Tag Archives: Vision

The Alpha and Omega

This is the last in a series of ten letters written to our local church, unbundling what we understand our future to be in the Lord. It’s vision, if you like, but more than vision in a way. It’s a way of seeing and thinking about being and doing church.

My prayer is that everyone reading these letters will be provoked in the best sense of the word, and challenged to ask themselves the hard questions around being and doing local church.

Dear Highway

Jesus said of Himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13). All things begin and end in Him.

Which in turn means that nothing begins or ends in His church, let alone the local church. She is a means to an end, and never an end in herself. She finds herself between Heaven and earth, best serving earth by stewarding Heaven’s plans and purposes, and doing so using heaven’s means and methods.

The implications are enormous. Any message we proclaim must be His word, and not our own. Any vision we pursue must be His vision, and not our own. We being His hands and feet in this world is not some religious platitude. We are His body – hands and feet and everything else in between. My increasing suspicion is that we’ve become a little self-absorbed, focusing so on our respective roles in the body as to have lost sight of the role the body as a whole has to play in the purposes of God.

That role is ambassadorial. We are who we are and do what we do in His name, and not our own. Best we aspire to represent Him well. The flip side of the ambassadorial coin is an intercessory one. We’re not on God’s side against His world, but on God’s side for His world, no longer of it, but in it for good reason. We remain in His world for His purpose and for its sake. His agenda is salvation, the One Mediator having performed His perfect propitiatory work once for all. The Scriptures are emphatic about that. God has already reconciled His world to Himself through the cross of Christ. Our ambassadorial role announces the goodwill of Good God, and our intercession works with Him in drawing men and women into putting their trust in all that He has done. There’s no place for personal agendas or petty fiefdoms in all of this. The work of the cross is finished, but the work of the Gospel is ongoing, bringing the Kingdom, until all of Christ’s enemies are under His feet.

This all sounds so obvious as to be self-evident, but think it through with me for a moment. What of one of modern Christianity’s ubiquitous maladies – spiritual dryness. More often than not it besets the faithful who are fully involved in their local churches, bearing its burdens and carrying its loads. Jeremiah makes poignant comment on the dynamics at work: “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer 2:13). No local church has life in and of itself, and when it becomes an end in itself, it can become one of the most desolate places imaginable. Many a congregation has fished all night but caught nothing, labouring with the best of intentions, but to its own ends and in its own strength.

The God-factor is a not negotiable. The word of the Lord to Zerubbabel in the days of old is as much a word to us today: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zech 4:6b). That flow of Spirit and life is easily tapped into; abandon the cistern of human ambition, agenda and endeavour, and remain embedded in the Fountain of Life Himself. The lesson to be learned is to live from rest; from union with God; from victory; from Life. This truth has application individually and corporately. We’re always the bride on the dance-floor of life, allowing our groom to lead. He is the initiator, we are the responders. In this dynamic vision is revelation that empowers, rather than a goal-orientation that drives. When our mind-sets correctly position us between Heaven and earth, placing us squarely on God’s redemptive team, much is clear. We know who we are, and we know why we are. From there the what and how unfurl with ease as we recognise what God is doing, and having availed ourselves to Him, simply join in.

The question then is what it is we are seeing and hearing? What is the Lord doing, and how do we join in? So explicit has the Lord been, that there can be ne‘er a doubt. The time of the Lord gathering His people is upon us. It is time to build the house. Highway Christian Church is to rise up. We are a city on a hill, and it is our time to shine.

In writing I’m rolling up my sleeves and rounding up the troops. It’s a new day. Let Highway arise. Promise is over her and destiny awaits her. Everyone’s invited to join in. To reiterate what I said in my first letter: Let’s gather – in Him, to Him, with Him and for Him. I’m asking for you to show up on Sunday mornings more often than not, and on time at that. I’m asking you to come to the gatherings with intent to engage. Come to lift your voice, to raise your hands, and to hug a neighbour. Bring a friend. Drop something in the offering plate. Come to find someone to encourage. Pray a prayer; break bread; help someone, somewhere, with something. Do whatever your hand finds to do, and obey the Spirit as He prompts. This is not rocket-science. And on your bad days? Come anyway!

As we do, Jesus will build His church. He will reveal what we are yet to see, teach us what we need to learn, and lead us into being a far more substantial expression of what He has in heart and mind for the local church. We’ve only just begun! It’s not our ability He seeks, but our availability. May we be numbered amongst those who fulfil the prophetic mandate of Psalm 110:3a: “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power”.

So be it. Amen!

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A broad multi-laned highway

i-80_eastshore_fwyThis is the fifth and final in a series of posts documenting the paradigm-altering revelation that has fashioned my understanding of the local church, and of the Gospel that shapes her. All five revelations came as one-liners from the Lord. Read about the first four here: Open the windows and doorsPreach the New CovenantDon’t fence the waterholeNo flags.

The fifth one-liner came in ways just as dramatic as the other four. Having settled in my spirit over a period, a visiting ministry sounded it out by giving it to me word for word over dinner, having received it for us as a word from God: “The Lord is building a broad multi-laned highway here”.

Bear in mind that at this time we were going through some significant challenges as a local church. Before all was said and done our list of trials maxresdefaultwould include two church splits, with the second precipitated by relationship-ending ultimatums from the family of churches of which we had always been a part. We were numerically and financially devastated, disorientated and displaced, and focused on little more than survival. With all respect to New Yorkers, we referred to the meltdown as “our 9/11”, and thought about rebuilding as from “ground zero up”. All we had was the foundation of the New Covenant, which is indeed all you need.

Traditional wisdom in that kind of situation was to get back to basics. A metaphor gleaned from the corporate world expresses it well: “Get the right people on the bus”, and “get the right people in the right seats”. In other words, get the vision clear and build your team accurately, playing to strengths. This is sound leadership advice for any performance-orientated environment: Do it, and everyone will know where you’re going, who is who in the zoo, and what needs to be done, by whom, and why. This was how we had done things in the past, and the only way in which we knew how to operate as a leadership. The only problem was that it was not a good fit with our freshly adopted New Covenant paradigm, which was not performance orientated. We’d been through an extreme makeover, and our Christianity was simply no longer about what we needed to do, but about what Jesus had already done!

How profound then is a “broad multi-laned highway”. What this one-liner did was change leadership’s role from vision generating and casting to facilitating vision. From then on the “vision” for the church no longer lived in the hearts and minds of the leaders, but in the hearts and minds of the people. Everyone was to be encouraged to do the good works prepared by God for them to do. Nothing more; nothing less. These were the vehicles that would populate the highway.

32093299-tropical-fruit-mix-stock-photo-fruit-fruits-vegetablesThis has all been an extraordinary game-changer. We’re as supportive as we know how, and have watched as the Lord thrust our congregation into service. Some have changed jobs. Others have adopted children. A few have started NGOs. A number have volunteered for service in these NGOs, and in other organisations like them. Folk are reaching out to others. They’re caring for immediate and extended family in new ways. There are those that are approaching their jobs, businesses, recreation and art with new eyes. It doesn’t matter what the good work is; the important thing is that it is God-given and done in faith.

This “doing the good works prepared for you to do” is the only significant point of accountability amongst us, and presupposes necessary accountability in character underpinning the outworking. Momentum is gathering all the time, even though we as a leadership have done little to create or sustain it. Congregants are treated as responsible for their own lives, well able to hear God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and appointed for good works in Him. Treating them in this way has made the Gospel to be the self-fulfilling prophecy the Lord crafted it to be. It saves, transforms, enables and deploys.

tmbspnbfClarity about this has simplified church life no end. The preaching encourages folk in the fullness and freedom that is theirs in Christ. They then hear the Lord and get on with it, following the Spirit, with us providing pastoral support, coaching and mentoring as appropriate. “In the church” the children’s ministry runs itself. So does the worship team. There are also some small groups that are by and for the congregation, but these are few. Most of the activity is “out there”.

From a church leadership point of view this “broad multi-laned highway” is something of a two-edged sword. The great positive is that as a leadership you’re living the dream. Congregants take responsibility for their own lives, have their hands full of kingdom business, and are fulfilled in life, call and destiny. The down side is that their time, energy, gifts and resources are directed to the coalface of their endeavors, and there is little left for doing church in traditional ways. On any given Sunday morning (not to mention midweek) a number of the congregation are “out there” doing the good works prepared in advance for them to do, which means that they are not “in here” making church better. The net result is a very fruitful local church that masquerades as a loose and disorganised affair that is not very successful at all. Unless you know what to look for, that is!

13781279-transportation-icons-set-stock-vector-vehicles-icon-truckAnd so it is that a broad multi-laned highway continues to form. On it are vehicles of all descriptions, driven by congregants of all ilks. Some are very committed to us as a local church. Others are pretty much passing through. Some are small single-seater ventures; others veritable buses that need “the right people on the bus” and “the right people in the right seats on the bus” in order to get where they’re going. Each is legitimate in its own right.

It might be helpful, in conclusion, to mention a few of the essential adjustments necessary in our leadership paradigms in order to migrate from “bus” to “highway” thinking.  1. You have to get over your insecurities. Leaders are no longer in control, and personal loyalties no longer factor in the equation. Some members will even get serving in other churches while still considering yours their home. Deal with it. 2. If you want people to be healthy and productive, you have to place a high value on rest. If folk have families and are shouldering careers and ministries, they’re stretched. They are going to take Sundays off quite regularly in order to stay healthy. Get used to it. Attendance measures nothing useful in this environment. 3. As David taught us, those who stay with the bags get the same reward as those on the front lines (I Sam 30:21-25). Sometimes all people can do in life is hang on, and this can be so for an extended period. During these times they appear to contribute nothing. A New Covenant environment does not penalize or prejudice them in any way for a lack of performance. It’s Holy Spirit’s job to get God’s children fruitful. Make peace with it. All of that to say this: Fruit is fruit. In preaching the Gospel we after week, you pay attention to the root. The fruit comes, and is His business, not ours. The Father, not the elders, is the vinedresser.

jesus-walking-on-waterA final thought, and as a friend puts it: This New Covenant is an extraordinary and remarkable thing. It’s like being out of the boat and on the water. It feels insubstantial and transient, fragile and unpredictable. It’s easy to yield to fear and insecurity. Yet no surer foundation can be found, for we stand on the work of Jesus and the promises of God, all of which are infallible. And Jesus is quick to rescue us when our faith fails us. This is not about us. It is all about Him!

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