The Glass House
Reason 10: Disobedience
Disobedience is about not following instructions.
Getting off on the wrong track. The bible lays out fairly simple
guidelines for our conduct, for our purpose as followers of
Christ. When we follow those guidelines, we align ourselves with
Christ and operate within God's perfect will as opposed to His
permissive will. In God's perfect will, Lot lived a great
distance from Sodom, from sin. In God's permissive will, Lot exercised
his own judgment and moved first closer to the city, likely for the sake
of convenience, and, ultimately, into the city. In God’s perfect will, we trust Him
completely—even when we cannot see or know the outcome of those
choices. Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac [Gen 22] is an example of
his acting within God’s perfect will. Sarah arranging a hook-up
between Abraham and the concubine Hagar [Gen 16:3] to "help God out," to
speed God's promise along since God was obviously dragging His feet or
was too weak to bring forth His own promise to Abraham, is an example
of Abraham acting within God’s permissive will. God allows us
free choice—even though He knows what the end result of our choices will
be. That sounds like a contradiction, but it’s really not. You know, if
your six-year old stays up late watching monster movies, that he’ll end
up having nightmares. But maybe you let him make that choice—operating
within your permissive will. He gets to exercise his choice, his free
will, even though you are older and wiser and the scope of your vision
is much greater than that of a six-year old. You already know what the
end result will be—him climbing into your bed in the middle of the
night, but you let him decide, anyway, and, hopefully, he learns a
I’m quite sure your church would grow exponentially if you moved closer to God’s perfect will and stopped struggling within His permissive will. As discussed in previous installments, some churches do not need to exist at all. They have no appreciable impact on their community, no identifiable goals for that community. They are tiny commuter congregations—a handful of folk driving across town to the church on Sunday only to drive away, the community having no real clue what the church’s purpose is. But, because that church is sitting there, on that block, other ministries—who will impact that community—may choose not to build in that area because they assume your church is actually doing something, which, of course, it is not. So, not only are you letting God down by being more of a social club than a church, but you’re actually impeding the work of the Gospel by taking up space.
I had this barber back home who wouldn’t let you hang around the barbershop. After you got your haircut, get out. He was adamant about it. One Saturday there was a game on TV, and after my cut, I took a seat. Nate asked me, “What are you doing?” I said, “Watching the rest of the quarter.” “Aw, no, the hell you ain’t!” Nate explained to me that people passing by won’t know that I’ve already gotten my haircut. What they’ll see is a bunch of guys in chairs, and they’ll keep going down the block to Ricky’s. People will see me sitting there and assume there'll be a very long wait for a haircut. Similarly, your church, sitting there, doing nothing, may be standing in the way of ministries who are in tune with God’s purpose, who will evangelize the community and who will contribute to it.
Not all of our pastors are actually called to be pastors. The pastorate requires a special anointing and a pastor’s heart. A pastor is kind, gentle. A pastor is knowable, reachable. A pastor is involved, is committed. Too many of our pastors are high and lifted up, jockeying for slots at bigger churches, competing among one another for the largest head count. Some of these guys are incredible preachers, fiery orators, gifted teachers. Which would make them terrific evangelists. We should not appoint evangelists as pastors: the two serve different functions within the Body of Christ. Just because a guy puts on a good show on Sunday doesn’t make him a pastor. Your pastor may not be the best preacher in town, but he’s there when you’re sick. When you’re hurting. When you need him to be around. Meanwhile, Pastor Bling Bling puts on a better Sunday show, but during the week he’s fairly scarce. He lives in a much nicer house, but you are rarely if ever invited there. He’s aloof, withdrawn. He is often more authoritarian and less gracious. This guy is a pastor only because you people appointed him. God didn’t appoint him. Or, if God did, this man has wandered off the path. God would never appoint a knucklehead over His people. We select the knuckleheads, we vote them in, because we are out of step with God's plan. Like the children of Israel, we are operating within God permissive will--we want a king--and not trusting in His perfect will--the shepherd boy David. When we behave this way, we usually get exactly what we deserve.
Hard-Headed: The instructions were simple: (1) keep running, (2) don’t look back.
Disobedience is about not following instructions.
The first part of
operating within God’s perfect will is to stop lying.
Stop lying to each other, stop lying to ourselves and to God.
Denial is a lie. Looking the other way is a lie. Honesty is very
tough because honesty strikes at the very essence of our being:
at our ego. Just as it’s hard for many of us to bend a knee in
submission to God, it’s even harder for us to admit unpleasant
things about ourselves. Far too many of our churches are simply
gong through the motions on Sunday morning. Running in circles,
existing only to pay the pastor’s salary.
We don’t spend time with God. We don’t keep family devotions. We live our lives exactly the way people who do not know Christ live theirs. In fact, as Bishop T.D. Jakes pointed out, many of them are more Christ-like by nature than we are by practice. Most of us, this pastor included, tend to operate within the permissive will of God. Operating within His perfect will usually requires a greater sacrifice than many of us can offer. It’s not so much that we’re selfish as it is we’re afraid. We have stuff. We like our stuff. We like our friends. We like our way of doing things. A church operating in God’s perfect will must follow God where He leads—even if He is leading you to either chew, spit, or get out of the way. Pastor Benjamin Reynolds once said, “The church, in order to call herself the church, ought to DO SOMETHING.” And your church should be doing something, or it should get out of denial about it’s being a church. Facing the harsh reality that maybe your church doesn’t need to exist any longer, or that your church has lost favor with God because it is operating so much in God’s permissive will that its effectiveness as a church has been compromised. That it is, in fact, a pillar of salt.
So many of our churches are struggling to stay afloat, they end up acting like Sarah or like Lot’s daughters, coming up with one Lucy Ricardo hair-brained scheme after another to wring more money out of the shrinking congregation, one more gimmick to trick people into coming to a place they obviously have no interest in: a church that has zero footprint and zero impact on their community. In this we become like Lot’s daughters, having grown up in a vague awareness of God but not knowing God and obviously not trusting God enough to wait on Him, to follow His path. Instead, we come up with one embarrassing carnival show after another, struggling to pay the bills.
Accepting that your church needs to hand off its mission to another ministry is a terribly hard thing to do. It stinks of failure, and none of us want to ever admit failure. Other small churches use, as an excuse for struggling on, the notion of “keeping our unique identity,” rather than fold their ten folk into a more productive ministry. I know of no scriptural foundation for “church identity” or sacrificing effective work in order to maintain it. A church’s “unique identity” is often a euphemism for pride, for ego. Beloved, the church is not this club you and your pals go to on Sunday. The church is a body of believers. In that perspective, any bible-believing church is just as much your church as the one you’re struggling to maintain.
Moreover, this “unique identity” nonsense is also code for keeping people out. It makes a virtue of cowardice as your “unique identity” excuses you from having to talk to your neighbor who may not look or sound like you, who may not worship the way you do. Here in Ourtown, a huge problem is that there really isn’t a specific “hood” anywhere. The entire city is a tossed salad of diverse groups, with Latinos becoming the dominant minority. Thus, many of our churches are located in poorer neighborhoods because the real estate is cheaper there, but our churches weren’t planted with a mind to evangelize the neighborhood: most black churches here have no idea who their neighbors are. They just got a good deal on the land.
This is not biblical church-planting. You plant an orchid in the desert, it’s going to die. You plant a black church in a Latino neighborhood, without even trying to talk to your Latino neighbors, it becomes fair to characterize your efforts as selfish. You started this church because a group of you got fed up with your previous pastor and split the church. You gave no thought whatsoever to the people actually living in this neighborhood, your motive for starting that church was to have your own way and stick it to your former pastor. God can’t possibly breathe on that.
But you’re here, now, on this corner,
among these people. And you’re struggling to attain church
growth. Well, the formula is simple: you’ve got to stop lying.
You’ve got to get out of denial. You’ve got to move your church
from God’s permissive will and closer to His perfect will. That
will require a reorienting of your thinking. Your unique
identity? Forget about it. It has no value in the Kingdom of
God. Your customs, your music, your way of doing things—like Isaac, all of
our cultural accretions need to be laid upon the altar. You want your church to
grow? You need to risk it all, like Abraham, risking your entire
future on God’s perfect will. You need to start acting like a
church and less like a social club.
Instead of trying to snatch more Church Folk from other churches, our mission should be to make disciples of men [Matthew 28:19-20], to introduce people to Jesus Christ, to set aside cultural differences and silly “unique identities” and throw open our doors to the community we are actually located within. If you would honor God, move toward God, toward His perfect will, taking a sober, vigilant, hard look at the community your church is located in, and then earnestly attempt to meet the needs of the people living there, pouring yourself and the love of Jesus Christ into their lives, your little church would, in short order, be standing room only.
The closer we move toward God’s perfect will, the more the church will prosper. Moves in that direction will require faith. Faith cannot happen without trust. Trust often entails sacrifice. Which isn’t to suggest the African American church needs to stop being the African American church. I believe we can maintain our cultural identity but also expand upon it; enriching our own experience by adding the richness of others.
At the very least, we need a stern, sober look in the mirror: what are we doing? What is our purpose? What is God’s purpose for His church, and where do we fit in it? If we are unwilling to examine ourselves daily [2 Cor 13:5], we have no right to even call ourselves the church. But if we’re willing to overcome our fear, we can find our way out of our stubborn disobedience and back into the perfect will of God.
When that happens, the church will start growing.
Christopher J. Priest
17 August 2008