I’ve sat across the table and listened to the stories of discouraged pastors describe in great detail where the ministry took a wrong turn. Often it wasn’t from an evil decision or a judgment from God. People stopped coming. The recession happened and people stopped giving. The church plant didn’t work out like they thought. In all of these cases, the result was the same: We’re shutting the church down.
My heart breaks every time this happens. Sometimes there are good, godly men and women doing their best in whatever capacity the Lord has called them to serve the church and circumstances cause there not to be enough money. Sometimes other resources are the issue, like a lack of volunteers. Regardless, the point is that churches with true believers and well meaning hearts close down all the time. Current statistics estimate roughly 3,700 churches close their doors every year.
But there is good news! First, because of the Gospel of Jesus, no matter what capacity you served your church in the past, you are not a failure. God loved you regardless of the outcome of your work for Him. His death and resurrection means that the work that you carried on for Him was not in vain. Paul, after spending an entire chapter in 1 Corinthians on the subject of the resurrection says this: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless,” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
But there’s even more good news: Just because the money and the volunteers and the resources dried up, doesn’t mean your church needs to close. It might mean the church needs to change. The fact of the matter is the Kingdom of God doesn’t run on money, so even though resources are tight, the ministry can continue. Just because the resources have disappeared doesn’t mean the relationships and family of an existing church need to end.
How does this happen? For a church that wants to continue on but doesn’t have enough money to pay for a building or staff or the have the resources to support such things, house churches are a viable option. The existing church would transition to a church or a network of related churches that meet in the homes of its members and continue the work of sharing the gospel, building up the church, and making disciples.
This would mean a lot of changes for a church that was used to meeting as a traditional church on Sunday morning. It will most likely mean the pastor would forsake a salary (if he or she hadn’t already), it will mean that the format of the meetings you’ve become accustomed will change, and the ministry of the church will have be taken up by whatever members of the church remain, not just the pastor. Also, not everyone will want to make this jump, so be prepared for some who would be okay in any other traditional context to not make this jump with you. For those who feel God isn’t done with the church yet, but don’t see a way forward, it’s a viable alternative.
If you’re facing this moment in the life of your church, feel free to contact me at PursuingGlory at gmail dot com or check out my resource page featuring the best books on house churches.
More than that, don’t give up hope in God, the gospel, or the family of God. God loves you. You and your church haven’t failed. He has a plan that continues regardless of the cash flow. God, who raises the dead, can take what seems like has died and transform it into something new.
Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
-Jesus, Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22
For a long time I thought these verses meant that we should pay attention to what the Holy Spirit was saying. That seemed pretty straightforward.
I also used to think the reason that God asked us to share what we’re hearing from the Holy Spirit with others was to keep us from being deceived. And I’m still sure that’s part of the reason.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the Holy Spirit speak to people from different backgrounds and locations about the exact same thing, weaving a tapestry of a message that could never be accomplished if only one person or even one church was the only one hearing what the Spirit was saying. It’s got me thinking that maybe God has something more for us in sharing what we’re hearing than just accountability.
I think there is a place where we can listen to the Holy Spirit ourselves, but when we bring together what we hear from Him, there is a richer, more in-depth, more accurate picture of what God is doing in the Earth. It only takes us being willing to listen with other believers, being willing to wait together to discern His voice, listening to what the Spirit is saying to all of us.
Who knows? Maybe God wants to weave what you are hearing from Him together with what He is speaking to others to accomplish more than you could ever imagine. Maybe, just maybe, if we begin to listen together, we can confirm and establish the reality of what God is doing in our day.
But it starts with us sharing what we’re hearing, together.
Are you listening?
Are you sharing?
[Editor’s Note: I am slightly preoccupied this week, so I’ve asked some friends to help me keep some posts coming your way. Today’s post is a review of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. The review is by David Washburn.]
Randolph Richards is dean and professor of biblical studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, and Brandon J. O’Brien, a former student of Richards, is a part-time instructor of religion at College of Du Page and editor-at-large for Leadership journal.
Together Mr. Richards and Mr. O’Brien have revealed where many Christians throughout time have mistakenly interpreted the words and actions within scripture through their cultural norms instead of the culture of the scriptural writer. As a result, those living in western societies are frequently blind to the cultural subtleties of those living in other cultures. Westerners may often miss the point of a biblical passage where the reader is expected to know something which would go without saying. For example: If I was to say, “I’m going out to eat.” It would go without saying, that I am going to go out to a restaurant. If I was in another culture or time, it would go without saying, that I was going to eat outside. Many times we assume that what we say will be understood because the reader or listener will understand what went without saying.
“The core conviction that drives this book is that some of the habits that we readers from the West (the United States, Canada, and Western Europe) bring to the Bible can blind us to interpretations that the original audience and readers in other cultures see quite naturally” (p. 15).
It is normal for readers from the West to view things with Western eyes. It is very difficult to read and perfectly understand a book which was written with an Eastern point of view, when all your life you have viewed the world from a Western viewpoint. That does not mean we can not learn to train ourselves to look for those differences. The nine differences identified in this book are written to “help us learn to read ourselves. . . . Before we can be confident we are reading the Bible accurately, we need to understand what assumptions and values we project onto the Bible: those things that go without being said and that make us assume that some interpretations are self-evident and others are impossible” (p 16)
We are all culturally immersed in our way of life. Everything we do, say and think is effected by the cultural world around us. It is easy for us to forget that The Bible was not written to people within our culture. This book helps to show us that we can not simply read our world into the Biblical world. The word of God is true and perfect. It applies to everyone worldwide, but we must also remember to view God’s Word with an eye towards the culture and times of the writer.
This is an excellent book which I highly recommend Christians to read. It will not overnight make you understand all the cultural differences within Scripture, but it is a good place to start.
David Washburn is a follower of Jesus, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. He is an author of short stories and blogs occasionally. You can connect with David on Facebook and Twitter.
Today is Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Since there’s not much to write about the day where Jesus laid in the grave, I thought I’d take today and reflect a bit on how the cross affects the life of the believer.
The cross and the resurrection began a revolution in the life of humanity. Humans, who had lived under the thumb of sin for thousands of years, finally were freed from its dominance. They could have a relationship with God! We can draw close to God in a way that was never possible. But the cross changed more than just our position before God. The cross changed how we live with one another.
Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
-Paul, Ephesians 5:2
Paul (and the other apostles) constantly call us to not just accept the work of the cross in our life. They also call us to follow the example of Jesus in how we relate to others. Many of us will read Paul’s letter and hear a call for Christians to “be nice.” Paul points us to lay our lives down in love for one another in the same way Jesus gave up His life on the cross.
This is a whole different level than just doing good to others. Jesus’ example means giving up our lives for the betterment of others. It means entering into situations others have created for no other purpose than to love and serve them. It often means you absorb the cost for others’ actions.
I remember a time back in college when we planted our first house church. I had just gotten done taking care of all my bills with my meager college income and I had just gotten paid and had a little extra cash in my pocket for the first time. It was at this exact moment that a single mom in our house church shared a need she had. She was behind on her electric bill and needed to come up with the cash to pay it. Somehow between all of us we came up with the cash, but the lesson I learned was this: My money isn’t just my money. In order to love like Jesus, I needed to lay down my life for others. In this case it was my excess cash that I was so happy about.
Friends, Jesus didn’t owe us anything. He entered our world and paid the price of our sin because He loved us, not because we deserved it. In the same way, He calls us to follow Him into the lives of others and love them in the same way.
Today (and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…) as we remember the price Jesus paid for our sins, commit yourself to share the kind of love you’ve received from Him with other believers in your life. Share the love you received in the same way He showed it to you.
[Update] Frequent commenter Dan left this well stated truth in the comment section:
He died once for sin but daily, moment by moment, gives Himself to us. We died once to sin, but daily, moment by moment give of ourselves to others.
A short meditation for Good Friday:
For some, today looked like chaos. An angry, ugly mob finally turned on a man from Nazareth who had aspirations of something greater. Having brought Him to Pilate, this mob finally got their way. For those who were following this man, this was unthinkable. He had healed the sick, raised the dead Himself, and had been confirmed by so many signs that the idea of Him going to the cross was unthinkable. And He was crushed. And along with Him, their hopes.
God can take our chaos and crushed dreams and make something beautiful.
For one man, this day was the culmination of everything he deserved. He had spent his life stealing, swindling, and escaping the law. His life benefited no one, only took took from those who surrounded him. He deserved this day. He deserved to find himself on this cross. His sins brought him here. But next to him was a man he had never met before, gasping for the same air he was trying to swallow. Between the pain and not being able to breathe, somewhere he had a revelation that this man dying next to him was more than a man. He confronted the mocker on a third cross and called out to the One in the middle of them. He heard that One, that “more than a man” whisper to him “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
God can take the worst of us in horrible situations and change our lives.
Post the cross, first hundreds, then thousands, and then millions have accepted the reality of the cross and the man who rested on it. The meaning of this day, looked back on throughout history has become a point of both deep grief and deep relief. That Jesus lost his life on that cross was the beginning of God’s plan to liberate us from our sin and the enemy of our souls. But for the first believers and those that have followed in their steps, this day has not only become a day to celebrate but an example to follow. This became a day that not only defined our freedom from sin, but a freedom from the way this world would seek to control us.
God can take this day and not just forgive us, but define us.
Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
-Paul, Philippians 2:5-11
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?… Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
This may come as a shock, given what you’ve seen and what you heard from Christian ministries in the past, but the Kingdom of God is not dependent on dollar bills in order to keep expanding. Let me explain.
When you came to Christ, regardless of the context you heard the Gospel in, the critical element was the exchange of the message of Jesus from one human being to another. Now, there were probably multiple things involved in that moment that were paid for: a Bible, possibly a building, maybe a paid speaker or pastor, but at a basic level the Gospel was freely given to you.
In China and in many other countries around the world, the Gospel spreads not because the people are able to give exorbitant amounts of money–they can’t. The Gospel spreads there because people received the true Gospel and they are willing to give up every part of their life so that others can hear the same transforming Gospel. So without buildings, paid pastors, and often without Bibles, the true message of Jesus continues to spread.
But in the West, we’ve become so consumed with money and the place it plays in our lives, that to suggest that the Gospel could spread without it is met with charges of heresy. Who will shepherd us? Who will teach us? Who will share the Gospel with others if we don’t pay someone to do it? And what about the building? How does that work?
The reality is these things can and do work without money. House churches, for example, work regularly without paid staff, dedicated buildings, or a ministry budget. Small groups of believers meet in each others’ homes, teaching each other, caring for one another, and sharing the Gospel all without any cost. Missions? That can still happen, depending on how you define it. Locally is easy, non-locally is tougher but can be achieved through relationships, hospitality, and tent-making.
My point isn’t to glorify house churches in writing this, but to open our eyes that ministry can happen with little to no budget. If you are a traditional church with a building and staff, that’s not an evil thing. It’s just that often I’ve seen ministry stop when the money stops flowing, but it doesn’t need to be like this. We need to lower the power of the dollar in the minds of the church and lift up the ability of Jesus to not only to sustain the church, but extend the Kingdom, with or without money.
The same Jesus that told us to look to the birds and the flowers for our personal natural provision is the same Jesus that can bring ministry forth with very little (and even no) money. May God help us see that there’s no amount of money that can achieve God’s purposes, only hearts fully surrendered to Him.
Deep in the heart of every human being there is a lie that’s been rehearsed to us from as early as we can remember. That lie goes something like this: I’m not valuable. Nobody wants me for who I am. I’m only valuable to God or to others as long as I act like someone else, someone better than me, someone who has things more put together. We all believe this, to a greater or lesser degree.
We all cope with this lie in different ways. Some of us wear masks to hide who we really are. These masks hide who we are behind some kind of alternate reality. Some of them are easy to spot. Jesus called the Pharisees of His day hypocrites, a word which refered to play actors who wore masks that portrayed feelings they weren’t real. Many of us work to portray a much better image to the world around us than what is really going on. We are literally different on the inside than on the outside.
Some of us keep others at a distance. Like Adam and Eve caught in their sin and ashamed at their nakedness, we cobble together clothes for ourselves that hide who we really are. We don’t let others get close. Fear tells us that if we dropped the act and let God or anyone else see who we are on the inside, they would reject us. So we turn to things like perfectionism, business success, and even ministry to make the world think well of us, but we still live empty and broken.
But God’s design for us, the way we were designed to live and the way that is most healthy for us is totally different. Genesis 2 describes the first man and woman living together in perfect harmony with God this way: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed,” (Genesis 2:25). They lived transparently with each other and before the Lord, hiding nothing from either.
In our lives, this is what healing looks like. We can come to a place where God heals us and we can be totally at peace with God and others knowing exactly who we are. I’m not advocating for actual nudity, but a spiritual transparency where we no longer put on masks and we let others see us as we truly are. We let God in. We let others in. We do one of the scariest things humanly possible and trust others with the ugly realities we see in ourselves.
One of the most healing things I’ve witnessed over the last ten years has been the moments where a brother gets really scary honest about the condition of his heart. This takes mad bravery, the kind you don’t find everyday. When a brother steps up to the plate and says “This is exactly how ugly I am on the inside,” it’s usually the first step on a powerful journey to wholeness.
Why is this? Most of us want to be loved by God. The problem is we don’t believe that God could really ever completely accept us in the state we’re in. This is a problem, especially if we’re believers. Jesus died because God was looking for a way to make men right with Him and anyone who has received Christ as their Savior has been accepted by God (note the past tense). God literally loves us while knowing everything negative about us.
I know so many believers, though, that don’t believe they’ve been accepted by God. Instead they live their lives behind masks and fig leaves, hiding the ugliness they believe not even God can handle. In my life, God has helped me over and over again by sending men that I got scary ugly with in my life. These men had the audacity to not run away, to not laugh at me, to not point a finger at me, but instead they looked at me and said, “You’re stuck with me. I love you. Let’s figure out a way forward.”
Because they didn’t give up on me, over time I’ve had an easier time believing God hadn’t given up on me either. And every time I see the Father’s love reflected through another human being in my life, I have a little easier time believing that God really loves me the way He truly sees me. That enables me to let down the masks.
As I’ve let down my masks and been honest about my struggles, other men around me have found freedom to be honest about theirs. Transparency begets transparency. When one guy lets down his guard and lets others in, others seem to find the courage to be open and honest. Healing comes every time we talk because God promises to bring healing where honesty and contrition meet together: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed,” (James 5:16).
I’ve probably written about this before, but I’m writing again because I’m convinced that only the kind of scary transparency that we all fear with both God and people is the only reality many people will find acceptance, love, and an end to their struggles. If you aren’t in a relationship where this happens, please find someone (of the same gender) who you trust and you believe will love you regardless of your sin . Open up to them. Unburden your soul. Practice the kind of love for each other that Christ showed when He laid His life down for you.
God’s design for us is “naked and unafraid.” When we can get to this place, we can find true healing. It’s a scary kind of honesty, but it brings healing and transformation.