There is no formula for getting God to speak – the creation cannot control the Creator. The question is not whether the Lord is speaking – He is. It may be through the Holy Spirit, Scripture, circumstances, His Church or any other way He chooses to communicate with us. He directs the steps of the prayerful, encourages the downtrodden, disciplines the wayward and gives assignments to the commissioned.
The only question then is – are we listening? Do we have the humility to seek God’s guidance and faithfulness to act in accordance with His will? Are we in a position and posture to hear his voice? Or are our filters so clouded with worldly noise that we miss the obvious – chalking God-incidents up to coincidence?
We could all use some help getting the wax out of our ears. Unfortunately, today’s prevailing church growth models are not designed to equip congregants with noise-cancelling hearing aids. Defining church around a place and pastor rather than the people in attendance can leave the impression that paid professionals have a higher speed WiFi connection to God.
What is God Saying ABOUT His Church?
But God must be speaking to at least a few churchgoers about the issues behind the decline of the Church in America in growth, impact, influence and perception. Someone in nearly every congregation must be hearing the Lord’s call for church reform. Yet few say anything for fear of overstepping the bounds of pastoral authority – which are elevated beyond biblical norms because buildings and leaders, not you and I, are now seen as the embodiment of “church”. A growing number of Americans are joining the ranks of the “Dones” (done with “Church as We Know It”) without mustering the nerve to address their concerns with church leadership before walking out the door. While most are content with the status quo and shop for the best Sunday morning experience, a few mature believers in each church are sensing an uneasiness with:
- Short and scripted church services meticulously designed to build to an emotional crescendo
- Infrequent, seasonal opportunities to serve the poor while struggling families suffer year-round
- The bulk of the church budget going toward salaries and facilities relative to the miniscule amount invested in discipleship and compassion
- How rarely members share their faith with others, in part because the church never equipped them to do so
- No one offering to personally disciple them or challenging them to make any disciples
- Success of the church being measured primarily based in terms of “butts”, “bucks” and “buildings”
We are all aware that Scripture doesn’t condone treating members like “customers” – institution-building at the expense of disciple-building. Yet those practices continue unabated because the voices of opposition are silenced by the one-upmanship of “it’s your word (from the Lord) against mine (the ordained minister).” A biblical definition of church as the “assembly of called-out ones” and “those belonging to the Lord” would lend greater credence to what individual members are hearing from the Holy Spirit.
However, those intended to BE the “church” find themselves relegated to a supporting role in today’s “genius with 1,000 helpers” model. Most churches in America subscribe to “Invite/Involve/Invest”, where members are simply asked to invite friends, get involved in a couple church activities and invest in maintaining the church’s budget. It positions members as servants to a “church” rather than the personification of it, preserves pastoral control and perpetuates the suppression of obvious biblical truths. Otherwise, how could so many church leaders be free to ignore critical commands and precedents that are so clear in Scripture?:
- Ensuring all congregants see themselves, and not a weekly event, as the church (e.g. between Sundays)
- Preparing churchgoers to pursue the real “customer”, those who don’t know Jesus
- Following Jesus’ model for evangelism, leading with compassion and then saying who He is
- Holding members to the Great Commission mandate, applicable to each and every Christ-follower
Certainly Jesus is speaking those truths to countless Christians. But getting the pastor’s ear to share what the Lord has spoken about deviations from biblical norms is intimidating for those conditioned to believe pastors have a more direct line to God. That counsel is also not likely to be eagerly received when churches face mounting pressures for survival in this day and age:
- the vast number of buildings, each carrying fixed expenses that must be covered
- a shrinking “pie” of frequent attenders
- each of whom gives less today
- in a landscape filled with more Walmart churches, making life difficult for “mom-and-pop shops”
- with seminaries graduating significant numbers of aspiring pastors every year
Finally, a member approaching a pastor about valid biblical truths isn’t helped by the long list of shallow criticisms leaders have received in the past. Those complaints weren’t requests to be challenged to greater discipleship, evangelism or compassion – but consumer-oriented critiques of the music, programs, sermons or amenities. That self-serving mentality is partially a product of our materialistic American culture and partially attributable to decades of churches catering to “customer” needs to keep them coming back.
What is God Saying TO His Church?
Since we’re living in the time between the two advents, we are tremendously blessed to have God speaking to us so clearly and directly – through the Holy Spirit living within us and the Word of God through Jesus Christ readily available to us. But with great power comes great responsibility. The Holy Spirit’s power both convicts and equips us to obey key commands in Scripture:
- Every believer, not just pastors, is called to be the hands of feet of Jesus to those in need of help and hope in our communities and world
- We are all given the Great Commandment to love our neighbors and have access to people that pastors don’t – because they’re unlikely to step foot inside the 4 walls of a church building
- All of us know the cure for spiritual cancer and we are on the hook for revealing it to those who have that terminal illness
We have no excuses. We have all heard from God and received our marching orders. Regardless of whether pastors tell us to just invite our friends to next Sunday’s service and let them handle conversions, that doesn’t relieve us of our responsibility to do much more to lead people to Jesus. Man’s lower expectations don’t lower God’s expectations. We cannot abdicate the Great Commission or Jesus’ model for evangelism to anyone else. There are many Passive, Pensive and Private believers and churchgoers – but the Lord expects all of us to be Powerful disciples.
God may give pastors greater responsibilities and hold them to a higher standard, but He speaks to all believers in His own ways without playing favorites:
- God is equally ACCEPTING – He has forgiven all, loves all and equips all for GC2
- God is equally AUDIBLE – His voice is clear to all those who truly seek to know His will
- God holds us equally ACCOUNTABLE – We all have the same obligation to obey His commands
In other words, every believer is ordained by God for ministry. It may not be in the pulpit, but we’re all on the hook for discipleship, evangelism and compassion. However, America’s church growth model has given the mistaken impression that pastors have a priority hotline to the Father. Otherwise, how could the balance of power flipped to the point where members expect so much of pastors but church leaders expect so little from members? How else could the local church (small “c”) be doing so little to equip believers for their responsibilities in the Church universal (big “C”)?
It’s Your Turn
How have you seen centralizing discipleship and evangelistic responsibilities among a select few leaders impede Gospel advancement in your own church and community? How has assigning greater weight to what pastors hear from the Lord changed the math from multiplication to addition – failing to leverage the power in the pews, and therefore stifling growth and causing leadership burnout?