You can taste it. There is a deep longing among us for change. One could almost say that we are starving for it, flailing about looking for something to satisfy us. The pandemic has revealed the deep longing for connection many of us feel. The killing of George Floyd exposed the weariness we have toward injustice and the longing for a better world.
If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I have a deep longing, too, a longing that I think, if fulfilled, would begin to satisfy the longings we all have for true connection and justice. It is the longing for the true Church, manifested, not in buildings or services, but in transformed lives that resemble Jesus. I long for that.
I am so weary of what the church, as created by people, has become, with its emphasis on buildings and programs, and weekly performances by the pastors and the worship bands. Let me say, I don’t question the sincerity of these folks, as one who have given more than a thousand messages over the years. As I wrote several weeks ago, I long for more engagement and less performance and spectating. Yet, as I see churches begin to gather again, I don’t sense any real change. This past Sunday, my wife and I attended a “drive-in” worship service with friends. The only difference I could ascertain was that we were outside rather than inside. The worship band played and the pastor preached.
As I was reading the Gospel of John this morning, I was reminded that Jesus is calling us away from what we’ve grown up with, from the ways we have come to understand worship and loving God. The religious leaders of his day believed following the traditions that had evolved from the Law of Moses was what one did to please God. Today, I think we basically do the same, except that the traditions evolved from what emerged after Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. And like the religion of the Pharisees in the 1st Century distorted the spirit of the Law of Moses, the practices of most local churches bear little resemblance to what Jesus had in mind.
There is a trend where people say they love Jesus, but hate the church; yet, I think there are many people who hate Jesus, or disregard him, because of the local church, particularly emerging adults who continue to cast aside the faith in which they were raised at an alarming rate of 60-75 percent. I know that I was not enamored with Jesus as a child and teenager. There was a real disconnect between the person of Jesus talked about in church and his relevance in my day to day life as modeled by my parents..
What I long for is for the local church to reflect the love of Jesus, not in mere words, but in reality. When I was an unbelieving 19-year-old participating in a small group Bible study at the invitation of a friend, I was blown away by the love the people had for one another. It was then when I told the Lord, “If this is what you are about, then I want to follow you.”
Where is that type of love visibly demonstrated in most churches today? Can we truthfully say that churches today look anything like the churches of the 1st Century? (Acts 2:42-46; Acts 4:23-35) The truth is most of us tend to think of the New Testament Church as an ideal that is no longer practical. We are entrenched in the way things are done now. But do they truly satisfy our deeper longings for connection and love?
It seems to me we have exchanged a Spirit-filled church for a church that Paul describes as “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (II Timothy 3:5) This may seem a harsh assessment, but I think it is true of the vast majority of churches in our country. Otherwise, how does one explain why there are so few true conversions that lead to life transformation. Of course, we likely can each point to a few people transformed by Jesus, but there is no true consistency of conversions and disciple-making within most local churches. And churches have become increasingly pastor and worship band focused. Where is the equipping of the believers that Paul cites as the role of pastors and teachers?
I confess I am not innocent here. I have not always been intentional on equipping my students, but rather have slipped into the traditional church mode of having meetings and programs. It is, I believe, one of the strategies Satan has to fulfill his purpose to kill, steal, and destroy. As he did with the Pharisees and teachers of the law, he led them gradually away from God through their religious traditions. They thought they were serving God, but in reality they were serving Satan’s purposes. I believe the same can be said of the modern traditions of the local church. It is time for us to wake up and admit these traditions do not lead us to what Jesus promised—a full and abundant life! Rather, they contribute something that at first glance seems godly, but fails to satisfy our deep longings.
I long for deep connection, not merely chit-chatting on Sunday morning. I long to be a part of a community which is not known by the size of its building or the popularity of its pastor or worship band, but rather by its deep love for one another, not just in word but in deeds. I long to be surrounded by people who are hungry to pursue God, live for him, and who are using their spiritual gifts for his glory. I long for people to worship together and to love each other regardless of their color, ethnicity, or economic status, because of their common bond in having Jesus Christ as their Lord.
I long for the Kingdom of God here on earth. To see that happen, I believe, is only possible when we are willing to re-examine our traditions in light of the Word of God, and humble ourselves before the Lord, allowing his Spirit to lead us in how our local churches are to change to more closely reflect the Church. I am praying for that. I am longing for it.
© Jim Musser 2020