I remember when I first heard the U2 song “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” on the radio. The lyrics on their first couple albums had such a strong Christian undertone that I had to wonder what Bono and the boys really meant when they penned that chorus. Initially, the song kind of bugged me and I had to wonder if maybe they were starting to head in the wrong direction spiritually. In truth, I still don’t have a clue as to what might have inspired that unmistakably haunting anthem, but over time, I’ve found myself singing those words with ever increasing conviction. And lest you’re tempted to draw your conclusions prematurely, I’m pretty sure it’s not because I’m questioning my faith. Or that my relationship with the Lord is somehow waning. More likely it has something to do with an unmet inner longing that seems to have been with me for as long as I can remember. Put simply, I know there’s more out there for us… and I want it.
In all honesty, the Sunday-mornin-go-ta-meetin thing just ain’t cuttin it for me anymore… for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that I have always had a tough time staying motivated to do anything on a consistent basis when I’ve lost touch with its intended purpose. Though singing songs and listening to someone talk for 45 minutes can certainly have some value for a believer, I no longer see regular church attendance as an accurate indicator of the quality or depth of ones relationship with Christ. Jesus really didn’t talk a whole lot about the importance of going to weekly meetings. Think about it. He gave himself to modeling the hands on, one person at a time, spread the kingdom with every step you take method, and then he sent his followers out to do the same. The early church did not sit around for 20 years and talk about theoretical strategies for world changing, they went out and DID THE STUFF! Is it possible that we are now mesmerized more by the idea of Christianity than we are committed to its practices?
“But Brother Bump, we must not forsake the gathering together.” Oh please! Can we not get beyond that verse? If we’re not hanging out with other believers in a more relevant context than our favorite pew, that’s nobody’s fault but our own. I don’t need to stare at the back of someone’s head for an hour to feel like I’m “having fellowship” with them. Personally, I can “fellowship” a lot better around a dining room table, or on a lawn chair on the back porch than I can sitting in a row of chairs surrounded by people who are afraid to even make eye contact with me. Say what you will about this kind of indifference, but I think the American church culture is pretty messed up. We’ve substituted a bunch of cookie cutter rituals for the empowered lifestyle and life giving relationships that our inner most being was created to enjoy. God please forgive us.
The older I get, the more pragmatic I seem to become. Yet so much of the Christian faith and the local church experience seems to defy any sort of quantifiable result. How do we determine if what we’re doing is actually accomplishing what it’s supposed to? I find myself asking questions like, “Is this really working?” “Are we making any progress?” “Am I getting any closer to where I’m supposed to be going?” Often, the answer to these kinds of questions is so ambiguous that I find myself doing all sorts of mental gymnastics… trying desperately to “stick the landing” in my mind. But more often than not, my dismount ends up looking more like something you’d see on AFV than you would at the Olympics. Nonetheless, I’m apparently compelled to keep trying to make sense out of what the Lord is doing in me personally and in the life of his church. In my frustration, I must confess that I sometimes slip into apathy… but much like the men in that original band of 12, over time I’ve come to the realization that I have no where else to go, and nothing else to do but to follow the Lord and to serve his church. As a result of what I’ve seen and discovered along the way, I am spoiled for any other life pursuit.
A few thoughts about the next reformation:
1. God’s love and acceptance of us is not effected by whether or not we go to meetings.
2. When we do have meetings, I think they should be as inter-active as possible. People need to tell their story and to have others actively listen and genuinely care. The season of the talking head at the front of the room has passed.
3. We must get in touch with our personal calling, gifting and anointing for ministry. Many of us are still not really comfortable in our own skin. The church culture has trained us to conform to the image and philosophies of others. We must get free from these so we can function as who we were created to be… nothing more, nothing less.
4. People need Jesus, so we have to learn how to demonstrate genuine Kingdom power and authority in our everyday environment. We can no longer be focused on bringing the world into the church. We must turn our attention to “going into all the world”.
5. We are surrounded by an unprecedented amount of potential distractions. The tumult created by our current geopolitical- environmental -economical mess could easily become our focus if we allow it to. Fear, doubt, and unbelief must be cut off at the quick if we’re going to thrive in the days ahead. We can stock our pantries if we so choose, but there is no adequate substitute for faith.
6. If we can just hang on to the simple belief that God is good, that he loves us without condition, and that his son’s death on the cross has the power to solve any problem, save any person, and right any wrong… than we will be able to transcend any conflict that we might face while navigating the perils of the next reformation.
7. The days of our current church structures and paradigms are numbered. It’s time to let them die so that we can get on to whatever is next.
8. Though I’d like to believe that I have some good ideas about what the next reformation might involve, I’m still unclear as to what’s lies ahead for the local church. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, but at least I’m still looking and I’d like to encourage you to do the same.
I guess that’s all I need to say about the next reformation for now. Please know that I am painfully aware that “reaction to error can often result in further error”. Knowing my passionate disposition, I’m sure I’ve made a few statements that have been a little tough to swallow. Admittedly, the process of working through some of my thoughts and feelings about the state of the church has been quite therapeutic for me. I also will be the first to acknowledge that many years of pastoral service has left me rather crusty and cynical at times. Sheep bites are painful and can definitely leave a scar. My heart is to continue to expose my emotional wounds to the great physician and to others whom I have come to trust in the hopes of inner healing and restoration. My desire, Lord willing, is that I will be able to bring the same to his precious Bride when given the opportunity. The next reformation is calling.
2012 UPDATE: I’m trying to make the time to put the Next Reformation series of articles in to book form. Much has changed in my mind and heart since writing these last 10 posts, so the re-write is taking longer than I thought it would. I would greatly appreciate your prayers and thoughts on this stuff. Your comments (especially the encouraging ones) are valued.