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What Do You Want?

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Two Kinds of Churches Part 6: What Do You Want?

I recall the year I woke up and began to establish a transformational culture within my congregation. I had been pursuing personal transformation for twelve years already. The truths I was learning were showing up in my sermons. But I was not intentionally discipling others about transformation as I now knew it. I had not developed a pathway to make accessible these life giving truths to people trapped by the reformational model as I had been. Yes, I was still leading my church reformationally. All of that changed when someone challenged me to start teaching a small group of men how to pursue intimacy with God. That led to a second go-round with these men, because they confessed that what they were learning was so different from past beliefs that they needed to hear it again. This revealed a reality I never forget—before people can learn the truth about intimacy with God, they have to unlearn lies they learned as truth.

As intentional as this became, it took some years before a transformational culture emerged, mainly because I was learning how to do it as I went along. The church’s leaders, disciplers, and counselors had to come to embrace these truths. We worked hard to make sure that we had a consistent message, not straying into shaming and false guilt. We had to learn to be transparent and confess our own sins. We had to actually restore people trapped by the sin of their choice gently and with humility, to see them receive freedom from the addictions that came from the deadly sin in me choices they had made. More importantly, we learned to hold up the pursuit of God as the ultimate goal of our life together. Like the Corinth church, it was messy. Not everyone wanted to go down that path. But for the vast majority of the congregation, it was amazingly hopeful and freeing.

This kind of transformational culture is possible for your church. But I cannot create it for you. This culture is the product of God’s work, first in you and your church’s leaders, then in the lives of the people who make up the congregation. To have it will cost you. You will have to deal with your own unfinished business. This will be painful at times and Satan will still try to take you out through his lies. But you will progressively emerge as the person you were created to be. You will never regret the process God has to take you through to get there. And, to paraphrase Jesus’ words to Peter in Luke 22:32, when you have turned back, you will be able to strengthen the rest of Jesus’ family.

Why establish a transformational culture? Here are a couple of reasons that I think are close to the heart of everyone who shepherds in Jesus’ church.

  • First, it’s about being the church Jesus said he was building. I am not talking about a new model of the church. I am sure that if you have lived long enough, you have seen plenty of new versions of how to do church come and go, just as I know that you probably have heard why your version sucks. This is not about how to attract more people through the door to have a larger congregation. This is about life. People need the life Jesus offers them. They need it made as plain to them as Jesus made it plain to his first disciples.

The life Jesus still offers is called zoe—life that Jesus gives means a new quality of life, life as it was created to be lived in Eden, full of joy, peace, love, God. This can never be had through a church model. It is God’s gift that grows more apparent as one is continually being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).

  • A second significant reason is so people can be free from the mistaken belief that keeping the rules will make them whole. Rule keeping is epidemic in churches. Not wanting to offend God and recognizing that they don’t know what is exactly right or exactly wrong, people often adopt rules that they hope will help them resist sin. I grew up with a well-defined set of rules for living that people of my tribe can still recite at the drop of a hat. Where did these rules come from? Mostly from our negative reaction to the culture we were growing up in. But the rules did more to make us more anxious or foster rebellion in us than to help us become holy.

Wouldn’t you love to live with people who are becoming whole because of what God is doing in them instead of being held hostage by iffy rules that make no inroads to real change? To spend time with people who are learning to forgive as Jesus forgave them? To experience transparency in relationships, even if that means engaging in helping people with their inside mess while they are on their way to being changed? To see your church family producing people who are not afraid of God? To be with people who want to see their neighbors, co-workers—their city—transformed as they have been transformed?

To be part of a church that produces cutting-edge disciples, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes. To be willing to be on your own transformational journey, and then to take the time to invest the truths you are learning from the Spirit into those you shepherd. If this is what you want, don’t hold back for a minute. Go for it. And I am here to help if you need me.

-Steve Smith

 


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Candidates, the Election, and God

It is apparent that next Tuesday, someone is going to be elected President of the United States whether or not we consider the candidates we have to choose from are stellar, criminal, deplorable or insane. Aside from a massive vote by the electorate for a third party candidate, most likely the Republican or Democrat Party candidate will be the national choice.

I have many friends on both sides of the political divide and their posts have been either incredibly interesting or incredibly absurd. I also have many friends who continue to be in agony because they cannot decide between the two major party candidates. They feel both major candidates are unfit, but are not interested in voting for Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) and Jill Stein (Green Party), who are the only other candidates who will be on the ballots of all 50 states.

Here it is. Either you do not vote at all, or write in a candidate you wish had been nominated, or you go with one of the majority party candidates. When the dust settles on November 8, someone will be the President of the United States.

I think all of us agree that this has been an astounding election year. Crazy revelations and deep personality flaws have been more in focus in most news reports than the policy positions of the candidates. We hear of people who ‘say’ that they will move out of the country if the person they hate is elected. Frankly, I think we deserve better candidates. But these are what we have, so we must make the best of it.

Here are two things we who are Christ followers need to keep in mind. The first is that we, the people of the United States, no matter what our life condition, education, background, beliefs and family origin are citizens. We all have the right to vote. The palpable agitation by citizens having a choice of more than one candidate has been a notable aspect of all elections going back to the 1800 context between Adams and Jefferson. Name calling and scorn for the ‘other’ candidate is as American as apple pie, Disney World and Superman. Except for when Monroe ran unopposed in 1820 (called the ‘Era of Good Feelings,’ whatever that meant), elections have always brought out the best and worst of Americans. This one will be no exception.

The second thing is that God reigns. We belong to Him and His kingdom first and foremost. While we have the privilege to live in the United States, Peter reminds us that we are ‘sojourners and exiles.’ This expression is drawn from the Old Testament, reminding us that we belong to a different culture where God sits on the throne. America is just a stopping over place, not our permanent home.

Also, this place where we are stopping over is an active war zone. Like it or not, there is an enemy at work to bring destruction and despair upon our world. We can try to maneuver socially, educationally economically or even politically to thwart his work, but until we come to the last day—which is called the Day of the Lord—and God renews everything from the sunrise to the sunset, we will find that Satan, as always, is a master of manipulation. He will find ways to upend our best efforts to make a permanent place of peace in this world.

However, this is not reason for despair. God has not promised to take us out of the world and the troubles that come from spiritual warfare. But He has already overcome the world. This fact is our reason to ask for wisdom from Him. How should we then live? How should we vote as citizens living in a battle zone? What is pleasing to you, Father?

Listen to what He says. Then, having asked and received, go with a good conscience and vote.

Steve Smith

 


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