LIE # 8 - "PROGRAMS, PROGRAMS..."
-by Andrew Strom.
The fact that today's church revolves largely around MAN and not around God is obvious to many who observe how she functions from day to day. The sad fact is, when the Holy Spirit is not moving in any great way, man is always ready and willing to step in and "help God out" by taking over the running of the church. And humans are always full of "great ideas" for expanding the work as well.
Much of this activity can be excused as being "good" activity, of course. We can find every reason in the world why we should be adding new programs, activities and meetings - and keeping the Christians busy, busy, busy with church things.
But the sad fact is, it is often the truly essential things that get neglected - like prayer meetings - where we might actually get in touch with GOD instead of just running around "DOING, DOING, DOING." But strangely, getting in touch with God does not seem to be very high on the agenda today. Instead it often seems to be "building up OUR church" - and all the activities related to that. Man's ideas rule and God's voice is crowded out by all the busy-ness and self-promotion.
When I was compiling all the emails from "Out-of-church" Christians last year for my book on that subject, I noticed that one of the biggest reasons that these people gave for leaving the churches was this glut of 'activity' and the LACK OF GOD. They simply could not live with this overwhelming "program-mentality" in the church. -It simply reeked of MAN.
It is also significant that many of these "Out-of-church" types had actually been leaders of some kind in the church. Often they had been very active for years and years. They had seen the whole thing from the inside and they wanted out. Enough of MAN. They wanted more of GOD. So what was the Early Church like in this regard? What kind of programs and activities did they become involved with?
Well, the first thing we need to realize about the Early Church is that this was a people truly in love with God. The Holy Spirit was in charge of the church - not man. (-Which is not to say that there weren't human leaders. There were men of great spiritual authority, anointed of God to lead the church. -But they were constantly sensitive to the Holy Spirit in every decision they made). This was a GOD-LED church, not a man-led one. It was a church living in the midst of a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. What a difference that makes!
Now, apart from gathering together in the open-air and from house to house, we find that the only real "program" the Jerusalem church seemed to have was one to feed the poor. They appointed seven 'deacons' (-the word literally means "servant") who were "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" - and they put them in charge of feeding and clothing the widows and orphans in a regular and systemized way. -That was about it. This was their one real 'program'.
Now, I am not saying here that this is the only legitimate kind of program we can set up. But the point is, anything we decide to do must be DIRECTED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT - not yet another of man's "bright ideas". Also, I believe that, like 'Acts', most programs today should be aimed at reaching out to the poor and needy. (Widows, prisoners, shut-ins, etc). -This is clearly uppermost on God's heart. -But even then, we need to be sensitive to God's leading.
Some people have gone right over to the other extreme in this whole thing. They say that anything "organized" at all is completely wrong. -That God should be literally doing everything Himself, and man just 'waiting' on Him to do it. Obviously, I cannot go along with this. It does not line up with the Book of Acts at all. God has always used HUMAN BEINGS to preach, teach, heal the sick, hold gatherings and prayer meetings, minister to the poor, etc. We see this in Acts. If it were ANGELS who were meant to be doing it, then they would. But God has given all of these tasks to us humans! And most of these things require at least some 'organizing'.
It is very clear that in Acts they did not wait for some "revelation from God" to tell them to meet together each day. They simply loved God and loved one another - so they gathered together in their homes every day - probably at a specific time. And it is obvious that there would probably have been a 'set time' when the apostles ministered in the open-air at Solomon's Porch each day as well. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that they would wait for some kind of 'angelic visitation' or a lightning-bolt from heaven before gathering together. -It was simply the natural thing to do. And praying together and feeding the widows were natural things to do, as well. -As I said, all of this involved some degree of "organization". (ie. Arranging times and meeting places, etc).
Many people take the concept of "resting in the Lord" too far. Are you someone who has truly learnt to REST in Him? Great! But does that now mean you do nothing at all? Of course not! Some people have grown spiritually lazy and are stuck in a rut - simply because they misunderstand "resting in the Lord". Go and do all that God is telling you to do - but this time in the Spirit and not with fleshly striving like you used to! -That is what 'resting' enables you to do. You can actually be very busy, as Jesus often was, yet still be "resting in the Lord".
The fear of 'organizing' or "leading" has actually been known to hinder or even destroy a number of Revivals in history. The Welsh Revival died after little more than ONE YEAR, when Evan Roberts (the man that God anointed and raised up to lead the Revival) actually HID HIMSELF AWAY because he was afraid to be the leader any longer (he was convinced it would mean stealing glory from God). But really this was DISOBEDIENCE. -Because God had raised him up to lead and he had a job to do. -The most "humble" thing that we can do is simply WHATEVER God is telling us to do. If we are called to lead then it is a disaster if we shrink back from it. Times of Revival are always times when leadership is at a premium and God searches the earth for those who are willing to pay the price and respond to His call.
A similar attitude to Evan Roberts prevailed in the Azusa Street meetings - where the leaders would hide themselves in prayer and allow ANYBODY to speak from the platform. Not just Christians but all kinds of charlatans and demonized characters sometimes were able to get to speak, and this caused endless problems. A little authority sometimes goes a long way - and God raises up leaders for a REASON. There can be little doubt that the Azusa Revival faded away before it's time - largely through failings like these.
It is a very delicate balance that leaders in Revivals face - how to keep everything on the rails without being too heavy-handed. -How to give the Holy Spirit free reign - but not allow things to become so "loose" that the devil is able to wreak havoc as well. -A difficult balancing act that requires great sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and a lot of wisdom. Many have tried and failed down the ages. But it is not impossible.
I think it is a very important fact that two of the most long-lived Revival movements in history were also the MOST ORGANIZED. They definitely involved powerful 'OUTPOURINGS' of the Holy Spirit, and yet there was a well-organized 'New Wineskin' that was formed to give the whole thing structure and long life. The moves of God that I am talking about here were the Wesleyan Revival (ie. the Great Awakening in Britain) and the early Salvation Army. Both of these movements remained pretty much in a 'Revival' state for about 40 years apiece. -Much longer than most Revivals by far.
What was the major key to this success? -I believe it was the fact that both of these movements left behind the "old wineskin" and formed a totally new one - far closer to the Book of Acts. They did not try and cram the new move into the existing churches, but took the bold (and controversial) step of forming a truly NEW wineskin. -They left the old one behind.
Interestingly, both of these movements were "OUTDOORS"-based. -They held great gatherings in the open air - out where the people were. They also had smaller meetings just for the converts. And they raised up "lay-preachers" (-to the churches' great horror). They prayed without ceasing and preached fiery Revival sermons on repentance and the new birth. (-The early Salvation Army modeled a lot of it's preaching on Finney). These were some of the most glorious and long-lasting Revival movements in history. And not forgetting - they were also the MOST ORGANIZED.
So let us not fear leadership and organization, my friends! But let it always be by the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is the programs and "good ideas" of men that we need to beware of. Somewhere there is a healthy balance in all of this. But I believe the only real balance can come when we are truly in a 'Revival' state. Then we will see the Holy Spirit truly take charge!
God bless you all.