I was just reading a passage in the book of Acts which is full of revelation for the days we are living in, where even in church circles it is difficult to tell what is truth, what and who is genuine and what and who is fake. The following passage describes how the Apostles were persecuted as a direct result of the jealousy felt by the religious leaders of the time, whose power and control was threatened by the apostles’ ability to do miracles, their boldness in preaching and the undeniable presence of God in their lives. As Peter and the other apostles are being questioned by the Sanhedrin about the instruction they were given not to teach the people in Jesus’ name, this is what they reply:
“We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead – whom you have killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The passage goes on:
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.
Acts 5, 29-42
Praise God for his infinite wisdom and counsel, for the richness of his word, the hidden treasures which appear to us through scripture when we seek God in spirit and in truth.
I am tired of churches which all they talk about is Leadership, growth, revival, strategies, vision, empowering, structure, ministry teams, etc.
I am tired of hearing church leadership quote Proverbs 29:18 – “For lack of vision, the people perish” or “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint”, and conveniently forget the second half of this verse, taking it then out of context and transforming its meaning to suit their own and not God’s purposes. The second half of that verse goes like this: “But blessed is he who keeps the law!. The word vision here has nothing at all to do with a church’s vision statement, a definite and well designed structure, a cleverly put together program to attract newcomers or a “mantra” with which congregations need to be bashed with Sunday in, Sunday out until they either come on board the plans of those in power or they get rejected and excluded from the local body to such an extent that their potential to be fully operative as a member in the whole is completely annihilated and they become a mere spectator or they are deeply hurt and walk away to join a different church, or worse still, to join the enemy’s troops. For lack of vision or revelation (words from God, discernment of God’s will for an individual, people or church), the people perish, but blessed is he WHO KEEPS THE LAW. In other words, when people operate in their own strength, following their own desires; when there is no knowledge of God and of his laws and precepts, people go astray and eventually perish. BUT, if we know God’s ways and follow His commandment, we will be blessed. It is very simple and I will repeat it again and again: The Law and the commandments are all summed up in Jesus’ words when he said: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and love your neighbour as yourself” Mark 12, 29-31. How from Proverbs 29:28 one can deduct that the word of God is guiding us to establish systems in place which only serve to empower a few enlightened ones and systematically exclude others? I just don’t know. Why do different churches have different vision statements? What is all that about? Why do pastors need to keep banging on about the need for vision and goals and objectives when in reality we have ALL been called to simply love our God above all else and our neighbour as ourselves? Actually, there is nothing simple about that, and perhaps because that commandment is the hardest one to keep, we come up with church visions and statements of our own making. Much easier to be focused on blowing our own trumpet and increasing congregations than on loving unconditionally and being forgiving and non-judgemental to the ones we already have in our midst.
You know, there is so much weight and depth of message in Gamaliel’s words to the Sanhedrin, it is scary how easily and quickly we can miss the most obvious truth. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say. The only leadership a church needs is that of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the moment any leader takes His place, that lampstand is automatically removed and that church is like a vessel of old which is solely relying on one or a few men’ and women’s whim, ignoring in which direction the wind is blowing, ignoring the power of the water and its current, ignoring the breath of the Spirit and the cleansing power of the word of God: the very two things a church needs to be fully operating in the will of God.
Numbers in our church have dropped fairly substantially lately. I attended the service yesterday and yes I could see that the majority of seats were empty and I remembered the days of old when there was a real vibrancy about the place, a real sense of direction and purpose, a definite vision for the future of that church. But as I stood there all on my own with no one either side of me, there was such a strong sense of God’s presence all around me. There was a purity and a “masks off” aura about the place. No big performances, no great visual displays, no loud clapping or cheering, but a few handfuls of God’s people scattered all around the room, humbled by the sheer lack of direction and of “being in the know” of what is actually going to take place or occur for those two precious couple of hours which gives amazing confidence to a fair few but completely cripples the rest to live out fully what God has set for them to do.
As I came back home, I shared with my husband how I really felt I had witnessed a vulnerability and transparency during the service which I had not seen for a long, long time and it was so liberating, so genuine, so encouraging. One could not put a finger on what caused the atmosphere to be so, but as I pondered some more about it, I realised that it is only when we come to the Lord empty, with nothing, no agendas, no “I know best” arrogant attitudes; it is only then that our hearts are ready to receive the wonderful blessings that He longs to pour on us. There have been many rumours and gossip as to what are the reasons for the numbers of attendance suddenly dropping: is it the fact that people have got a preferred speaker or teacher they like to listen to? Is it the fact that it’s summer and people have got more commitments on summer weekends than during the rest of the year? Is it the nicer weather that re-arranges people’s priorities? Is it the fact that the majority were so hooked on the previous leader and so dependant on their need to be led that they will not bother setting foot on the church until the new “leader” arrives? That’s funny! I always thought that Jesus was the lamp onto our feet! Please note that when I talk about church, I am not only referring to the meeting on Sunday but to all the other things which take place aswell.
As I read the above passage this morning, I realised that the reason the numbers are down in our church is as a result of all the factors suggested above, but it is also a clear illustration of the trail that our church leadership is leaving behind. With our last pastor, the leadership in our church was well defined and in full swing. Operative limits were clearly drawn and those recognised as having a specific gift and/or skill were considered to have the authority to operate in such gifting for the benefit of the church, and not the individuals that are part of it. A year ago now, our pastor resigned and I believe that with him, also went His vision; the plans, structures and ministries started to wobble and disintegrate soon after his departure, although we tried to put on a brave face for a while, and as a direct consequence, attendance levels have been directly hit. Now, if the vision our church had then had lined up with God’s will, as Gamaliel wisely points out, it would have stood the test of transition from one pastor to the next, but clearly the people were following a leader and His vision, and not the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, for if they had been, and using Gamaliel’s words again, it would not all have come to nothing and the people would not have been scattered, and please note that I include myself in that group of people who chose men and women and not Jesus Christ to become the lamp onto our feet.
It is not the men and women who consider themselves church leadership that I have a problem with for for the vast part, they are acting in good faith. My frustration lies with the church as an establishment which puts men at its core, and not Jesus Christ. However, it would be extremely easy to just blame the church and not its members, you and me, for failing God and ourselves by putting men and women on the throne instead of its only righteous owner. If a church collapses when members of its “leadership” move on or cease to be so, it is simply because the foundation that supports its vision is not in a Holy God, but a mere mortal. It was not the lead of the Holy Spirit that propelled us to persevere and endure for the joy set before us, but the lead of a man with passion, zeal and goals and objectives of his own. Had God been at the core of it, the vision, passion and zeal would surely prevail when the leader moves on, but if the man at the top takes those things with him once he leaves, this can only indicate we were going to the wrong source for our food and water, our daily bread. Had we been rooted in the only source that can provide such wonderful things, the foundations of what makes up a church could not have been shaken up and disturbed to such an extent that its members not only opt out until the speaker of their preference makes an appearance, but also start to turn on each other looking for someone to blame for the total chaos and confusion that is created when our hope, source of guidance and direction have been fatally misplaced.