“E” . . . . Is it “E”xpendable? Absolutely no sacred cows and no untouchable traditions.
There is little doubt that western Christianity has become known by its bigness, its marketability, and its techniques. Tragically, even churches in non-western countries are copying that model. A pastor friend in Bosnia told me once that they didn’t want an American version of Christianity, but that’s exactly what they have because we got it from western Europe centuries ago.
2. Today’s citizen uses a different standard of measurement and has a different appetite for success than the New Testament has. Jesus taught His disciples standards of measurement that many believers have forgotten. For example, the value of a life because of who it is rather than how it behaves or what it can do. In spite of the fact that He focused on little things, today’s church usually focuses on bigness. The bigger the better . . . . the more the merrier. We judge the worth of a pastor’s ministry by how good his sermons are, how many members have been added to the church role, or whether or not the finances have improved.
Jesus, instead, talked about intimacy, honesty, love, compassion, faithfulness, giving, encouraging, burden bearing . . . . Since, therefore, we often use differing standards of measurement and have an appetite for more earthly (and earthy) things, it’s very hard to motivate some Christians to a discipleship that is void of temporal reward.
Likewise, unbelievers are often obsessed with gaining their sense of identity by what they do, what they have, or who they know, instead of recognizing they are precious in God’s eyes and that He sees them for who they are and who they can become by His grace. So, when the church tries to communicate their true sense of worth, they neither understand it about themselves, nor understand the seeming hypocrisy they feel the church demonstrates between what it says and how it actually behaves.
3. It is too costly. When you realize that you and I have inherited a system that is exceptionally Romanesque, and that we really don’t know any other way, you begin to see just how great a price may have to be paid to change things. After all, imagine the denominational job positions that might have to be cut, the prestige that might be lost, the building programs that might have to be cancelled, and the big league productions that might have to be scrapped. Have you ever wondered how much money might be released for evangelization if churches had no building payments and had five nights a week free for their members to spend with neighbors, unsaved co-workers, and relatives? Churches of one major denomination spend over $2 million per day in just the interest on building payments.
I actually had one pastor tell me that to lead his church to change some things would require a cost he just wasn’t prepared to pay. He’d rather keep things as they were than go through the hassle of making changes he readily admitted were needed in his congregation. It was simply too costly.
4. It is too difficult to duplicate. Even though most of us want, as our goal, our people to reproduce what we do in evangelism and discipleship, few of us recognize that our very methods and ministries cannot be quickly or simply duplicated by others. Jesus clearly taught us that the way in which we minister to people and proclaim the Gospel should be reproducible. Paul instructed in II Timothy 2:2, “The things which you have learned from me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men who will, in turn, teach others also.”
When you think about it, most of our strategies and plans cannot easily be duplicated. For example, we want to begin a new church in a neighborhood, so we go about the task of trying. First we look for as many faithful workers as we can. Next we do a survey. Then we try to locate some property, secure financing, and construct a building. Of course we have to have people to pay for the building. None of this was taught by Jesus, not because it was a different culture, and not because any one of them is wrong, but because He fully knew that wasn’t the way to get the job done. Such things may be appropriate and may come in due time, but those are peripheral rather than fundamental.
One of the most amazing phenomena of the Twenty First Century Church is the church planting movement. It has been going on for a number of years and people are being converted by the hundreds of thousands. Virtually none of it, however, is being done using the means I grew up with. It is being done in a duplicatable way by following simple Biblical principles that focus on people, needs, and the Good News rather than on surveys, property, events, staff, and buildings. Almost weekly I get reports of amazing breakthroughs where a church planting movement reached critical mass and explosive growth took over an entire city or country.
When we use “house to house” and “eyeball to eyeball” connections with people, I believe our success level will dramatically increase. As long as we continue using methods that are contrary to New Testament patterns, as appealing, workable, and logical as they may appear, we will continue failing at reaching the people on a large territorial or global measure. If we want to continue reaching just a few, then we should continue doing it the way we have been. But, since it’s not easily duplicatable, the population growth will continue to push global evangelization beyond our reach. As far as I can tell, the only truly duplicatable means of evangelism and church growth is one person involving himself in the life of another.
5. Our basic philosophy of church life is built on an erroneous premise. This is really where our Saturday conversation with our friend led us. The western church by and large has a philosophy that is built on a false assumption. That assumption is that the Church is built on and held together by programs, activities, buildings, and budgets, is a totally false and arrogant opinion. The Church is bigger than that, and it is more than that. Though certainly, in my opinion, never intended, that is still where we have ended up in most cases.
As we talked, I became more and more convinced that debating about church polity, organizational structures, which program works best, and other similar subjects was simply hiding the one basic truth about the Church . . . . that the Church is built solely on relationship. So, when we build our church life on anything else, we are building with straw on shifting sands.
Think about it, my friend. Where will you in your church have the biggest attendance —- at a concert or at a personal witnessing workshop? Where will you get the biggest response —- at a Fourth of July celebration or an evening of prayer? Where will you find the largest crowd —- at a Sunday morning worship service or a Tuesday evening of personal witnessing in homes?
We can talk all we want about loyalty, priorities, spiritual maturity, and all the rest which are certainly needed, but the bottom line is that very few people in your congregation have a clue about true Christian relationships. Their concept of the church remains as activities, a building, events, possessions, and money. As a result, few of them have any meaningful life changing relationships with other believers, much less with unbelieving neighbors and work associates. And the majority of them maintain their status as spectators watching the hired hands do the work.
And many of these members are afraid of relationships. That’s why they prefer to fill their lives with activities and events . . . . lots of busy stuff . . . . because it helps them avoid intimate loving relationships, and yet they can still appear to be spiritual minded. The average person fills his life with things and activities as a means of overcoming boredom and meaninglessness in life, he is not secure in facing vulnerability found in meaningful relationships, and he doesn’t know how to gain fulfillment through relationships. Because he doesn’t know how to act when he knows about who a person is, he can only ask questions regarding what a person does or what a person has. He fails to realize that man’s basic need is for meaningful relationships . . . . between himself an others, and between himself and the God who created him. Most heartbreaking is the fact that many Christian’s don’t even see the connection.
Isn’t it tragic that the fundamental ingredient of the Gospel . . . . a loving relationship between a Holy God and a sinful man or woman . . . . has often been somehow lost in the life of the average church. In reality, the Gospel is totally about relationships . . . . “God so loved the world that He gave His Son that whoever believes . . . will have eternal life.” “God proved His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “Whoever is thirsty, let him come.” “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
The Bottom Line is “Relationships”.
This past week I received an e-mail from Tom, a young man who has been with us on three previous trips to the Balkans and who is presently ministering in a small village in Russia for the Summer. He described how they went to an apartment complex and offered to do a “Bible study group” where the people could ask any question about God and religion. He was overwhelmed by the response . . . . the first night more than 50 people attended. Keep in mind this is a culture steeped in the Russian Orthodox Church, and yet most of their questions pertained to relationship issues between God and man. They were religious but lonely people.
Now what would you do with a situation like that . . . . try to organize the group, begin scouting out for property, or schedule a Sunday worship service? Many of us would.
On the other hand, how about our just spending time with those folks, loving them unconditionally, ministering to them in every way appropriate, and continue nurturing that new relationship until it began to give birth to curious hearts that were hungry to know Jesus.
Just yesterday my associate evangelist in our ministry, Kenny, described the church in the Puget Sound area of Washington state where he is now ministering. His first words revealed that it is a church where the pastor focuses on helping people build loving relationships as the foundation of church life.
What is it that makes the current church planting movement work? Frankly, I believe it is because the entire concept is built on relationships. When Jo Ann and I move to Kiev, Ukraine next January, I will be pastoring a church called out to be a model of church planting using the house church or home group concept. Now, if I were to try to start a new church in Kiev using the traditional way we’ve been accustomed to, I’d have to survey a community, see if there was an interest in starting a new church, if there was then try to locate workers, begin looking for property, and then conduct a schedule of regular activities.
On the other hand, I could sit down with a handful of interested and willing believers in the church I’ll be pastoring, train them in the basics of their relationship with Christ, lead them to begin asking God to open doors of relationships with unbelievers in their apartment building or neighborhood, and then as those groups began to emerge simply begin to teach them a few things that they in turn would go and teach to that little group.
Some of the apartment buildings in Kiev are occupied by as many as 5,000 people or more. How many of them do you think I could get to come to the International Church when it meets on Sunday afternoon? If, however, there were some believing couples in that apartment building who were willing to start developing relationships with people on their floor, it is conceivable you could have a dozen or more “churches” meeting regularly for the purpose of discipleship, evangelism, and ministry. In any given week you could have 100 or more people learning and growing without ever leaving that apartment building while, if we tried to get them down to the church building, we wouldn’t get a handful.
What’s the difference?
The tragedy is that far too many Christians are so set in their ways that they will not make the changes necessary to really reach people in such a way, simply because it is more costly, it doesn’t have the fanfare of big crowds and glitsy entertainment, and one cannot remain a spectator with a consumer mentality that focuses only on his own personal needs being met instead of being an evangel who knows he has been sent by God to deliver a message of unconditional love and unquenchable hope to desperate people clamoring for a sense of purpose.
Author Bill Fay is a business man who somehow learned early in his Christian life that the most exciting thing that could ever happen to a human being was to accept Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and King, and that the second most exciting that that could ever happen was to be able to share that truth with another person. As the president and CEO of a multimillion-dollar international corporation, Fay was “in touch” with virtually every facet of society from the legitimate to the criminal. He had everything that spelled success, and had it in abundance.
In his book, Sharing Jesus Without Fear, Fay shares his own story about how he came to a personal awareness of God’s unconditional love for him because of simple relationships that were developed between him and another couple. Over a period of time, as the walls came down and his belligerence diminished, he committed himself to Christ. All the programs, concerts, and sermons he had previously heard only repulsed him because he saw no genuineness and personal interest in who he was.
However, when he did commit himself to Christ, he immediately began to duplicate what he had learned. And he quickly learned the art of asking questions as a means of developing relationships with others. Bill Fay has literally shared Jesus with multiplied tens of thousands of people, and has introduced thousands upon thousands to personal faith in Christ. He has literally led more people to Christ annually than probably 90% of the churches in America.
How can one man personally introduce more people into the kingdom than some of the largest churches in the world?
Because of one simple reason . . . . he discovered the secret.
It’s all about relationships.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE?
If the Church of our generation is going to fulfill the Great Commission in our day, things must change. The activity and program mentality must go, and a commitment to building relationships must become the lifestyle of the Church. Otherwise, we will continue fighting a losing battle.
What does it take to be a “Bottom Line” Christian?
First, it takes unconditional love. And that love must be unconditional first toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you love Him? How much do you love Him? Do you love Him so completely that He has free access to love others . . . . All others . . . . through you? You will never love people enough on your own. You can only be a conduit for a love greater than yours. People will see through the facade of human love, because they know that human love at its best still has in itself somewhere a love built on how it will be personally benefited. People must know you love them unconditionally. They already know (they’ve heard it enough times from Christians) that God loves them unconditionally; now they want to see if you do.
It takes corrected priorities. Becoming a “Bottom Line” Christian with a life built in relationships rather than possessions, activities, or events will force you to correct priorities. If you try to hang onto present priorities while attempting to change your lifestyle into one of building relationships for the purpose of evangelization and discipleship, you’ll soon find yourself at a cross road that requires a decision. That decision cannot be properly made without your priorities being affected.
It takes time. If it takes time to deepen a love relationship with your Heavenly Father Who is perfect and has longed for that relationship since before you were born, then how much more time will it take for you to develop a love relationship with those around you at work, in your neighborhood, and in your family? I mean the type of love relationship that draws them not to you, but to Jesus. In the hectic lifestyle most of us experience, it’s not likely that you can build relationships with people if you allow only as much time for them as you have in the past. You must take time to get to really know them, to allow the Holy Spirit to generate in you a genuine interest in them, to give the Holy Spirit time to build their trust in you, . . .
It takes time . . . . a life time.
It takes intimacy with God. Our relationship with God will affect our relationship with others. If He is distant, they will be. If He is a secondary influence, they will be a secondary interest. So, intimacy with God is essential to a strong relationship with others. You need to have such a walk with Him that you begin to see what He sees, hear what He hears, feel what He feels. Take a look at Isaiah 6. Isaiah’s closeness to God is what determined his compassion for the people. The same will be true with you.
Developing relationships of any kind for any reason is hard work. When it comes to doing so in order to lead them to Christ, it’s even harder. The only thing that will sustain you through the hopeless times and the helpless moments is your personal walk with Him. If you’re not prepared to develop an intimacy with God, then don’t bother trying to reach people for Christ . . . . you’ll soon burn out and quit.
Well, friend, I’ve done it again, and I’ve come to the end of my thoughts still wondering if I really said what I wanted to say . . . . what I needed to say.
But, I do hope you’ve been encouraged and blessed. At times like this I feel like a totally inadequate and unqualified follower of Jesus. But, the bottom line is I want to be more of a “hands on” and “personal” believer than I’ve ever been, and I want to be more free from the traps and restrictions of institutionalized Christianity than I’ve ever wanted in my life. One of my greatest fears is to find myself stuck somewhere behind the lines doing maintenance duty rather than being out on the cutting edge of the Great Commission.
I hope you feel the same way.
Have an incredible week, dear friend. Why not be a “Bottom Line” believer this week?
In His Bond,
Bob Tolliver — Rom 1:11-12
Copyright July, 2002
Life Unlimited Ministries