The thing about writing is it makes you think. I hope it makes you think, but it also makes me think! As I try to express my thoughts and responses, to gain some clarity, to put over an argument or opinion, it so often triggers other thoughts and responses… It can create as many questions as it answers!
Yesterday I wrote about being competitive, the motives behind it, the effect it has on our relationships and what a godly response should be: no doubt it is a natural impulse, but without care and self-control it can be really damaging. If I promote myself to help me feel good, perhaps someone else will feel bad about themselves in comparison. Also bear in mind that it was Jezebel who ‘called herself a prophetess’ in the letter to Thyatira (Revelation 2v20) so self-promotion is probably not a good idea! We have all seen the elevation of certain ministries to a form of idolatry, people being put on a pedestal, admired, emulated, even mimicked. Of course good leadership and role models are important and it is not always the fault of the key person – others can do it to them to create a passive and comfortable position for themselves: was this Israel’s sin in asking for a king? Its also a bit reminiscent of the golden calf: it wasn’t the calf’s fault that it got made!
Nevertheless, I can easily love the sound of my own voice (“I am so clever, I have so much to say!”) but God wants to hear the sound of a multitude (Revelation 19v1). I suppose that could be partly why Paul said that if someone else has something to share the first speaker should ‘sit down and shut up’ – or words to that effect! (1 Corinthians 14v30-31). Because some of us like to talk more than others, it doesn’t mean those who don’t speak have nothing to contribute: ‘If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves he should do it with the strength God provides so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ’ 1 Peter 4v11. Whether vocal or quiet, speaking or serving, holding the microphone or the kettle, it is never really about us, but always about Him. I love the challenging way Richard Rohr tells us we simply are not the centre of things by saying ‘God is not an experience we are having but its more true that we are an experience God is having’! ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’. Acts 17v25.
None of this means that people don’t matter. But the way the Lord treats individuals of all sorts is a lesson to us: ‘Don’t lord it over each other like the Gentiles do’: each one carries His image, and He shows no favouritism. Jesus mixed with the poor, the hated, lepers and women. Right from the start He didn’t come to a palace but to a poor young girl and a carpenter in shit and straw. He wasn’t in Hello magazine but in an out-house. He didn’t blow His own trumpet, but the trumpets of heaven sounded in His honour and despised shepherds awake all night out on the hillsides were called to see. Glory lit the heavens for those on the margins while the well-to-do slept in their city bedrooms. Foreigners who searched the mysteries of the heavens rather than the mystery of the Scriptures were drawn in from the east. He didn’t pick the leadership team from the synagogue!
Writing about A New Era also started me thinking. What exactly would be new and different about it? In many ways we can’t know and we probably all see things we think need to change. But I do remember a leader years ago saying that we can tell when the kingdom is on the move because ‘the poor, the black, the women and the young’ start to come to the fore. I can’t see much wrong with that… sorry, but the white, middle-class, grey-haired men have had it their own way for too long! Certainly it is the new generation who have to lead us into the promised land and if some Joshuas and Calebs can hitch a ride on their coat tails, please count me in!
But apart from that one of the big differences has to be the focus on people instead of projects. It used to be that there was a church structure that people had to fit in to. We needed someone to lead the worship team or children’s work, there was a project up for grabs and volunteers were required: shapes that had to be filled somehow, even if it was a squeeze. Ideas came from somewhere and people had to adjust accordingly to serve that vision. But I started dreaming that instead of thinking of something that should be done and then trying to find people to do it with, we will instead primarily look for heart connections and real friendship with others on the journey. I know from experience that kind of God-connection in the spirit is life-changing. It is then out of that relationship we can start to ask, ‘What are we together for? What shall we now do together?‘
Is that not what happened in the Upper Room as 120 believers waited on the Lord, bound together in their fear and anticipation? They were all together in one place – and the anointing fell! Another good example is the church at Antioch in Acts 13v1-3: they were simply meeting to fast and worship… and you try getting prophets and teachers together if they are not friends! Out of the room made for the Holy Spirit to move among them, Barnabus and Saul were chosen and sent out… but not on a project! They were sent out to follow the Spirit into whatever adventures He might lead them – not at all controlled, but obviously completely trusted by those who sent them! Later ‘Barnabus and Saul’ became ‘Paul and his companions’ – the dynamic of the relationship changed, until in the end they had a sharp disagreement (Acts 15v39: doesn’t this sound familiar?!) – but at the start they walked through the open door of opportunity together as friends and partners and the ‘work’ fell into place around them. They were our founding fathers.
Years ago Martin Scott taught us that ‘there will always be new partners when we go through new doors’. The partnership is so important because ‘we are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit’ ie His presence is h-e-r-e, in the join, in the gap, in the cord between us: His Presence is the cement between our two stones. (Ephesians 2v22). It is His presence and anointing that then does the work! It is our agreement in the Spirit that carries the authority to make things happen! (Matthew 18v19).
So look for the people, not the projects – certainly not your projects or your success, nor a formula or pattern from somewhere else to follow. There are a few anointed models at the moment – Healing on the Streets, Street Pastors, city-wide Kids Klubs, amazingly still the Alpha course – but on the whole the old moulds are being broken and we can’t do it that way anymore. Some people still will, of course… but there is no life there; it is a wineskin that has run out of wine. A few years ago I really couldn’t believe it when the ‘Sowing Seeds team’ anointing lifted and that season ended! Surely this was such a good model and ought to run and run? But the Lord never wants us to depend on ways of doing things, however enlightened: He wants us to continually flow with Him – and each other – in a faith relationship (see The bee in my bonnet).
There is something organic in process, a new season of connectivity, the Body being joined ‘each bone to its bone’, networking and growing in every place and sphere forming a new container for His glory – and each person is a knot in the net with a part to play.
People, not projects.