Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gathered or Scattered?

Over a million Christians are leaving organized religion every year. In fact, this is the first time in church history that large numbers of people are leaving the institution of church in order to be the church without ties to a local group.

This leaves professional pastors somewhat befuddled since they have been trained to care for a group of people under their leadership. The idea that people can serve Jesus without aligning themselves to a specific person or place seems almost blasphemous to them. And if that is too strong a statement, they certainly feel that it isn’t God’s “best” for these wayward people.

I’m not sure if that many people have actually left the institutional church or if they have simply stopped going on Sundays. Those in the latter camp would have a myriad of reasons for stopping attendance. Hurts, doctrinal disputes, or just plain old bored are just a few of the reasons cited for not attending. That doesn’t mean they have philosophically changed their thinking about the body of Christ being represented by a formal allegiance to a particular group’s brand of Christianity.

However, there are a number of people who literally see the scriptures in a way that endorses the idea of there being only one body of Christ, represented by countless members. For them, allegiance to a particular brand of Christian religion seems to take away from the idea that our belonging comes from the understanding that we are all brothers and sisters through the blood of Jesus.

One of the most common expressions of our humanness is the desire to belong to and identify with a group. The problem is that this desire is often more important than allowing God to reign over us individually. This can be seen as early on as the uniting together to build the Tower of Babel. Even though they knew that God desired for them to go forth and multiply throughout His world, they feared being scattered,

“Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
Genesis 11:4

If Abraham had put belonging to his own country ahead of being willing to be scattered, there would have been no Israel.

Later on, the human propensity for wanting someone to rule over them, (in spite of their heritage from Abraham), was found in the nation of Israel’s rebellious demand for a king.

But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.
1 Samuel 8:6,7

Ezekiel 34 is a prophetic call to God’s people to follow only one shepherd.
" 'For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
Ezekiel 34:11-16

Many people have stopped following shepherds who are only interested in gathering people together in order for them to fulfill the pastor's vision. God is longing to be THE shepherd of our lives as much today, as He was in Ezekiel’s time.

Does that mean that we shouldn’t receive guidance from elders? Of course not. But the guidance should always be to point us to God’s desire to care for us no matter where we are and that we should desire to care for one another, no matter who they are. It need not be guidance to be faithful to a group that ultimately simply endorses the name of a leader and/or a particular doctrinal approach.

A father’s greatest joy is to see his children grow up and live independent lives, while staying connected through love. This should be the same for anyone who desires to be an elder within Christ’s body. They should rejoice in helping others hear God’s voice and being free to be scattered (GO) throughout His world, representing Him in every facet of their daily lives.

Elders/pastors who make a name for themselves will always be at risk of catering to the human condition of desiring a king and fearing being scattered.

When it comes to praying with one another, one of the most cited passages of scripture is,
"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
Matthew 18:19,20

And yet when it comes to gathering together, religion would seem to imply that 2 or 3 is not sufficient to say that we have gathered together. The problem this poses for the religious mind is that 2 or 3 doesn’t need a designated leader nor does it cater to the false idea that there is safety in numbers. In fact, many of the great stories of the Bible seem to highlight the value of one.

The great commission is filled with the promise that as we GO (be scattered), each one of us can walk in our destiny of discipling one another. Ultimately, the purpose of being gathered together is to free us to be scattered.


Jamie A. Grant said...

Right on, right on, right on!

Anonymous said...

church for most has lost its meaning. it has become about the show. i watched a show about a faith healer called todd bentley and another about a guy called "john of god" both had a show. both fake.