Two millennia ago the Church was born. It wasn’t anything like we know it to be now. It wasn’t a structured organization with Buildings, Budgets and Big shots. It was a movement; a movement of the Gospel, a movement of discipleship, a movement of transformation. One of the most amazing things is that the person who started it only led for three years and left! Even the second generation leaders didn’t last long, or stay long in one place, and the lack of effective communication systems meant that they couldn’t control what was happening in every corner of the movement. We are blessed with the Acts of the Apostles, because one medical doctor decided to document what was happening where he was or whatever he researched. Most of what happened with the movement is undocumented.
But, the thing I’d like us to reflect on a bit more is the nature of the church versus the context in which it was started, the current setup versus the current context and the question of whether we are in trouble and what we can do about it.
The Church started as a small “cult” (for that’s what the outsiders called it then) in some insignificant but troublesome corner of the Roman Empire. Paganism was the main religion. The social fabric was very broken, and all the things that Christians mourn about today (abortion, sexual deviation, injustice, oppression etc) were rampant. I mean, people watched people being killed for entertainment – how about that for conscience! The Roman Empire with its military machine ruled, and in many cases was very opposed to the Church.
So, how on earth did this small “cult” move from 120 people in the upper room to taking over half of the Roman Empire in about 250 years, getting to the point where the Emperor converted and switched sides (a brilliant political maneuver if you ask me)?
The Empire was structured – very structured. It was a rigid, stable, well financed, over supplied, well respected, much feared, powerful and violent entity. Working for the empire was rewarding, economically, socially and in many other ways. There was much to gain in allying with it. When the empire moved, it was well planned, violent and loud – it made news.
On the other hand, the Church was a movement. It was like a virus, spreading from person to person, home to home and town to town. It was more networked than structured. People were led by the Holy Spirit. There was no strategic plan; showing where Peter, James, Paul, Phillip, Mary, John, Agabus or whoever was spreading the message was to go and in which season. It was poorly financed, despised, ridiculed, persecuted, and faced lots of uncertainties. But it was mobile, resilient, well led and effective. You never knew when and where they’d strike. It only made news after they’d hit the area. If you killed one leader, several emerged in their place. Their main weapon? Love!
Guess what? THEY SUCCEEDED! We are here to day because they succeeded.
But here is why we are in danger. There seems to have been a reversal of postures. The Church, which is supposed to continue to reach deep into the world’s systems, is now too rigid, stable, overly structured, poorly led, too loud, self righteous, self preserving, overly planned and budgeted, and visionless. People care more about past revivals than future possibilities. Everyone is protecting and over managing their corner.
On the other hand, the world we are supposed to be reaching and healing has become mobile, networked, agile and innovative. Evil seems to have evolved into a movement. You never know when and where they’ll strike. You only see it on social media and in the news. You can’t tell who the leaders are. You put one in prison and ten emerge in their place. There is no structure. A person planning a rape needs no permission from “above”. A person swindling money meant for public use, whether that’s in Government, Civil Society or Business just executes their plan in private without asking superiors.
But anyone trying to plant a church or start some project that will do good to the community has to go through so many levels of permissions, it hurts. Everyone is waiting on their “godfather” to move forward. If the early church had behaved like us today, we’d not be here. Think about marriage and the danger facing the family. People who want to wed and honor their spouse, parents, faith community and God have to go through Kukyaala, Kwanjula, Kuhingira, Kasiki and then Wedding. All these cost money, and for people who are at the beginning of their careers it can be a bit overwhelming. We haven’t even talked dowry, tribal differences, parental preferences, church politics etc. And what does it cost to move in with your boyfriend and start having children? A bit of guilt and shame (whose currency is fading fast) plus continual explanation to all concerned.
The Church was once mobile and networked while the world it infiltrated was rigid and structured. Now the church is rigid and structured, while the world has become mobile and networked. The world has become more missional than the church! Is it any wonder then that we are having less and less of the church in the world and more and more of the world in the church?
What do we do now? You can’t win by simply doing more of what is not working! Having more and sharper spears won’t win you a war anywhere today. Likewise, planting more and better churches that are still structured the same way; with Buildings, Budgets and Big shots will not solve this problem. Europe has been here before and they are painfully watching the results. America is starting to experience it. South America, Asia and Africa are somewhat still on the other end of this problem curve, but if we don’t change, it’s just a matter of time. Remember the rate of change has changed, so the number of years it took the European Church to decline won’t be the same for the African Church unless we change something NOW!
It’s time to get back to being a MOVEMENT of the Gospel, Discipleship and Transformation. It’s time to rid ourselves of the buildings, budgets and big shots mindset. It’s time for us to place Life Carriers everywhere; in families, governments, civil society, business, media, education, the arts, culture etc. It’s time for us to start LOVE-STRIKING multiple targets at once, with efficiency and effectiveness, relying on locally available resources and leadership. Yes, let’s build, let’s budget, let’s have leaders in place but only for purposes of the mission.
It’s time for us to wake up to the reality that CHURCH BEGINS ON MONDAY, SUNDAY IS GARAGE TIME!