Over the past few months. .
.well, years. . .God has developed within me a discontentedness. It's not
really a negative thing. I'm wired in such a way (by God's design) to see
things and wonder why they are the way they are.
It's always been this way. I
remember sitting in our worship center shortly after we opened it in 1994. I'm
sure there was an inspiring message that day and some great music, but I could
not get over the fact that the round windows on either side of the stage area
were not centered. Why is the window on the right closer to the stage area than
the one on the left? Yes, this still bothers me.
Also, why are the doors that go
behind the stage different? Why does one open "in" and the other open
"out?" Is this so we can run laps around the stage and just push the
These are just examples, but you
see what I mean, right? I wonder why things are the way they are. Was it
accidental, intentional, or just something that's "always been done that
Some of you understand the DISC
personality profile system. Guess what? I'm a "High D." I'm sure
that's a shock to all of you who know me.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE HIGH
to motivation is challenge
intent is to overcome
to be in charge
on challenge, pressure and tough assignments
being taken advantage of
As this holy discontent has set
in over the past few years, I have begun to ask some harder questions.
Questions like. . .
do we seem to have gatherings called "worship services" when very few
in attendance are actually worshipping (or at least appearing to)?
does it seem we are content on "making church members" rather than
in a community with so many churches does it seem that the church (as a whole)
is making so little impact?
are so many people content with being church members?
are so many churches focused on building new buildings rather than building
are so many self-proclaimed Christians angry all the time?
don't we live as missionaries here in our own community?
did a person's political party become the litmus test for their Christianity?
is there an overabundance of orthodoxy with no identifiable orthopraxy?
did we end up with this subculture we call "Christian" that looks so
different from what Christ has called us to?
- Why do so many within the church say "We're kingdom minded" but act like other churches in our community are the competition?
- Why do some church members (me included) get upset over things that don't matter for the Kingdom, yet do nothing tangible to expand the Kingdom?
There are more questions. I always have questions like this. I'm still wondering why the windows are the way they are.
God has brought some folks into my life over the past few years that seem to ask the same types of questions. Men like Wes Hughes, Caleb Crider, Sean Benesh, Matthew Jolley, John Robinson, Wallace J., Jeff Christopherson, Andrew Lamme, Brett Porter, Scott Swanstrom, Rick Wheeler, Hal Haller, Bob Bumgarner, Reggie McNeal, Ed Stetzer and tons more.
Believe me, having a cup of coffee with these guys is an experience. Maybe one day, we can all get in the same room just to pray and talk and solve all the problems in the world of the postmodern church?
Seriously, God is definitely at work in this generation of churches. Apparently, I am not the only one with a "holy discontent" regarding the state of the church.
We are the remnants of a less than effective church growth movement. A movement that has successfully placed more people in a smaller number of buildings regularly, but has failed to see widespread growth of the church in cultural settings that are either post-Christian or well on the way to become such.
In Jeff Christopherson's excellent book Kingdom Matrix, he presents graphically that which is happening in our culture (both community and church cultures) as it relates to the expansion of the Kingdom of God. (I love when an author writes what I've been thinking. It makes my thoughts seem more legitimate.)
The first thing we must understand is that there are two Kingdoms - the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Darkness. There is no middle kingdom, though modern Christians have tried to create one. There is no "grey area" here. We are either expanding and moving forward the Kingdom of God or the Domain of Darkness.
So, three basic understandings are needed here:
- At any given moment I am either building the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Darkness. Period. There is no third kingdom. However, we have "built" one. We have created a third kingdom that doesn't really exist or matter.
- It's possible to participate in church expansion and unintentionally be an agent for shrinking the Kingdom of God. As the church, we are fascinated with outputs. The church growth movement celebrated this. In the midst of this, we have forgotten the mission of God at times and the reason for the church being placed here, or in a specific area. In other words, we have made the church the end result - the output, rather than the expansion of the Kingdom of God.
- It is possible to unknowingly value the Kingdom of God before acknowledging the value of its Source; the King.
These are illustrated through forms, in this case identified as either "sacred" or "secular." (I know, I know, "everything is sacred" but for the sake of this illustration the designations make sense to my Westernized thought patterns.)
Here's the bottom line. The bottom left quadrant is bad. . .really bad. This is the darkest area. This group of Self Seekers is prominent in our culture (best illustrated by the characters on the sit-com Seinfeld and others.)
The next worse is the group known as Brand Expanders. These seem spiritual, but are fake. We are to avoid this group. The problem is that often we naturally drift toward this quadrant as individuals and churches. It's hard to avoid ourselves.
Kingdom Seekers are those who do not know Christ, but are on the journey toward surrender. They are lost, but curious. They know there's a bigger story and they believe they're not the central part of it, but they just haven't stepped over to Christ, yet (for various reasons.) I like to call this group "pre-Christ followers." I'm optimistic.
The Kingdom Expanders as designated in the top right quadrant is where we need to be. This is the sweet spot. This is the place where the Story and the Author (God) are central. Self-centeredness has no place here. The local church is not the end game here, as it is for the Brand Expanders. The local church is the vehicle to expand the Kingdom. When here, we understand that the "payoff" most likely will not be this side of heaven. In fact, the "payoff" is not even considered the goal. Expansion of the Kingdom is the goal.
So, why do I fear that we may be Brand Expanders? Just look at these descriptors of how Brand Expanders deal with certain things:
BRAND EXPANDERS AND. . .
- MONEY - results in religious consumerism. This is what you get when you cross the values of materialism with the subculture of Christendom. We get the crowd that followed Jesus in search of a show, a miracle, a meal. It's a gathering, but it's not the church. It's more Pharisaical than we would like to admit. It puts us, or even our local church, as the center of the story. We become "fans" of Jesus and proud of our church. . .but we don't become disciples.
- ENERGY - results in competition. Yes, I know this is hard to believe, but churches often say they're on the same side (God's side) but live as if they're competing with each other. It would be as if Coca-Cola and Pepsi stated publicly that they were friends and wanted everyone to enjoy the taste of cola. Yet, everyone knows they hate each other and would love to put the other out of business. Now, churches would never say that (I hope) but how many have secretly celebrated the demise of another local congregation? It's sick. It's done all too often.
- CHANGE - results in conformation. I know, we all hate change. That's what we say anyway, while we Tweet on our iPhones and Skype our grandkids and set our DVR to record Duck Dynasty. Hate change? Not really. We just hate change in how we do church. The Brand Expanders promote conformity, which looks simply like behavior modification without a heart change. Christopherson states, "Neither the old lifeless legalism of 'believe and behave,' nor the cool, funky, hipper versions of a more open-minded conformation can produce the inner change that advances the Kingdom of God an inch. We may be marching in a straight line, but we will be following a different Commander."
- COMMUNITY - results in group isolation. The Self-Seekers live in isolation. The Brand Expanders do so as a group. Often lived under the banner of "church autonomy" (which as it is played out in our day is far from what we see in the Book of Acts) are those who isolate themselves from others and gather in their "holy huddles" for the sake of their group, not God nor the Kingdom of God. "As long as our expectations of the disciple do not include the humility of authentic community and only requires weekly exercises in group-isolation, we have created adequate elbowroom for darkness to maneuver unhindered." (Christopherson)
- LOVE - results in storage. The evangelistic motivation of reaching a certain target group often results not in a missiological selfless love for others, but in a strategy to reach a desired group that will fit into the current "church." We love those who look like us, think like us and won't cause us stress. We will often ignore the racially, economically, and culturally diverse by leap-frogging them to reach those who . . . are just like us.
- AUTHORITY - results in a love of corporate identity. This is where the local church becomes the end all, be all for the people. It's about the church. It's about the organization. It's about my "small group" or "Sunday School class." I have heard many people brag on their small groups to such an extent that I wonder if they even know why they gather? Bragging on the King? Bragging on Jesus? Not the Brand Expanders. These are the people who have "visitation nights" and go market their class and church to such an extent that they seem less like disciples of the King and more like Kirby vacuum cleaner salesmen (no offense Kirby vacuum cleaner salesmen.)
The holy discontent is real and holy in that God has brought it. You see, I believe the Brand Expanders are akin to those who are neither hot nor cold and make God sick (Revelation 3:16).
Yet, we drift there. It's easy to be a Brand Expander. It's easy and in our culture, seems right. It seems holy. It's affirmed in 2 Timothy 3:5 in that these people are "having a form of godliness but denying its power."
We must get out of this quadrant and lead others to as well.
If we do not, we are destined to be just another church in the Bible belt that gathers for sake of ourselves, feeling good, having programs for the kids and classes for the adults, blessing a community. . .and yet, not making disciples nor expanding the Kingdom.
Are you a Brand Expander?
- Are you focused on things that do not matter for the Kingdom?
- When was the last time you bragged on the King?
- Do you love people. . .well, only some people?
- What is your most recent "God story?"
- Are you angry. . .at things that really don't matter. Seriously. Will God say to you one day, "Why did you waste so much emotion and energy on that when you could have experienced life, abundant and free and expanded My Kingdom?"
Some say we need revival. I believe we do. We need to move from the quadrant that seems spiritual and godly but in truth is expanding the Domain of Darkness to become Kingdom Expanders.
How do we do this?
We start with REPENTANCE.
To be a Brand Expander is a sin. No debate. No questions. No "but, what about. . ." It's sin. Repent and surrender to the King and begin living like we believe.