I spent 3 hours last night in the company of about twenty or some odd friends (some more odd than others) who were evidence that the body of Christ has no boundaries. Most of those present once upon a time belonged to the same local community of believers, but a major, dramatic change in leadership and with it commensurate leadership style, if not necessarily direction, sent that local body spiraling to a point where, frankly, probably only a dozen of the families or fewer who were partnered together in ministry there when I became involved, remain.
There is still a community of believers there, and funnily enough – sadly enough, even – the core values upon which the ‘old ministry’ and the ‘new ministry’ are based really aren’t any different. In fact, if you really trace their roots within the sphere of 21st century ministry models, they’re Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church updated and adapted to this time, place, people, and pastoral personality, which, by the way, is what Warren said was the way to use his method to begin with.
So what happened that plan B steps into plan A and both B and A are the same but the first thing B does is implode on A, scattering the masses, most of them leaving a trail of bloody scars behind? I don’t have the answer for that. My wife said we were an emergency adoption. I said it felt more like a hostile takeover.
What I do know is that in my lifetime I have experienced the gamut of church plants that began in a pastor’s living room to mega churches that seated 6,000 several times a Sunday morning. From small communities of believers where ‘everyone knows your name’ to magnificent edifices where you’re lucky to arrive an hour early to get a good parking spot within walking distance. From sitting literally at the feet of great preachers, to watching the recording of the previous night’s message on a big screen the next morning. From a hug or handshake on the way out to a handshake from the surrogate.
I’ve seen music change from anthems whose themes were lifted right out of scripture to the highly emotionalized ‘praise songs’ of my teenage years to the extreme of ending an Easter morning song service (We call it a Worship Experience now) with a soloist performing a Phil Collins/ Genesis Song while video from some Jesus movie played in the background. As a parenthetical aside, have I mentioned that my senior thesis was on the subject that “Christian” and “Rock” are mutually exclusive terms musicologically speaking, and that where you have the one, you cannot have the other because of their exclusive musical definitions? In other words, that which makes Rock music Rock music, by definition precludes the possibility of it being Christian, and the simple fact of throwing ‘God’ word at it doesn’t change what it is musically. That’s another story.
Anyway – back on track. I’ve seen church move from outreach to inbreeding back to outreach to . . . something. We have a recorded alter call with no one up front to meet anyone who might respond. That’s been replaced with instructions to fill out a card.
So – where was I before I started chasing rabbits? Did you know that Levitical Law forbade the Children of Israel from eating rabbit (Hare)? Me either, until this morning.
I guess preaching is one of the biggest changes. I was ushered into the Kingdom of God through the faithfulness of a man of God named Homer G. Lindsey, Jr. He was pastor of Northwest Baptist Church in North Miami, Florida. As a result of his preaching the Word of God, I trusted Christ as my Savior on November 21, 1965. Pastor Lindsey baptized me on January 6, 1966. He later went on to first join, and then replace his dad at First Baptist Church Downtown, Jacksonville, Florida. For you football folk who need a reference, that’s Tim Tebow’s home church.
Dr. Lindsey is with the Lord now, but the lives his ministry influenced are legion. He is the first of many who share something in common I’ll get to in a moment. Homer Lindsey, Bill Chapman, Mickey Proctor, Aubrey Malphurs, Jerry Falwell, Art Boymook, Bob Savage, Steve Cardona, George Butler, Tom Little, Tom Lemmon, David Miles, Brian Brown, David Marquart. These men all have one thing in common, and my contact with them (and others at whose feet I have sat, but were not my ‘Pastor) spans nearly fifty years: They preached the Word of God from the Word of God, not from books about the Word of God!
I suppose that’s the biggest change I see in ministry today. Choices – what to do – Study Romans or read a chapter of Circle Maker, Use the author’s Study Guide, preach it on Sunday – DONE!
That’s what makes this Wednesday night group so rocking cool! Week after week, irrespective of where we were Sunday morning, we check all that stuff at the door and gather at the tableau of the Word of God to see what Almighty God has to say to us both collectively and individually. The Bible says “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these books, but however well written, well intended, or insightful they are – they’re Not the Word of God.
In the seven years from 1555-1562, Reformationist John Calvin sent 88 church planters from Geneva into France. Armed with only the Holy Spirit and the Word of God these men planted 2,150 reformed churches in SEVEN YEARS. That’s almost a church a day! Nine of them were martyred for their efforts.
So – Wednesday night, a bundle of people, some cookies, coffee, a guitar, and the Word of God. We had what, in the good old days, we used to call a Singspiration, last night. It was sprinkled throughout the three hours with praise, prayer, worship, the Word of God, Fellowship, and oh yeah: the awesome presence of God’s Holy Spirit. If you were there, you know what I’m talking about. Last week we finished up Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi. Next week we begin Paul’s Letter to the Church at Rome. David wrote “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105 NKJV). He also wrote “Your Word have I hid in my heart that I might not Sin Against You.” (Psalm 119:11 NKJV). If you’re not somewhere where you’re being preached to and taught from the Word of God – and not just from books about ideas in the Word of God – my friend – you’re in the wrong place.
You know something? Every great revival in history has begun with a handful of Christ Followers who met together on a regular basis, studied God’s Word together, and prayed together. This Wednesday night gig just might be the spark.