This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’ Jer 6:16 (NIV)
Writing any polemic that challenges the status quo is never an easy task. Too often the writer tries to crack a nut with a sledge hammer in order to get their point across; there is a place for that sometimes. Jesus, on the other hand, more often leads us humbly and gently (although there was some nut-cracking too I think). However, the consequences of radical obedience are often costly enough without being battered and bruised by the vehicle that brings the challenge. That said, we are also told that he guides the humble and teaches them what is right Ps 25:9 (NIV). There is plenty of room, therefore, for humility everywhere. My prayer as I start out on this journey with you is that I do my bit to communicate in a way that demonstrates God’s unfailing and complete love for his Bride and his Church. That’s us! However frustrated, hurt or disappointed we may become, there is no room for church hating here. Simply put, this is a journey of change, of transformation, and the invitation comes with a loving smile rather than a scowl! God is not angry with you (or me), we have not let him down; his Grace is such that wherever we are and however we may identify with or engage with this journey, he is cheering us on, singing over us with love and encouraging us to move forward with the wind of his Spirit. I wish we looked at each other like that! I’ve lots to learn.
As I type, I feel the ever-so gentle pressure of his yoke, and with that comes a responsibility that all of us in any form of leadership share. We are all called to care for the flock that has been entrusted to us, watching over it willingly, not ‘lording’ over it but leading by our own good example 1 Pet 5:2-4 (NIV). I have read many prophetic books where God has entrusted his prophets with a clarion call; this is not necessarily one of them. This is written from the perspective of a journey already began and a cost that is already being paid. If you like, this comes from having answered that call to take off the old vestments, stand naked, and pray like mad that the new ones come soon! I will not hold back on describing the cost and struggles that have resulted, to do so would diminish from the glory that Jesus gets in having lead us so clearly and kindly. I would also hope that anyone coming to visit the Kingdom Family I serve would be able to taste the goodness of God and smell the aroma of the essence of what you read. Integrity demands it, as this is not a theoretical work.
So my invitation to you comes from Jeremiah; stop. As you read this blog and reflect upon the challenges therein, maybe allow any initial responses to be tempered by measured ones as you take time to look around. God is not asking anyone to leap from a moving train that is going in the wrong direction! However, he may just be asking you to pull the emergency cord and allow the train to halt on its journey and just check to see if the destination that it is travelling towards is the one that he has put on the front. That destination is Jesus and his Kingdom. He never asks us to seek or journey towards anywhere else. He certainly never told us to either ‘go’ to church, or to lead people there either. It is in him first that we find our refuge.
There is a very important scripture that we should all have in our minds as we read anything in the genre of churchmanship, and it is this.
History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Ecc 1: 9 (NIV)
So, if you are looking for any brand new revelation, model or methodology that will grow the church, stop reading. There is no ‘silver bullet’ or quick fix or programme that is going to help you, as God has never asked any of us to be concerned in growing anything, or building anything for that matter. We are reminded at least three times, twice in Acts, that God does not live in temples made with human hands. God cannot inhabit anything that he has not created himself, which is why he builds with the living stones of our lives, through relationship. God is invisible, yet becomes visible through his work in our lives. He works from the invisible to the visible, rather than the other way around. This simple facet of God’s character is probably the hardest to submit to as it requires us to genuinely face the uncomfortable truth that we can’t build anything of the Kingdom ourselves. The Kingdom of God advances and is taken by force both through our response to and allowing the work of the Master Builder to manifest in our lives. We may respond practically by building an orphanage for example, or opening up our homes; however it is only within the relationships that exist there, and the resulting flow of love, that the real building work is done.
We will see, therefore, that his church is built through the revelation and proclamation of Jesus’ identity as The Christ (both historically and eternally), both in our own lives and in the lives of those that we live amongst. Little else, therefore, holds any real value. Yes, of course there are ‘optional extras’, however when we allow any of these to become the main thing, then we quickly find ourselves stood at the foot of the mountain, holding a golden calf and wondering how on earth we got there! In some ways, I think this is the position of the institutional church today.
Jodi Mitchell hit on something of this in her platinum hit ‘Big Yellow Taxi’;
‘don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They’ve paved paradise and put up a and parking lot’.
Looking back on my journey, it is only now, after so much has gone, that we see the parking lot that I paved the beautiful garden of his church with! Maybe God has got the engineers in to rip up the paving slabs and release the dormant seeds that lie in the soil beneath.
Charlie Shuttleworth, a friend, has a saying that resounds over and over again in my Spirit. ‘Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’. It seems to be completely against our human nature to agree with or support something that does not benefit ourselves in some way. Unfortunately, that is a Kingdom anathema. The way of the Kingdom is downward, embracing the death that we were baptised into (that of Jesus) in order that we may embrace our new life in him.
Not so long ago I was given a picture of a soccer team made up of very famous players. Each one was stood on the pitch playing ‘keepsie uppie’, bouncing the ball on their foot to keep it in the air. They were amazing at it and were competing light heartedly (on the surface anyway) to see how many times they could keep their ball in the air. The trouble was that whilst they were doing this, the game had stopped; no goals were bring scored. I then saw a team of dirty and ragged children on a scrap of waste-ground playing their hearts out with excitement and joy, scoring goal after goal. God is simply saying this I think. It’s time to get the ball back into play and he’ll use anyone that is willing. What if God was asking those that he has called to under-shepherd his flock to make the bold, costly, risky and frankly terrifying movement towards trusting him enough to be that turkey that does vote for Christmas!?
So; this blog is called Kingdom Shift for a reason. Whilst all of us would probably say that we need to be more ‘Kingdom focused’, to actually live that out requires some really radical changes to how we function as his Bride. The irony is that so many of the ‘anointed amateurs’ (as the lovely Geordie, Ken Gott describes them), that come to church, week on week, but hunger for something more, something different, are already tasting this. It’s us as leaders that need to catch up and die a very rapid spiritual death, before we become fossilised into irrelevancy.
Before we begin the journey proper, my final encouragement to anyone reading this is to think on the humility of Peter. He describes himself towards the end of his first letter as simply ‘a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ’. In today’s culture I wonder what he would have been tempted to call himself; the senior leader or apostle of a worldwide missional movement maybe? No doubt his personal assistant would be the one that would answer any questions on this. My point? In heaven right now the same elder (I suspect) is bowing down every few minutes, casting his crown before the throne and crying Holy, Holy Holy. He would be following the lead of the living creatures that, if we saw manifested on earth today, would most likely be heralded as an alien invasion by the church! God’s ways are defiantly higher than ours.
Let’s all, therefore, cast our crowns before Him, the only one who is worthy in himself of wearing a crown, the slain Lamb of God, and simply journey together as brothers, sisters. Let’s rejoice not in what we have done or seen, but in the simple fact that our names, together, are written in the Book of Life. And let’s laugh and have some fun! The Father loves us anyway!