This is the 17th post of a series on Christ-centered church. I began writing to work through my personal experience and heart-wrenching burden for my own church but I’m beginning to see these posts as open letters to the American Christian church.
(If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.)
I’ve been praying. and reading past journal entries. and praying. and writing. and praying. and talking my husband’s ear off. and praying.
Today’s post does not come easily. or lightly. (and it’s not short. You might want to go to the bathroom first.)
This is a two-part post. First, a confirmation. Then, some hard truth.
The first thing I needed to do was confirm that these hard things I’ve been saying have absolutely NO basis in my own selfish motivations. I discovered that, after reading the first 11 posts in this series, someone referred to me as sanctimonious.
I admit. I didn’t know exactly what it meant. So I Googled it.
merriam-webster.com – “hypocritically pious or devout”
dictionary.com – “making a hypocritical show of religious devotion, piety, righteousness, etc.”
encyclopedia.com – “making a show of being morally superior to other people”
My favorite college professor, Dr. Grasty, taught me a lesson that has stuck with me for decades:
When we are criticized, our tendency is to be defensive. Our knee-jerk reaction is to deny. His sage advice? Don’t be a deluded wimp. Have the courage to look for any truth in the criticism. Strip away any acrimonious language, any selfish motivation or defensiveness of the criticizer and diligently search for even a nugget of truth in the accusation.
Sanctimonious. Are these posts sanctimonious? am I sanctimonious? (If you’re more confident in my motivations than I was, you can skip the next few paragraphs by clicking HERE)
I began writing this series at the beginning of fall last year. And then I spent months arguing with God about whether to publish them. I pulled out my previous prayer journal for some hindsight.
Journal Entry Excerpt, Thursday, August 9, 2012:
“Am I really naive to think that if we focus on Christ, YOU will orchestrate the circumstances and not only give us the “optimal” worship service, but You will overwhelm us with an awareness of Your presence?
…I pray for arrogant hearts – including my own – to be freed from pride. To be humbled and full of compassion. I pray for the courage to be authentic. I pray for the obedience to follow your promptings.
…Please show me – tell me – what you want me to say. Please TAKE from me my selfish desires. Please burden my heart for YOUR message, not my agenda.
…If I have this wrong Lord, please change my heart.”
Journal Entry Excerpt, Sunday, August 12, 2012:
“Lord, please don’t let me read things into this that just aren’t there. Please Lord, reveal to me the truth.
…Lord, please, please, please don’t allow Satan to be an influence over my interpretation of this situation. Please fill my head and my heart with YOUR perspective. Please God, don’t allow me to be unintentionally disobedient because I’m misinterpreting these circumstances and not understanding Your will.
Skip ahead. This entry is eerily prophetic.
Journal Entry Excerpt, Wednesday, November 21, 2012:
“Please Lord, as I write, lead me to find the words which will open minds and hearts – without shutting down the path of communication. Please Lord, help me find the line between honest and accusatory – between challenging and insulting.
How do I call attention to the pursuit of Christ without people getting caught up in defensiveness to the point they shut off the message?”
Skip ahead. The day before I published the first post.
Journal Entry Excerpt, Sunday, February 3, 2013:
“Lord, please give me courage. Bless me with wisdom and words of grace and unflinching honesty. Please Lord, place your hand at the small of my back and guide me. Please place your hand of restraint on my shoulder when I am overcome by pride or anger so I won’t say things that are unedifying. Please, please empty my mind of distractions and open my heart to your presence. Help me to focus not only my eyes on you, but my hope also. You alone can redeem this seemingly hopeless circumstance. Please bless me with encouragement, Lord. Please, please, please – don’t let me fail to understand and do my part in Your perfect story.”
In my last post, 25 days ago, I asked if you would PLEASE PRAY WITH ME. I asked you to pray that the Holy Spirit would bring revival to my church. And I said that because we are doers and fixers, the question that usually follows that is:
“But what else can I do?”
I hold steady to my answer: NOTHING else. We can’t bring revival. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.
So please. Please PRAY. Pray for revival. Pray for God’s will to be done.
I am not. We are not.
no. I know I am less, not more.
And here comes the hard part. the part I prayed about for 25 days before I published this post.
As a unified body of believers, my church doesn’t want revival. My church doesn’t want change. My church doesn’t want to rely wholly on God. My church doesn’t want to pray unreasonable prayers. My church doesn’t want to pray for unreasonable lengths of time. My church doesn’t want to pray with unreasonable persistence. They don’t see a need.
they are fine.
They want to continue doing things they way they do them.
On their own.
Here’s a question my husband posed to me:
“Consider all the man-hours involved in doing all the things we do at our church. From admin to ministry, from service to worship, from study to fellowship. Consider how many man-hours – Church staff, lay leaders, members, volunteers – are involved in activities and ministries both on and off the church campus.
How many of those hours are Christ-centered?
The answer should be ALL OF THEM.“
MrYehbut: “EVERY man-hour can’t be Christ-centered.”
yes. They can.
If the WHY and the HOW of WHAT we do is centered on Christ.
Brother Lawrence was a 17th century monk. His job at the monastery? He was a cook. And his job was Christ-centered. Because he strove to do everything “as unto the Lord.”
“…he went to his work appointed in the kitchen (for he was cook to the society); there having first considered severally the things his office required, and when and how each thing was to be done, he spent all the intervals of his time, as well before as after his work, in prayer. That when he began his business, he said to GOD, with a filial trust in Him, “O my GOD, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and to this end do Thou prosper me with Thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections.” (emphasis added)
EVERYthing we do at our church can be – should be – Christ-centered.
But that’s not the case.
So. many. reasons.
But at the core, this seems to be the looming, pervading, deep-rooted reason:
We don’t trust God.
MrYehbut: “If we change, people will complain.”
yes. some will.
MrYehbut: “If we change, people will leave.”
yes. some will.
MrYehbut: “If people leave, giving will go down and the church might not survive.”
yes. that’s entirely possible.
“We can’t let that happen!”
And I find myself thinking of Abram and Sarai.
God told Abram to leave his home and go to “the land I will show you.” He promised Abram He would bless him and make him a great nation. So Abram packed up and went. Turns out, there was famine in “the land I will show you.”
But God had promised. “I will make you a great nation. I will bless you.” Famine? There’s nothing great about famine. It is NOT a blessing. At least from not from Abram’s point of view. So Abram went to Egypt, and despite God’s promises, he asked his wife, Sarai to do him a favor:
“Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”
Because the Almighty GOD isn’t able to protect Abram. He needed his wife to protect him. By lying.
Why did Abram ask her to do that?
He didn’t trust God.
And motivated by that lack of trust, he took matters into his own hands and made what seemed to be a reasonable and effective decision. Abram was afraid to surrender his will; his idea of how things should be. He didn’t want to risk any suffering. Because surely, God wouldn’t want him to suffer.
What if the people of Christian churches everywhere surrendered their idea of how things should be? What if we trusted God, even if it meant we might suffer? What if we STOPPED? And evaluated EVERY. SINGLE. THING. we do. And honestly asked, for each and every ministry, each and every decision:
“What’s the goal?”
“Is this Christ-centered?”
“Does this lead to the development of intimate relationship with CHRIST?”
“Does it actively provide a witness to salvation through Jesus Christ?”
“God, what do YOU want?”
What if we STOPPED asking each other “What can we do?” and started asking God “LORD, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO THROUGH US?”
Do NOT tell me that is semantics. Not when I’m inundated by reasonable lukewarm mediocrity. It is only language if the prayer is perfunctory. But when we are face down on the floor, palms up, sincerely humble and desperately expectant in prayer it will NOT be semantics.
This subtle change in language, combined with a transformed heart, an open mind and a sacrifice of will, would have infinitely HUGE implications in application and fruitfulness.”
Instead, we regularly dismiss the need to consistently pray and ask God to reveal His will, to guide us as we decide what to do and equip us as we do it – from worship services to programing to service to ministry.
One heartbreaking reason? Because too many people don’t believe we will be able to discern God’s answers. Because they haven’t experienced the kind of intimacy with Christ that is necessary to hear and discern His voice.
There are some people mocking me right now. “How sanctimonious. God talks to her. Isn’t that special.”
I believe God DOES speak to His people.
I believe it IS possible to experience the kind of relationship with Christ that allows US to hear and discern his voice.
Am I saying I know what God wants?
NO. I’m saying, PLEASE, CAN WE ASK HIM? TOGETHER? and WAIT on Him to answer? and TRUST Him?
I trust God to do WHATever He wants at my church. Even if it ends in the kind of death that results in empty rooms, no electricity and plywood on the windows.
MrYehbut: “That’s easy for you to say. You have nothing to lose.”
There ain’t nothing about this that’s easy. I’m acutely aware of what I might lose. of what I’ve already lost. and it’s been wrecking me for nearly a year. wreck. ing. me. It invades my days, interrupts my nights and fills my prayer journal.
MrYehbut: “You want our church to die?”
But if God allowed it, I would still trust Him. I would mourn the death, but I trust Him to work it for His good. Even if I don’t understand. Even if He doesn’t provide a way for me to see the good.
DO NOT tell me I don’t understand. I get the seriousness of the situation. I don’t like it. I HATE it. I understand that if we were to truly give God EVERYthing in this Church He might allow it to die.
He might prune it to a stub.
Will people leave if we intentionally enter into and strive to maintain an intimate relationship with Christ?
Will people leave if we dedicate ourselves to seeking his guidance and responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit?
Will people leave if we submit everything we do to the will of the Father?
YES. SOME PEOPLE WILL LEAVE. People who GIVE and support the church financially and through their service WILL LEAVE.
And we need to let them go.
I’m going to say another hard thing.
Because we don’t focus on Christ and depend wholly on the Holy Spirit to guide us and equip us people – some of those same people we are afraid of losing – people who GIVE and support the church – ARE ALREADY LEAVING. I know some of their names and faces and heartaches. Some people who GIVE and support the church are dying. The elderly and the sick. It is only a matter of time until the people we are trying to keep – and keep happy – are gone. or dead.
The death we fear, the death of our church, will come. We will have only prolonged the inevitable. Because eventually, we’ll all be gone too.
Our absence will make us no less responsible for the death of our church.
This is why God is making me say these hard things. In wrecked love for the people of my church. In a spirit of edification. Against my own selfish will. Because it would be so much easier…
so. much. easier.
to just leave.
“…when Jesus had a large crowd, he would most often preach a message that was likely to cause them to leave…
…’From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him’
(John 6: 66).
Many of the fans turn to go home. I was struck by the fact that Jesus doesn’t chase after them. He doesn’t soften his message to make it more appealing…As I sat in the sanctuary surrounded by thousands of empty seats, here’s what became clear to me: it wasn’t the size of the crowd Jesus cared about; it was their level of commitment.”
Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus
by Kyle Idleman
This is the 17th post of a series on Christ-centered church. If you want to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.