Chapter 18 What to do?
It is hard to be realistic. What should we do? The theoretical answer is easy. We should all enter into an experience of the “body life” as I described in the previous chapter. The clergy/laity system will never produce mature Christians who know how to function as a living member of the body of Christ. But after ten years of experiencing it and thirty more years trying to find it again, my idealism is tempered with realism. We are looking for a “way” of meeting and there is no right “way” – other than learning to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The issue isn’t a special way or method.
The problem is much deeper than that. The issue isn’t whether we meet in a building or in a home, this way or that. As a matter of fact, it isn’t about meetings at all! The early church set the world on fire because there were average people energized by the Spirit of God, burning with a fresh love for Jesus, their Savior who were surrounded by a pagan society into worshipping gods of the sun, sea, stars, moon, etc., societies that offered sacrifices, the new humanism born of the Greek philosophers – a society completely at odds with Christianity in every way. And in the middle of it was a small group of people holding on the Lord and one another for dear life!
Today, we in the Western World, and the U.S. in particular, are surrounded by a society that generally embraces Christianity in culture and values. At least no one is being beheaded or burned at the stake for their faith and everyone from politicians to “pop stars” flaunt their faith to the world which accepts them more and more. Pollsters will tell you that a huge percentage of Americans consider themselves to be Christians and attend church regularly. Most of us consider a “good” Christian is one who attends church on a regular basis.
There is a growing number of “unchurched” Christians who sense something wrong or have actually seen the hypocrisy of today’s church, but sadly they are so caught up in the cares of life and are so afraid of commitment because of the abuses they have seen in the church, that they are unable or unwilling to commit to anything. They are clearly paying no attention to the injunction that we “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together and so much the more as we see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) They don’t have the stomach for another meeting, especially a boring home meeting where the fellowship is often caddy, shallow and gossipy. They are tired of the endless Bible studies and “prayer meetings” and I must say I can’t blame them.
At a time when our Lord should have a “glorious bride without spot or wrinkle”, a glorious corporate expression, we have a bunch of sheep huddled in their homes afraid to venture out for fear of getting burned. My wife and I spent nearly two years traveling around the country trying to stir up interest in home meetings. There was just no interest. Now maybe that is a matter of God’s timing, but there was also no willingness to commit to other people more than a token meeting every now and then.
What is the “Church Life”?
As I began to think about the days when we experienced a real church life, I realize that it had very little to do with meetings and everything to do with community. We lived in the same neighborhoods. We met every morning as a group for prayer and all through the week for one reason or another. We did evangelism at the university, child evangelism in the neighborhoods, neighborhood meetings and larger meetings in rented hotel rooms. It is hard for me to even put it into words. We had the concept of each having a fresh relationship with the Lord and each bringing what we experienced and sharing it with others in open ended meetings. But it was all a culmination of living our lives in close proximity with one another.
Even the idea of a home meeting doesn’t come close. Sorry, that is not what I am talking about! That is just substituting a big meeting for a small one. The sad fact is that most of us are so busy with life, making ends meet, hauling the kids around, watching our favorite programs on TV, taking care of your yards, keeping the car from falling apart, reading our emails, etc., that true “church life” isn’t even a possibility. Driving 20 minutes and seeing one another once or twice a week is not the dynamic, living “Church life” God intended for us.
Physical proximity to one another is the most important thing if you want to experience the “body life” but I doubt that will ever happen this side of the “Tribulation”. We are too busy, too distracted, too self-absorbed, too afraid, too guarded and too caught up in our own little worlds to experience anything more than a shallow “meeting life.” Until things get so bad, the economy falls apart, we lose our jobs and homes and you have five families stuffed into a four bedroom house, we probably won’t experience much in the way of a true church life and even that won’t guarantee success.
If you are really serious about preparation, I only have one suggestion. Find people who are of like mind, who share the same vision and are willing to do whatever it takes to follow the Lord and get ready for the troubling times ahead. Ask the Lord what to do and do what He says. If He says to congregate in a neighborhood in the suburbs, in the central city, in a small town or in the country, just do it and ask God to build you together and make you ready. Maybe he wants you to have a little business that can employ saints, a small farm, a campground, motel or restaurant – as a way to minister to the world and allow you to work with other brothers and sisters.
All I can say is that we are coming into very hard times, economically, politically and socially. We will need one another like never before. I have no idea what God wants you to do, but I do know we will need each other. And the true “church life” is not meetings. It is saints living and working together in very practical ways – the more practical and proximate (nearby), the better.
Don’t listen to those who would tell you what to do – go here or go there. The only place for you to go for sure is on your knees. There is a ministry that is telling Christians that they must leave the organized church and Babylon (i.e. America) or they will be judged by God. That is ridiculous! No ministry should ever “play god” and tell other people what to do! How incredibly presumptuous! Who knows what God will tell you to do? The important thing is for you to listen to His voice and do what He says. Nothing else matters! No one can or should tell you what to do. That doesn’t relieve you of responsibility. In fact, that makes it your responsibility alone. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God…and we all work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
We realize that Christians are in different circumstances and God’s heart is big. There will be overcomers in Babylon – people like Daniel and his friends who aren’t burned by the fire. There will be little saints who open to the Lord every day and try their best to follow Him. The real church life is the relationships we have in the spirit and practically day to day with one another. It has nothing to do with where or how we meet. So given that we are in different circumstances, a quick word for each:
To Christians in Different Circumstances
In the “last days”, the Bible tells us that the church will fall away into apostasy. (II Thess. 2:3) But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith...(I Timothy 4:1). So when it happens, we shouldn’t be surprised. The closer we get to the end, the more apostate the institutional church will become. This will bring many (and already is) to the point of making some hard decisions about fellowship. I have a special word for several categories of Christians:
1. Those in full-time ministry,
2. Those attending church,
3. Those “church hopping” and
4. The "unchurched".
1. To those of you in full-time ministry, the Lord bless you for your faithfulness and sacrifice. I know it is not easy work. It is hard when working with a diverse group of people, some who don’t even want you to tell the truth. Your job should be to equip the saints, so that they might stand whether you are there or not. It is important for you to not only train people by teaching them but by giving them meaningful opportunities to share and take responsibility for others and one of the best ways to do this is through home meetings. You need to raise up mature leadership, people who know how to experience the Lord like you do, glean fresh revelation from the word, share the gospel with the unsaved and disciple them. They need to be so close to one another, they will stick together whether you are there or not.
Think of the day when you must decentralize. The church should be prepared to not only stand in the evil day, but to be even more alive and dynamic than ever before. The laity needs to get off their lazy “laity” duffs and get involved - not in buildings and programs. How will they take care of their children, reach their friends, meet the needs of singles, couples, counseling and so forth if the only glue holding them together right now is you and the building? You are committed and have proven it by your ministry and faithfulness. You need to instill that same commitment in those who will listen.
But most of all, you have to step back and give every saint the opportunity to develop their gifts and ministries - not just to usher and pass the collection plate, but to minister spiritually to one another. People need to be trained - not by going to Bible School and Seminary but you need to so raise up saints in the body that they can take care of one another. The saints need to learn how to have a fresh, living experience with the Lord every day and then to come together to encourage one another. Your job is to equip the saints. Also, remember, "function follows form." If you have the chairs all lined up in a row with a lectern or pulpit in front, people will look for a performance from you. If you put them in a circle, they will look to one another.
You are going to come under tremendous pressure from your peers - other pastors in your community and from some members of your church to "get with the program", to not be isolationist, to get involved in what appears to be a great move of God, to participate in a new kind of unity - unity at any price but at the expense of sound doctrine. If you are really speaking the truth, you may be asked to leave - be prepared to walk away rather than compromise and take as many with you as want to come - those that are of the same mind. This is not being mean spirited but it will be a rescue operation, rescuing people from the deception.
You may believe the church will rapture and the whole question is mute. We won't be around to worry about it. But think again, what if you are wrong? Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? Encourage people to get out of debt, pay their house off, start a garden, move together in the same neighborhoods where you can look out for one another. Teach them to recognize apostasy and deception. Ground them in the truth, not today’s “pop” feel good gospel.
You may have a hard time getting people to relate to you because they put you on a pedestal. Let your perfect image go and allow yourself to really get close to your congregation. I know so many pastors who are revered by their congregation but have no real friends. They are lonely. They have no peers, no one they can confide in. Everyone has the pastor on a pedestal. So hop off the pedestal and enjoy.
Some members of your congregation may get upset if you talk about the last days and prophecy. They want you to challenge them but not really get in their face. They want to focus on their problems of trying to hold our lives and families together. Others may try and get you involved in anti-abortion rallies, Promise Keepers, pro-America, save our schools and dozens of other causes - marches on Washington, voter registration and so on. Don’t get caught up in it. Although our hearts may be for our troops, don’t get caught up in America’s holy wars.
Somehow, you need to come to grips with the fact that a majority of your members are going to get caught up in the deception of the last days. Unfortunately many care more for their homes, cars, vacations and 401k's than they do for the cross of Christ. That is why you are so weary dragging them along week after week. That's why you often get so frustrated with their worldliness, lack of commitment and lack of maturity. And that is why the Lord is going to have to sift His church through the Tribulation - to see who is real and who isn't.
Meanwhile, you need to set the example of commitment and courage. You need to raise up leadership. You need to have people around you that you can really trust and rely on, people who don't hold you up on a pedestal, but who you can be open with and work with as a team. Corporately, you are preparing for the Church’s finest hour when in all likelihood, we will have to pay the ultimate price at the hands of our own “brothers and sisters.” You must be strong with those who are of a like mind. Form a community of believers that can meet regularly and naturally in homes. Keep a flow of fellowship between the groups. Meet regularly with the leaders and serve them. Replace yourself by helping others discover and develop their gifts and ministries.
If you are kicked out, there is no reason why, even if you didn't have a building, you couldn't or shouldn't be supported by believers. Just don't expect to be able to hold all of the factions together. If they want the church building, let them have it - it will just be a liability anyway. Hope they take the building. Now whatever money comes in can go for people, and for the gospel. If you are doing your job, one way or another, you will lose it. Expect it. Rejoice in it. Plan on it! Then you won't be so blown away when the inevitable happens. Just because your "building based" job is over, doesn't mean you are through. Take as many people with you as possible - you owe it to them. This is proactive. And you won't be alone or isolated. You will find other pastors and saints having the same problems. Work with them. Help them. Teach them how to function in the spirit and build one another up.
2. To those attending a church, just follow the Lord. You may find a pastor who is open, who will encourage home meetings and help raise up leadership. But somehow, you really need to experience more than a home meeting but the “Body Life,” and experience corporate worship. If the pastor won't help you, do it yourself. Get together with a group of friends and talk about how the early church must have met with everyone sharing and functioning. Above all, really get close to your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Do things with them. Meet regularly in homes. Get involved in their lives. Help others learn how to get into the Word, learn how to fellowship with the Lord and one another, how to share in meetings, how to teach others, how to share the gospel with the unsaved.
Now one of two things will happen - and this is not meant as a reflection on your church or pastor (we are just assuming a last days prophetic scenario) - eventually, either you will get kicked out of the church with your pastor or without him. It is inevitable and there is nothing you can do about it because few institutions will be able to resist governmental control and "carrots" (already schools and social services are funneling public “faith based” monies to churches - something few can resist - but there are "strings" attached). So face the inevitable - one day you will be caught up in the deception or be driven out of the institution.
The point is to be prepared. Prepare your heart for hurt as brothers and sisters you thought you knew and trusted turn on you. This is already happening. We hear from people all the time who say they have been asked to leave or are no longer welcome. Don't be surprised. It will get even more intense.
You must guard against bitterness which will isolate you. At this point, so many become disillusioned and give up. I’ve done that before, and don’t recommend it because you become very vulnerable to Satan's attack. Now is when you need the saints more than ever. Don't let it get to you when it happens. Seek out and fellowship with those who are of a like mind.
Remember that you are getting ready for the time when your pastor is removed and your church is taken over. Please don't think I am an alarmist or negative. I know this may sound like it never could happen, but it has - many times throughout history, including modern history. We would be remiss to not remember that some of the most terrible things have been done in the name of God and even Christianity - and not just in the past but today! Most Germans thought they were doing God a favor by getting rid of the "Christ killing Jews." (which is what they had been taught). Some of the “New Breed” of overcomers think they will be doing God a favor by getting rid of dissenters like us. We describe this attitude in our other writings coming from men like Paul Crouch, the head of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). They are looking forward to civil war within the church when they can finally get us out of the way. They refer to it as a war between the "blues" and the "grays" (and I don't mean the 'north' and the 'south') - but between the spirit-filled warriors who live in the heavenlies (thus, the "blues") and the "grays" who live by the "gray" matter of their minds rather than according to the "signs and wonders" being expressed by the "anointed ones."
3. The Church hopper may be moving from place to place trying to find a church that he feels the Lord wants Him to attend. Some are just looking for a church that can take care of them – a place that meets the needs of the family. But many church hoppers are genuinely trying to find a church that stands uncompromisingly for the truth. Often, mature Christians attend a church for a while until they see "red flags" and then move on to the next one. This has happened to me many times over the past 20 years. I attended "Word" churches, Vineyards and “latter rain” churches - attracted by the worship only to find later where they really stood. The great danger for the church hopper is they never get related to and built up with other Christians in a consistent way.
We are such an itinerant society - moving from place to place (I have moved some 40 times over the years and lived all over the US and the world). Believe me it is lonely when you are with people who don’t know you well. It takes time to make friends, to really get to know people and the older we get, the harder it is to establish deep friendships. We have less time and more commitments. Each time, you start all over. A "hopper" never takes the time to get connected with people.
A "church hopper" may be looking for the perfect church. But few understand the true nature of the church – imperfect vessels indwelt by Jesus Christ. God doesn't want a perfected individual Christian, but a "built up" Body with everyone connected and functioning as one - organically rather than organizationally. Many do not understand that we are not self-sufficient but really need one another - in fact, our testimony is our love for one another.
I would suggest that the "church hopper" pray the Lord will really lead them to Christians they can be built up with. Consistency and commitment to others is essential to the Christian life and even more so if we are in the "last days". You may be moving from church to church and not be able to settle because the Lord is calling you out of the institutional church and now is the time for you to leave. The important thing is to be sensitive to the Lord and follow His leading. No matter where you are, you must be committed and built up with a specific group of Christians.
4. If you are "unchurched," you are not alone. It is estimated that 70 percent of Christians are "unchurched". Whether many of these "drop outs" are all really "born again" Christians is one thing - since the need for fellowship is as natural as a baby wanting to be with its mother. However, there are people who have dropped out because they were led to or because they couldn't find a place where they felt the Lord wanted them to be. There is also the more recent phenomena of people being “kicked out” of churches, or at the very least made to feel unwelcome. But the worst possible thing for a Christian in the "last days" is to be isolated. We need one another more than ever. Hebrews 10:25 tells us to
“not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.”
Some Christians today have a hard time finding a church that is sound doctrinally. But many "unchurched" are looking for a church that meets their needs. They start from the wrong point of view. They are accustomed to being entertained, their children taken care of by Sunday School, and their mind stimulated by preachers. Such Christians will have a difficult time once persecution comes. They have never had to take responsibility for their own spiritual life, for their own children or other people.
Many genuinely want something for their children and complain about the lack of children’s programs. There was no such thing as Sunday School until a hundred years ago and, in a sense, it was the worst thing that ever happened because it took the responsibility for spiritual up bringing away from the parents. There is a time to stop feeding ourselves and start feeding others. The statistics of the number of people an average Christian leads to the Lord during a lifetime are negligible - let alone disciple. They wrongly expect the "church" and the pastor to do all of this for them. As JFK said in a paraphrased way, “don’t ask what the church can do for you, ask what you can do for the church.” Now this takes on a whole new meaning when you see the church not as an organization but as a living body of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Trouble Finding a Church?
Again, if we are in the "last days" it should not be surprising if one can't find a good church. The only problem is that people may not understand what is happening to them and rather than be all the more determined to overcome, they drop out discouraged. This leads to the major problem of the "unchurched" - they have no alternatives. There are few institutional churches with any kind of a "last days" vision and few with adequate opportunity for the saints to fellowship and develop their gifts. Unfortunately, many churches have abandoned sound teaching completely.
The “last days” vision or “eschatology” of a church is important. Our view of the “last days” determines what we do or don’t do. Churches that believe in a pre-tribulation rapture remove a sense of urgency for Christians. Churches that don’t believe there will be a Tribulation or a millennium are either asleep or into social action. A growing number of Christians believe that the church is to take dominion over the earth. With some, this takes on political overtones. With others, they expect a supernatural anointing on the “New Breed”, the Overcomers, the “Manifest Sons of God” who will usher in the kingdom. Intertwined with all this is a move of mainline evangelical churches back into an alliance with the Roman Catholic Church as witnessed recently by the accord led by such notables as Charles Colson, Charles Swindall and others. And the Roman Catholic Church is dominionist by choice and by prophetic revelation.
So the bottom line is, there are fewer options today than there were thirty years ago. The apostasy is spreading. Some will say, so if home meetings are all that is left I would just as soon drop out. I tried it and it didn’t work. I think one of the most basic problems is our concept of the church.
The Harsh Truth
I spent a year and a half traveling around the country meeting with people who had dropped out of the church - all for good reasons. But I didn't see anyone going on positively with other Christians. They were either afraid of being hurt again, deceived or were so caught up with the affairs of life (just like everyone else), they didn't really have time for much fellowship. This just won't do, if we are coming into the Tribulation, the church's finest hour. But I saw three basic problems:
Now the first issue of commitment must be dealt with. How will we overcome in that day?
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives even unto death (Revelation 12:11)
First and foremost, we need to be washed and covered by the blood of the Lamb, be prepared to have a word to testify and count everything including our homes, possessions and even our life as already forfeit. If we consider it all gone and our reward in heaven, we will not mourn the loss of anything in this life. We need a full commitment to the Lord and to a body of people. We need to stop thinking of church as something we go to, that we attend, and begin to think of the church as what we are. If we have to drive across town to see one another once or twice a week, that won't cut it. We need to live close to one another, possibly communally, be with one another, be a loving testimony to the world and a light in our communities (not hiding out somewhere in the wilderness).
Second, most Christians have no real idea what I am talking about when I talk about a "meeting life" or a "church life" because they have never experienced it! All they know is going down to that building once or twice a week where their Christian friends congregate. All they know is to sit there and let the choir, the Sunday School teachers and the pastors do their jobs… because that is all they know. Many have had bad experiences with home meetings - "caddy" little gatherings or boring Bible Studies. They have no idea what we mean when we talk about the richness of the "body life" where everyone lives and expresses a glorious corporate meeting life. We know because we experienced it for more than ten years so we know it is possible. But how do we impart that knowledge to others?
Third, the saints are ill equipped to stand on their own without the pastors, props and programs. At the most basic level, they don't know how to get into the Word and get fed fresh "manna" every day, how to walk in the spirit, experience the presence and leading of God daily in their every day, how to relate on a spiritual level with saints and follow the flow of the Spirit in a meeting rather than some written "order of worship." They are not grounded in the Word. They don't know their brothers and sisters so well that they can say that they are the most important people in their lives and they could trust them with their lives. Saints don't know what their spiritual gifts are, and how to exercise them. They don't know what the calling of God is in their and how to respond to it. Above all, they don't know much about Christian community.
Unfortunately, I think the Tribulation will cause us all to learn quickly, if it isn’t too late. The prophetic Word in our hand tells us about what is to come and what we should do to prepare. It is up to us to have “ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
Continue to Chapter 19
The Home Church Meeting