A Vision from God
In 2005, a huge transition occurred in my life. As I prayed, I saw a picture of a church building. This church was a square block style building with a foyer outside of its double entrance doors that was simple and more of a breezeway than a formal foyer.
As the doors opened up I saw people inside that were very busy. They were sitting in a variety of places. There were traditional church pews in the room but they weren’t connected to the floor. They seemed to be arranged for unique purposes.
There were people praying alone, in groups, walking or sitting. There were people laughing in joyous celebration. It was clear that the image I saw was that the pews were flexible and this room was set up for multipurpose use.
On the walls were stunning abstract sculptures. They were made of hand blown glass in ultra luminescent colors and so beautiful to look at. There was a cross hanging on the front wall that was made of the same hand blown glass. The blues, greens, oranges, reds, and whites were incredible and glistening with swirling brightness.
A man stood up front on a short stool. He was chanting out loud as if he were practicing for something. He had a black cleric’s robe on and there was a tailor that was hemming his sleeves while he stood there.
Interpretation of the Vision
When I prayed about what I had seen, the Lord seemed to give me its meaning. He said that he wanted the pews loosened so that we would be free from a habitual existence within our gatherings. He wanted us to be free in our worship, our prayer, and our fellowship with each other. He made it clear that these people in their various activities were a pleasure to Him.
He said that the sculptures hanging on the walls of this room were works of art that exemplified the talents He had given to each of us. These were callings, gifts, natural talents, spiritual gifts that were so special to Him that He wanted them displayed. It was to Him like a parent hanging a picture their children painted on the front of the refrigerator for everyone to see. It seemed that He was revealing to me that too many of His children had their talents hidden away and that we were not celebrating each other the way He would like us to.
The Cross up front was the gift of His Son to all of us and that it was similar to the others in that all of the gifts were given from the Father to be displayed, that was His gift to us.
Now to the chanting robe bearing man, God said he was representative of the history of the Church. There are traditions that we had lost and needed to try them on again and to be refit. He wanted us to reconnect to some of the traditions that represent our history and our family. He didn’t want us to forget them. This represented the stories, the lives and the accomplishments of others that brought us to where we are today.
After pondering that vision for many years now, I have become more excited about being a Christian than I have been for some time. I finally see that God was freeing me to be myself, to experience Him uniquely. I breathed a sigh of joy thinking that my Father in heaven was really excited about my gifts and others as well. I’ve wondered if the dream was more for me than anything! God wants me to be free from the shackles of my own fears that were certainly present when the protestors arrived.
I spent many years of my Christian life sitting in pews and church buildings. I was relieved to think that there were many ways for us to celebrate our God with each other and it didn’t all have to be in straight rows facing the front or in buildings organized to facilitate church programs.
But there was an even deeper transformation. For the first time in many years God inspired me to a renewed desire to reach out to others sharing His love with them.
What’s the Plan?
I began to pray seeking Him for a plan. What did He want me to do with what He had shown me? So, for four years, I prayed. I sorted through my varied responses, some not so pretty to talk about. I began to wrestle with my vocational life. I had been in the same ministry for over 20 years. I was really satisfied in what I had done but something began to shift causing me to reevaluate my daily investments in my work.
I’ve read through some books on “missional” churches, “organic churches” and “house churches” and found some great inspiration through them but there seemed to be something still missing. Some of these books were tremendous and liberating in my heart but at times they left me feeling frustrated and critical. I had to continue working through that too. It seemed they were just another kind of church program that didn’t look that much different from where I had been.
God began to rock my world through adversity and relational challenges. I began to experience shifting in every area of my life. I had no idea how tough things were going to get for me and thankful that God took me through it all gradually.
The First Storm in the Church
In 2006 I was a part of an organized church that had been a tremendous blessing for thousands who attended services there. After a horrible internal breakdown where two thirds of the congregation, including my wife and I, left along with the majority of the staff including the Senior Pastor literally thousands were deeply wounded. I began to visit other churches sporadically almost feeling relieved that I didn’t attend an organized church every Sunday morning. I remember one Sunday sitting on my cool breezy front porch wondering if this pleased the Lord for me to just be quiet with Him instead of going out to a church that day. I thought this surely was liberation from being bound to a pattern of church attendance that had raised me to more maturity but also brought me a lot of pain.
I settled into a small Bible study group of about 16 people that were fast becoming really close friends. I started to ask the question about whether this would replace the larger organized church for me and others. Most of the time this weekly Saturday night gathering meant more to me than a majority of formal organized church services I had been to in the recent years. We met together every week, ate a meal and studied the Bible together, supported and encouraged each other with prayer and counsel. We surrounded each other at weddings, funerals, and hospitals. We ate other meals together sometimes; I had spontaneous lunches with the men. I affectionately called it my church of 16 members and 12 regular attenders. What is the church anyway? I began to ask a question that I never felt the liberty to ask. I found it challenging to answer the question often asked, “Where do you go to church”. I would squeamishly say, “Oh, my main fellowship is with our small group that meets on Saturday nights.” I was still feeling a little exposed and fearful that I might be judged for not keeping a traditional pattern of Sunday church attendance.
As I looked around my city I found that my former organized church wasn’t the only one going through splitting and internal breakdowns. God reminded me of a huge storm that occurred in Memphis where within twenty minutes trees had fallen all around town, telephone poles lay in the streets and electricity was out for weeks for some. The word I received from our locals was that the majority of the trees that fell were rotten inside but we just didn’t see it. I began to ponder what had happened.
God spoke to me in response to this event. “I had to clean the garden from the rottenness that was inside the trees. I am sorry it was inconvenient for you all – but it had to be done”.
I saw how this event was similar to what I saw was happening within our local organized churches. In a very personal way, it became apparent that through the adversity of internal battles for control and some overall dysfunction, God was cleaning my heart, challenging me to new growth and direction. He was also challenging others in the same say. Yes, it is inconvenient, but it has to be done. I also had to get honest about the fact that I had not really experienced true relationship with the majority of those sitting around me on Sunday mornings. I had however, experienced the habit of going to church and smiling with a hole in my heart longing for connection that was meaningful.
But there was still something aching in me. I found another local church that seemed to have something special and I knew some friends who had been going there and said they enjoyed it. So, I happened to meet a couple at a home cookout who went there and they invited us to attend so we went the next day.
I resigned myself that maybe this might become what we needed and would enjoy. The new church gathering of Christians very quickly embraced us. I was invited to speak and share my gifts with the body there. The pastor was very supportive of me personally and spoke into my life with renewed encouragement. So we joined this church with the hope in our hearts that we would find a special ministry there and relationships that were fulfilling.
The Storm at Love In Action
During this season another very deeply invested part of my life became a huge challenge. The internal workings of the ministry I had led for over 20 years became broken, confusing and wounding. I tried every way I knew how to correct the problems. I prayed, sought intercession and counsel but things continued to worsen. The conflicts and distractions increased and I felt trapped in a place I had celebrated for so many years. I hated leaving my home every day to go to a place that was such a personal and corporate challenge for everyone. What was God doing? How could it be like this? It seemed no matter which way I turned I couldn’t find a solution.
God, What is Your Heart in All of This?
I began to search God’s heart for some answers. This time I began to ask different questions than before. I pondered questions that would take me deeper than just asking what organized church to attend. God, what is Your church? Where is Your church? What does it mean to serve You? How do I fit into Your church? Who is Your church? God, where do You want me to be?
After a couple of years of tremendous heartache, in 2008 I left my position with Love In Action in faith that God had something He was leading me to. I realized that one of the first answers He gave me was to free me from the ministry I led. It became very clear that God was allowing me to close the door on that season of my life and begin anew. I felt strongly that he wanted me to take all I had learned and experienced there and use it in a new way.
Upon my departure from that ministry my pastor invited me to share a teaching series with a small group at church. I called it “The Tributaries of Grace”. I started out the series inviting the participants to focus this series on a person that they wanted to reach with the grace of God. This could have been a friend, a family member or someone they were having a difficult time with. As I challenged this small group to reach out, I could only think about Morgan. After all, he had upset my whole world and caused endless problems.
Something new came alive in my heart. I realized that through the years of ministry experience I mostly responded to those desiring healing and recovery. This had changed to looking outwardly into the lives of those who haven’t begun their own journey yet or were stuck along the road. So, there was a glimpse of a major change in my perspective at that point.
The Second Storm in the Church
Just when I finally let my guarded heart open to some extent, I began to feel released to step into further commitment with the people at the new church. But as I got further involved I heard rumblings of discontent and elder / pastor problems that seemed to have been developing over a period of months.
One Sunday morning, we went through a painful confusing combustion of problems within the organizational leadership that occurred during the morning service. That day, there was a split, and the elders and staff resigned, leaving the pastor and about one half of the original congregation in the wake.
I left on that overwhelming Sunday morning, feeling lost and hurt, realizing that many of my new friends were going different directions. Many of the departing members quickly organized another church and held a meeting within a couple of days announcing the beginning of a brand new church. What about the broken hearts from two days ago? How would they heal? Is anyone paying attention to the wounds that need mending? It had happened again, now what. How many more times will we see this happen? I continued to wonder if there was any solution to these kinds of conflicts.
Discouraged and Hopeless
Needless to say, I was swimming in discouragement and hopelessness. What am I going to do now? What is God doing? I surely didn’t want to attend any organized church the next week and decided to attach to our home group even more.
I released myself from Sunday church attendance obligations. I soon felt freer than I had been in a long time. After a few months, I felt God answer my questions in another very unique way. He said,
“Watch for the springs of Living Water to come up out of the streets and sidewalks of the city. Get prepared! This water is the Living Water as unto salvation. I am inspiring my people to come to me and I want my Body to be prepared to receive them but they will not be coming to the front doors of the organized church buildings, they will need you to go to them, to listen for their voices, to know them and care about them. Go out into the streets.”
Whoa! These many years of confusion and pain has brutally moved me to go outside the walls of the organized churches! Building by building God has seemingly jack hammered me loose from my own traditions, religious practice and patterns of habit! He changed my entire world.
Where Two or More are Gathered
I began to see His “church” was everywhere I met or gathered with followers of Jesus Christ. I saw that I was having church every day! My new church didn’t have membership other than to believe in Jesus Christ. I enjoyed lunches, spontaneous meetings in the market places of my life which became encouraging connections with the Body of Christ. I found that when I took my eyes off of the Sunday ritual that had been a habit and somewhat of an idol, I saw the Body of Christ everywhere I went.
I have seen a new thing develop in my life. I am, more than any time in my life, excited with the hope that I will see someone come to a relationship with Jesus Christ that is authentic, transforming and invigorating! I have felt my eyes perk up in a watchful manner to see if I can see what He sees. There are lost children out there, Lord? Where are they? Do you want me to go to them? Where will I find them?
I felt him saying, “You won’t find them inside the walls of the churches.” “Walk as Jesus did, in the highways and byways, in the world around you.” “You will find them there.”
Well, I have found myself in some really strange places. I have entered the world with weak knees, curiosity, and timidity. I didn’t feel prepared for this! I was uncomfortable in the world. It was too strange for me. I wanted to be comfortable, safe, and this wasn’t a safe place.
I was reminded that we don’t live in a “G” rated world. This world is not my home! But, I am asked to enter it with my whole heart so as to be in it, but carefully – so as not to become entrenched in it.
Wow, this is really exciting – and dangerous. I have been around people and involved in circumstances that were similar to my own broken past but I had forgotten my old life long ago. I have heard language, seen behavior and gone places that many told me in the organized church I should not be around. I have lived in a white washed world sanitized in such a way that was designed to keep us safe from the world. Is that what Jesus did? What about the real grit of this world? What about getting our hands really dirty – with the hope we will find the lost, the estranged and the orphaned?
The Journey of Grace
As I have gone through this journey of change, God has inspired me to write about what I had learned. I call it “The Journey of Grace.” I have lived out the principles that laid the foundation for this series for many years in a very different setting. Now they seem to have become alive in ways I am not sure I would have imagined at the time. I didn’t even see this as I began to write down my thoughts.
Now that I have written the last Journey of Grace session on Honor, I can say with excitement that it is my greatest hope that this will inspire the others to turn their eyes from inside the walls of their churches to see what God is doing out in the streets. It would be awesome if this material would prepare many for the harvest that God is preparing for His Church to receive.
I believe that one of the greatest tools to bring hope to our world today is our own story, our own life. Like myself, I know others around me hunger for connection and real relationship. So many are living lives of aloneness, fear and shame that for some, the only way they will come out of their prisons will be holding the hand of someone they trust. The trust will come from knowing that the person on the end of the hand can relate.
I have begun the collection of core values with honest self evaluation and along the way I hope the inspiring, grace filled, forgiving and restoring voice of the Living God will permeate our souls with desire for His children to come to know Him and to find maturity through authentic relationships with other followers of Jesus.
Along the journey, after God deepens our heart for Him, I hope we will have a well of His Living Water to share with the thirsty souls around us that He reveals to us.
Are there going to be Springs of Living Water as unto salvation coming up from your streets and sidewalks? Are you prepared to receive them? Are your eyes fixed forwardly in rows facing the front of your church experience? Or, are you beginning to feel the pews coming loose underneath your familiar places? Would you like your Father to celebrate your life on the walls of your gathering places? Do you want to connect to all the Saints who have gone before you with wonderful stories of life and traditions?
Get ready for a rocky challenging ride. Be prepared for some things along the way that may confuse you; but God has a plan to move you closer to Him and closer to His heart’s desire for people to come to Him.
I found an answer to one of my questions; “What does it mean to serve the Lord?” It was simple and straight forward. To serve Him is to serve His people with His message of new life, hope, and healing. He wants us to never tire of speaking of the hope that is within us. Will we walk the streets of our lives with our hands outstretched just like His were on the cross? Unafraid, unashamed, and ready to embrace, to hear, to value and honor, those we find in the fields.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11: 28-29