by Art Hobba
With few exceptions, the state of the present American Church–and most churches across the globe–have declined in the quality and potency of their impact and failed to be the influence as God’s Salt, Light, and Leaven within their respective “worldly” communities. Beginning with Jesus, within two-to-three generations of a ministry founder’s vision, and its activation into an organized Spirit-led movement, most lose their original fervor. A brief study of the Early Church’s first 100 years displays the same pattern. After many generations of institutionalization, the US church today has fallen far from her potential. We’ve invalidated the reality of Jesus–and his oneness with the Father by abandoning the humility and labors required to sustain unity.
Many 1000s of denominations oversee 200,000+ churches identified by their differences in beliefs and dogma. Today we have 315,000 small-to-mega churches–many standalone in their independence–that every day, unconsciously betray their Christ. One of the clearest examples of unity, and the core commandment that Jesus emphasized to the 11 (Judas had been sent away) on his last day on Earth:
1) “I and my Father are one,” (Jn 10)
2) In his last public prayer to the Father before the 11 “(I pray) that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (Jn 17:20-23)
Unfortunately, this decline in bonafide fervor too often marks the individual (study the bios of Kings Solomon, Asa, David), family units, communities–even nations. Practically all institutions and organizations ever founded–whether sacred or secular–show this pattern as well. All begin with a type of entrepreneurial vision that leads to a mission and plan. Unity becomes the center of the original circle, followed by hard work, taking the risk of the unknown, sustaining the unity, and building up a self-sustaining ministry–or business–through a daily exercise of that unity.
Once the founder’s vision–and his first generation of builder-implementors vacate their offices, their vision, disciplined mission, and the MOVEMENT culture they created often begin to unravel. These essential, biblical mandates of waiting on the timing of the Holy Spirit listening to, and obeying the Spirit often fade with it. the thrill–and the pressure of vision dies out–often replaced by a safer, more predictable form of maternal nesting begins to form taming the former by winnowing out remaining entrepreneurial thinkers, while installing bureaucratic decisionmaking that is more representative of Star Teck’s BORG, than the inspired mission that gave fresh and renewable propulsion to the former movement of God.
It begins to rear its head in our conversations and dinner tables as a subtle exchange of great for good. Enterprising, high-risk, high-reward Kingdom-advancing ventures are subrogated by the calmer, more rational “good” of calmer seas demarking our evolving culture as a place of no risk and minimal friction.
Then we see our contemporaries [heroes and competitors] of faith settle down. We also observe others of “the called out” begin to develop shortcuts, turning vision into objectives. Life’s once impossible purposes yield to the attraction of either a 3-day workweek, or a hyper-frenetic schedule that effectively mutes the voice of God.
A True selfless Shepherd’s courageous willingness to lay down his life for his sheep–can easily devolve into a mentality that a “good shepherd” means the grind of circling the wagons and building a fence around our congregation–for their sake [and also to protect their salary].
What went wrong?
Over 1,600 years ago we lost the Living Water rights that created streams in the desert for thirsty souls by killing off three of the most vibrant and unpredictable biblical leadership roles God inspired the early Church to govern by. Without active, participative, honored, and courageous Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists to challenge us and the World–and stretch and shake us up, only the Pastor or Teacher is left in charge. Both roles are designed by the Spirit to be risk managers.
The FEAR of not enough, or of engaging in noble controversy among leaders, or risking being thought less of by others with power, lulls us into a dream state of spiritual stupor. Long before then, the Spirit has left that church or parachurch organization–carrying their once bright Candlestick with him. Only a jealous and disciplining Father-God is able to awaken us. The attrition of spiritual vigor and emotional muscle will always occur when “peace and safety” become our definition of “good” and predictable comfort, our objective.
As Jesus visited 7 post-Apostolic churches in Revelation 2-3, warning them to “Repent!” and “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die,” and “do the former things.” He is still knocking at that door of each of our hearts, looking for us to “remember” and embrace the sweet, yet wildly unpredictable kinship he once had with us at his Table with the 11.
Art Hobba, Founder Core 300