If you were to ask me what I understand the Sunday service is for, I would say to meet together to remember and ingest our shared brokenness in Christ, to remember the pouring out. We meet for communion. We meet like hungry kids at a table.
But church is not only Sunday morning. We know this with our brains. Church is not the sign out front or the people on your elder board. Church is not made up of followers of Pastor So-And-So or active through successful committee meetings.
You are church, you together with all who believe. It is so beautifully simple. We are a priesthood. Your whole self (body, mind, and soul) is a temple, and Holy Spirit God indwells you. He is a complete and whole God within you. He is every fruit and every gift, every single thing you need for life and godliness. Life is an exciting and mysterious unveiling of His goodness within us.
We’ve been talking about how so often we aren’t open to such goodness because we’re distracted. We’re distracted as consumers of church. We want the exact satisfactions that tempted Jesus on His walk in the wilderness, but He resisted the Kingdoms of the world and showed us a life that is completely satisfied in His Father.
We get to walk the same relationship with the same Father. We are church, and the gospel makes us so. There is no believing and leaving church. We are the church.
I do not care if you’re in a bar, a ditch, a hospital bed, or behind a podium on stage. I don’t care if you were born mute or blind or with Down’s Syndrome. I don’t care if you’re rolling in cash or looking on the sidewalk for change. Are you the man who changes light bulbs or picks up trash in the stadium? Are you the one who prays exquisite prayers? It does not matter where you are, who you are, or how educated you are. You are church. Are you a woman allowed no role other than to keep nursery? That’s a low-down way to live, but it does not bind you. Nothing can bind you.
There is no physical, spiritual, or scientific law against what Jesus calls fruit. If we are in Him, then we bear it, and we will be known by these invisible qualities and the actions born thereof. These are what is means to be like Jesus. These are what revolution is made of: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Against these things there is not law.”
There is not a soul on this planet who wouldn’t be drawn in and changed by such good and free fruit. There’s not a church that wouldn’t be brought to health. There’s not a church that wouldn’t begin to bend toward the image of Jesus. To be around one full of joy is to be around one full of life. Think of the man of peace, how He wrecked shop, coals of kindness. Think of His goodness, how He multiplies the little, His faithfulness, His love that stayed through rooster crows.
That is the very Spirit who makes us. Do we believe Him? Do we believe that to embody the Spirit is to embody completeness? Do we know that completeness isn’t in an organization that serves up “church” to be consumed like a business serves up a product?
We are branches meant to live (abide) only in our Jesus, the social-rule breaker, our Jesus the water-walker and law-fulfiller. He fulfills every dot and tittle, every reason for law by being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. He Himself is Love. There’s not a place He doesn’t belong.
Revolution doesn’t start in pulpits or with elder boards, though support from those places would sure be nice, but the kind of revolution needed in the American church is going to start in the lowest places. It starts in bathroom floors. It starts in the lonely and in those crushed by shame.
Those who see the need for revolution in the church feel like they’re dying for it. Some of us give up because all we see is the brokenness, but it’s a blind and hurt soul who refuses to be loved right where she is. Even in the midst of corruption, Jesus, our law-fulfiller and social-rule breaker, has given us a Spirit, not of fear but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.
If our churches are sick, then perfect. He came for such as these. If our churches are sick, then they are full of those who feel incredibly righteous, yes, but don’t start there. Don’t get distracted by the ones with nothing that ails them. The Holy Spirit within us is a despiser of shame, so start there instead.
When you’re in the service or out, go to the one who is suffering shame. Go to the whore. Go to the one who stole from the plate. Go to the ones who know they will never add up. Go like He came to us. Go to the one who thinks he’ll never know love. Go like a Great Commission is the truth of the matter. Go to the lonely. Go to the pothead kid and the woman who has starved herself for years.
Revolution starts at the bottom, with the outsiders (Samaritans) and women and cripples and whores and thieves and children. Go to the ones with special needs. Are you not needy yourself? You want to see gospel happen in your church? Don’t leave before you’ve spent time with the least there or until gospel calls you relationally to another place for the purpose of being like Jesus.
John Stott in his study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians notes from his understanding of those books that “the gospel creates the church and the church spreads the gospel.” Are you not a minister of the gospel?
Outside it’s America. Are there no injustices in your proximity, in your own church? Is this not why we’re sick? Do the lonely not also break in your midst? Is there no one hungry? What are the discrepancies between our foot-washing Savior and your rock-star desires? What are the discrepancies between our friend-of-whores, friend-of-thieves, friend-of-the-hungry Jesus and my desire to have status and beautiful clothes? Take your eyes off the stage.
So what do we do with leaders who are living contrary to our Jesus? For such a time as this, I tell you. You love them. You speak words of blessing. You clean their toilets. You wash their feet. If you want the church to be like Jesus, then be like Jesus. If you want the church to look like Jesus, then be a minister of the gospel right where you are, and follow Him right out of the building if the gospel, how you live like Jesus, leads you out and into other sick places.
Don’t leave because you’re a dissatisfied consumer, or go ahead and do, but don’t talk about it like you are any different than those you left.
Instead, show up and go underground. Be an undercover practitioner of discernment, one who sniffs out pain. Worship Him everywhere, abiding, aware of your community’s need for hope, aware of love and peace maturing right within your person. Do not get distracted by the surface things, the buying and selling, the committee meetings. Those are not your business. Your business is to seek out the lonely and the ones dying of shame. Your business is to love your enemies and to forgive those who persecute you.
The models of buy and sell and the models of pedestaled believers being rockstarred into leadership is not the Jesus way. These are often instead the models of those whose fruits dwindle. They are the most likely to become the models of work-harder and do-better. Jesus warns us to be weary of such. Accidental Kingdoms are popping up everywhere.
Know that when you meet someone working hard to be outwardly beautiful and fit for consumption, inside they are wasting away. Inside they are void of fruits. These are none to follow. You have nothing to gain from them, but bookmark them with love in your heart, because when they burn out, they will be the lowly, and they need your arms and your dinner tables. We’ve all been the empty ones.
The leader is the servant. The leader is the one who washes feet, the one who makes herself equal to the least person in the room.
You want a revolution? Then be like the good revolutionary, our Jesus. It only comes in intimate abiding, not the do-mores. Watch Jesus start with the hungry. Take the bread and give thanks like a child. Be the child. Live the gospel and be a healing agent in your local church by being intimately aware of the Spirit within you. Don’t you dare run from pain.
Kingdom come, in the name of Jesus, on Earth, in American church, in our own bodies and broken hearts, as it is in Heaven.
Seek this kingdom first, and all those other things will be added to you.