Confronting the cares of life: Are pastors lowering the bar of Scripture in order to draw a larger crowd?

The demands of culture are warring against the demands of Scripture—why are the cares of life winning?

And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold. Mark 4:18-20

imageAs a first time church planter and first time senior leader in Manitou Springs, Colorado I heard the Lord say something to me that was more significant than I realized at the time.

We had just opened the doors on a 700 square foot “church” building. It sure didn’t feel like a church, but it’s what we had to work with. We were excited about the privilege to be called of God to plant in such a dark and spiritually devastated region. We had visions of a raging, city wide revival and of the masses running into this small town at the base of Pikes Peak to experience the fire of Jesus.

We also expected a passionate, ready remnant to eagerly, excitedly lay everything down for the sake of the mission.

It was in this place of zeal that we birthed Revolution Church and started calling people to the battle. It was also in this place where God spoke to me:

“The cares of life will be the greatest enemy to a fulfilled mission.”

It was an unexpected, interesting word. So, as any good leader will do, I taught a series on the cares of life! My thought was that I’d nip it in the bud and we’d all (all 20 of us at the time) be alert to the pressures the enemy would try to hit us with.

Now in Michigan, 13 years later, I understand how laughable my humble efforts to eradicate the cares of life with a sermon series was!

Listen closely: The greatest enemy of revival and the mission of God in our culture is the cares of life. These cares rob us of critical energy, focus, discipline, resources and the single-minded determination necessary to fulfill our calling in the church.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36

The cares of life are not only threatening the strength of the church. They are threatening our very salvation!

A failure to take dominion over our calendars, stresses, demands and other external pressures is resulting in a playing, sleeping people. Check out the warning Jesus gave Peter in the garden:

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Matthew 26:39-41

What is the purpose of being alert, watching and praying? To avoid falling into temptation. Temptation to do what?

Check it out:

After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don't know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Matthew 26:73-74

Peter’s failure to watch and pray resulted in his temptation to deny Christ! This is where the American church is right now! A great falling away is in front of us! Many will be tempted and many will give in to that temptation—to actually deny Christ! Peter called down curses—and a sleeping church will end up doing the same thing. This is extremely serious.

This is a core reason the 24/7 house of prayer must be full! Every Christian and every Church must be devoted to a life and culture of extreme prayer, corporately, daily.

It doesn’t matter if we enjoy it or not. It doesn’t matter if that environment ministers to us or not. It doesn’t matter if people like us, love us or affirm us there. It doesn’t matter. If the call is to gather together and pray, which it is, the church must respond fully. Nobody’s calendar is too full or too inflexible to make room for this. If a major nuclear terrorist attack is successful on our soil, and the threat of additional attacks remains, it will be easy to reprioritize everything. Suddenly prayer meetings will become more important than work, rest or play.

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LOWERING THE BAR AND FILLING THE SEATS

The church of America has been waving the white flag for years.

The cares of life have won, or at least have the church pinned to the mat. We are celebrating a casual, two hours a week commitment. Prayer meetings are optional. Radical investment is unnecessary. Focus is on what God can do for us instead of what we are called to do for God. This is resulting in a false sense of strength and safety. The church is at great risk.

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

The every day church was launched in Acts. The once a week church is what we have today.

The cost of following Jesus is very, very high, yet today’s churches are not communicating that critical truth.

I was watching an interview of a member of an underground church in China. He explained that their focus on the church was extreme and necessary, so much so that every member gathered together in the church every morning at 4:30am before work. Mom, dads, kids, babies. Everybody.

Nothing is more important than the call to gather and pray—not even someone’s wedding day! This is a solemn assembly season, and everybody must be on board! The wheat and the tares are being revealed and the wheat will be identified by being gathered together in prayer.

Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Joel 2:15-16

I also asked a leader in Africa what the reason for the great move of God they were experiencing was. He simply told me that one hundred percent of the church walks to the church, many for hours, every Friday night to pray all night together.

Where is this type of devotion today? Where are the pastors who will raise the bar and call one hundred percent of his church to an extremely costly life? I’d encourage you to read my article in Charisma Magazine about why I believe Haiti is closer to revival than America: http://www.charismamag.com/spirit/revival/21400-6-reasons-haiti-may-be-closer-to-revival-than-the-u-s 

Today we are cancelling services so as not to conflict with ballet, little league, football games and movies. My God. We are sleep walking while doing nothing more than dreaming about revival. What happened to the Acts 2 protocol? When will we make the main thing the main thing? When will we gather together daily for prayer? When will we allow the pretenders to leave so the remnant can get the job done?

As a ministry leader I always have a choice in front of me. Enjoy a low bar culture with little cost required and many people in the seats (and many dollars in the bucket) or raise the bar to the height of Scripture and watch the majority flee, leaving only a remnant who is ready as soldiers to fulfill the mission. We choose to pray for laborers and to communicate the radical investment necessary if they wish to follow Jesus with us.

I told God one day many years ago that if I responded to his extreme call to facilitate a white hot environment of prayer in our church I would lose my reputation. People would sever relationship with me and hurl accusations my way.

God said, “Good. My Son was of no reputation, why should you be?”

I was rocked. It was that day, many years ago, that I stopped trying to look good and build a ministry and make people happy about running with me. Selfish ambition died that day. The moment we make decisions based mostly on attracting people, keeping people or raising money is the moment we have failed as leaders.

…but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:7-8

I’m not trying to build a ministry—I’m devoted to obeying God and delivering the messages he has given me. I know these messages will directly hit theologies and ideals that so many hold dear. That’s the point. I crave people’s freedom from those harmful ideals! I desire the truth of Jesus to invade everybody’s life!

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34

One reason I’m OK with this divisive strategy (that Jesus affirmed above) is that it clearly reveals who’s for and who’s opposed. I’d rather make the message clear and know who I’m running with than to tone it down and have those who are opposed to it in our camp. So, we love and serve everybody in the camp, but we can’t get sidetracked from our mission for the sake of their comfort.

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Trust me, the resulting remnant of burning ones will rejoice at such an atmosphere of clarity and fire! Those who are lukewarm today just may awaken and burn tomorrow—if we have the courage to preach the very difficult, costly truth!

WHAT IS THE COST OF GOING TO CHURCH?

Yeah, I know many will shout back, “We don’t go to church, we ARE the church!”

Nah. If you don’t go to church, you alone will never be the church. Church is corporate.

If we understand the meaning of the word ‘church’ we could never presume that we alone are the church. That idea is contrary to the origin of the word (ekklesia, meaning “assembly”). In fact, that word has secular origins. It literally means an assembly of people who have been called together by an authority in the city or region. Wow! That sheds a lot of light on what the church is.

The church is an assembly of people organized under defined governmental leadership. It’s a regular gathering of people who are deeply agreed and in pursuit of mission advance under God’s apostles, prophets and other governmental leaders.

This means that we don’t choose how and when to participate. We don’t use the church to serve us. We are called as holy soldiers to lock in and invest much in order to see the Kingdom of God advance.

The church isn’t there for us as much as we are there for the church. We are the laborers and we must ensure no cares of life, no worries, no conflicting activities and no other distractions keep us from showing up every time the doors are open.

The point where people disengage from a church is often the point they don’t feel the need or desire personally to continue. Focus is on self instead of the ekklesia.

Simply said, the cost of going to church, and being a part of the church is extreme.

 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Luke 14:25-30

What would happen if every church in a city shifted from one or two services a week to seven? What would happen if they were all prayer meetings? What if 100% of the church showed up daily? What if that price was paid?

Revival would come.

We need to pray in the garden and gather at the cross, at the most threatening, risky, costly place.

In closing, I want to share a description of a church that appears to be alive, but is dead. It has a low bar of commitment and it attracts many. The Triumphal Entry Church:

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THE TRUMPHAL ENTRY CHURCH

Now this is church! This is a church growth model that is very appealing. Simply announce that Jesus is in the house and watch the people flood in!

The celebration began and people were ready to receive their new king. However, the focus of the people at the Triumphal Entry was similar to the focuses in the other churches we are discussing. They wanted their lives to be better. Blessing and personal gain were their motives.

As previously stated, the word Hosanna literally means, “save us now.” The people wanted a king who would give them life in a kingdom that would be personally fulfilling. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that desire—unless that’s the extent of the desire.

Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:8-11

Hosanna! Most pastors and worship leaders would absolutely love such an environment! This was a blow-out celebration of Jesus! People were not only happy, they were jubilant! It was a revival atmosphere! If possible, Christian television would have covered this event. It was a historic moment!

Many local churches today have this as a key goal—to create a worship environment that’s electric and full of supposed “life.” Of course, the desire to have a true worship environment that affirms the abundant life that Jesus provides is appropriate. I love environments like this! I can imagine a Spirit-filled environment with people at the altar dancing, laughing and worshiping. I’ve seen that happen in churches I’ve led many times, and it’s great! Many churches are growing with this very positive, happy focus—but, the growth is, in my opinion, often (not always, of course) driven by people who will not stay the course if the cross is preached with boldness. They embrace anything that promises personal gain, but the call to daily death is resisted.

In my own ministry I had to make a hard decision—I could focus mostly on a satisfying, dynamic, happy culture that affirms the supernatural while minimizing the cross and the cost. Or, I could focus mostly on a culture that mostly affirms the cross and the call to die, repent and surrender, while expecting a supernatural outflow to come from it.

The first option would require compromise and bigger crowds. We chose the second option that has literally resulted in a diminished (pruned) crowd of like-minded firebrands who die daily and take up their crosses. We affirm that the cost of discipleship is so extreme, that few will respond. At Revival Church and the Detroit Prayer Furnace we are moving in unity with a small group of forerunners who are more interested in the cross and resurrection than in the Triumphal Entry. We chose dozens instead of hundreds, and it’s this group will burn in the night and change the world.

You will notice in this historic story of the Triumphal Entry that the people were willing to make a measured sacrifice, to pay a limited price, to experience what they hoped to. They gave their cloaks. They got to work and cut down palm branches. They were exuberant in their worship. However, we’ll soon see that their offerings had strings attached.

The word hosanna literally means “save us now.” The crowd was unified in their cry for their personal situation to improve, and Jesus was the man of the hour who they felt could pull that off.

Don’t forget the definition of religion: man’s attempt to use God to get what he wants. It was a spirit of religion that was disguising itself in a vibrant worship service.

See, Jesus was willing to save them now. However, his methods were nowhere near satisfactory for a crowd of people who were looking for safety, prosperity and life, not death. Jesus chose the cross as the means to answer their prayers. This crowd of energetic worshipers switched quickly to energetic crucifiers.

I’m all for wild, fervent worship. I am a proponent of continual joy. We should dance and smile a lot. However, we can’t dismiss the burden of the cross and the call to die.

Don’t presume a church is alive just because there’s an electric atmosphere. Human energy and desire can create quite an environment. Wait and see who remains when the call to surrender is high, and the alarms of intercession are sounded.

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