A few years ago I worked in local government, evaluating the effectiveness of various programs working with youth, children and their families. The post had been newly created and as such, no formal evaluation plan was in place. I had to start from scratch. My first goal was to ensure that all project managers and their staff understood the purpose of my evaluation strategy and what it could achieve when implemented correctly.
At least a third of my work would be in the non-profit sector, where there is a great deal of mistrust towards local government, especially towards evaluation officers (evaluation might be manipulated in order to pull or reduce funding). The rest of my work would be within local government, where the non-profit sector is often perceived as a bunch of well-meaning amateurs. The job had the potential to blow up in my face.
So I introduced my work with a series of training sessions designed to enable project managers and staff to see exactly what I was doing and how it would benefit them, their “customers” (service users) and their future funding requests. These sessions began with me handing out several objects (a cork screw, a car phone charger, a car radiator cap and the front wheel from a mountain bike).
Each group of participants was split into four and given an item. They had five minutes to answer the following questions:
• What is it?
• What does it do?
• How does it do it?
• What makes it useful?
Because participants were expecting a very “formal” lecture about the need for evaluation of their program (evaluation was a requirement of the funding body) my approach took them off guard, “broke the ice”, putting people at ease and getting them talking.
You see I wanted them to start thinking about fulfillment of purpose, being useful, valuable. This is the purpose of program evaluation, to collect information that will enable people to see the worth and value of an activity.
A short while after these sessions several project managers spoke to me about how their work and their staff had been “revitalised” and “re-energised”. After a few years working at “the daily grind” people had lost their sense of purpose but working on an evaluation strategy together as a team had turned things around.
So what has this got to do with becoming useful to God?
In the exercise described above, it was only the bicycle wheel that worked, that is, performed correctly, therefore making it useful. The three other items were defective in some way. The radiator cap’s seal had worn out, the cork screw could not remove the cork from a wine bottle and the car phone charger did not supply any power.
These items were useless because they could not fulfill their purpose.
When we get “comfortable” with the habits and routines in our lives we can lose sight of our original purpose. When that happens we can have “defective” lives that render us useless to God. For example, in the Book of Hosea, God describes the Northern Kingdom of Israel as, “a faulty bow”, “a senseless witless dove” and “a flat cake not turned over”. In the Book of Jeremiah God’s people in both Israel and Judah are compared to a rotted linen belt.
As a result of adopting pagan beliefs and practices (failing to relate to God on His terms) and following the stubbornness of their own hearts (refusing to accept correction), God’s people became useless to Him, so God put them into captivity.
By the time the Babylonian captivity came to an end, Jerusalem was in ruins. The altar had been smashed and the temple broken down, along with the city walls and its bars and gates. The stones had been burned with fire. The city was so full of garbage that people could not work.
Jerusalem, the city of God, could no longer function and fulfill its purpose. The physical state of Jerusalem gave God’s people a picture of their true spiritual condition.
The altar represents relationship with God on His terms, the temple represents the body of Christ, the city walls represent the life of Christ being made manifest in God’s people and the bars and gates represent God’s wisdom, power and authority defending the Truth and enabling God’s people to function effectively as a whole.
Although the Babylonian Captivity served to soften and turn the hearts of a remnant who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild, a picture of rebuilding our lives in Christ, by the time Jesus arrived in the flesh, God’s people had become useless to God again. In the New Testament, the nation of Israel is pictured as a fruitless fig tree.
Where are we today?
In my opinion, the body of Christ has become useless to God, we cannot fulfill our purpose. This is because we are not structured or “built together” correctly; we are like, “a cracked wall that has been whitewashed over.”
In my evaluation sessions, I use the front wheel of a purpose built mountain bike. All bicycle front wheels have the same general idea behind them: consisting of a hub and rim connected by spokes, an axle with bearings, a breaking surface and a tyre. Next time you have a chance, compare the front wheel of a competition road race bike with the front wheel of a competition downhill mountain bike. You will see the same general idea but a world of difference in the structure (the way things are designed and put together).
As you look at these two types of wheels, ask yourself this. “Would I stand a chance of winning the Tour-de-France using a mountain bike? Would I feel safe racing down a mountain trail on a road race bike?
I am fully persuaded that the names, “transformational church” and “organic church” are an oxymoron. These names are like swapping the wheels of the road race bike and the mountain bike; we have a hybrid that is good for nothing.
There are two main reasons behind my thinking here. Firstly, the word “church” comes from a pagan belief system meaning “house of the lord” or “a house for god.” Notice the small “l” and the small “g”. So a church is a building that is used in the worship of (relating to) some spiritual entity other than God. Secondly, the word “church” is synonymous with an institution such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and so on.
So because of the way our human thinking and reasoning (perception) works, the word church conjures up meanings like this:
Church = a building people attend to worship (relate to) God. Therefore, without a dedicated building we cannot worship (relate to) God.
Church = a group of people that are organised in a certain way and behave according to a predictable set of values, norms and routines.
So when people hear the word “church” what comes to mind is this:
• Formal power and authority.
• One-way communication.
Measures of success:
• Numbers of people.
• Amounts of money.
Therefore, if a church were truly transformational or organic, it would cease to exist.
It is my firm belief that the body of Christ cannot fulfill the purposes of God in the 21st century for two main reasons:
1. The vast majority of the body of Christ is captive within the “church” (church system).
2. The church system is firmly ensconced in the hearts and minds (the speech, thinking and behaviour) of the body of Christ.
This has been a long and painful process, but now, when I hear the word “church” I think of a pagan system by which people endeavour to please God. People go to church and belong to a church and participate in church activities in order to get right with God, stay right with God, relate to God and serve God. To the vast majority, “church” = “body of Christ”, but I do not believe this, I believe they are in fact two different spiritual entities.
The net result is that we have two things that should be totally separate intertwined and seemingly inextricably woven together. I say “inextricably” because the people who should be “out” are totally convinced they should be “in”. All efforts to change (transform) their thinking is seen as a work of evil to be resisted with every effort and at all costs. It seems as though it would be better for them to die than up give up one aspect of their “church”.
The Old Testament makes things very clear, we are not to plant two kinds of seeds together and we should not yoke an ox with a donkey. So today we have tares taking all the nutrients from the wheat and goats giving the sheep a bad reputation.
For me, the key issue is structure and purpose. We see from the bicycle analogy that structure must enable purpose to be fulfilled and also that structure must be in good working order. To be effective and fulfill our purpose the body of Christ must have “Jerusalem” built and working correctly. The body of Christ must have the right people in the right place, doing the right things at the right time. We cannot have people who stubbornly resist God working alongside those who are capable of being “strong” in Christ.
My heart’s desire is that when people hear, “the body of Christ” this is what comes to mind:
The body of Christ looks like this; people who relate to each other with mutual respect as “heirs and co-heirs with Christ”.
The body of Christ works like this:
• No hierarchy.
• God’s wisdom, power and authority at work.
• Unpredictable activity.
• Continuous dialogue.
The body of Christ relies on:
• The sovereign work of God.
• Hearing Jesus voice.
• Revelation from the Holy Spirit.
• Power of the Holy Spirit.
Indications of effectiveness in the body of Christ:
• Quality of a person’s character/lifestyle in Christ (fruit of the Spirit).
• Quality of spiritual workmanship in Christ (Paul said he laid no foundation other than Christ and though one may plant and another may water, it is only God who gives the increase).
The church system is structured to operate like a production line but the body of Christ is structured to work more like an ant colony, “having no leader, ruler or overseer” the ant knows what to do to be effective. The ant colony gives us a picture of God working in the body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, like an “unseen force”.
Ant colonies are often referred to as “super organisms”. It seems that ants are one of the most successful species on the planet. I once heard it said that, “ant colonies could survive without the human race, but the human race could not survive without ant colonies!”
So here is a vision for the body of Christ to become effective for God in the 21st Century, for the people of God to become useful to Him.
The body of Christ must undertake a “journey of transformation”. That is, a journey where we move from our “old and dead” church (church system) ways to enter into “a new and living way” of relating to God and each other. This will mean three main things:
1. Learning to take God at His word (no meddling and messing with God’s sovereign work in His people).
2. Understanding God’s plans and purposes for the body of Christ as a whole with revelation from the Holy Spirit (no communication or decisions based upon our own perceptions).
3. Learning to willingly cooperate with God (speaking and acting in line with the Lord’s instructions).
On this journey, the body of Christ will need to allow God to work in and through His people in three main ways:
1. God brings His people to maturity and shapes them into “competent ministers” with His sovereign work. God works with individuals to put the “theory” of scripture into “practice”. This is like the way in which engineers build motor car engines; they put theory into practice. One of their most important engine development processes is what I call, “the stress test” or “make it break”. Putting engines and engine components into a situation that will cause them to “fail” (break). Engineers then look at what went wrong and how things can be improved.
God works with each member of the body as a unique individual. In the same way that God shaped Adam from the dust of the earth with His own hands, He shapes us in the image of Christ, and like the potter and the clay, this always involves some breaking.
God always breaks His people, a bit at a time, to remake them, a bit at a time, in Christ. This is a process that is ongoing and will not finish until we finally shed these earthly bodies to take on our spiritual ones. God works in sovereign power to shape the life of Christ in each of His sons. The body of Christ must know how to trust God in this process, both for themselves and each other. This will require faith.
2. God works with the body of Christ as a whole. We see this in the concept of “Gestalt”, that is, “the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts”. For me, a great example of this is the Apollo 11 spacecraft. President Kennedy’s dream became a reality when he set the goal of sending men to the moon and returning them safely to earth before the end of the decade. God’s dream for the body of Christ will become a reality when members of the body decide to be ready when Christ returns.
For me, one of the great adventures for the body of Christ in the 21st Century will be building something that has not been seen before.
Previously, I have spoken about God working with individuals to shape the life of Christ in them. Here, we are looking at God building, i.e., “fitting together” those individuals into one corporate body in the earth; one faith, one Lord, one baptism. In this picture, each member of the body is as an integral part of the whole, supporting vital functions and processes in the corporate life of God’s people.
I don’t know how many individual components went into the Saturn V Apollo moon rocket, but I guess it was millions, and it was something like five hundred thousand people working for eight years to get the Apollo 11 ready for its mission. It was a huge project. But when thinking about the body of Christ as a whole, made up of perhaps many millions of people spread across every nation tribe and tongue, we need to remember this; all the oceans of the world added together are like a few drops of water in God’s bucket. We have a God who is more than capable of fitting everyone together correctly; our part is to use the gifts and abilities God has provided to serve the body, so that she can come to maturity, no longer blown about by the cunning and craftiness of men and their deceitful scheming.
3. God works with small groups to fulfil His plans and purposes in various places, at certain times in different ways. We can see this type of work by looking at a pit crew.
Pit crews train together, travel together and work together. I would not be surprised that during off season many of them still keep in touch with each other. Why? Because they are committed to a cause greater than themselves and that forms a unique kind of bond with others in the same team.
Pit crews are willing to put themselves at risk for the sake of their driver and their team. They approach their task with single mindedness and total devotion. Pit Crews must be more than competent, they must perform. Like a bow must shoot an arrow accurately, pit crews must be able to “hit the mark” when called upon to do so. Pit crews provide a great picture of “sacrificial service”, no recognition and no reward (unlike the drivers and team owners) yet pit crews must be able to swing into action with just a moment’s notice and deliver results.
To become effective for God, the body of Christ must come out of the church (system) ... and the church (system) must come out of the body of Christ and this will require each member of the body to undertake a, “journey of personal transformation”.
God has given us His all and He deserves nothing less than a full reward for his investment.
May the Lord make us into an accurate bow, a peaceful dove and a tasty cake; may we become a strong wall and fruitful branches. May we be the belt that unites God to His people.