Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27
If the goal of worship is to connect with God, then there are only two “grades” you can give a gathered worship experience: “A” or “F”. It is pretty much a pass/fail thing. That is because there is no such thing as connecting with God and it being anything other than amazing and wonderful…and if you are in a worship experience and you are NOT connecting with God, then, well…fail. I had to get all that said before I take up today’s topic, just so you know that I know…because today I am giving our culture’s gathered worship experiences a grade somewhere between pass and fail.
Last year, I attended a corporate worship experience at a church in the town where my daughter goes to school. It was well produced, but lacking in one way. Other than my family, I did not know a single person around me. Sadly, that was still true even as we were leaving. That just seems wrong to me.
The truth is, it was an amazing worship atmosphere. Very contemporary in style (I am blessed to be comfortable worshiping in almost any “style”), with a casual feel and lots of technology to help the worshiper stay focused on the message and on the theme for the day…great, introspective music, wonderful sermon, innovative communion. To their credit, I thought the worship leaders did a fairly good job of keeping the focus OFF of them on ON the Lord. That’s not easy to do in this consumer-oriented culture. But there was one element missing for me…and frankly, it is missing in the vast majority of corporate worship experiences I’ve ever seen or heard about. …
On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews.For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. Galatians 2:7-8
Most of us approach a jigsaw puzzle (or any other problem) the same way, whether we know it or not. We start with what we absolutely know to be true. When chaos and confusion abound and there is so much we do NOT know, we all have an intuitive notion to go back to what we know and then slowly work forward from there. In the case of the traditional jigsaw puzzle, it is the corner pieces. They are what we know, they define the parameters of the puzzle. Whatever else comes along, we know that the answer lies within the four corners of the puzzle.
Finding solutions to conflict within the church, even interpersonal conflict, works the same way. We always start with what we know: what we know about God, what we know about God’s Word, and what we know about what God is doing.
I don’t think the conflict in the early church was any small thing. I think the prejudices and potential doctrinal conflict between Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles and Peter’s ministry to the Jews was every bit as dangerous and troubling as our conflicts today. It had a cultural (racial) element, a doctrinal element (e.g., circumcision) and even a leadership style element (Peter was not the only leader with whom Paul’s temperament clashed). Reading Acts 15 and Galatians 2 and other similar accounts, you see that the potential for devastating conflict …
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. I Corinthians 13:12
Imagine being locked in a dark room with a bunch of other people with whom you must work together to find a way out. There are obstacles and opportunities throughout the room, but they are difficult to see. You truly must rely on each other to feel your way through the room, exploring every corner and piecing together the information accumulated by the group. In such a scenario, your chances of figuring it out all by yourself without anyone else’s help are slim to none. But together, it can be done.
That is very much like discerning the will of God together as a church body. For now, when it comes to seeing Spiritual truths, we all see as through a glass dimly. We are never so arrogant as when we proudly proclaim to the world that we have seen the will of God all by ourselves, and that we clearly understand it better than anyone else. In this age of the church, that does not seem to be God’s desire. Rather, He apparently intends that we would learn to come to Him together, seeking His truths together, and gently massaging those truths into one another.
But that process can be truly frustrating, especially in times of conflict. Working with a conflicted congregation, I often wonder why God doesn’t just make an appearance in their worship service one Sunday morning and tell them exactly what He is thinking about them and what He wants them to do. Frankly, it would be a lot easier for them –if not a little …
I remember well the very first meeting of our last pastor search committee at my own church. We prayed together and then we discussed process. One thing we all agreed on was that we were trying to discern the will of a sovereign God, and that was no small task. We agreed that we would not act on a simple majority vote. Rather that we should act only upon “consensus”. Then one of us (and I don’t recall who it was) asked a very natural question: if there are nine of us on this committee, what number constitutes consensus? Great question. I’m not sure we ever came to a consensus about how to answer it.
Just as soon as your church purposes to find God’s will by a “consensus” process rather than a simple majority vote, that question immediately comes to the surface: how exactly do we define “consensus”? Is it necessarily the same as “unanimous” or is it something less than unanimous but more than a majority?
This is another place where our puzzle metaphor is a bit enlightening. It makes “consensus” easy to understand. “Consensus” simply means that we have enough puzzle pieces in place to leave no doubt about what the picture is. We can still work to add the other pieces, but it is crystal clear to everyone (not just a few, but everyone) what the puzzle is showing us. In that instance, then, it is not so much about a specific number of pieces, because the number will change, depending upon which pieces we have in place. If we have a 56-piece puzzle (like the one pictured here), how many pieces do we need in place before everyone can see and understand the picture? 55? 50? 40? Again, it depends.
I confess I am guilty of blurring the line between vocational ministers and laity (between those who are compensated for their ministry in a particular church and those who are not). I also admit that I probably have a higher view of the roles and responsibilities of us average, non-professional Christians than most people have. Finally, when you accuse me of believing and teaching that God’s call on the life of a layman is just as high and defining as His call on any professional minister, I am guilty as charged.
But none of that translates into a dim view of pastoral authority…recognizing, of course, that “dim” is a relative term.
I am always a little afraid of a pastor whose entire model of church leadership comes from the Old Testament. When his (and I won’t add the normal “/her” because it’s pretty clear that no female leader in the church could derive her entire model for church leadership from the Old Testament) only illustrations for pastoral leadership are from characters such as Moses or David or Elijah, it tells me some scary things about that pastor. You see, neither Moses nor David nor Elijah had any experience at all leading people who were indwelled by the Spirit of God Himself. So, while those are important leadership (even pastoral) models, they are by no means complete illustrations for leadership in the Age of the Church.
What, then, is pastoral authority in this age? Where does it come from and how does it inform the relationship between pastor and layman?
First, what it is and where it comes from…pastoral authority comes from speaking the Word of God exactly as God gives it to that pastor to speak. When a pastor speaks exactly what God speaks, the authority is present.
Do you remember stereograms? Google it, you’ll remember. I can still recall walking through the mall and seeing people standing in groups staring at these posters and marveling. I would go and stand with them and look at the poster, and all I could see was a bunch of squiggly lines. They would keep talking about the picture that “jumps out at you” if you stare at it long enough. I still didn’t get it. Then they would give you these complicated instructions, trying to help you see it…something about relaxing your eyes and looking through the poster. That only made me feel more incompetent. After a while, the person selling the posters would console me by saying, “Well, some people just never see it.” Oh, thank you. Now I feel much better.
Apparently, it is a fact of life. Some of us have brains designed to easily see the hidden pictures in stereograms, while others of us, well, cannot. I am o.k. with that.
It is like that in the church as well. Even after we get all of the pieces to to the puzzle that is God’s will put out on the table, and after we get them all connected as they should be, there are still plenty of us who look at the picture and say, “I don’t get it…what is it?” This, I believe, is where true pastoral vision comes into play. I believe God has gifted those He calls as pastors with the ability to cast their gaze across the landscape of a congregation and see God at work in the lives of its members. Then, seeing God at work through its members, that vision enables the pastor to see the picture of what God desires and interpret it correctly. For someone with …
One of my “go away and do nothing” places is the beach near Port Aransas, Texas. My in-laws own a condo down there and it has been my family’s tradition to go down there for a few days every Fall after the vacation season is over and it’s not quite so crowded. The agenda for those few days is pretty simple: do nothing. We go to the beach and do nothing, or we go to the pool and do nothing, or we sit in the room and do nothing. It is wonderful.
Among the “nothingness” we do, there is always a jigsaw puzzle sitting on the coffee table, waiting to be put together. We rarely get it all put together, but nobody seems to mind. It is just something kind of mindless to do while we are doing nothing. One of the challenges to putting together a puzzle is when there are missing pieces. You don’t actually know there are missing pieces unless you get all the other pieces in place. Otherwise, you just figure this one critical piece you’ve been looking for is just mixed in somewhere with all the other pieces. It can be frustrating.
That can be frustrating in the church as well. We cannot seem to find peace about this decision or that decision, we cannot seem to be in consensus about what God wants for us because we still do not have the entire picture. There are pieces missing to the puzzle…people not here. We may not even know there are missing pieces, but there are.
Actually, in most of our churches, we do know there are missing pieces. Very few churches in America get more than 50%-60% involvement from their membership. We may have 1000 names on our roles, but only 500 …
(This is the next in a series of posts about discerning God’s will together as a church body.)
Nine blind men stand in a circle, with an elephant standing in the middle. They are asked, “What is it that stands among you?” The blind man who is in the front of the elephant reaches up and feels and says, “It is a large hose of some kind.” The blind man standing behind the elephant reaches and feels and says, “No, it is more like a rope of some kind, attached to something very large.” One of the blind men standing on one side reaches up and feels and says, “No, it is neither a hose nor a rope…it is a large wall, with hair on it.” Which of them is right and which of them is wrong? They are all right. But they are all wrong. From ancient India, author unknown
If the key to building consensus in the church is to stay focused on God’s will (and not our will), then the biggest challenge becomes, well, the fact that we are talking about God’s will. It is a challenge because we are uncomfortable trying to reach agreement with each other about God’s will. If I say God’s will for us is “ABC” and you say God’s will for us is “XYZ”, then we have conflict. And in the worst of circumstances, we begin to question one another’s walk with the Lord. So, rather than risk that kind of conflict, it is easier to just take a vote and let the majority rule. That way, we can bypass God’s will all together and just follow the will of the people.
But as our nine blind men from ancient India teach us, “ABC” and “XYZ” are not necessarily conflicting …
Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
My girls grew up with Disney. Being girls, it was always the Disney heroines which had their attention: Belle, Ariel, Jasmyn, Mulan, and of course, Cinderella and Snow White. But it was when we started putting Disney character puzzles together that I made an important discovery: with the obvious exception of the “ethnic” differences, all the princesses’ faces looked the same. So if you are putting together a puzzle and you have the piece that shows just the face, it doesn’t tell you much about which puzzle you have. Is it Cinderella or Aurora? Is it Belle or Ariel? No way to tell…not without the other pieces.
Isn’t that always the case with puzzles? There are some pieces which end up being critical to finding out what the picture is and then there are pieces which do not end up helping that much, like the piece at the very bottom right hand corner that has the words “Milton Bradley” on it…doesn’t really tell us much about the picture.
Putting together the puzzle which is God’s will for your church on a given issue is like that. We all bring a piece to the table. We would each like to think that our particular piece is critical to this picture, that it will determine the big picture for the whole church. We each examine our individual piece and begin extrapolating and speculating about what the big picture must surely be: “I have the most important piece, the one that tells the entire story…this must be a picture of Milton Bradley!” Then, when we begin looking at all the other pieces and see how far off our own piece is from the big …
Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
“There are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Fine, have it your way.'” C.S. Lewis
I have often compared the process of finding consensus in a congregation to that of piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. If every believer truly does have the Spirit of God living in him/her, then he/she has access to at least a part of what God is doing in that church. I am one who believes that, in His time and in His ways, God desires to make known to His church what He is about. In other words, I believe God wants us as a church to understand His assignment for us, and I believe He gives us that understanding through much more than just the pastor or elders or deacons…He reveals His will for our church through the entire church.
In that sense, then, discerning our next step as a church is less about taking a vote (voting on God’s will is a little like voting on what time it is) and more about learning to hear God speak through everyone. It is very much as if each of us has been given a piece to a large puzzle and we see the picture of that puzzle only as we each bring our one piece to the table and see how it fits with everyone else’s. It is not so much a single event as it is a process. Building consensus in the church is as simple…and as difficult…as learning to hear God speak through every Spirit-filled person among us, and then seeing the collective picture which begins to …