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New 21st Century Wineskins for American Christianity (Part 2)

         Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert… I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people. [Isaiah 43:18-20] [1]

         There is a recent article on the Barna Group website about the new book by George Barna, Futurecast. One of the bullet points regarding future American Christianity follows:

         Various measures indicate that Americans remain deeply interested in connecting with God, but fewer and fewer retain enthusiasm about doing so in a conventional church setting or through long-standing religious institutions. Millions of Americans are currently marking time until new, more appealing avenues of faith expression and experience are developed and accessible. [2]

         What this means is that stodgy traditional Christianity is getting in the way, and far too many believers are living in the past. The people have already decided they are done with the usual church formats and methods and have generally shoved off for new frontiers, but those new frontiers do not yet exist as they should. God has been working overtime to prepare the way but traditionalists continue with methods they are familiar with. There is hope in that many new forms are making inroads within churches and leadership is generally bending. Many of those who refuse to bend or recognize the new move of God are losing their buildings and locking their doors. Certain mainline churches continue largely because the people never expect much anyway and consider church to be what it is and want no changes. Many have left such churches, however.

         In America, most people remain unchurched. There is no possible way they will ever be reached by traditional means since such means are slowly fading out. Vibrant new formats are taking their place. Some of these are simple, and some artificial. Most mega churches usually attract those who are looking to be a part of the most popular movements and desire celebrity preachers, but such churches often have high turnover rates.

         What would Christians do without a building? One might ask the Lord Jesus, the original apostles, and the believers of the first three centuries of the modern era. They had no buildings and turned the Roman Empire on its left ear. They also had no New Testament, though various gospels and letters made the rounds. What they did have was reality. They had the personal presence of the Lord Jesus and the power of His Holy Spirit. They maintained the love and unity He taught them, and the world listened. They paid a huge price, though. Their discipleship cost them everything.

         Real disciples of the present are discovering the same fact. When one gives up everything and surrenders all, the power and love of the Lord is much more able to reach a hurting world through them. Most Christians in America are mere cultural Christians and have certainly not had the born again experience the Lord speaks of. Thus, they are comfortable with “church as usual” and content to let the Lord pass them by. This is why so many Americans want God but don’t want the rigamarole associated with many church groups.

         The home church movement began gaining initial steam approximately twenty years ago, and has served as an excellent format for both bringing in new converts and allowing believers a much better chance at spiritual development. Such free formats are what many crave, and home churches are serving as the bulwark of the coming Great Awakening.

         People go to church for years on end and never develop as real disciples of the Lord. Those that do are often forced to grow at the speed of wood. Imagine a classroom with one teacher and twelve students and how well such students learn. Then imagine a classroom with one teacher and five hundred students. Or a thousand. Or ten thousand. It doesn’t take Albert Einstein to figure out why the Lord’s model worked, and that our models since constructed largely do not.

         Hence, there is big change in the works. Within two decades there will be more real Christians in this country outside of traditional church formats than within. Church buildings will continue closing their doors. The institutional clergy will find fewer and fewer jobs. Though some traditional formats will remain, they will be the exception rather than the rule. Believers must continue praying, listening to the Lord, and changing their lifestyles to keep up. We must be willing to change and obey God. If not, Christianity in America will continue going south.

         The Barna Group has this to say about the “leaders” of the future, though such is merely a term denoting those Christians who are more spiritually mature and not in the mold of the traditional clergy:

         George Barna encourages leaders to remain aware of the trends so that they and the people they lead do not become victims of those patterns. “Leaders define reality for people. You cannot effectively define your slice of the world if you’re always a step behind, trying to undo what has already been done. True leaders are compelled by a vision of a superior tomorrow to create that world. You have to grasp the current state of things and the direction things are moving in order to effectively direct the flow of energy and resources. Leadership never happens in an information vacuum; it always builds on trend awareness and cultural potential.” [3]

         The heart of true leadership is optimism. One must possess a sincere optimistic attitude toward the work they are called to do. Sadly, the majority will not listen and have never listened. The Lord is currently creating a brand new Wineskin and whoever will follow Him must get on board and pay attention. So much that has been done in His Name has been done without Him, and this continues.

         Ralph Neighbor, author and founder of Touch Outreach Ministries, wrote a book about those who decline to change for the better. He based it on years of personal experience, the New Testament record, and the failure of many traditional methods. The title of the book, The Seven Last Words of the Church, is based on the last words of people in churches (before they crater) who refuse a new move of God.

         And what are those last seven words? “We’ve never done it that way before!”

         © 2011 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

[2] “Americans Are Creating the New American Dream.” © 6.28.2011 by The Barna Group www.barna.org. Used by permission.

[3] “Americans Are Creating the New American Dream.” © 6.28.2011 by The Barna Group www.barna.org. Used by permission.

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The Classic Church Building: A Non-Biblical Wineskin (Part 2)

         “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” [Mark 2:22]   

         Throughout all of man’s history, the one constant form of physical structure which has accounted for 99% of all buildings on the planet is the simple family dwelling. Be it a hut, a tent, or something more extravagant, it is home. Houses, therefore, have forever been ubiquitous. Even in modern society houses greatly outnumber all other buildings. The farther one goes back in history, the more the percentage rises. Hence, the private home was then and remains now the best ministry tool of all time, and the early believers proved it.

         All throughout the Book of Acts is the record of private homes being used in ministry. They began by going “house to house.” The house of the upper room was most likely the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark. After his Damascus road experience, Paul was taken to the house of Judas where he met Ananias. Peter was staying at Simon the tanner’s house by the sea. Paul stayed at and ministered from Lydia’s house in Philippi. The home of Jason in Thessalonica was obviously used for ministry. Paul also lived at and ministered from the house of Titius Justus in Corinth.

         Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house. [Romans 16:3-5]   

         Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. [Colossians 4:15]

         Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [Philemon 1:1-3] [1]

         Church buildings are not New Testament archetypical. They can be good. They can be useful. They are possibly great on a temporary basis. But they are very costly and high maintenance. They sometimes cause more problems than they solve. And the number one reason is because they are slow.

         I played softball with a guy once who had to be one of the slowest guys in the whole world. He was not overweight. He was physically healthy. But I could make it to second base before he ever got to first. Once, a dim coach actually put this gentleman in front of me in the batting order. In that game, he had somehow made it safely to first base. Then I came up. I got a hit that would normally easily get me to second base and maybe third. But when I rounded first base my buddy was only halfway to second. Doh! He barely made it there. I’m standing on first when I might have made it to third. And I was not the fastest guy on the team.

         American Christianity has slowed considerably. Despite all the latest technology it has grown sluggish, materialistic, and weighted down. It is no wonder it is failing so badly. The Community of the Lord Jesus was built to be fleet of foot, in shape, slim and trim, on the move, and filled with energy, but also strong in its own right. American Christianity has grown in size as has the population and as a result has long since given up sprints. The problem is doubly bad in that we don’t have the strength for weight-lifting competitions either. In general spiritual terms, though traditional American Christianity has church buildings everywhere, we’re simply not getting the job done, are routinely outclassed, and often overrun. People “go to church” forever and never get to know most of the people in the congregation.  

         On the other hand, there is a relatively new wineskin in this country on the rise. It has remained true to the gospel but has sloughed off old forms that slow and restrict. It is having a tremendous impact.

          House churches and small groups have exploded in the country over the last two decades. Its proponents are quick and mobile, and do whatever possible to reach the lost and disciple the up and coming. There is no way to stop their progress. They need little or no funding. They reach places traditional Christianity rarely reaches. They touch hearts. The organic nature of a small group allows the Lord to be in charge. One cannot hide in a small group. Everybody is somebody. Through much learning and many spiritual trials, home church practitioners have developed the same ministry forms of the early centuries of Christianity. They are motivated by love. They stand on unity. They live to serve.

         The Lord’s original model is presently being applied in more places in the world than ever before, and is impacting the lives of millions that would otherwise never be reached. Mobility is the key. Instead of one large physical building, there are scads of many smaller buildings. Some have no buildings. By this they much more easily follow the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, and cover a lot of ground. And they are having miraculous Lord Jesus-caliber results.

        Also, they understand that each real believer is a house—the real building—a mobile tent wherein lives the Spirit of the Lord. Collectively these comprise the worldwide Community of Called-Out Ones independent of the traditions of men. On those occasions when church buildings supplement the work of God and exist according to His will, it is good. Otherwise, we must follow the Lord’s example, trim down, get quick, and make the necessary transistion to the future. His work demands it. [Part 2 of 2] 

         © 2011 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

The Classic Church Building: A Non-Biblical Wineskin (Part 1)

         The Community of the Lord was built for speed. It began in the upper room of a house. The early Church had no time to even consider the things we in the present deem wholly indispensible. They were out to save the world. The Community was expanding by leaps and bounds. Growth was rapid from the very beginning and never slowed for three centuries. It began on its very first day in Jerusalem with a harvest of three thousand souls.

         Imagine that. Many churches of today work for long decades to accumulate a few hundred loyal members. Many are presently trying to keep what they have and are failing miserably.

         It was twenty years ago when I began receiving from the Lord the notes and revelations that would eventually become my first book. But I knew by the 1970’s, within a very short time of studying the New Testament by Holy Spirit inspiration that modern Christianity did not match up at all with the prototype. And I wondered why.

         I quickly got the big idea. I eventually spent thirty years in institutional churches, including my youth, gaining much experience of all that is good about church buildings and that which is not so good. There is no question that the latter outweighs the former.

         First of all, church buildings are simply not Biblical. The Lord never built a building nor did He ever instruct His men to do so. He was never on board with the rich, connected Sadducees who controlled the Jerusalem Temple. Though He often preached in synagogues when welcome, He spent the majority of His ministry time out in the open, in the woods, along the Sea, and on the beaten paths. He was always moving. Always. The Lord Jesus was mobile. The tabernacle in the wilderness was mobile. It was a tent. It was set up, used, taken down, loaded up, transported to a new site, and set up again.

         The Lord taught His men to be mobile. He taught them to give up all their possessions, in part so that they would have nothing tying them down when it came time to move on. The apostle Paul was also constantly on the move. There were occasions when he stayed local to teach and establish a work and then he was off yet again. The traveling man was so mobile that the Lord blessed him with a perfect location to end his life on earth—on the side of a road outside Rome.

         The Lord had no place to lay His head. He occasionally stayed with others but He mostly slept under the stars. He was on a mission. He had work to do. He could not afford to be slowed down.

         It is as obvious as it can be that the early believers followed His example. They were as mobile as He was, and a perfect representation in spiritual terms of the tabernacle of Moses, which was a type of mobile ministry centered on human beings.

         Conversely, our ministries are most often centered on church buildings. We are often bound by church buildings. We can’t get them out of our heads. We cannot imagine life without them (“How can I go to church if there’s not a church?”). For the most part, Christians feel absolutely naked without the comfort, security, and anchor of a building.

         Yet, the majority of Christians throughout history never had buildings. The majority of real Christians on the planet today do not have buildings. But they have the Lord. They are dedicated. They are productive. And they are fast. They can break camp quickly and move to new locations, so to speak. Some of the travel real Christians do is in the Spirit. It is not always geographic. We live, we learn, we gain revelation and greater knowledge, we mature, and then we have to leave old forms, understandings, and perspectives and create new ones based on such. Core Biblical truths are thus granted greater freedom and opportunity to produce much fruit. Isn’t this our goal?

         Static forms always slow. They restrict. We end up trying to force our ministries within such structures. But are we really having an impact on society? How can we when we force others to come to us instead of us going to them?

         Here’s the real beauty of the Lord Jesus and his manner of ministry: He needs nothing material on a permanent basis. Because He is God, He can create anything He needs whenever He needs it, so why must He accumulate a bunch of stuff to schlep around? All it does it slow Him down and restrict ministry efforts. The bulk of His work is in the spiritual realm. If He wants or needs stuff He acquires it. But when it is has served its purpose He gives it away or sells it, and usually gives the money to the needy. Then He starts again. He will not be bound by anything. He is as free as free can be. He builds nothing that grows sluggish as long as He is in charge. [Part 1 of 2]

         © 2011 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.