Read an Excerpt
The Intentional ChurchMoving from Church Success to Community Transformation
By Randy Pope
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2006 Randy Pope
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHAT JESUS WANTS FROM HIS CHURCH
Imagine you have just moved into a new community and are looking for a church home. You ask around, call around, and drive around; you let your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages-and the clicking through the Internet. You know that you will likely visit several churches before finding one that seems to fit. What single descriptive term would you choose to best describe your ideal church community?
Biblically and doctrinally sound? Vibrant and worshipful? Warm and caring? Growing and dynamic? Family oriented?
Or you may be a church leader, whether lay or professional, wrestling with a vision for your church. You've been to the conferences and read the literature. Purpose-driven ... seeker-sensitive ... postmodern ... emergent ... you've heard them all. And what you really long for is a church that matters, a church that influences and impacts her people and her community for the glory of God and His kingdom.
You long for a transformational church.
This is the church Jesus had in mind: a place where God's power is demonstrated with such force in its people that the community it serves is marked with an indelible spiritualimprint, transforming the lives of worshipers and those whom they contact.
"But Who Do You Say I Am?"
The transformational church owes its vision to the words of its leader more than two thousand years ago. Jesus had taken His small band of followers into the district known as Caesarea Philippi. Perhaps while looking at the various shrines built on the nearby hillside to honor man-made gods, Jesus began to talk about public opinion. He may have first pointed to some of those idols and asked, "What do people really think about these gods?" That question would have certainly set the stage for what followed.
We join the discussion in time to hear. Jesus ask the disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" (Matthew 16:13). Interestingly, every name the men threw out was someone returned from the dead: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, "'or one of the prophets" (v. 14).
But Jesus was unconcerned with the "buzz" going around about His origins. He had no intention of building His church and ultimately conquering the world for His kingdom's sake through ill-informed crowds. He would carry out His mission through men and women just like these twelve followers.
So Jesus served up the significant question: "But who do you say that I am?" (v. 15). Peter, the unofficial and self-appointed leader of the disciples, was quick, as usual, to respond: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v. 16). His impulsive exclamation could not have been more precise!
Jesus let Peter know bow blessed he was to be so accurate, making sure he also knew that only God the Father deserved the credit for giving him such insight and understanding (v. 17). Peter was probably nodding his head in agreement when Jesus said something that caught him completely off guard: "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower [or prevail against] it" (v. 18).
The Bride Hunkers Down
Every church today, from manicured megachurch campus to ramshackle urban storefront, from those bodies that affirm a classically Reformed confession to fellowships that espouse a freewheeling, "Spirit-led" approach-every church today can trace her roots back to Jesus' declaration. The confession itself, those making the confession, and the Christ of that confession are all elements of a church that will be so potent that the gates of hades shall not prevail against it!
And yet ... when we look at the church today, when we look around at our culture, we wonder. Who's "prevailing" against what? What evidence of transformation in the lives of our people and our communities do we see as a result of the church?
Recently the West paused to pay tribute to the tens of thousands of young men who swarmed ashore at Omaha and Utah and Juno beaches in Normandy, France, more than sixty years ago. From farm and city, from factory and office and classroom, these citizen-soldiers trained and drilled and were equipped with the discipline-and the weapons-to become the most formidable invading force the world had ever seen. It would not be an exaggeration to say that their mission was to save that world from the advancing darkness of Nazism. And to do that, the Allies launched an offensive. They did not hole up on England's south coast under enemy siege.
Neither does the church that Jesus described. He foresaw His church attacking and laying siege to Satan's stronghold, much as an enemy battering ram assaults the gates protecting a city. He promised that He and His church would eventually breach the gates of hell itself.
So why is it that our teaching about the reality of spiritual warfare too often pictures the church hunkered down in a defensive posture rather than an army in full counterattack mode? As long as we accept that image of embattlement, we allow Satan to keep the gates of hades wide open and in full operation in this world!
We don't have to go far to see the signs of those open gates-from same-sex marriages and anti-Christian bias in our schools and universities to the thousands of lives lost to abortion every year and the tolerance of divorce within our own fellowships. But the Enemy's power has not increased; Christ's church has simply failed to take her role seriously. Believers have left the field of battle in droves. Once we sang, with muscular confidence, "Am I a Soldier of the Cross?", "Lead On, O King Eternal," and "Onward Christian Soldiers." Now we shrink from "imposing our values" on others. Live and let live. We have become precautionary rather than prevailing.
No More Church in a Box In the last few years I have heard from a growing number of church leaders who are confused by and disillusioned with the proliferation of "church in a box" models that don't transfer to their particular setting and culture, no matter how hard they try. Let me both warn and encourage you: The transformational church is neither a package nor a model. Instead of being a mold, she often breaks molds. The transformational church vision has more to do with the workmanship Jesus Christ wants to accomplish with His church in a specific place-that is, your church in your community with your people. Every transformational church is an original.
Yes, there are common underlying patterns and consistent structural elements in a church that is transformational. I expect that the church you call your spiritual home already exhibits many of these elements. Even more important, however, are intention and direction-so that a leadership team continually asks: "Are we consciously seeking to be a transforming church?"
So how do you assess your church? Let's go back to Jesus and the Twelve at Caesarea Philippi. Here we find Christ's desires for a intentional, transformational church.
The Transforming Church: Living Out the Confession That Christ Is Lord
First, the transforming church is composed of people who live out the confession that Christ is Lord. It should come as no surprise that Jesus continued in the same context and setting of Peter's confession and His own self-revelation by introducing the requirements for being His disciple. In Matthew 16:24-25 (NASB 1977), we read: "Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.'"
The standards upon which Jesus decided to build His church have never had any room for selective obedience. But you wouldn't arrive at that conclusion looking at many Christians today. A professing follower of Christ is asked if he steals. "Absolutely not." When asked, "Why?" his response is, "I'm a Christian, and God says not to steal." He is then asked, "Have you ever taken someone's life?" Once again, for the same reason he says, "Never." But when asked, as a single thirty-year-old, if he observes sexual abstinence, his response is often a slow and sheepish, "Well, I guess not as much as I should."
Does God's Word equally forbid sexual promiscuity as it does stealing or murder? Absolutely, but today it seems to be in vogue among many Christians to observe a mutated form of Christianity whose central belief turns out to be what I call "selective obedience."
I fully realize that such specific challenges are often met with the concern that Christians must not be legalistic. We are certainly not to select a list of standards we can use to point out the flaws in other Christians' lives. My response to the concern over legalism is to point out that our alternative has almost eliminated our capacity to clearly represent Christ in the world. Whether we look at divorce statistics or other behavioral factors, those who claim to be Christians are looking more and more like the world instead of being salt or light. Yes, Christians fail. But I have far more hope for the effectiveness of a Christian who fails while genuinely trying to be whole-heartedly obedient to Christ than for the Christian who selects a few ways in which he or she will exhibit obedience (and often ends up failing at even those). Christianity with low or no expectations is the Christianity of the precautionary church.
Such thinking was certainly not part of our Lord's prescription for the believers who would constitute the transforming church. He fully and clearly expected His followers to be people who would deny themselves and take up their cross (die to their own desires and pleasures) and follow Him (His example and the teaching of His written Word; see Luke 9:23). That is why Jesus elsewhere (Luke 14:25-35) actually discouraged eager people from becoming disciples until they had seriously counted the cost that would be involved in following Him!
One of the central roles of the church is to be a "safe home" (the other being an effective mission) where the people of God are equipped with an understanding of God's design and plans for our lives. It is in this safe home environment of the church that our people are provided with the following:
Vital worship that demonstrates the presence and power of God True fellowship founded in significant and meaningful relationships Biblical instruction and discipleship training grounded in biblical theology Pastoral care and shepherding directed toward the needs of the whole person Equipping and empowering to do the work of ministry
So the first characteristic of the transformational church is that it is composed of people who are equipped in a safe home to faithfully live out their confession that Christ is Lord, particularly in the areas of obedience that may be under assault at any moment in history. To this first descriptive statement we must add further clarifying statements.
The Transforming Church: Living Out the Confession Within the Shadows of Hades
Second, the transforming church is composed of people who live out their confession within the shadows of the gates of hades. Jesus lived among people chaffing under Roman occupation. Jesus continually pointed out that His purposes, though falling into the category of warfare, bad little or nothing to do with the Roman powers. People expected the Messiah to overthrow the current earthly enemy; Jesus intended to defeat their spiritual foe. The Jews wanted to prevail against Rome; Jesus wanted His followers to prevail against the gates of hades.
In ancient Eastern cultures, the meeting place for the community's authority or ruling body was often at the front gates of the city. Long before city halls, there were city gates. These gates were much more than passages. They represented access, safety, defense, and vulnerability. A fortified city was only as strong as its gates. The term hades means literally "not to see." It refers to the unseen, or spiritual world. When Jesus used the phrase "gates of Hades" in Matthew 16:18, He was describing the spiritual stronghold from which Satan and his legions storm out into the world with the assignment and intention of deceiving the lost, destroying the witness of the church, and controlling society.
How the Church Sees Herself Affects How She Acts in the World
Notice, however, the picture Jesus actually presented in His statement. The gates are a fixed place. They withstand or splinter under the pounding of the battering ram. Jesus was describing a city under assault. He foresaw His church attacking and laying siege to Satan's stronghold. He promised that He and His church would eventually breach the gates of hades. So why is it that our teaching about the reality of spiritual warfare too often pictures the church under siege rather than the church arrayed and battering down the defenses of Satan? Why do we see ourselves in a defensive posture, holding out under attack rather than an army in full counterattack mode?
As long as we accept that precarious, hunkered-down-behind-the-walls description of the church, we allow Satan to keep the gates of hades wide open and in full operation in this world!
Mental imagery makes a difference. How the church sees herself affects how she acts in the world. Perhaps recent events in our country will make military object lessons acceptable once again. They are certainly an integral part of the biblical teaching. My intention in using militaristic language has nothing to do with my desire to glorify the dangers and difficulties of the Christian life and everything to do with my desire to honor and clarify what Jesus told His disciples about His church and her opposition in the world. The same teacher who promised His followers that they would become fishers of men also promised His followers that they would prevail against the gates of hades.
These open gates of hades are blatantly evident within the structures of today's society. It takes only a quick glimpse into the school systems of today to see the evidence of the control and influence of the gates of hades.
Several years ago, a high school student who grew up in our church was suspended from school for merely handing a friend a written announcement of an evening Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting to be held that night at his home. He passed the note between classes, in a hallway. A watching hall monitor confiscated the note and sent the student to the principal's office. There he received the sentence for his crime-suspension from school.
Without question, the gates of hades are evident today in not only our schools but also in our social clubs, neighborhood gatherings, medical societies, libraries, judicial court systems, and political parties. The gates of hades are regretfully found even amid many modern churches. Satan's power has not increased; Christ's church has simply failed in large numbers to take her role seriously. Believers have left the field of battle in droves. Our view of ourselves as soldiers has become passe or ignored. I wouldn't say the precautionary, hesitant church is losing; I would say this kind of church isn't even seriously trying!
In fact, the gates of hades are prevailing almost unchallenged in the lost world. They must be confronted by believers who will live out their confession within the shadows, laying siege to the gates. The precautionary church is certainly no threat to the unseen authorities; in fact, she has become an aid and ally to them by her silence and lethargy. The hesitant church has a victim mentality, unable or unwilling to take up the offensive. The world is waiting, and the gates of hades are daring the church to be the church!
Excerpted from The Intentional Church by Randy Pope Copyright © 2006 by Randy Pope. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.