The Future Face of the North American Church, part 6

Posted: March 25, 2010 in On Being Apostolic
Tags: , , ,

Relational…the future face of the Apostolic church in North America is relational.

We’ve been blessed, you know…very blessed.  While we’ve had our share of fakes and charlatans, manipulators and abusers, the vast majority of our ministers have ever and always been godly, anointed, hard-working, and burdened people.  It’s been so from the very beginning of our movement.  They haven’t always been formally educated, and they’ve not always been eloquent, but they nevertheless have given themselves to proclaiming the Gospel.  The wonderful and beautiful truths that our ministers have communicated to us through the years have brought us to the place of advantage we’re in today.  And those founders knew something innately that we must rediscover; the truth that it’s all about people.

In the foundational years, our elders were men of the people.  And being men of the people they knew innately how to relate to the people.  They understood sore muscles, tired bodies, old clothes, and hungry bellies.  They knew about digging coal, cutting pulp, picking cotton, baling hay, and hauling nets because they’d done it.  They understood rattletrap automobiles and worn out shoes.  They lived as their people lived, because they were as the people were.  Only the sanctity of God’s call set them apart.

While not at all wishing to romanticize the ‘good old days’ or paint halos over the heads of our very human elders of bygone days, the fact is that they built churches.  And by churches I don’t mean buildings.  They established congregations.  Good, solid, godly, congregations.  And they built those congregations in large part because they were able to relate to the feelings and needs of those they were serving.  “I sat where they sat.”  That old Biblical refrain was true to them.  They could relate.

Over the intervening years between then and now we’ve lost the ability to relate quite as well the elders could.  There’s more distance now between ministers and congregations…emotional distance.  We’re professional clergyman now.  While that provides some advantages, it also largely removes us from the hectic, workaday world of most parishioners.   We are insulted when people fall asleep in church, upset when they leave quickly, and troubled when they aren’t able to attend three weekly services plus special events.  But usually they fall asleep because they’re exhausted.  They leave quickly because it’s the only day they have to get certain things done.  And they can’t attend three times a week because they’re working extra shifts to pay the bills.

Most of us can’t relate.  In fact, we’ve an entire class of clergymen who have been brought up as children of clergymen…and are light years removed from the reality of life for most of their parishioners.  Those of our ministers who have spent early ministry years breaking their backs may have forgotten how it felt to come to church weary and sore.

But not only is there emotional distance between pulpit and pew, there is also a heartbreaking distance among believers.  We who are considered by academics to be a ‘peoples’ movement’ are often sadly remote from each other.  This is partly a natural result of numerical growth, partly a result of the growing disconnect in society at large, and partly the result of ministerial teaching and example.  It’s disheartening, but it’s true.  Out of their own insecurities and fears, many apostolic ministers have actually taught their congregations to be suspicious of each other.  Emotionally isolated people are easier to control.

But the future of the apostolic church in North America requires that we relearn how to relate to others, and that we reestablish healthy relationships as the core of all ministry efforts.  After all, that was the method our Lord Himself exampled.  We apostolics profess that we look to the Bible for our patterns of ministry, and if it’s true that we do, then there is no better pattern of ministry for us to follow than that of the Founder of our Faith.

Jesus (a tradesman himself) sought out disciples among those who could relate to calloused hands and sweaty robes.  And He called them to follow Him…which needs to be understood in a physical, literal sense and not just in a spiritual, metaphorical way.  Follow. ‘Be where I am.  Walk where I walk.  Talk with me along the way.  Camp out with me each night.  Eat supper with me around the fire.  Listen to what I have to say.  Ask me questions.  Learn from me.’

Jesus made disciples, and discipleship means relationships…not simply theological and doctrinal inculcation.  You can’t have disciples without being with people.  In fact, you can’t have disciples without spending great amounts of time with people.  That’s why Jesus had only 12 of them…all pseudo-spiritual numerological significance of the number 12 aside.  12 was all He could handle, all He could pour everything into, because the relationship involved in being a disciple is an intense one.  (Why do you think Jesus had to keep retreating alone to pray?  Awkward hints of introversion there, eh?)

Interestingly enough, when Jesus commissioned His disciples (and by extension, us) He told them to use the very same method He used.  ‘Go and make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey my commandments.’  He never commissioned them to invite people to church, to hold crusades, to do any number of things that we do…He commissioned them to make disciples.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, discipleship is relational.  It’s not quick, and it’s not easy.  But it is simple and straightforward.  The future face of the North American apostolic church will reflect that simplicity in its evangelistic method.  Discipleship doesn’t lend itself to the kind of theatrical promotions that we typically employ, but it does provide people walking toward the Lord with mentors and friends that will be invaluable to them on the journey.  Discipleship doesn’t lend itself to the kind of statistical measurements that testify to our ‘success’, but it does help create a stable spiritual environment that long-term personal growth can occur in.

It’s all about people.  Particularly, it’s about relationships with people.  And the future apostolic church will be more relational.

At least, that’s what I think.

  1. kjhouk says:

    I like this post. Agreed, there is a disconnect between pulpit and pew. Often it’s because the pulpit doesn’t want the pew to know that we’re real people.

    It is maybe now more important than ever to connect on a real, human level.

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