Gary Mayes, the director of ChurchNEXT, shared a challenge with our staff at last summer’s conference about how we relate to the church. For those with apostolic and prophetic gifts, he said, there is often a heavy burden or even an angst caused by the dissonance between the Church that is and the Church that could be. In order to be people that bless the Bride of Christ, we need to surrender this angst, forgive, and watch what our messages about the Church.
You can watch his presentation here, or read through some of the big ideas below.
One of the riskiest, most audacious, boldest works of Jesus was this decision: to reach the world by incarnating himself through us, his people—the body of Christ. We’re flawed, messy, slow to catch on, and easily distracted. But despite it all he miraculously works to reveal himself through people like us, through his church. And in so doing he invites us into the greatest adventure, the greatest purpose, the greatest life on earth.
And yet, for those who have been given apostolic and prophetic gifts, there comes a heavy burden, an angst that’s caused by the dissonance between what is and what could be.
This burden comes from a number of places: It comes from our sodalic (mission-oriented) nature, that makes us easily frustrated by modalic (local) expressions of church that don’t seem to have any sodalic urgency. I think we feel a weight of sadness when we see ministry that has very little Kingdom impact. It’s tangible, and it’s heart-breaking. And I think many of us, if we’re honest, have been hurt by or gravely disappointed by churches we’ve been involved in and by ministry leaders from time to time.
The thing is that God uses that pain to shape our passion. And in so doing, that pain and that passion, that burden, is an invitation by the Spirit to share the burden that Jesus himself carries.
When Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem, he wept over it, and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace….” (Luke 19:42). This is the weight, the burden of God’s prophetic agenda that he has shared with us—as he has with leaders throughout history.
And yet if we’re going to become a people who learn what it means to honor the Bride of Christ, we’re going to have to learn how to live with and even surrender our angst. Because if we don’t, we become a curse to the very thing we want to bless.
About 20 years ago I was in the little town of York, Nebraska. I was having dinner with a denominational leader I had gotten to know. He was nearing retirement and I was early in my days with CRM (Novo). I was really impressed with this guy, and so I said, “Do you have any advice for me?”
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “Guard yourself from becoming a cynic.” He went on, “As you work with churches and their leaders it will break your heart. You will wade through all kinds of junk. Over time it’s easy to get cynical, cranky, impatient, and angry, and when that happens you begin to hurt the Bride that you’re called to serve. So let Jesus break your heart over and over, but keep it tender. And when you can’t do that you need to get out.”
Brennan Manning gave us language that’s helpful. He said this: “The Christian prophet is someone who has a lover’s quarrel with the church. Our problem, though, is that we have too many critics who don’t love, and too many lovers who won’t critique.”
This call to honor the bride of Christ invites us back to the life of a lover: to love the people Jesus loves and to love the efforts that bear his name, in all their forms.
Let me offer a few practical thoughts of how to do this.
1. We can discipline our language.
First, there are things that we can stop doing. We can stop painting the whole church with one broad brush. To be really specific, we can take this statement out of our vocabulary: “The problem with the church is…,” where we extrapolate one specific experience and then paint the whole church with that brush. We need to stop fixating on what’s broken in an attempt to motivate people to change. It doesn’t work and it probably becomes a curse over them. So let’s discipline our language and hold back those generalizations.
2. We can shift the conversation.
We can be a voice of hope. When somebody says something like this: “I’m so tired of the way the church (or my church)…,” we can respond not in kind. We can say instead, “I understand that… But you know what I dream of?” And call out what could be. “You know what I’m giving my life for?” Paint a new picture for them. Or, “I know that like you others have been really frustrated, but what if we could do something about it together?”
3. We can become people who forgive and people who bless.
Most of us have had moments when a pastor or local ministry leader hurt us; they disappointed us in a very personal way. They betrayed our trust. It’s easy to hold onto that and not go the distance to fully forgive. Many of us need to do more of that work of forgiveness. And I wonder if in prayer we actually ought to thank the Lord for them, for giving us a taste—in a small way—of the sufferings of Jesus.
We need to bless the church and its people.
A Prayer of Blessing
You make known to us the path of life; You fill us with joy in your presence and with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
We stand in unity with our brothers and sisters—your body, the church around the world.
Right now, we cry out for the joy of your presence and fresh anointing from heaven over them (Psalm 16:11).
We bless the hard work, faithfulness, and sacrifice of those men and women who serve in ministry leadership.
We honor them on earth and in heaven for all they do to make your name known.
Fill them today with new depths of courage and vision and Kingdom perspective.
We bless that amazing generation of older saints who have given and prayed and waited and hungered for fresh movements of God to break out and heal the land in their lifetime.
We beg you, O King, grant their request and flood the land with your Spirit.
We bless the emerging generations of leaders in whom you have unleashed passion and holy impatience for the presence of Jesus.
Surround them with generous, godly women and men who will give themselves and their experience away with abandon.
We bless those who have been hurt by churches and those whose bones are drying up even as they seek to serve you and your Church.
Over them today we extend the healing and renewing work of your presence, the life-giving power of your Spirit.
On behalf of cities, nations, and billions of people who need to know the redemptive work of Jesus, we stand in the posture of Ezekiel and cry for an outpouring of resurrection life over your church.
“Come Spirit from the four winds and breathe into these, that they may live” (Ezekiel 37:9).
“Lord, we have heard of your fame; We stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day. In our time make them known” (Habakkuk 3:2).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Mayes joined Novo in 1997 after 20 years of pastoral ministry, in order to live out his calling to equip leaders to build the church to reach the world of tomorrow. He’s the executive director of ChurchNEXT, giving leadership to 150 staff who serve on 17 teams worldwide. Gary and his wife Margaret live in the Phoenix area near their two adult children and two grandsons.