“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Ephesians 3:10-11 My life has been about the church. I have lived all of my life within the church. My folks starting taking me to church at six weeks of age and I have not stopped going since.But here’s the truth. I have not always liked the church. I’ve seen beautiful people marred by the church and within the work of the church, I have seen people shoot the wounded, not help them. They have hemorrhaged and bled and been wounded only to find people within the church still kick, abuse and kill them in God’s holy halls. But the paradox is this, I have also loved the church--loved and been lost in the work of the church--loved the positive, good and noble purposes of the healthy church led by healthy leaders.I have been on a journey in my recent years of understanding the church. I watched my own four adult children join me on this journey—because they, like me were raised in the church as well. I call myself a “recovering Baptist.” I’m recovering in most areas of my life where I messed up. Recently, more light has been shed into my path regarding the nature of the church and the nature of its leaders.In working with thousands of leaders who work in the church, I’ve grown weary, tired and disillusioned to be honest. I’ve witnessed so much abuse by men who wear robes and leaders who wear authority that I’ve grown suspicious. Yes, suspicious is a good word to describe my taking a step back and evaluating the relevance, the need, the look and feel of the church in the 21st century.To say that I stumbled upon a verse in the Bible is not the correct way of telling you what shifted my entire paradigm about the church today. This verse had been there all along—throughout the entire birth of the church until this very day. It’s just that I missed it. I overlooked it on my way to find what I felt might be even more verses to help me and to help others.Ephesians 3:10-11 leaped out at me and has nearly knocked me unconscious. “The manifold wisdom of God.” I have sat with that word—“manifold”—trying my best to figure out precisely what Paul intended by choosing such a word.The word “manifold” means: “having many different forms, features, or elements: manifold breeds of dog.” The manifold wisdom of God regarding the wisdom within and about the church is just this: The church too has many different forms, features and elements just as the breeds of the species we call dogs.Because of my work—the work with leaders who feel called to live their life; do their life and give their life because of the church, I’ve seen passionate leaders feel like their church is the right church; the only church; the best church; the hippest church; the most multi-sited church, the largest; the fastest growing and then it morphs into something darker. Every church should be like my church. Since I am with the right church, then everyone else is experiencing something less; something outside of God’s intent. It goes on, as you know.Pride, authority and a seminary education can create the perfect storm for leaders of the church to suffer a malady that infects their own soul and the ministry to which they feel called.Some leaders might feel like their church, call it a blue church, is the way to do church. You have to think blue. You have to be blue. You have to hang with blue people to really be in the blue movement.Then in another state; perhaps another city or even across the street are the orange folk who think and feel exactly the same way that the blue folks do in the blue church. Then there is the red church. The green church and yes, even a pink church.But now, let’s use this word “manifold” here…. And see if we can ease our tension a bit by embracing that from God’s perspective, it is not about the right color. And what is this is true because from God’s perspective there is no right color. There are just a manifold of colors—all seeking to do the same thing but in different ways. Who can say that blue is right and red is wrong? The colors just are. The church just is--and is in every form we find it.As some of you will know, no person on the face of the earth, living or dead has impacted my life more than that of Dallas Willard. It was Dallas who told me years ago when I went to a Catholic (Is Catholic a color?) Monastery with him for a month to recover from my toxicity and my addiction of being a pastor, “Steve, Jesus only spoke the word, “church” two times in his entire life that we know of. Why have you made “church” your God?” That question undone me and I have never, ever recovered from his question. I don’t think I will ever recover either. Perhaps now, 20 years later, I am just now beginning to understand the depth’s of Dallas Willard’s question to me in that Prayer cell were monks fled to do their own version of church.Now, there is more wisdom…. And it is this, if you are in a blue church and I am in a red one, can we surrender our efforts to compete against, degrade and throw rocks at the people who do their life in a yellow church?Perhaps from God’s perspective, it takes all the reds and hues of red; all the blues and hues of blue; all the yellow and hues of yellow to express what God has intended. Perhaps this is so because no human system has dibs on the truth. Not the Lutherans, not the Presbyterians, not the Charismatics, not the Bible-believing-fundamentalist, not even my church or your church. We lay down our efforts to defend our color church and we surrender our dogmas to the fact that in history and through history—no creed has survived in all colors but Jesus. No book has been lifted higher than our Bible. No god has been worshipped but our God—the God who created the manifold ways in which we try every six days to “gather to gather to ask the Lord’s blessings. We hasten and chasten his truths to make known.”Stephen W. SmithCopyright 2014All Rights Reserved.
The Jesus Life: The Church Life is Not the Jesus LifeA response to the Newsweek Article/Cover StoryBy Stephen W. Smith April 3, 2012 The church is in crisis but being a follower of Jesus is not. This week’s cover story in Newsweek correctly documents our dilemma. Let me explain.You might find it interesting to note that Jesus spoke the word “church” only two times in his entire life that we have documented. While Jesus came to offer us the way to follow God and the way to experience life as he envisioned it, what’s true is this: we’ve lost our way that leads to life and the church has actually helped us lose our way rather than follow Jesus.Let me explain. While the Bible is seen and held to be authoritative and expresses God’s ways for us, the church has been the guardian of these ways and for many of us, seems to have hijacked the words of Jesus and held them hostage unless we get involved, get committed and follow the church more than we follow Jesus.I once heard a preacher say while pointing to the floor of his multi-million dollar sanctuary, “This is what matters. This church and this building.” It’s not surprising that his tenure did not last and that his church split several times. We have to have a greater reason to live, to be and to act than the church and the property that the church owns. Perhaps it owns far, far too much stuff. The stuff can get in the way of the message and perhaps this is what has happened. We’re tripping over the stuff the plethora of doctrinal statements, creeds and strategies for church growth and have lost our reason to exist at all.While Paul, Peter and John, the authors of much of the New Testament, described what Jesus meant by his words and ways, we know that the people who followed Jesus got involved in power struggles, debates and arguing that even began the night Jesus was arrested, tried and hours before his death. John describes the vivid scene on the last night Jesus was alive. He gathered his followers for an intimate dinner and what resulted was a sad power struggle with arguments over who would be the greatest—and Jesus overhead the whole sad plight. While the Bible is true, people are somewhat less than trust worthy. That is why it’s important to trust the Bible but to hold people at arms length sometimes.As in insider—one who has spent the majority of my life inside the church—and not outside the church, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s people who have screwed up the intent of Jesus—not Jesus himself. Like the very disciples who argued the night Jesus was arrested about power and controls issues, we have not really changed all that much in 2000 years in the church business. Jesus had another idea and we have twisted his intent and desires to meet our own need for power, authority and the need to be needed. If we want the life that Jesus promised, we will need to follow the ways that he lived. You can’t have one without the other. But you can have church and you can have church without the Jesus ways. This may just be where we are today: church without the Founder’s values and insights is like the United States without the Constitution.Jesus spoke more about the church of two or three than he did about the institution. He spoke more of following him that leading the throngs; than he did of organization, strategy and hierarchy. We’ve gotten a lot wrong in the thousands of years that Jesus offered us his message. We’ve tried to understand and implement Jesus’ intent, yet when the facts are in and you look at the statistics about the church, it’s in jeopardy.The way of Jesus is not the way of the church. It can be but when church promotes itself more than Jesus; when we speak more of the church than we do Jesus and we are per-occupied with denominations, splits and doctrine more than the words of Jesus, we only give witness to ourselves that we have lost the way—the way that leads both to Jesus and to life itself.Having pastored churches in North America and Europe for more than 25 years, what is clear to me is this: We cannot have the life of Jesus—the life he promised and described without following the ways of Jesus. When a church helps you on the way, then it’s good, right and blessed. When, however a church hinders someone from following God; when the church becomes the place where the wounded are shot rather than healed; when the sins of our fathers continue on to this generation and beyond and there is little to no transformation, then we have to ask ourselves the really important question: Why didn’t Jesus speak more about the church than he did? Have we missed something? These are good questions that need to be addressed.In working with church leaders all over the world, one of the reasons that has become obvious to me that the church is in trouble is because the leaders of the church are in trouble. Leading busy, over-committed and running on empty lives, how can a leader find the way back to Jesus again? Surely the answer lies in more than going to more meetings and attending more functions.The answer is by returning to the very way and ways that Jesus lived his life. We cannot have the Jesus life without the following the ways of Jesus. We’ve replaced these ways with doctrinal debates, power struggles and activities—something Jesus himself disdained evidently because of his sharp words to the religious leaders of his own day—the Pharisees and other religious folks.It’s not about being religious or playing the games of religion. It’s about following the way and ways of Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus is in—now more than ever before because so many are finding the life he promised by following his ways. The church will need to also become a follower—to discover again what Jesus actually meant.While I can not go as far as Thomas Jefferson did in cutting out words of the Bible he did not agree with, I could buy myself a “red-letter edition” of the Bible and focus on what Jesus actually said and did—thus finding the way—the way that will lead to life!____________________________________________________________________________________________Stephen W. Smith has written a new and exciting book, The Jesus Life: Eight Ways to Re-Discover Authentic Christianity published by David C Cook. Released April 1, 2012. Smith’s views here are drawn from his most recent book in reaction to Andrew Sullivan’s cover story in Newsweek Magazine (April 2, 2012).
Our best hope for actually experiencing this abundant life is for us to go back to the One who said “I am the way, the truth and the life.” The problem is that many of us have majored on only one-third of this amazing, self-disclosing, God-revealing decree. It seems we have developed a fetish for the truth. Churches offer what they think is the right doctrine instead of helping people discover the life Jesus came to give. We fight over dogma insisting that believing the right thing will yield the right life. The truth is the Pharisees in Jesus day did the same thing so many Christians are doing today. We are on information overload. We go to Bible studies, attend seminars and have heard thousands of sermons but this one reality remains: information and the amassing of information, no matter how true it is does not lead to life transformation.
This is not the age of information…
This is the time of loaves and fishes.
- David Whyte
We have believed that the pursuit of truth alone will yield a life worth living, and so we have emphasized doctrine over life, facts over vitality, and information over transformation. Because of our relentless pursuit to get everything right, we’ve gotten it all wrong.Transformation is an experience. It’s something that happens to a person that alters the trajectory and quality of life from that point forward. It’s transformation that we most need to live the life we most want.It saddens me that my own church is embroiled in a denominational squabble which is now on the news and TV. We can build our theological silos and hunker down in them but the fact remains, that what most people are looking for is life--a life that is vital, real and sustainable. Here's the bottom line, it's Jesus who offers this life--not a denomination--not even a single church! What worries me when churches squabble is that we move off center of the real message of Jesus. We get sidetracked in lesser messages; splintering people and making mountains out of molehills. Because I've been through this squabble once in my life in a former denomination which split, I just simply will not get involved in this one. There are far too many people who are surviving than thriving and my life's purpose is about helping people THRIVE! I want people to experience The Jesus Life!-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I'm excited that the Jesus Life is in the warehouse--and at the moment in trucks moving across the country--soon to be showing up in your local bookstores. Potter's Inn is offering a very special offer to our friends! If you buy your copy of The Jesus Life through Potter's Inn, then we'll send you FREE a copy of my book, Embracing Soul Care, which is a daily devotional; a 360 journey around your heart and soul. Each entry is topical and comes with three questions which go below the waterline to help you think through your own life more clearly. You get two books for the price of one. The Link on the blog takes you to the Potter's Inn store when you can purchase this special offering--and only through Potter's Inn!It's our way of saying thanks!