Jesus loves the church. There is no question but that Jesus loves the church, he died for her. So what does it look like when Jesus visits the church?
The pic above was done by Warner Sallman, admittedly the art is a little dated. Many of us grew up with pictures of Jesus that characterized him as the gentle shepherd to whom little children may run and be received. He is that. This picture, though, does not convey the character of the risen Lord to the church. This is not Sallman’s intention and that is ok. I’m suggesting that the Jesus that visits the churches, like in Rev. 2-3, doesn’t look like this Jesus.
The Jesus that visits the seven churches of Asia Minor is a general. He is the Good Shepherd but his person is multi-faceted. He is also a commander who speaks directly to the troops and calls them to order. He is the warrior-leader who issues ultimatums and warnings and expects that his followers listen. This is how he is presented to the church by the Apostle John in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation.
The lack of preaching and teaching on this aspect of Jesus’ character has left the church in a weakened state. We cannot fathom that Jesus might actually discipline a person, much less a church! To think that Jesus intentionally and lovingly causes pain to someone seems, well, far fetched and mean. However, this is precisely what he does.
In the fall of 2016 Faith Community Church (FCC) partnered with Blessing Point ministries. We asked ourselves the question, “What is Jesus trying to say to our fellowship through our pain?” We had been experiencing a fair amount of pain, frustration, and confusion. Rather than push through, we thought it was time to stop and ask some questions of the Lord. We assume, rightly so, that Jesus will speak to the person or church that approaches him in humility and brokenness (Psalm 51:17).
Theologically, we believe the following things. One, Jesus does not overlook church dysfunction. Two, Jesus relates to a church as he does an individual. Changing pastors, by-laws, church names, church officers, etc. does not in any way absolve a fellowship of sin and dysfunction. Three, until a church corporately repents, she will continue to be under Jesus’ hand of discipline. Four, a church may be under Jesus’ discipline and not know it. Instead of listening to her Master, she may take humanistic approaches to fix her problems. Finally, repentance is the fast track to health and blessing. The pain Jesus sends our way should point us to dysfunction, which, if repented of brings blessing and freedom.
With these things in place, we began to engage in the difficult work of hearing from Jesus. Blessing Point was very helpful in walking us through that process (aka Healing the Heart of your Church). The process essentially consisted of interviewing as many people as possible who have been and are affiliated with our fellowship. We divided our history up into four sections. Teams were tasked with tracking down and speaking with the people who made up each era and asking questions. The questions were designed to ferret out the blessings, challenges, and crises of each era.
The weekend before Thanksgiving we had our Historical Retreat. We brought all the data in and basically put it on the table. We examined the trends of our entire history. Then, and I stress the word “then” our eyes began to be opened. We began to see for the first time trends and patterns that were fairly consistent. A coup early on involved a power struggle between the pastor and the board. This left quiet a mark on the church. We noticed a disturbing trend on a corporate level, namely, prayerlessness. This is not to say we didn’t pray but it is to say, we weren’t desperate, we depended upon our giftedness, our talent, and our human powers. These are just a few things that marked our story.
What now? We held a Solemn Assembly on Jan. 22, 2017. We read the “Eighth Letter.” This letter consisted of what we believed Jesus was saying to us. Then we publicly brought everything into the light. Representatives stood in for all pastors, board members/elders, and the congregation. We read letters of repentance where we owned our sin and dysfunction at all levels. What I appreciate about this approach is that the congregation at ALL levels is represented. Following this, we read out what we’re calling the Corporate Covenant. This document consisted of measurable steps of obedience which we believe we are to render to our Lord.
In all my years of ministry, this service was the most powerful. Why? We came ready to do business. We came expecting God and he met us there. The holiness of God was heavy in the room. We sensed that something broke that day. Our worship and community life has been so rich moving forward.
The road in front of us is a rigorous intentional working out of what we believe Jesus desires. We will leave this for another day. Suffice it to say that our fellowship is enjoying sweet communion, great worship, and a renewed sense of mission.