When I say the word, church, what do you think about?
To most Christians, the church is the place we attend on Sunday. For some that means ornate buildings and men in robes reciting ancient prayers that lull us to sleep. For others that means new age campuses, skinny-jeaned pastors, and high-energy services. Then, there are those who see the church as a place filled with hypocritical people who say one thing and do another. Those who have been so damaged in the name of Jesus that they couldn’t possibly give Him a fair trial.
For centuries, those inside and those outside the church have been quietly building walls—walls that box God in to something we call religion or walls around our denomination. With a smile and a promise to pray, we dip our trowel in the mortar and lay another brick. But what if what we commonly refer to as “the church” is distorting our view of the One who died for it and causing us to see a walled-in version of the truth?
I’m not going to pretend that these stigmas do not exist and that you’re not carrying your own experience into this conversation, but I’m writing this to challenge us. It’s no secret that the church is changing. We can refuse that change and fight for tradition just for the sake of tradition, or we can grow beyond our prejudices and step into authentic faith.
I’m not an ordained minister, nor do I lead a congregation. I have no formal theological training and I’m not well-versed in church history. Because of that, the church world says that my voice doesn’t matter or that I don’t know what I’m talking about. But, I’m reminded that Paul didn’t have a degree in theology and those gathering in Acts were not part of a denomination. Jesus has done a radical work in my life and set my heart on pastoring people.
Hearing From God
I was talking with a friend recently who caught me off guard with a comment. In midstream conversation he said, “Matt, you talk a lot about hearing from God. I’ve been a Christian for more than twenty years and I can honestly say that I’ve never heard from Him.” His tone wasn’t angry or judgemental, it was curious and genuine.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if he was asking me a question or just making a statement. But before I could come up with a crafty answer, my spirit responded, “Do you want to hear from God?”
He was silent for a moment. Then he replied, “Man. That’s a great question.”
The truth is, our inability to hear from God has less to do with His inability to speak and everything to do with our unwillingness to listen. In a world filled with constant noise, it’s difficult to get beyond the tangible and step into something as seemingly intangible as hearing from God. But God still speaks.
I rise early each morning for what I call a “prayer walk”. This is my time with my Father. As I walk, I pray out loud and listen. And as I feel a tug in those deep-down places that are hard to describe, I follow them. Last week, the tug came to walk around my church seven times. That seemed like a strange request, but I’ve learned to follow regardless of how it feels.
And as I walked and prayed, I felt like I heard God speak, “You have built walls of fear and hesitation around my church. It’s time for those walls to come down.”
Individuals in Community for the Kingdom
A quick glance at my own life reveals that I have built walls of my own—walls around my career, around my family, and around my faith. As long as everything is well-maintained, life seems to operate as planned. But when circumstances begin to chip away at the brick, I go into overdrive to keep everything in order. That makes it easy to dismiss the needs of others and focus my efforts on building my own kingdom.
In short, the mantra becomes take care of yourself, avoid community, and build your kingdom.
While the intentions of our heart may be different, we have become masters at building our own little kingdoms. But our efforts are simply a facade, a literal house of cards that cannot stand on its own.
So, what are we supposed to do? And, how are we supposed to do it?
As I continued to walk around my church and wrestle with the words God had given me, I started to get a picture of what the church really is and what God was really saying. We need individuals in community for the Kingdom. That’s what the church, the body of Christ, is about. Unique, whole people expressing their gifts in the world, blessing the community around them for the purpose of God’s Kingdom. It’s really that simple.
A divided mind and a divided life can never be whole, and as long as we’re building walls, we’ll never stand united. We cannot give half of our heart or half of our life to a fully crucified Christ. With Easter fast approaching, I’m reminded that Jesus broke out of the tomb, He didn’t remain in it. He fully died that we might fully live. But as along as we’re building walls, we’re missing the point. And as long as we’re building our kingdom, we cannot possibly build His.
We must develop as individuals engaged in a community for His Kingdom.
The Lord Has Given You The City
I’m reminded this morning of Joshua who audaciously marched around the city of Jericho for seven days (Joshua 6). I believe it’s time for a modern-day rendition. As believers in Christ, we have to stand together for the purposes of God and follow as He directs. With unwavering faith, we have to march around the walls that have been built in our own lives and in our own communities so that He might tear them down.
We can’t give Him half of our heart. We either lose our life for His sake, or we lose it.
The church is God’s people and it’s the most powerful thing in the history of the world. It does an incredible amount of good for an incredible number of people. But we cannot become complacent. We cannot grow lukewarm in our faith and lose our focus on what’s really at stake.
The power of God, the power of the gospel, is the only thing strong enough to transform lives. That begins with our own.
It’s time for the walls to come crashing down.
Will you march with me?