The Nature of the Kingdom of God – Part 1
During the 1960’s and on into the 70’s and early 80’s many people exited traditional and mainline denominational churches because their needs were not being met, and they were hungry for the deeper things of God. As a result, para-church organizations were raised up and played a key role in the training and discipleship of new converts. Bible schools were established to equip pastors and leaders. Many of those pastors and churches that were raised up during that time, however, have now become as structured, rigid, and set in their own agendas as the former churches they came out of.
I see a trend today that is attempting to reverse this process and avoid another mass exodus from our churches by using methods and developing programs that will either keep current members from exiting our churches, or draw new people into them (that is what spurned the seeker-friendly church philosophy). Usually this is done by planning various events or offering new and exciting programs that attempt to produce a quality in the Church from the outside in. And this is not the pattern of the New Testament.
The Lord gave me a word a few years ago that further magnifies this truth: “Let the fruit grow the ministry and not the ministry grow the fruit.” He went on to use the example of the woman at the well who had an encounter with Jesus that led to an entire Samaritan city being impacted with the gospel (John 4:28-30, 39-42). The fruit of that woman’s testimony produced greater ministry among many other people. This is the pattern we see throughout the gospels and the New Testament. The key to this fruit lay in the revelation, power, and compassion Jesus walked in as a result of His fellowship with the Father. All fruit grows and flows from within that fellowship.
We cannot produce a quality in the Church from the outside in as is common in the Church world today when we start a ministry or a program, embalm it with some sort of structure, and then try and breathe spiritual life into it that will produce fruit. The New Testament pattern is to find out where spiritual life is moving, follow it, and then build just enough structure to facilitate that life. That way if the operation of the Spirit of God changes or fruit is no longer forthcoming, there is so little structure established that things can easily be shut down or changed to facilitate the new life flow. Conversely, changing outward forms, structures, worship styles, adding a new mission statement, new programs, and new outreaches, changing the name of your church or ministry are all false, unproductive ways to produce spiritual life. Spiritual life and health flows from the fellowship we have with the Lord within our new spiritual nature we receive when we’re born again.
Elaborate buildings, large numbers of people, and an increasing flow of cash does not guarantee spiritual life and health. The Church did not begin with that focus and yet somehow modern Church principles have put the emphasis on attendance, buildings, and cash. Some have called it the ABC’s of modern church growth. But many false religions of the world have a large following, magnificent buildings, and lots of cash, too. Although we are not opposed to any of these things in and of themselves, they are not the true indicators of spirituality. As a matter of fact, often these things serve as a sort of façade or smokescreen that hides the real problems and issues that are facing the Church in this hour. We’ve been guilty of painting and decorating the cart while neglecting the sick horse.
My younger biological brother who is a bit of a wordsmith came up with the following quote that illustrates the “cart before the horse” mentality that is so prevalent in the body of Christ today:
“Another meeting, another offering, another song, another convention, another banquet, another special speaker, another concert, another project, another program… and so ‘church life’ continues, but the changed life remains scarce. If the horse is healthy the cart will be pulled. If the horse is unhealthy, making the cart more attractive is useless.” — Roy Farias
There is a subtle, almost subconscious mentality in the Church today that places great emphasis on the outward and external appearances of Christianity. We are trained by example to esteem appearance, presentation, professionalism, and showmanship above hidden service and meeting the every day, pressing, oft-unspoken heart needs of individual people. We are easily impressed by the trappings of the production of the Church, and fooled by its big names and big conferences. I’m afraid there is a large gap separating the culture of the modern Western Church from the heart of God as revealed through Jesus in the gospels and through the early Church.
(To be continued…)