BLOG| Out of the Box Ideas

The Church of Tomorrow, and Back to the Future.

Our world is changing. People are changing. The way people connect is changing, and church is changing too. The fact that things change is a constant in our world. Very little remains the same. We live in a world of corporate downsizing, where the “organization” struggles to take care of the needs of the individual. The Church has fallen into disrepute, with the moral failures of many, our nation has had awful tragedy where the government has struggled to protect us, and it has left people questioning. If there is one thing I know– that I know, that I know—it is that people in our culture are asking incredible spiritual questions, and that their hope is to have them answered within the context of relationship. People crave relationship, it’s hard-wired into us all, and the church in our time has struggled to meet the relational need. People walk in and out of the doors of churches all across our nation, hardly knowing anyone, and hardly known. Yet we have the same God, the same Lord, and the same Jesus, who died to meet the needs of everyday, ordinary people.

If you were to take the Church, your concept of it as you know it today, and were able to time travel back 500 years, you would find much of it markedly different. The MegaChurch concept hadn’t even been conceived, churches were, on the whole, reasonably small communities, and rural in most places. Time travel even further back to the early church, and there were no church buildings, no hymnals, no spiritual conglomerate, just people and God– people in worship and fellowship with God living out authentic relationship with each other. There were no building campaigns, no fund raising efforts beyond ordinary tithing, and tithes went to people and not things. More than that, church was an almost entirely relational endeavor, focused first on relationship with Jesus, and then on relationship with others in their church and world.

Church must change. And we’re not talking about just adding a couple of new worship choruses or some candles to the room. Church must become a relational endeavor once again. Our culture is asking spiritual questions, and if the statistics are true, they’re not even looking to the Church for answers. People are staying away from Church in droves, yet she holds the truth and the key to unlocking people’s deepest desires in the palms of her hands. People are searching, and they’re asking questions, but they’re doing so relationally. Relationship is the language of our culture, and fortunately, God has given us a model for meeting people in such a way, and He calls it Church, but we must restore her to God’s original design, which is relational in nature.

Have you ever wondered why we “do” church the way we do, whether you’re supposed to just walk in and listen to one guy preach while you look at the backs of the heads of everyone else? Have you ever thought, “is this what Church really IS?” What if Church is an “IS”, or a “BE” instead of a “DO”? What if it’s more than attending a weekly sermon? If you ask those questions courageously, not out of a malicious or bitter heart but from one longing for the genuine, just like you long for the Authentic Christ, Jesus himself, then you might just find that Church was meant to be more than something you simply sit through on Sunday morning. It was meant to be a relational experience, life on
life, friendship on friendship, “full-contact”—if you’ll pardon the analogy. We are the intimate bride of Christ, and we’re meant to be in love—full-contact — first with God and also with each other. We can not live anonymously from one another and continue to call it Church. Back to the Future wasn’t far from the truth; if you look back at Church, you might find a key to what lies ahead. Our generation of young men and women long for relationship, they don’t want anonymity, and they won’t fall in love with an organization- but they love people. To quote John Cusack, who played Lloyd Dobbler in Say Anything, “”I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed… or buy anything sold or processed… or process anything sold, bought or processed… or repair anything sold, bought or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.” And in our generation, we don’t want processed Church, we don’t want it to feel like a trip to Target. We hunger and long for the real thing, for the muddy, sometimes chaotic, always adventurous relational ride that takes place when you engage God and others deeply from the heart. It’s time.

The funny thing is that our culture knows all this. They’re asking better spiritual questions than we are. Question that? Just go watch your favorite rendition of The Matrix, or The Last Samurai, or Contact, or sit down and listen to 99.X or your favorite “secular” radio station. All possess deeply spiritual themes, and people are lining up to see or hear them. Without the authentic, without the relational, without the genuine article, people will continue to find the relationships they need in bars and in other community gatherings, because the Church has ceased to befriend the hungry. Church is not anonymous. It has been that for too long, and our world awaits.

I’m in this journey too. I’ve given my life to restore the Church, to restore the Bride to her husband who longs for her, to re-make Church first and foremost into a relational endeavor, and it means that I can’t “do” Church the same way any more. In fact, I’ve left it all behind, a great position that I served in for 8 years in a mega-church that I still deeply love to this day, and all the security from this world that might come with a position like that. I’ve risked my family and every relationship I and my family have created here in the past 8 years, and the only home my kids have ever known. But it is God who calls me, and it is He who compels me, to search for and to build a Church as he originally designed it, a relational organism, to plant a church we call Village Church, a church without walls that is on the corner of Church and everyday life.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know this: whatever the future holds, it is, it is good. I know that my life is given to restore the Bride of Jesus, that our world is hungry for answers, and that I can do no other than follow God’s anointed idea, because it is He who calls me. To infinity and beyond.

The Church That Doesn’t Make Cents.

Try to start a church these days, and you might find it a more complicated a process than you originally imagined. People expect from you: business plans and support letters; vision and mission statements; a strategy to purchase, rent, or build a building; 5 to 10 year plans; financial profitability; and denominational approvals. Once you launch, people ask, “When are you going to get a building of your own?”, as though you’re not a real church until you’ve have one, along with video projection, sound equipment, Powerpoint, MediaShout, and any other software packages you might endeavor to use. I know, I’m in the middle of planting a Church, and I hear the questions first-hand from people. Since when though, do the financial assets of a church define its viability, usefulness, or future? Would the early Church have survived if they had to be financially stable enough to build a building and hire a pastor, or is Church a bigger concept than a line-item budget and a business plan? When I tell people that I’m planting a house church, they get even more confused, like the two words “house” and “church” could never co-exist in the same sentence. Some are brave enough to ask what a house church is, others more intuitively figure it out, and most wonder “Why?” with the strangest looks on their faces. You would have thought I had put Kryptonite in front of Superman. “It’s a church that meets in a house,” I often explain. “But when are you going to build a building?” is usually the first question people ask. “Never,” I respond. “Oh…”

Why then, would I go and build a building-less, wall-less church? I asked myself that same question for a long time. Why? Because the church doesn’t make sense any more.

Just after I had left my 8 year position as youth pastor in an upcoming contemporary model church, a pastor friend of mine asked to meet with me to talk over what God was calling me to. I sat down with him over coffee at the local intravenous caffeine hole, and told him what I knew deep within my spirit God was calling me to. He replied, “Man, it’s a great idea, but I don’t think it works financially.” “Works financially? Works financially?”, I remember screaming to myself in my head, hoping that the yelling between my ears wouldn’t show on my face. “Is that it,” I thought? Is that what church has whittled down to? Is that what it has become, God’s vision for his precious Bride– this money making entity that concerns itself first and foremost with its own financial existence and dollar-value prosperity? My heart sank in that moment and I felt a wave of grief come over me, not because of what he spoke particularly, but because of what it seems the Church has become in our time. It has become a place of numbers and business strategies, mathematical equations and programs, buildings and assets. The truth is, my pastor was right, though. This vision God has given me to build a house church ministry would have a hard time making money. House church doesn’t make cents, despite the fact that it was the first kind of Church known to man, and now I wonder, was it an advantage that professional pastors didn’t really make money off of her? The early Church seemed to be free of the trappings of paid clergy who have the “security” of getting a regular paycheck from their church, and all the asset management that goes along with it. Is that such a bad thing, though? Was it ever intended to be this financially driven endeavor? Jesus didn’t send out support letters. The disciples didn’t
suddenly abandon their careers as fisherman when Jesus pulled up on the beach. Paul continued to make tents. Money went to take care of the needs of the people. Acts 2 puts it this way, “And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They worshipped together… and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.” No plans to acquire land and build a building, no corporate strategies, just God connecting with people who then connected with others, and shared everything they had. Where is that in today’s church? Where did it go? Whatever happened to sharing? Whatever happened to the relational nature of church being primary? Have we lost it? Has it been dumbed down to writing a monthly tithe check to pay for the pastor and a church building, a building, that by the way, for many churches, SITS EMPTY 6 DAYS A WEEK.

There is a holy wrestling in me, something I cannot explain away, and that I hardly have words for, yet my heart wants to explode for the passion of what God has put inside me. Church is not about money! How can we continue to go on like this, where Church has been relegated to being this business entity, with customers we please, clients we counsel, and vendors we hire? Can we continue to do church like this? Is this what the incarnation of Christ, HIS BODY, is left to in the modern era? Is it about building more buildings that sit empty most of the week? It can’t be. O Father, please don’t let it be so. Restore your church to who she was, to the relational endeavor she once was, your Bride, with whom you encountered daily and loved with the most intimate kind of loving friendship.

House church, may not make cents (money), and I may have to “tentmake”—work other jobs to support my wife and my 4 little children—for the rest of my life, but house church makes sense. It is not cluttered by programs. It is not “drawn up” in the board room, nor is it a financially driven endeavor. Money need not be the root of the Church. House church is not cluttered with building programs. The Church is God’s people, simple, meeting together, not just once a week, but doing life together in relationship. Church does not end when the sermon is done. It is a week-long interactive experience, where money is not the focus or issue, where we are in and out of each other’s homes. Worship doesn’t begin and end on a Sunday morning, but is a life experience. What money is given goes to help those who need help, and best of all, money is not the driving force behind it. The Church can survive without money.

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like today if the Church had continued to meet in homes, instead of building buildings down through the ages? I wonder what it would be like, if all the money that is being spent daily on church buildings, even today, were spent taking care of those in need, widows, and orphans, like the Bible says. Where would our nation be? Where would our world be? Would poverty have been elimintated? Would there be fewer poor people? Would we be more in touch with those who need help in our world, instead of huddled around the fire in our own little hovels, proud of what we can build and the comfort of the new sanctuary chairs? Church is meant to be other. It is primarily a relational endeavor, first with God and then with each other (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself”). Church is not some organizational financial endeavor; it is
not like building a Super Wal-Mart. In fact, it’s not even an endeavor at all, it’s an experience. When you meet a friend, you don’t measure them by the size of their bank account or how much money they make. Church is likewise, and no, it doesn’t make cents. It’s not designed to. But it does make sense, if you’re willing to set aside the corporate-ness of what Church has become in our world and look at the heart of what Jesus created it to be.

© John Lehmberg, Make It Loud Consulting