Ok...You have been given fair warning. This post is VERY LONG. It is a letter I wrote seven or so years ago to the Senior pastor and Eldership of the church I was both a member and leader at. I wrote it a couple of months before I left the church in sad, controversial and spectacular style. I do not really expect anyone to read the whole thing and nor do I expect anyone to leave comments.I am putting it up because I have already become too lazy to create something new. Also because it highlites (with love) some of the stark problems with the contemporary and traditional form of institutional church.RBC LETTER
I wish to say these things to Greg, Paul and the elders particularly, although I feel they are just as relevant to the whole congregation and Christians everywhere for that matter. I do not want to seem subversive so I am bringing them to your attention first.
To begin I must say that my commitment to RBC is strong and feel that God has called me there. I have no animosity or resentment to any one or more persons there and I believe that I have sought my heart to the best of my ability to check for motives of this type that could taint the viewpoint that I am laying out before you. I do sincerely love the people there and especially those who are leaders. I believe that you are passionate and wonderful people who genuinely pursue Jesus and His Kingdom. If I did not I would not bother to write this. I might as well also tell you something that you already know (probably better than I) and that is I am a person with many character defects and I can come across a little strong at times, can appear prickly and defensive and am deficient in my ability to relate properly to others. These are things I am aware of and I seem to become more painfully and acutely aware of as each day goes by. So please forgive me for past offenses, present ones (ones contained in this letter) and the inevitability of future ones. I must also say at the outset that the issues that I raise in this letter I will do so as briefly as I can, although probably not as briefly as some would like but please read them attentively if you can. Please remember that this is in no way a complete thesis but snippets from thoughts that have accumulated over years and accelerated, for whatever reason, over the last few months. I hope to attempt to formulate them in a much lengthier form in the near future but in the meantime I hope that these things I write make sense and maybe sow some seeds. Please forgive me also if it sounds as if I am trying to teach you. I am not. I am just being me and trying to impart some revelation that the Lord has been giving me and that I have being praying about for many months.
I’ve been attending RBC since the first year of the refreshing and have been a member now for at least six years. I have always had the conviction that RBC had a unique calling and that it would set the pace and be a pioneer/pilot church that would break new ground for others. This has been coupled with the distinct conviction that the wider church, as a result of the outpouring and Gods ensuing dealings, would be unrecognisable from its previous state. That it would finally grow into something that manifests God and Christ in such a way that the world would at long last be in awe of it as prophesied in the word (Ps 48 1-7). I guess since the outward manifestations (I believe there is a deeper work happening inwardly) on people through the refreshing have abated I and, no doubt, others, have wondered what next? My answer to this, that I hope has some divine revelation, is that I believe the next obviously discernable move of God across the world wide body of Christ will be a move to dramatically alter the traditional church structure, hierarchical system and mindset of Christian believers toward one another. In short, I believe that it will be a movement on the body and for the body which will result in the church being changed into something that it has always talked about being but has never actually been (except for a brief period in the first century); A true community of believers locked together in a undying and unyielding commitment to care deeply for one another, submit joyfully to one another and to out work daily the exhortation to lay our lives down for each other as well as freely using our many varied gifts to minister and edify each other. I believe that as a necessary course for this to become reality the church hierarchy must first be voluntarily dismantled and restructured accordingly in order to house such a community and to be able to effectively adopt, maintain and protect the prescribed methods on how all Christians (leaders included) are to relate, love and submit to one another, given to us by Jesus himself. These methods are supplied clearly from scripture and have always been the only ones that Christians are to live by both as an end in itself and also to bring about the purpose of God on earth, namely the manifestation of Jesus Christ on earth, through his unified body, to the world (John 17:23, John 13:35). The current state of the church with its centuries old traditional structure is inadequate for this task (It has certainly had long enough to prove it if it wasn’t) and is in need of a reformation with the same far reaching and lasting impact that came to Christianity in the 15th century. Where the last reformation primarily hit at our theology and doctrine and basically left our church systems unchanged, this one, by God’s grace, will radically transform the way we meet, worship, minister and relate to each other in the world. Unfortunately most, if not all, of our present day church systems are a hindrance rather than a help for such a transformation to occur and I would like to briefly outline a few reasons why this is so:The church building
mentality tends to centralise our Christian life, worship and fellowship in one particular place rather than the place that it should be centralised; the home. The home is the place where our lives are really played out, the only place where we truly are who we are. The home is the centre-piece and main building-block of the community and society in which we desire to have an impact. The church building takes us from the place where we live and tells us that it is church. We call the actual church building “the church” because that is what it has become for us. Yet we know, sadly at a cerebral level only, that the church is not a building and has nothing to do with buildings, the church is Gods people wherever we meet. The early church had no building and met daily from house to house, eating and fellowshipping together, and in the temple courts which were like a public park area (Acts 2:46). The first Christian church as such was not even built until late in the 3rd century because Christians at the time did not want to build a temple to worship in as they considered it to be a pagan practice and they did not want to be thought of as just another organised religion. Even the first “church” discovered from that time was only a home that had been extended to accommodate more people. Now we not only have built thousands upon thousands of churches but every week in many of them people come forward to kneel at imaginary (and sometimes not imaginary) altars. All of this can seem quite harmless but we can forget so easily that “God does not dwell in temples made from human hands” and it only adds to the mentality of the church building being the church itself and the central place where our faith is lived out. Of course its good and essential to meet together for large celebrations which can be held anywhere such as a rented hall for example, but I believe that this should certainly be the lesser emphasized and less regular type of meeting. I do not think the push for a better house church system addresses this problem either because it merely becomes an extended ministry of the church rather than a church that is centred in the home or more importantly the people.The regular Sunday church time
is similar to the church building because it confines and appoints church to a time slot on a certain day in the same way the church building confines church to a geographical space. What do we say every Sunday? We are going to church. Not we are church! Wherever we are or whatever we are doing, at home or at work we are the church but we do not realise this. We pay lip service to this truth but do not live it out in practice. Church is something we go to at such and such a time on Sunday morning and Sunday night. It is something that we go to at certain fixed times once, two or three times per week (and they are called the really committed ones) rather than what we intrinsically are all the time. Although we may not attend out of legalistic religious obligation the emphasis on the Sunday service/services still encourages us to slice off a small part of our week, stick it in a box and feel comforted that we have done church. The attitude that results is deeply buried in the average Christian’s psyche and tells us that we are church members that attend the church in the same way that we attend a club or some other organisation rather than an integral part of a body that will not be whole until we are all together, at anytime, fulfilling the essential part that only each one of us can play. The implications of this very old and deeply set mindset in terms of the individuals involvement, responsibility to contribute and relationship/accountability to each other are many.The most deeply entrenched and powerful component of our church systems
that leaves the church anywhere but resting squarely in the bosom of every believer is the relatively small concentrated management centre made up of one, two or just a handful of people. In one form or another this system appears in just about every church I know of. I use the word management because it much more rightly describes the type of leadership or powerbase in most churches, with a distinct “from the top down” style of decision making and vision/agenda setting that is scarily close to the same style adopted by most business corporations today. We have the senior pastor as the CEO generally accompanied by his associate pastors acting as his management team and the executive board of the elders over which he officially or unofficially presides as chairman. They meet regularly to discuss general policy, make decisions and set and review goals amongst other things(I understand that there is much more to RBC pastor/elder meetings etc). Just the word leadership is enough to bring worrisome connotations to my mind as it is the word most frequently bandied around by secular motivational speakers, in the upper echelons of big business and corporate management training seminars. As we all know it also happens to be the contemporary “buzz” word Christians use to describe the different positions of authority within the present hierachies of our churches. Perhaps that in itself is not too alarming except for the fact that many of the same principles of leadership espoused by their secular proponents are often the same as the ones taught by the various Christians i.e., setting and achieving goals, effective team management, communication skills, motivating others and conflict resolution. The latter seems to be one needed more and more in churches since we no longer emphasize the exhortation to submit to one another, lay down our lives for each other, turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. I have even heard of churches bringing in secular conflict resolution specialists to solve disputes that they were unable to. I cannot tell you how ashamed this makes me feel and I echo Paul’s plea to the Corinthians “…why not rather be wronged.” While I know that the contemporary theology of church leadership is about more than just the things I’ve mentioned, and maybe we can learn something of value from the secular principles of leadership, I would have to say that according to the bible, the true value gained would have to be in the lesson of how not to lead, as Jesus himself told us that we are not to exercise authority the way that the world does. (Luke 22:24-27.) As far as Jesus was concerned the one who leads should look exactly like the one who serves. When studying these things in the New Testament I feel that one cannot help but conclude that if there is a common theme or a more strongly emphasised principle of leadership than any other it is that this one. As far as the bible goes the most highly visible and distinguishing mark of the Christian leader is his humility of service to others, not his ability to manage or influence people, his organizational skills, his formal education, preaching skills or his ability to set and achieve goals or targets. This point is born out simply by doing a basic study around the word leadership. The word itself when referring to Christian overseers in the body appears in most contemporary versions of the bible (NIV etc.) barely enough times to count on one hand. However the word minister which actually means servant is used by the NT authors much more frequently and there is no doubt that it is the servant aspect of leadership that Jesus most wished to visually and verbally impress upon his disciples before He returned to his father (Phil 2:3-10, John 13: 3-17, Luke 22:24-27). If this principle of service exemplified in leadership is so essential why is it the one we hear least about? In all the churches that I have experienced first hand I have to say that RBC is least like the management type leadership system that I have seen and yet the core potential and base is there. I can also say through personal and painful experience that as a management style lead church grows numerically (which seems to be a current and dominant component of the vision at RBC) the line between leadership and congregation/sheep becomes more and more distinct. Coupled with this is a growing need for that leadership to exercise more control in how the church is run, how meetings are formatted, the need to continually reiterate and clarify the Senior Pastor’s or core leader’s vision and the systematic, albeit subtle and unconscious, shutting out of those who do not fit the criteria of that vision or who are seen as weak or different in some way. When a leadership base is management style and its primary purpose is to implement the common vision of the leadership or the singular vision of the senior pastor the church must, by absolute need, become ever increasingly selective firstly on who can be a leader and secondly on what type of church member can fit into “their big picture.” The teaching and preaching, by equal necessity, becomes geared toward that end and only allowed within the scopes of their own limited agenda, ultimately to the exclusion of other essential aspects of the “whole counsel of God” and to the gradual exclusion of those who do no fit that agenda. Like in some type of spiritual “darwinism”, the strong, together types are generally the ones who thrive in these often, ruthlessly focused environments and the weak and foolish are pushed to the fringes and eventually out the door and all the while Jesus Christ weeps for those of his sheep who have been unable to find a human manifestation of the good sheperd who would lay down his life for them. Another perilous problem of the numerical growth orientated church or the management style church is that although a church may hold in high verbal esteem the principles of grace and faith as opposed to works, as far as church expectation goes, in reality they always seem performance based and people generally relate to each other on a common task type basis ie; your relationships are formed out of what you do in the church and if you have no function or ministry involvement the chances are you also have no real relational involvement either. The common vision becomes the standard to which people either measure up to or fall short of depending on what they do or don’t do to contribute to the vision. Because the vision is performance (doing) based you only fall into relationships with people as a default from doing some task with others that contribute to the vision. Again, at least for me, I have to emphasise that this is not theory, I have witnessed and felt the pain of it from both angles, as a very needy member of this type of church and also as a leader whose flaws were hidden to well to attract the notice of those who appointed me. The line of division in these churches between leadership and sheep is overtly pronounced, especially in the larger churches, but the pain or repercussions of such a division are felt by the weak and “problematic” sheep who are unable to articulate it or who are to afraid to speak out against it because it would be seen as contentious and rebellious. The others aren’t complaining because they are either already enjoying the subtle benefits of being part of the leadership including the very comforting thought that they are secure members of the crowd or they are those who are just about to put their first foot on the corporate church ladder.The alternative
to this type of model which, I believe, is more in keeping with scripture and the heart of Jesus, is a church whose vision is the members themselves. A church whose pastors or elders or whatever you want to call them (Because they do not need to be labelled “officially” at all, even if by nature, giftedness and calling that is exactly what they are ie; pastors, elders, evangelists etc.) are simply committed to seeing the vision of each individual person in their care found and fulfilled . A church whose vision and focus is on relationships as an end in itself rather than a by-product of some lesser vision. A church where leadership is so anonymous that you cannot even tell for sure who is running the show. A church where we are so secure in the love of Jesus and the love of each other that we are unafraid to take off our various authoritative caps and just be who we are. A church where the collective vision is simply to love Jesus, to bow to one another and to seek to fulfill each others visions, desires and needs. That would truly exemplify and magnify the love of Jesus. We could give up evangelistic programs (and every other program too!) because with all that real love going around I suspect that many will want in. The elders could be released from being the board of management and having to spend all their energy in supporting the Pastor and could devote much more time to becoming disciplers and shepherds which is their truest calling anyway (1 Peter 5:1-4). This is not Utopian and there are models where this type of reality is possible, but I suspect the best one will be the one that is given to us directly from the Holy Spirit as the scriptures tell us; “unless the Lord builds the house the laborours labour in vain.” I believe that at RBC we have looked at other many and varied churches of all shapes, bents and colours in the same way that the Israelites looked enviously at the nations around them and exclaimed “we want to be like them!” When all the time God had His own unique agenda that would “set them apart” if they would only do one thing: Listen. Listen to what God is saying to us personally, not what he is saying to others around the world, not trying to preempt the moves that He is performing elsewhere or copying the formulas that seem to be working for others and not worrying about what the statisticians and the church growth “experts” are saying (everything that God does in the bible seems to be the opposite of what the experts, religious leaders and statisticians say he will, should or would do.) It seems to me that a lot about what Jesus was doing in the refreshing was bringing people back to His person. Away from law, works, denominations, programs, formulas and the like and back to a simple, passionate love for him, his redemption and his very merciful and grace filled Lordship. What He has been doing with the individuals of His Kingdom I now believe He is beginning to do with the corporate structures of His kingdom. I believe His intense desire is too take the organisations that are largely run by man, that exist in His name and transform them into organisms whose stimuli, growth and progress are instigated, supplied and wholly sourced in Him. This, I suppose brings us to the crux of the matter. For all this is about bringing the uncompromised Lordship of Jesus back to His church. It is all about allowing him to rebuild his church from its foundations upward in a way that not only maintains His Lordship and the rulership of the spirit but also has in-built defence mechanisms against the reclaiming of the helm of the church by man and his own corrupt and innate desire to control. Am I accusing specific people of having “control” issues? No, I am accusing everybody of having them. No matter how far into God and the kingdom they are. Control is the essentially corrupt bit of man and Jesus knew that and that is why He emphasises so strongly the need for his people to serve one another, even re-emphasising it more strongly for people who are gifted with authority by Him to edify the body in some aspect. This is why He said to us in Matt 23:8-12 that we are not to call each other “Rabbi,” meaning master or leader (or any modern equivalent) and we are not to call each other “teacher” meaning guide, for “you are all brothers.” Notice the explicitness of the reason Jesus gives us for this command; that we “are all brothers.” In other words we are not to create lines of division by labelling or entitling people based on their particular gift or, for that matter, experience in the Lord, nor create distinctions in his body by constructing levels of hierarchy and authority. We are all the same. People will pastor, elders will elder, prophets will prophesy whether they are called by their official titles or not. The point is that there be no distinctions from “the least to the greatest” and if there be those with authority in the body let it be the authority that comes from being the Lord’s servant. Let it be authority that can easily be stepped out of so he or she can also just as easily wear the cloak of simple brotherhood. If the main intent of this passage in Mathew isn’t clear enough for us Jesus reiterates it in the last two verses; “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” I have never been in a church with a multi-tier leadership system that does not publicly exalt its leaders. Usually flagrantly. When this happens as a regular part of church life rather than stifle the spirit of competitiveness that comes as standard issue in man’s sinful nature, it enables it to flourish, even if hidden from the undiscerning eye. For the disciples, those who lived with Jesus and who were destined to be the pillars and foundations of the church for all time, who have gone into eternity carrying within their bosom what must be considered the Kingdom epitomy of greatness and honour, were also once in the grip of the spirit of competition and argued on more than one occcasion about who would be the greatest. Jesus’ answer to them, as always; “If anyone wants to be first he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” It is interesting that this word “servant” is the same New Testament word used to describe pastors, ministers and deacons and literally means a waiter at tables or someone who performs menial tasks. Built into the very word itself that was given to the leaders of Christ’s church is the very essence of servanthood. I harp on this because there is no greater hindrance to real relationships than an environment where either overt or covert competitiveness is prospering and the only antidote to competitiveness is the principle of servanthood. Jesus names the people who are to give us the “live” example of this principle and He calls them ministers, pastors and deacons. When we fail to get the “live”example we end up with another message. One that causes us to believe that we must perform or be a certain way to get the special acceptance, relationship privileges, praise, distinction, and exaltation that we see the leaders, and others who conform correctly to the system, getting. No one wants to be vulnerable in an environment like that. No one will definitely be so risky as just to be themselves, because they can see that won’t get them anywhere and they are probably right. Unfortunately without freedom to be yourself and to be vulnerable there can be no intimacy and hence no real relationships. A church that does not recognise these things, although it may openly espouse the wonders of our liberty in Christ, can never really be free at all and no matter how many times God turns up to refresh them, they will ultimately always revert to doing things man’s way, thereby imprisoning themselves over and over again. My hope and desire is that RBC will not go this way.I must reiterate
that I feel RBC is more open and further along in an understanding of these principles and also in the practice of encouraging body participation than any church I have visited or experienced. This is not meant to be an attack and I hope it does not sound like one. It is an acknowledgement and confirmation of the path we are on and just my perception of how far we still have to go. For there still exists, though to a lesser and more enlightened degree, however wonderful and humble the individuals are (and they really are), what I call the 40th generation ministry or ruling class of church leadership who are spiritual descendants of the small pockets of elite men who have dominated, directed and decided the who, what, where and when of the church ever since it got out of its nappies almost two millennia ago. Again this is not a judgement on anyone it is just the system we have inherited from people who have acted on the limited revelation they themselves were given. The saddest and the baddest part of this reality is the stark inertia of the body that this system has enabled. The saints of God who are to collectively manifest all the many coloured and multi leveled facets of Gods wisdom and glory by the varied expressions of the Holy Spirit through all our unique giftings, personalities and even our many differences instead have elected to sit in rows each week and have a whip around to pay for one or two others to do the lot for us. Everyone of us are in need of a revelation revolution. Both for the ministry class who have allowed themselves to be ruler/shepherds for hire and for the sheep class who have been happy to be lulled into a state of ineffectiveness and semi consciousness. For between the two classes their exists a bond that can only, at best, be called an unhealthy, dysfunctional (especially as far as the advance of the kingdom is concerned) and even co-dependant one, as both classes manipulate the needs of the other for their own benefit. One uses the other to control and the other to be controlled. One gains self importance, purpose, respect and admiration etc. The other gets to skip out on responsibility, accountability and has an authority figure, not only to meet their needs but also to resent and blame when those needs aren’t met or when things go wrong. Yes this is a harsh generalisation, but one, I believe, that contains a truth, the reality of which, would be clearly seen if we could unveil and lay bare the hearts and motives of a large majority of people from both classes. The truest sense of a leader from a biblical perspective is not one who seeks to control, do all the ministering, display all the gifts and generally make him or herself indispensable. In fact the opposite of this is true and this can be no more obvious from the life and death of Jesus who found a small core group of followers, lived, walked and discipled them, demonstrated His gifts, let them loose amongst the gifts themselves, then He died and left the whole show to them, telling them to go do likewise. This to me represents the only correct pattern for God’s people and church leadership and also the pattern that Paul followed in his apostolic ministry. Yet we can not merely aim this word of instruction at the leaders. Equal blame must be levelled at the sheep who don’t want to be responsible for taking up the mandate left for us by Jesus to “do greater works” than He did. In a relationship that has grown sick there is always two parties at fault and I feel for all of us (meaning Christians in general) it is time for a scrutinising look at this tradition of church leadership and our own motives and part in it.Maybe for you
all of this is a simple warning of the dangers of large church systems in advance of a period of growth for RBC. For me this is all about a completely different church experience that I have always longed for but never been able to put into words. A deeper more glorious expression of Jesus actually manifesting through the different members of His body. A radical departure from church tradition, man’s organised church systems and an embracing of community style fellowship and intimate relationships as a real way of life rather than just theology. I know I am not alone in wanting deeper, more solid and much more honest relationships. I have not felt one with the present vision for numerical growth as I believe it is an inferior vision in and of itself (I believe numerical growth comes as a byproduct of doing things Jesus’ way) at anytime, but more so when it seems the current number of members still have so many needs and it worries me that a whole bunch of new christians would come into this present system. At least I can say that I am at least partly unified with Paul’s desire to get out of the building, its just that I would like to get out and stay out of all church buildings but I realise that the path to change may be slower than I, in my presumptive and impatient self, would like! Whatever your feelings are after reading this I do appreciate you taking the time to read it and am very open to any feedback you may have.