laying on of hands”? (1 Tim 5:22). We must not become so anxious to start a movement or make a name for ourselves as “movement leaders” that we hastily overlook a very fundamental issue? On other occasions where good leaders recognize that a person who wants to plant is not a church planter by calling, and explain this to the person, the person runs out anyway in this romantic relationship with planting a church, excessive expectations, and they end up hitting the wall of reality. It helps to listen to the advice given by others. For those wanting to plant, ask your leaders, and especially your spiritual fathers, if they see you as a planter. Even after two and a half years of leading our current church plant I still ask my spiritual father if he believes that we were called to do this task, or did we make a mistake in eagerness to fulfil the great commission. I once heard a man say to another: “loose the romance of church planting because it’s not what you think.” He was right! I didn’t understand at the time, but I sure do now. We must never loose our romance with Jesus, but church planting is far from romantic.
It has become increasingly important to help an individual discover God’s “shape” for their ministry in order to ensure the long-range survival of a new church. The task of planting is far more complex than a simple ‘yes go for it’.
Over the last decade the war has raged on in the church-planting world over models and methodology. We have clamoured for the latest and greatest way to plant a church. An array of solutions have been offered in an attempt to suggest “the right way”. Whenever a God-ordained, God-gifted leader starts a new church with great success, everyone jumps on the “new” wagon and proclaims a “new way” of doing church.
One man plants an organic church that explodes across a city, multiplying many times over and the pendulum swings. Across the state a person leads church as a bi-vocational pastor and experiences great success: The pendulum swings. And so on it goes.
My point is this; We watch an exceptionally gifted leader start and grow (not always numerically) a ministry and we automatically proclaim that this leader must have discovered the new “way”. Worse yet, if the leader grows a church in an unconventional way or something that goes against the norm of the established methodology, then we proclaim that a “new era has arisen”. We mark the birth of this new movement as proof that our culture has changed.
So, the solution is reduced to a thought processes, which might sound something like this: Frank planted a church as a bi-vocational leader. He was given no resourcing and needed no salary to begin with. So, since he was successful like this, things in our culture have changed. We now need to teach pastors to become bi-vocational, then we would experience greater efficacy. Right? What they fail to take into account is the simple fact that if bi-vocational ministry was the issue, then we should already be winning the war. The greater percentages of pastors today are bi-vocational .
Maybe we should stop throwing so much money at a church plant and do it on a shoe-string, then we would have greater success. John Smith did this and had great success. Yet, if that was the solution, the Church around the globe should be knocking it out of the park. The average church works with small sums of money from which to do ministry.
Use any other argument you want. You cannot properly draw a universal positive from one instance of success.
Whole denominations change strategies every time a “new way” was discovered.
While all of these issues are worthy of a discussion, are they the primary, foundational issue? The problems are many and far more complex than reducing it to a model or methodology. In fact, there is a whole diversity of issues we could bring to the table. But, models and methods on “how we do church” has been elevated above everything else, and this needs to change.
We have possibly focused for too long on the wrong issues. I would dare say that 98% of the speeches you have heard about “doing” church–planting, centres around “how”rather than “why” of the call to plant. It ceases to amaze me that through all the smoke and mirrors, we have failed to stop and look at one primary issue: The "who"!
A person “called” and “wired” to plant will be able to raise disciples in the current society that they find themselves planted in. It is these disciples that can change the spheres of influence that they are in. It is through this that the success of a church plant can be seen.
So it might be time to put down the church planting books, and pick up our Bibles and look at the method Jesus used and the way in which the early church reached the then known world with such great success.
Don’t get me wrong. I love reading the amazing resources available to planters today. But church planting is first and foremost about knowing and following Jesus deeply, intimately and authentically. And through that, knowing who he has made you to be, and being comfortable in walking in that calling, be it to be a church planter or not. Knowing this and following him is about 90% of it. Knowing the latest greatest "how-to’s" about planting the next amazing church plant is only about 10%.
In fact, reading the thrilling stories of church planters can be a bit intoxicating. You imagine that what happened to the church planter in the book will happen to you. But in the end it turns out to be an elaborate tale of make believe, a shot of excitement that makes you feel good until reality hits. Read enough books and you will actually feel like you’ve planted a church. You fancy yourself to be an expert on the subject when you actually just know a bunch of good planting ideas that worked well for someone else.
Yes, I know, reading church planting books and learning from effective church planters can be helpful. But starting a new community is not a paint-by-numbers game. It is the frontline of spiritual warfare. When motivated by a Kingdom calling, planting a new church is a direct attack on hell. And when all hell breaks loose, knowing the formula isn’t going to help you much. Knowing Jesus and knowing your calling is going to be what keeps you steadfast.
So read the books, go to the conferences and learn from other planters. Then spend enough time with Jesus to know what he wants YOU to do. And then do it.