When I started this series on how to start a house church, I started with the idea of learning what God wants, but I never thought God would use it to radically shift my understanding of what Jesus did on the cross.
It is with immense gravity that I write this particular post, because I have never been more convinced that I now know what God wants. I have also never been more convicted about what He does NOT want. Here’s the core premise that I want to unpack:
Jesus completely fulfilled the need for a temple and in doing so obliterated the Old Testament temple model. We have inherited a corporate/political “physical temple model” called “churches” which needs to be demolished so that Jesus can build the “branch temple” of called-out-people (the church) in communities and lives through the power and leadership of the Holy Spirit.
May God give grace as I try to write this out and as you read it. My heart is not to tear down the body of Christ but to align us with the truth of God’s word in scripture and with the word He is speaking NOW to the whole church. Caveat: I am not saying the institutional churches will die. But they do need to be radically re-framed if we are going to actually be who God has called us to be as the church.
Most of us would probably agree that the church is not a building. The Church is any gathering of God’s people, where two or more gathered, where God is in the midst of them (Matthew 8:20), in spirit and truth, not in a sacred place (…NEITHER here NOR in Jerusalem (John 4:21). Worship would not happen in a temple anymore.
You may say the building is irrelevant. Take it or leave it. But if that was true, the veil would not have needed to be ripped in two. There is a reason Jesus “broke the building,” so to speak. Before Him, we did NEED a physical temple, a meeting place to be with God. After Him, we do not need a temple building anymore. We do not need human priests. We do not need Levites. And yet…we have them-physical temples–special places we go in order to encounter God in a special way in assembly. Now 2,000 years after Christ, we find ourselves again in a temple model of worship dependent on the mediation of specially trained “priests/pastors” and temple musicians?! What have we done? What have we inherited? We have traded the wild unknowable power of God for a manageable system of ritual and teaching.
Does the Spirit still move in those places? Yes, but only because of God’s grace, not because it’s His preference. His preference is to FILL US as the temple.
The building, by simply existing, is fulfilling certain false expectations and functions that are expired and run in direct opposition to God’s methods and desires, distracting us from true worship. We need to realign to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. It’s not my opinion. It is God’s intent as revealed very obviously in the grand narrative of the whole Bible. The question is, will we resist it, like God’s people have traditionally done, or will we yield to the leadership of the Holy Spirit the model of the “living temple,” of the branch built on the cornerstone of Jesus (the Branch) our high priest, and the priesthood of all believers (branches in the vine John 15:5)?
THE NEED FOR A SACRED SPACE
I want to start with Stephen’s speech. Stephen gives the big story from Abraham until Solomon’s temple is built and stops there, inserting an interesting quote from Isaiah 66:1-2
Heaven is My throne,
and earth My footstool.
What sort of house will you build for Me?
says the Lord,
or what is My resting place?
Did not My hand make all these things?
“You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your ancestors did, so do you.”Acts 7:58-60
What is it about the building of Solomon’s temple that was resisting the Holy Spirit? That is the question we must seek to answer. Didn’t God want Solomon to build the temple? Didn’t His glory fill it? Then how was this evidence of resisting the Spirit? Because God told David He did not want a temple dwelling.
Resisting the Spirit started at the beginning actually–with Abraham, who resisted the Spirit and Word of God and had an heir out of wedlock instead of trusting God’s promise of Isaac. What about Isaac’s sons who resisted the dreams Joseph had in the Spirit and sold him to Egypt? What about the Jews, standing free on the other side of a sea split in half, begging for God NOT to even speak to them?
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.Exodus 20:18-21
The Holy Spirit is scary.
Moses put up a tent of meeting because God humbled himself to make himself small enough to fit His glory in a tent. Why would He do that even after the people said “Don’t let him speak to us?” His desire to be close and known to us outweighed the pain of rejection. The God of the universe made himself small enough to dwell in a tent of meeting where he was known by Moses and Joshua.
Eventually 70 elders get up enough courage to be circumcised and “see the Lord” from a distance. And God gives instructions for a tabernacle “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern/model I will show you.” (Exodus 25:8-9) When God threatened to leave the stubborn and stiff-necked people (for their own safety (Exodus 33), Moses begged God to go with them and to let him see God’s glory. God agreed and Moses built the tabernacle, but this tabernacle was a pattern, a model, a shadow, of heavenly things.
This was the tabernacle, made from a pattern of heavenly things. (Hebrews 9:23, 8:1-5)
The offerings offered on earth were received in heaven. The altar on earth had a direct link to a heavenly altar. Received by God. Otherwise there could be no forgiveness of sins. So the tabernacle was necessary and established by God’s design SO THAT, He could be with His people. A Levitical priesthood was established. A special family set apart, for whom the Lord would be their portion. They needed to mediate the sacrifice and take care of the temple.
The Lord ruled from heaven (His throne) over the Hebrews (Psalm 11:4), and as her husband (Jeremiah 2:2). But they rejected Him over and over again, finally resisting Him as King. David offers to build him a permanent temple house, but God says,
I have never lived in a house, from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until this very day. I have always moved from one place to another with a tent and a Tabernacle as my dwelling. 7 Yet no matter where I have gone with the Israelites, I have never once complained to Israel’s tribal leaders, the shepherds of my people Israel. I have never asked them, “Why haven’t you built me a beautiful cedar house?”2 Samuel 10:5-16
This means, God did NOT WANT a temple. He did say one of David’s descendants would build it. But He did not design it or ask for it. He did not commission it. God offered to provide an heir a “seed of David” who would build the temple. Nevertheless David collects and makes plans for the temple and we see the “near fulfillment” (that means the first fulfillment) of the prophecy and his son “Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as King” (1 Chronicles 29:23). Do you sense the story of Abraham happening all over again? It is a resisting of the Spirit and a desire to make things happen FOR GOD instead of waiting for the miraculous. It is a decision to rely on humans instead of God. And even in the middle of our stubborn rebellion, God chooses to dwell with us.
God’s glory filled the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 8:10-11), not because He wanted or loved the temple, but because it replaced the tabernacle, and because God desired to dwell with His people, out of His love for them, despite the arrogance and rejection of the people. And in a moment of humility, Solomon prayed:
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.1 Kings 8:27-30
To recap so far, the temple made with human hands was a result of resisting the Holy Spirit because God never wanted or needed a temple but allowed it because it replaced the tabernacle. It was built in the name of God, was undoubtedly a wonder to behold, but the real motivation?
It was legacy.
David wanted to be the one to build a temple FOR GOD. How many of our ministries are built on the idolatry of human legacy, not the instructions or actual desires of God? This temple was an establishing of lineage for David and Solomon. This was something David wanted to do for Him. Instead God offered to establish His house. God did allow Solomon to build it, and He filled it, because the temple replaced the tabernacle and God wanted to be with His people. God had warned Solomon that if the people disobeyed Him, God would reject the temple (1 Kings 9:6-9). But Solomon was not faithful. The land was filled with idolatry from other lands because of his 700 wives, many of whom were princesses from other lands (1 Kings 11). God allowed the temple to be completely ruined because it became a house for idolatry and renown of Israel and not a pure house of worship to Jehovah, the one true God. By the time of Josiah, there were Asherah poles and male temple prostitute cult houses inside the temple, along with chariots dedicated to the sun and objects of worship of Baal and the heavenly hosts. (2 Kings 23). They had even lost the scroll of the law.
Thus, the construction of a permanent temple on earth which was meant as a gift for God, became the ultimate offense. The temple was rejected by God. But the real truth is, God never desired a human-built temple.
After the exile, we see a delegation commissioned by God to rebuild the temple, to reestablish the people of Israel. The man to build is Zerrubabel along with the High Priest named Jeshua (yes this is a name with the same root as Jesus), who were “shadows of things to come. ” But this time the rebuilt temple is commissioned by God according the pattern shown to His servant Zerubbabel. God again promises a seed, a branch, a servant that would build His temple, “not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit.” (Zechariah 4:6)
“Listen to me, O Jeshua the high priest, and all you other priests. You are symbols of things to come. Soon I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. 9 Now look at the jewel I have set before Jeshua, a single stone with seven facets. I will engrave an inscription on it, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and I will remove the sins of this land in a single day.Zechariah 3:8-9
So even as God is commissioning Zerrubabel to rebuild the temple (a near fulfillment of the prophecy), he only commissions a shadow, a pattern, an earthly counterpart to what is happening in heaven. Because this would not be the final version of the temple. In fact, there was a temple builder to come who would BRANCH OUT and build the temple and unite the role of priest and king! Jesus! This is the far fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies, the seed of Abraham, the shoot of Jesse, the Nazarite Branch who would build the temple! (Bonus: Did you know Nazareth root word is “seed” or “growth”).
We see the promise of a servant priest, called The Branch, and a promise to remove all sin in a single day! Not only that, but this Branch would be a King and Priest who would build the temple of the Lord! Finally! Not by might nor by power but by the Holy Spirit!
Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Here is the man called the Branch. He will branch out from where he is and build the Temple of the Lord. 13 Yes, he will build the Temple of the Lord. Then he will receive royal honor and will rule as king from his throne. He will also serve as priest from his throne, and there will be perfect harmony between his two roles.’…15 People will come from distant lands to rebuild the Temple of the Lord. And when this happens, you will know that my messages have been from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. All this will happen if you carefully obey what the Lord your God says.Zechariah 6:12-15
When the elders saw the rebuilt temple, they wept (Ezra 3:12). Not because of it’s grandeur but because it came nowhere near the beauty of Solomon’s temple. But even in a shadow, we see here the promised of one who would have the authority given by God to build the temple by His Spirit. The rebuilding of the temple was an act of God’s mercy to the Jews and also a prophetic act foretelling Jesus, the Branch—to “branch out from this place and build the temple of the Lord” and to unite the priest and king roles.
In the fullness of time, Herod the Great (father of Herod who tried to kill Jesus), rebuilt the rebuilt temple into the most grand version yet. And it was into this world of a freshly rebuilt, glorified temple that Jesus enters to break it all apart. Stephen, the first martyr understood this.
Stephen surgically connected the act of human temple building with resisting the Holy Spirit. The Sanhedrin gnashed their teeth at Him. Maybe some of you are already gnashing your teeth. Stephen was stoned (in part) because of his perceived disrespect for the temple and his accusation that the very presence of that building inferred their lack of trust in the leadership of God through the Holy Spirit.
“Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. 45 After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, 46 who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.
48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:
49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Act 7:44-51
What would have led Stephen to make such a strong statement? What was the problem with the temple? The answer is found in the words of Jesus and the philosophy of the early church. The Spirit of God could not be contained in a building. It would branch out from Jesus to the rest of the world! When Jesus destroyed the temple, the dead were raised! (Matthew 27:51-52) That’s the power that was in that tiny space. That was God’s love for us. And in His love, He destroyed it, exploding His Spirit outward!
“We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’” Mark 14:58
Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” 2 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”Mark 13:1-2.
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:21-24
THE BROKEN BUILDING
When Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God died the veil was torn as a miraculous sign that the Spirit had left the building, and that Jesus, who had pitched his tent with us and dwelled among us, had fulfilled the purpose of the temple by uniting the roles of priest and king (Acts 7:55–56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 3:21; Matthew 22:44; Acts 2:33). Not long after, the temple would be demolished in war, but Jesus is the one who broke the building and rebuilt the temple of God by the Holy Spirit!
Physical “temple-building” has always been related to wanting our love of God to be seen by men, to draw all men to Him. Good motivation. Bad method.
By wanting to demonstrate our love for Him instead of just resting in His love for us and responding humbly to that love, we miss the miraculous. How many time has He said He will accomplish His plan for His glory by His zeal?! He draws. (John 12:32). He saves (Exodus 14:13). His spirit draws . He accomplishes. (2 Kings 19:31, Isaiah 55:11). In fact, without HIm we can accomplish nothing (John 15:5).
Temple building is about our projects FOR God. But Jesus completely fulfilled the law and did the will of His Father. He talked about obliterating the need for a physical temple and also literally said true worship will happen NEITHER in Samaria NOR in Jerusalem (John 4) but in Spirit and in Truth. Why would Jesus want to obliterate place and space as being where God lives and where you could encounter His presence?
Because He wanted us to worship in Spirit and in truth! He wanted to be with us—inside us! Among us! And he was literally saying, “you do not need a building to worship God.” And how our hearts still yearn to return to a building.
“He will branch out and build my temple.” And Jesus is still doing that. Through you. The priesthood of all believers. A kingdom of priests under the High Priest and High King Jesus Christ!
HOW THE BRANCH BRANCHED!
Well…it happened like mustard seed….like yeast. First Pentecost, a new law written on our hearts by the Spirit. Small gatherings in homes were the norm after the persecution started. And a Gentile church build “not by might not by power”, but by God’s very Spirit. (Zechariah 4:6). A temple built by the Spirit.
How short-lived were both of the beautiful physical temple of Jehovah built by human hands. Herod’s was demolished physically shortly after this and the Jewish people dispersed (including Jewish Christians) around the world-God branched out and built the temple. Paul saw this with the Gentiles…it was through this human church ignited by the fire of the Holy Spirit that God was proving His intent to give the Holy Spirit to the WHOLE EARTH through Jesus–revealing His eternal plan HIS PURPOSES to not only us, but even to the powers and principalities. (Ephesians 3:1-12)
All of the writers of the epistles agreed that we, people, are the temple of God, and that He indwells us with His Spirit, the Living Water! Flowing out and everything it touches comes alive! The Spirit of God left the Holy of Holies at the very moment of Christ’s death as evident through the ripping of the veil from top to bottom.
The temple as a BUILDING was replaced by the temple as a BODY–a building of living stones. The branch branched out and built the temple. OF LIVING STONES! God inside us!
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1
For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:17
Through him (Jesus) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Hebrews 13:15
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore GO OUT from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing, then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:16
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. Revelation 21:22
Did you catch that!? In the revelation of the New Jerusalem, there is NO TEMPLE! Because the presence and Spirit of God and of Jesus will be everywhere! Now let’s apply this to the story of the church.
WE ARE THE TEMPLE (individually and collectively)
Many of us would rightly agree that we believe that the Spirit is in us now and that our body as the church is the temple of God (2 Corinthians 6:16). That is in our theology in our heads. But if that is the case then we have to ask ourselves how or if that fact should influence our use of and reliance on buildings and why did Jesus need to talk about tearing down temples as places of worship?
It’s just this. The temple is not in a place! It is inside you! “Places of worship” are not the location of worship! The heart and the temple build on living stones on the cornerstone of Jesus. The message of Jesus, at least in part, was the total fulfillment and obliteration of physical temple worship!
Why did He care where we worship?
- Buildings can quickly become kingdoms and distractions for the eyes, either from the fog machines on the stage, the musical instruments, or even graven images, which were intended to symbolize something but quickly can become objects of worship themselves. (Mark 13:1-2)
- Places become bounded locations for rules and regulations of protocol to develop.
- Places allow our status and wealth and natural gifts to be displayed and potentially idolized.
- Places allow humans to become more visible and audible than God
- Places drain our money, energy, and attention for maintenance and property costs.
- Places draw in “like-minded” and “like-experienced” people. So we end up coming in for fellowship/healing/meeting our needs, but not going out. The place becomes our refuge instead of God.
- Big churches make it hard to for the priesthood of believers to function correctly. We come to receive teaching, we don’t try to become those who are “able to teach.” We come to receive a word from God, but we aren’t encouraged to eagerly desire the gift of prophecy to encourage the church because there is a fear of putting untrained people in front of the congregation and damaging their faith/growth. Or we could train and disciple everyone!
- We have this strange idea that our natural talents and passions should be used FOR God. We become satisfied with the cultivation of our natural gifts in the “places of worship.” But are we really asking what God is doing or just asking Him to give us a platform and outlet for OUR ministry, for our legacy? If we are brave enough to ask God what He is doing this is going to change our focus and obliterate our concerns for human structures and specialized priesthoods. We actually try to protect God’s reputation by maintaining a tight grip on perception of the product of the service. We think “it has to be done” and it does!…If you stick to that model.
OR you could let it all fall apart. You could demolish the building model and get out.
ARE BUILDINGS BAD? MAYBE.
Let’s look at the model of the early church:
1) Synagogue and public preaching- We see an intentional, missional public placement of study, prayer, and worship. Worship and teaching at the synagogue was intended for unbelieving Jews to encounter gospel so that many would be added to their number daily. But our buildings are not the same as the first century synagogue or temple. Because it’s not public. It’s not missional. The equivalent to meeting in the synagogue would be to preach and teach in public spaces like libraries, parks, community spaces, gyms, nursing homes, homeless shelters, coffee shops, schools, business parks, shopping centers. Public, missional spaces.
2) Homes-Private places of community with believers—prayer, teaching, preparing apostles, and sharing bread. Not worried too much about how it looks to outsiders. But just enjoying God’s Spirit together as “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Corinthians 14:26) Why can’t this happen in a big building? Because there is no intimacy and accountability (unless your small groups are meeting in the building, which seems redundant. Why would you need a big building to meet in a small groups?).
But we do not see very many separate buildings being built for Christian believers to meet together in the New Testament, and I think the reason why is that they didn’t need them because “being poured into” function of intimate Holy Spirit ministry and healing works better in small group settings. As soon as you outgrew a home you would have to send out a new team to a different home, ready to shepherd, teach, prophecy, and evangelize. Isn’t it interesting that we do not see a popularity of church buildings in the early church? Even when they enjoyed the favor of all the people?
They didn’t need them! They were following the teachings of Jesus by BEING the temple.
This model allowed the church to survive the destruction of the temple and the persecution that would follow until the edict of Milan in 315, which outlawed the persecution of Christians. Thank you Constantine…I think? Actually, Constantine financed several church buildings and organized the Council of Nicea, which led to the politicization of the institutional church.
It must have been nice at first to be able to meet in public without fear of death or accusation. It must have been nice to meet in bigger groups and led by the most educated teachers. It must have been nice to fine tune theology and get rid of the false teachers in public. But this quickly led to a series of church splits and splintering for over a century.
Here’s my (very bold) question. I hope it doesn’t get me stoned too.
What if buildings were actually not good for the church? What if having a building would actually hinder the gospel and the leadership of the Spirit active and alive in a temple of living stones, that is, people?• Are our buildings hindering service to the community by sucking the energy out of all of your willing people with service production?
Are our buildings hindering the spread of the Kingdom of God by reproducing the model of “come and see” rather than “go and tell”?
Are our buildings hindering the spread of the gospel by telling people to evangelize by inviting people “to church”?
Are our buildings hindering the church’s reliance on the Holy Spirit by overproducing services to the point where you do not even need the Holy Spirit to have a worship service?
Are our buildings hindering the discipleship and training of new teachers, evangelists, etc. by already having those positions filled by a well-educated and experienced few?
Are they distracting people from the calling of being able to perceive God’s presence as something that is in us and His church as being people not places.If being in a building is actually damaging our participation of the church as a priesthood of ALL believers, then we need to totally rethink “church buildings.” All of them.
You might say:
Not all church buildings are bad right? I mean, isn’t it’s ok to have a meeting place?
Well, let’s think about it. The small church model is usually a very home-grown, organic feel. They may be very local and everyone is pretty much involved to provide the spiritual gifts needed to function. Small church buildings can feel like home and give a place to meet, but they are not necessary. If you have a small church, you can easily meet in homes or other community areas. Furthermore, most small churches have a hard time supporting their pastor. In these cases it’s better to divide the congregation under the care of several bi-vocational pastor/shepherds with teaching gifts and then plan to meet together in public places. You spare the expense of a church building and a pastor’s salary.
What about the mega-church. The mega-church model is based on a business model. We are very time/event oriented, hierarchical, patriarchal (in what most would see as a mostly benevolent type of patriarchy, not intentionally malicious), with a high value on organization and striving toward a “better” more “excellent” product which leads to high value on production of service. Our focus is at least partially on “customer” experience, marketing, seeker sensitivity, and providing what people want/need (in a compassionate way most of the time). In the mega-church, church staffs spend most of our time thinking about logistics, money, communications, and people, but on being led by the Spirit, generally I would say they either don’t think about it that much or they assume God is leading them in their common-sense decisions.
In large mega-churches around the world, we see a huge drain of energy and finance tied to preferring human structures over God’s leadership. How much time and energy each week do we spend planning the event/show/production, which is the “church” “service” (what a strange idea—who are we serving?)? How much energy is spent running the building and the service and what if that energy was spent in active disciple-making?
Look at Samuel’s warning to the people of God when they requested a king.
“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men[a] and your donkeys, and put them to his work.17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
A contemporary warning to choose human structures of order instead of reliance of God’s leadership may be:
“These will be the ways of the church who makes its home in a large building, with a pastor as king: he will take your sons and appoint them to his advisory boards and make them sit through strategic planning and budget meetings and endless committees. 12 And he will appoint for himself associate pastors and Sunday school teachers, to plow his ground and to reap his harvest so the number of baptisms and converts stays on the rise, and to make his powerpoints and sermon illustration videos. 13 He will take your daughters to be cooks and bakers and coffee makers before service, starting at 6am every Sunday, so you can sell refreshments for the others who are having to stay in the building all day on the Sabbath. 14 He will take the best of your natural gifts and employ them to produce a service that will draw a crowd. 15 He will take the tenth of your money and give it to his officers and to his servants for their salary that needs to exist for the communications team, the financial officer, the missions pastor, the children’s pastor, and the youth pastor, and the custodians to empty the trash and clean the toilets and replace the toilet paper. After you have built that building and paid it off, you will then raise money for BIGGER buildings and technology when the smaller ones are outgrown and outdated. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men, and put them to his work in the church nursery, kids ministry, and media team. 17 He will take the tenth of your money, and you shall be his slaves to serve the building and the service.
This is mostly just a parody meant to poke fun a little at the American mega-church model, but there are some painful, truthful points here about what happens when we allow human structures to replace reliance on the active and spontaneous leadership of the Holy Spirit, even if that means we are not sure we are going to have a good service “product.” Did you know the word “excellent” most often refers to moral excellence, the other kind of excellence we try to attain is something closer to perfectionism if we are honest. Here’s a way to test this for yourself. For those who are contemporary priests and levites: Do you think more of the Lord when you are in a service, or do you think of the service itself and the people?
We already have a mediator. What would happen if we let Him lead? Well, we’re not sure. And that makes us nervous. And in the end we find ourselves asking for a human solution to our anxiety and fear of the future if God is in charge. It’s a trust issue. And the effect is that we are so tired from “serving” at the temple, that we consider that our spiritual service to God. We don’t disciple others. “That’s not our gifting…We are already spread too thin…Don’t want to burn out.” What if we are burned out only because we are doing unessential things! Aren’t you ready to get on the front lines?! Here’s the invitation: Let the Holy Spirit take over leadership again. Pay attention only to Him and do what He is doing and say what He is saying—walk like Jesus walked (John 5:19; John 12:49). Be led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14).
How much time do you spend tuning in to the Holy Spirit and asking what God wants and what His strategy is for His church in your regional area? A lot? Great, then see if this seems to line up with what He’s been saying to you.
Get out of the building!
Here are the false perceptions that can arise in any church building:
- When you go into a building that is your spiritual act of worship
- When you go into a building that is your refuge from the world.
- When you go into a building that is your communion
- When you go into a building that is you coming into the presence of God and asking for the forgiveness of sins.
That is not accurate and that is false teaching. In fact, the church buildings we have inherited and built bigger and grander has led the church to reenact pre-Christ temple culture in a very unhealthy way that Jesus meant to fulfill, complete, and move to spiritual places. What was meant to be symbolic (an altar, for example) has become a physical place where we go kneel and make our sacrifices. In front of everyone! Our buildings have stores where you can buy things to support your building and “church.” Our churches have confessionals where you can privately receive forgiveness and grace from the lips of a “priest” able to hear and administer forgiveness or a penance for your sins! One might say these things are symbolic, just like the tabernacle. But oh, we are so quick to turn symbols into empty rituals because we forget what they are supposed to represent. This is heresy! One priest I personally interviewed had never told a confessor told about the sacrifice of Jesus as their righteousness and redemption and as their one High Priest. In this model, the symbol of priestly confession or intercession of the saints has ceased to become symbolic reminders of spiritual realities, and has become idolatry!
The idea that a human priest could mediate a relationship between us and God is not healthy. Jesus has already mediated. And that teaching needs to be corrected because God wants to have a personal relationship with each one of us mediated by His Spirit. We know this because Jesus went to find the one sheep. God sees hearts. He is the God who sees individual hearts to find the ones who are fully committed to Him. God also desires the nations and He is looking to bless the nations and draw them through the church, through people, through the individual heart change of a person where He writes His law on our hearts by putting His Spirit in us so He can move individual people to radical service of the gospel. As a kingdom of priests, our only job is to minister to the heart of God and introduce people to the person of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit! But they are meant to be brought into relationship with Him for themselves individually.
I have two questions:1) Do your people understand their right to a personal relationship with God that moves them to love and obey Him in discipling the nations. 2) After you leave the service in your building, do you exclaim to yourself, wow, that would have been impossible without the Holy Spirit!
If not, ask yourself this one brave question:
ARE OUR BUILDINGS HINDERING THE LEADERSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD?
It’s interesting and ironic to me that we spend so much time in our buildings talking about getting out of the buildings. Talking about being the church “in here” versus “out there”?
Why are we even in the buildings then in the first place?
What positive role are buildings playing?
PROS• Getting everyone together at the same time—this is an extension of the business model of human efficiency. Who says it’s better to cast the vision to the whole group instead of in small batches where the apostle/lead pastor would travel around or write letters to be read at each small group? We don’t need to meet together for the church to accomplish its purpose…in fact, it’s much easier for someone to hide in a big service than in a small house church.
- Common vision? This is a nonstarter—common vision is simple—it is the kingdom of God. It is not necessary to vision-cast all the time. Train your people and then send them out with the vision Jesus gave…it’s enough!
- Biblical teaching? Can you imagine if everyone were proficient enough in the word to be ABLE to teach (2 Timothy 2:24) and if there were special gifts of teach just waiting for an outlet to be explored?! Guess what! There are! Trust God to do it!
- Training children in a way they can understand—this is one of the main cultural barriers to home churches. But in reality, training children in the faith should be done in families. Children can listen to and participate in the grown up teaching and worship and prayer and the parents can clarify to children later, reinforcing what is being taught in the group. Let them go in and out of the gathering and they will catch it even more than if they were taught it on their level believe it or not. You can teach them on their level at home. Teach parents how to do this!
What can you do better in a building that you can’t do in homes or other community areas? Nothing really! We don’t need the buildings, but we do. Something we call “a church” lives in there, complete with salaried authority positions, missions support, media productions, and smoke machines! We need the income of the tithe to make this machine work.
We built the buildings instead of planting churches. And now we are stuck in them with no way out. And we’re asleep in there.
We have to wake the bride to their identity as “the church of Jesus made of people”. That is the only kind of Christian church that is real. The other thing–the place, the organization, the 501c3–is some kind of weird illusion that has the same name. But it’s not the church.
Think about how church buildings make things difficult:
Buildings have made division in the church easier to ignore—we have different “church buildings” for different theologies and worship styles so that you “church shop” based on what tenets of the faith you agree with and don’t, what kind of music you like—where you feel “comfortable.” The church was never divided along these lines in scripture. It was always meeting regionally (to the church at Corinth, or Laodicea or Ephesus.)
Different buildings for different nationalities—this is not ideal—we sense this but don’t know how to fix it. We try to have “events” where we join together with “other monocultural churches” but using the word “church” in this sense is damaging to the idea of “the church” We are ALREADY the church. We already have a right and responsibility to love one another and hang out together and worship Jesus together. But it is hard to learn other languages and so we don’t try. We allow our sameness to create monocultural gatherings that hinder our unified worship (despite language and culture differences) and our understanding of God’s heart for the nations worshiping together as one! Really!
Different buildings for different social classes and races because of the racial sin of America and other parts of the world, which have had present or past systems injustice leading to ghettoizing of regional areas. Buildings allow the church to keep being divided along class lines. And it allows for the continuation of monoracial churches.
Different buildings for different worship style preferences For example, liturgical worship tradition is useful for reminding us and disciplining us methodically in our thinking about God and scriptural principles. The Holy Spirit works within spiritual disciplines. The problem is that liturgical traditions thrive on its method of ritual rather than the active leadership of the Holy Spirit. Most lay people in these globalized liturgical traditions do not understand that Jesus is our high priest and the only priest we need. Liturgy can easily be misperceived as a substitution for a personal relationship with God and a replacement for the reliance on the active leadership of the Holy Spirit in our communal worship and daily lives. Like building church structures, the very structure that was developed to make it EASIER to worship has hindered us because it takes out the “spontaneous” and active reliance on the leadership of God.
THE PEOPLE AS THE CHURCH
We need to be honest about the reality that it’s way more comfortable to have a building because nothing in our lives has to change to “go to church.” But what if it’s not good for us or what if leaving the building could be infinitely better. Here’s what happens when I get ready to host a church (people) meeting in my house:
- I pray over the gathering every week and listen for what the Lord is doing.
- My children’s faith has matured to adult level understanding of theological principles in some areas.
- My selfishness and fear of man has been wounded (in a good way!) because I make myself offer our food with a willing heart and I let people in even when my house is a little bit or a lot of a mess! (also, bonus, my house does get a little cleaner at least once a week).
- I have seen God gift our house church meetings with every good gift. We need Him!
- We pool our tithe and feed one another and help when people need money. We don’t have to pay salaries so all our money goes to meet the community needs, feed the poor, or send out apostles/missionaries who cannot work where God has sent them.
- We have seen so much fruit of people being added to the kingdom who are following Him, not even people going to our home but in other church communities or starting groups in their own homes even in different states and nations!
- We recognize that our own body is the temple of God, and my body is part of a larger temple or body.
People of God, Bride of Christ, Wake up! The Kingdom of God is within you. You carry it with you. Your feet are shod with the GOSPEL! You carry it with you EVERYWHERE. When the Holy Spirit is poured into you and leads your life, every person you encounter experiences God’s power, His peace, and His Spirit. You can leave the church building because HE IS WITH YOU and you are the bearer of God’s love to the world along with every other follower of the way of Jesus.
The view from inside the church building looking outward seems compartmentalized into where we worship, where we “do ministry,” and where we live. We go to work and maybe send someone a scripture or quick prayer, but we feel that we would be doing our companies a disservice if we “discipled on the job”—that shouldn’t happen on company time. Really? Who told you that? Were you told not to talk about your faith when you were hired? Jesus didn’t say “Only make disciples and serve me while you are NOT working.” If God has called you to serve in a position where you cannot share the gospel openly that’s one thing, but we need to be asking ourselves why do I feel like I need to be quiet about Jesus at work. Because in many places in the world you do not need to! God will allow you to get the work done that needs to be done (though maybe not to perfectionist standards).
It will also revolutionize how we train pastors and worship leaders. It is going to change EVERYTHING. We are going to be on fire because we will actually need and ask for His Spirit to bind us together as living stones and announce the Kingdom of God on earth and wake the bride!
We go out! We leave the buildings. If you have a building, you make an exit plan.
HELP! WE ARE STUCK IN BUILDING Unless. We actually leave. We stop going there…at least for a while until this really sinks in. Until we detox from everything not necessary.
Unless we see a radical reframing of the “church ministry jobs” to align with the leadership structure of spiritual gifts. What if we took all the energy and money we are expending here and redistribute it out there? Whose job descriptions need to change? How do we change the budget? How would we still communicate to our whole network while trusting God to lead the smaller discipleship groups on the micro level so that they are effective and vibrant where God is placing them?
Does the building need to be repurposed as a training center for discipleship, work space, kitchens or housing for the poor or refugees? What is the culturally appropriate way to disciple? Where are the common misunderstandings of God in our culture and how do we respond to those? Where are the dark spots in your community? Start asking God for His strategy to win those regional areas? Prayer/evangelism walks, after-school tutoring? Meal trucks? Coffee shops?
How would our music ministry need to change? Do we need to train and equip more people to facilitate worship and prayer in small group settings? Do you need to invest in biblically-based worship training or more acoustic instruments?
You might say:
Aren’t you just proposing a different model that is just going to become a model like all the others?
No. I am not proposing a model. I do believe the temple model is hurting the church because it allows for “Christians” to sit un-activated for ministry because ministry is the job of the “ministers.” They become receptor-oriented and lose (or never even find) their “called out” identity. They don’t think they are “called to ministry” because that’s not their profession. They do not feel equipped.
House church or micro church discipleship IS more effective, but it’s not to be seen as “a church model.” It needs to be seen as deconstruction of a centralized leadership structure that tries to micromanage the spiritual lives of large groups of people. Meeting in houses is a crucial and natural strategy for discipleship and growth of “the church” that works in any culture under any level of persecution. It’s counter-intuitive but completely biblical. Grow big by going small.
It’s the mustard seed principle of growth. Mustard seed would grow wild spreading through root systems and popping up all over. For this reason it was outlawed in Jewish gardens. We need to look for keys in what Jesus said and how the early church functioned to help us understand what “church worship” and “church growth” is really supposed to mean, which is not monetary, not numbers in a building. The church was supposed to grow and rapidly multiply, like mustard seed through ordinary people, A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS, to bless the world! We grow by becoming empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, not trained formally to better their natural talents. In fact, the power of God is made perfect in our WEAKNESS!!! This all makes sense if we start trusting the leadership of the Spirit instead of our natural inclinations or ways of man’s wisdom.
You might say:
But our church is very involved in our community and missions and we are a hub of all these ministries. How is that wrong?
That’s probably what you are doing right! Focus there! Are there people already doing this in your church community? Already opening their homes? Can they teach others how to do it? Can you take a big leap and source your teaching internally in each group?
The word church, ecclesia, means “called out”—very early the term referred to an assembly of people, but not a building. The church is outward moving. It is mobile, wherever we are, two or more, it’s the church in action and in this world. The kingdom takes over everything. It takes over the world because we have not limited its activities or functions to the building or gathering of people in those buildings.
How do we move out?
Gather a group at your church and with your pastor’s blessing if possible, start meeting outside the church building. Try it! See what questions arise, what insecurities. Are your forced to rely on the Holy spirit more or less than in the building? See how it works.
Start discipling everyone! If you don’t know how ask someone to teach you.
Soon, we will be functioning in obedience to disciple the nations, teaching them to obey (which means teaching them to obey by making disciples too!). Then all that Jesus said about us will be true.
You will be hated, like Stephen, for speaking the truth.
Your family and friends will tell you that you are in a cult.
You may be fired from your jobs for boldly discipling others.
You will be told you are rogue and rebellious and anti-authority. This is not true. You are just very pro-God’s authority.
The cognitive dissonance will be gone.
Our fear of man will be shattered. Galatians 1:10
We will have to rely on the Holy Spirit to build a church made of people.
We will need and ask for the Holy Spirit.
We will recover our true identity as the global church
No longer will we hear ourselves saying these misleading things:
- Which “church” do you go to?
- Which denomination is “your church”
- I need to find a “good church”
- Do you “go to church”
- Do you want to come “to church” with me?
Instead we will hear ourselves say:
- Do you know Jesus? I mean, do you speak to Him and does He speak to you?
- Do you how much God loves you?
- Can I pray for you (then they come to Christ because you pray and listen in the Spirit and pray specifically for things they never told you!
- Can I pray for you to be healed—then they are and they come to Christ!
- Do you want to study the Bible together—come join a group at my house on Thursdays!
- Let’s go get coffee and talk about how your heart is and how your time with Jesus has been.
- Do you want to go on a prayer walk with me?
- Let’s worship at the park tonight and see God lifted up in that part of our town.
We don’t go to a church. We ARE the church, the presence of God in the world, taking earth back from the enemy until HE comes and finds a beautiful bride and body of Chirst, clothed in righteous acts, and ready for Him. We will be a temple of Living Stones.
Lord teach us!