Would I minister anywhere God led, regardless of financial benefit?
That was the question I had to answer when responding to the call to ministry over 24 years ago. If I ever allowed the thought that I was God’s “special chosen one” to enter my mind, I would be disqualified on the spot. My service must be just that—service. That’s what ministry is. It is a commitment to serve with no thought of personal gain. My passion must be for the transformed lives that are hanging in the balance! They are my motivation!
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment… Romans 12:3
The thought of analyzing just how financially beneficial a particular ministry opportunity might be is actually quite sobering for me—the fear of the Lord rests on me quite heavily. The idea that I may be tempted to choose one assignment over another based on money is enough to drive me to my knees in preemptive repentance, if there is such a thing! I can’t allow the enemy’s offer of material gain to weigh on me whatsoever.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Matthew 4:8-10
Snake oil salesman showed up in America’s historic towns on wagons filled with tonics and elixirs. Their motivation was not making sick people well. It was actually the exact same motivation the money changes in the temple had:
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Matthew 21:12-13
The money changers’ sin was simple—they attempted to use God’s temple for personal gain. They were focused on making a profit. This resulted in one of Jesus’ most violent reactions, and I believe a similar reaction is coming to a corrupt ministry scheme today. Notice how Jesus immediately restored the temple to it’s proper function in the very next verse:
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. Matthew 21:14
Snake oil ministers aren’t looking to heal the sick or save the lost as much as they are attempting to build their own ministries. For some it’s clear and intentional deception. For others it’s simple compromise that results in a focus on prosperity.
Brian Ming included the following lyric in one of his worship songs:
God forgive us for building kingdoms of man on doctrines of demons in your name.
That’s snake oil ministry.
Over the last few decades I’ve traveled to regions to launch local ministries and also as an itinerant minister, and the principle remains the same—go where God sends you. The decision on where to go is much easier when you eliminate irrelevant arguments against the move. Listen to God’s voice and respond immediately. Don’t think about money, don’t take the prosperous road. Just go.
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:6-10
If God tells you to go somewhere that will cost you instead of benefit you, will you go?
A year and a half ago I had scheduled a very important ministry trip. Their ministry was struggling and my assignment was to show up, rally support and encourage people to financially sow into their mission. I knew going in that I wouldn’t be receiving a cent, and I was thrilled to serve with that in mind. I actually rented a van and drove 24 hours with my team to this critical assignment. The mission was mine and God made that clear.
Just after I made the commitment, I received, entirely out of the blue, a last minute invitation to replace another speaker (who had to cancel) at a large conference in an influential, sizable church in the UK. All expenses would be paid and I’m sure the honorarium would have been wonderful. That surely would have been a fun and powerful trip! I immediately replied with my regrets, thanking them for the offer. I had to decline.
The reason I share that story isn’t to trumpet my own valiant decision. I simply want to communicate just how easy that decision was. When God speaks, every other voice and every other invitation loses significance. If God is sending you somewhere as an itinerant minister, NEVER consider the financial reward, the accommodations, the size of the platform or other benefits. That is a prostitution of your service. We are called to lay down our lives, expecting nothing in return.
Might I suggest to other itinerant ministers, if you have lost the passion for investing into people and are thinking more about mesmerizing and entertaining the crowds, you should probably step away for a season. To grab the mic, shout your lungs out and then disappear into the green room just won’t cut it anymore. God won’t allow snake oil to replace the oil of the Holy Spirit.
When I travel it’s extremely important that I capture the vision that God has for that region. If I don’t own that vision, why would I even be called on to serve there? I have my strategic intercession team spend hours on conference calls where they pray together and receive prophetic direction from the Lord. They then forward that on to me just before I head out. They then shift to covering me in intercession as I travel and minister. They also own the vision, even they they aren’t on the trip with me. My team is amazing, and I believe a model for itinerant intercession. Their investment matches my own and I would suggest we need to even go further. The places I go burn on my heart before and after I leave.
If I lose that passion, it will be time for me to step away.
A pastor recently shared with me the experience his church had with a rather well known itinerant minister. The guest preached, received a large offering and moved on. There was no relational investment into the people. The report from the body was that they just sowed significant finances into someone who just preached at them for an hour. That’s it. That minister probably doesn’t realize it, but he apparently won’t be returning.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Matthew 10:5-14
I received an invitation to minister at a church in Houston recently. I listened to one of their young ministers teaching with unbridled passion out of my book 20 Elements of Revival. He was owning that message maybe even more than I was! I was provoked! Soon after, the pastor wanted to let me know something that he felt would cause me to cancel. They only had four members.
All I could think about was that powerful message by that young man. The numbers didn’t matter at all! He told me that they were yearning for some consulting and investment into their ministry. I told him that all he had to do was get me there, keep me there, feed me there and get me home. If they wanted to take an offering for me, that would be nice. My heart was to eliminate as many hurdles to a fulfilled assignment as possible.
I didn’t care if I slept on the floor, ate beans or had a small offering—I was craving to serve and pray with them! I was passionate for revival in a city that was not my own!
Again, I knew that if I allowed finances to make an entrance into my decision making process, I’d risk joining the ranks of the snake oil salesmen. I must believe that God is my provider, not the people I’m serving.
Might I suggest to all of you itinerant ministers a simple protocol:
- Communicate what your travel expenses are, and request that they are covered.
- Request a love offering of any size be received for you.
- Go at your own expense if God calls you to.
- Be willing to sleep on the floor, eat little and minister to any sized crowd without a minimum required honorarium.
If you’d like to take a look at my personal booking form, which includes a lot of specific communication, you can do so here: www.johnburton.net/booking.
LET’S TAKE A LOOK FROM THE OTHER SIDE
If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 1 Corinthians 9:11
In addition to spending a lot time traveling as an itinerant minister, I have also led local ministries for years. I know what the other side of the coin looks like.
I’m not saying I have mastered hosting out of town guest ministers—others have hosted me more elegantly than I have done so myself—but I have learned to value the importance of honoring them as well as I can.
As Paul stated in 1 Corinthians, material blessing is expected. We should do all we can to ensure guest ministers are leaving town honored and financially prosperous. The responsibility to provide financial blessing is to be handled by the host church, not by the itinerant minister. Paul knew this as well:
If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these rights… 1 Corinthians 9:12-15
We need to understand that a typical itinerant minister has four paydays per month, and they always fall on a weekend. What I mean is, if they are with you on a single Sunday morning, they have surrendered one fourth of their workable days to you. This means that they need one fourth of their monthly expenses to be covered by you. Paul also understood this.
On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come… 1 Corinthians 16:2-3
Itinerant ministers aren’t being paid for only one hour of preaching. They have given more than that. They have invested much by leaving their family, expending energy as they travel, paying for their food on the road, sleeping in unfamiliar beds and, possibly most importantly, stepping out in faith believing that God would provide their every need.
If their monthly family budget (you know, money to pay for their teenage monsters to devour entire sides of beef, braces for crooked teeth, Christmas presents, car payments, vacations, toilet paper, shoes, etc.) is $6000 a month, that means anything less than $1500 puts them in a compromised position. It’s usually their spouse who is handling the bills and taking care of precious and wild kids who gets hit the most when the finances aren’t coming in. Being an itinerant minister is an extremely challenging life and I want to do my best to relieve the financial pressure from them and their family.
If we have someone come in, and we aren’t confident a sufficient offering will come in, we will communicate very clearly before they commit to the trip that the finances may not be what is necessary for them to live on. I don’t want them to leave with a sad surprise.
I have found that people love to give, especially when I tell them 100% of the offering will be going to the guest speaker (after expenses are covered). If one million dollars comes into the offering, the church receives nothing and the guest is now a millionaire! I believe this approach deals with any scrutiny that may be in people’s minds when giving. They love the fact that they are able to have 100% of their gift go directly to the guest!
I also want to honor the guest’s time and other needs as they travel. If they are most comfortable being left alone most of the time, I will set them up in a comfortable place and leave them be. I find that most itinerant ministers prefer a lot of down time to re-energize and spend time with the Lord. Others may want to hang out for each meal and after the service. If that’s the case, I’ll be at their beck and call!
A gift basket is a great way to bless someone who has been traveling all day and, instead of heading out to eat after they get off the airplane, they can go to their room, jump in a cool, clean bed and chomp down on bananas, candy and nuts!
The point of this entire article is that we are to serve, to minister.
If we honor other well, and refuse to use them or withhold from them, the Kingdom of God will truly advance with great integrity and power.
We are going to need the circuit riders to hit the road again, completely unhindered.
For the circuit rider, they must head out without any excuse or hindrance.
For the host ministry, they must honor the man or woman of God with excellence.
Does the American church have the desperation and the guts to return prayer to first place?
TONIGHT at 6pm! Julia Palermo is going to bring a potent message that will awaken your spirit! You MUST watch a short video of her preaching to a crowd of people—many of which were on drugs and radically demonized. The call is for the firebrands—the generation of youth to lead the prayer movement in Detroit and our nation! Watch here: http://youtu.be/EZ9CClOVNJE
Revival Church meets at CENTRAL CHURCH, 1529 E. 12 Mile Rd, Madison Heights, MI 48071.
RETURNING PRAYER TO FIRST PLACE
When our worship leader recently moved on, I made a bold decision. Fiery intercession is every Christian’s most foundational calling, and in place of a typical musical worship environment, the atmosphere is now filled with passionate prayer, decrees and expressions of worship and surrender.
I’ve often said one reason the prayer rooms are empty is because prayer has been relegated to a secondary activity in the church. It’s usually an afterthought. It’s certainly not primary in our nation.
When fervent prayer is returned to first place, everybody in the church will be in the prayer meeting—because the prayer meeting will be THE meeting.
My wife asked me a question the other day that caused me to come alive:
We have Prep Room, which is pre-service prayer, from 5:15pm-6pm. We then roll right into an hour of corporate intercession as light instrumental music is played behind us.
Amy asked, “So, just what is the difference between Prep Room and the first hour of the service?”
Nothing! Nothing at all! I love it! Finally, prayer is the main thing in the church!
I often hear that prayer like this is not for the new Christian—they will feel out of place. That is a doctrine of demons that must be rebuked! The prayer room must be the first stop for every new Christian! It’s absolutely nonsensical to say that ministering to God is reserved for those who have been a Christian for a while! As a very young Christian, I was awakened in the prayer room. Prayer is not complicated, only costly. It is for everybody.
Will musical worship return? Yes, but only as it’s birthed out of burning, groaning intercession. There will be a tremble on the worshippers. Worship will exist in the realm of the Spirit and we will all sing from a place of brokenness, encounter and surrender.
John 4:23-24 (ESV) 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Everything that takes precedence over prayer for the nations is about to be overturned in the church.
This shift in the church will be extremely offensive to those who don’t value connecting with God in prayer. Today’s system affirms a casual connection. In fact, church systems and programs are set up to remove responsibility from the people—to make it easy and costless for them to participate. This is our current American church culture, and it will soon be overturned.
I so often hear angry Christians mention how there should be no leader/laity division—yet, when the call to the body is sounded to serve like a leader, to pray like a priest, to do the work of intercession, to advance with passion and to be in position as a ready soldier, there is a spirit of resistance that often rises up.
I’m all for laity to serve as leaders—but it’s rare to find those who will actually do it. The cost is too high and the return on investment seems to be so low. (We forget that the return on our investment isn’t personal blessing but rather blessing for the nations—and the fruit of our prayer may not be fully realized by them for decades.)
The money changer mindset results in us focusing on self—on using church for personal gain, on expecting ourselves to be served or entertained or blessed instead of surrendering all and praying for the nations.
I’d encourage you to read my article titled God 2.0 where I address the danger of being a Money Changers Church here: GOD 2.0.
Today, worship teams lead while the body engages at the level they prefer. This is about to change—and those who want to be served rather than serve are at risk of great offense. This reformation in the church will change our expectations radically. The body won’t simply sit and soak as others sing over them. We will all do the work of intercession in a corporate setting. It’s not about receiving from God, it’s about ministering to him. This is pure worship.
This shift in the church will result in a violent assault by those who have their pet church focuses, relationships, levels of commitment and expectations threatened. Instead of simply showing up for a Sunday service and enjoying good worship and positive teaching, the expectation is now for everybody to go hard in fervent, violent prayer for the billions of people in the nations of the Earth who are nearing an eternity in Hell. Check out what happened to Jesus when he set the church in order:
Mark 11:15-18 (ESV) 15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.
They wanted to destroy him. Their personal blessing was threatened.
If the scriptural call is to pray without ceasing, is it not strange that people so often run when the prayer meeting is called?
The thought of having a two-hour prayer meeting as the primary Sunday service shouldn’t be a strange idea at all if we are already praying the remaining 166 hours throughout the week. It’s simply an glorious corporate expression of what we should already be doing individually. Every one of us should walk into the church building burning, trembling, praying in tongues and coming out of perpetual encounters with God.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV) 17 pray without ceasing…
I have extreme patience for those who are struggling to connect with God as they devote themselves to finding him. (Ask, seek, knock)
But, let me be clear—those who complain that they don’t encounter God, they don’t feel God’s love, yet do not devote themselves to wrestling with God in prayer until they break through are without excuse.
No amount of teaching, anointed worship music, positive thoughts or counsel from others will result in a life of encounter with Jesus. Only prayer based on the truth of the Word of God will do that. Others can help you learn about God, but you have to meet him on your own. And, meeting him doesn’t always feel sweet and happy. It will actually burn our flesh and crush every part of us.
Julia Palermo: “People want loving God to be an emotional experience, but loving God has a very practical expression. Obedience.”
John 14:21-22 (ESV) 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”
Intercession isn’t about emotionally enjoying God, though that can certainly happen at times. It’s about work. It’s about carrying the burden of God’s heart. This is what must lead our church services and our entire lives again.
Mike Bickle: The revelation of the Bridegroom filled with tenderness leads some to laziness because they have not seen the revelation of His heart of abandonment or His call for us to be abandoned to Him.
A CORPORATE REBUKE FUELED BY LOVE
God is so zealous about his Bride, his church, that a love-fueled rebuke is coming—and it will hit most every one of us.
The money changers spirit has so infiltrated the church that judgment is necessary just to save God’s precious Bride.
A critical correction is coming to those use the church as their personal blessing machine. In Revelation we see God lovingly rebuke the churches. It’s time for an end-time judgment to hit our churches. Judgment isn’t a bad God doing bad things to bad people. Judgment is an act of extreme, passionate love. Judgment draws the remnant to God, and exposes the pretenders as they run from God. It’s a wheat and tares reality.
Connecting in the church because of good friendships, good teaching, good worship, good programs, good children’s ministry, good environment—and disconnecting when any of that doesn’t meet our standards—is coming to an end.
The Upper Room mandate is upon us—we gather and pray. If prayer is there, so are we—every time the doors are open.
THE LOOK OF THE COMING CHURCH
Again, the 2 Chronicles 7 pavement people are the model of the remnant church. Acts 2 is a New Testament example of it—the whole house will be filled with the fire of God as every single person prays in the Spirit.
Acts 2:2-3 (ESV) 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
This is some of what we can look forward to—and what we can start working towards right now. God is building his church through his apostolic and prophetic remnant and it will be a white hot center of intercession for the nations.
- We will walk into the meeting praying in the spirit, trembling, in the fear of the Lord, often coming out of dreams of God.
- There is no concern for comfort, who likes us or who doesn’t like us.
- Our position in the church won’t matter—we will know our position is on our face in fervent prayer.
- The room may simply be a giant warehouse with a cement floor—it won’t matter. We’ll bring a blanket, throw it down and prepare to encounter God with other desperate people.
- When we enter the room, we hit our faces without prompting, music or no music, and start praying passionately in the spirit for the nations and the burdens on God’s heart.
- Kids may be right next to us, or in a similar environment in a classroom elsewhere. Either option will work just fine.
- An hour or two later, teaching will boldly call us to action as the Word lands on our burning hearts.
- Teaching will be mostly prophetic/apostolic. Prophetic alarms and decrees will be constant and extremely anointed.
- We will all respond to the instruction corporately and prepare to fulfill our assignments.
- We will return to the corporate gathering for intercession and apostolic equipping several times a week instead of waiting for the next Sunday.
- Between meetings our personal lives will be filled with prayer, reading the Bible, listening to sermons and fulfilling our ministries. We will have plenty of time to do that as TV, movies, entertainment and other cultural norms are put under submission.
Are you part of the remnant church? Are you ready to join a company of pavement people? Will you jump ship when the old wineskin is removed, or will you embrace the fresh fire of God in our nation? Are you burning hot for God? Or, are you lukewarm?
These are critical questions we all must answer. Do we attend church because of what we get out of it? Because people like us? Because we enjoy it? Or, do we understand our call to die, to surrender, to pray and to burn night and day?
See you tonight.
Unsatisfied with God? Upgrade to God 2.0!
The last part of this article will deal with different types of churches that millions of Americans are a part of—that are at significant risk. I challenge you to read this article in its entirety and prayerfully consider, in humility, whether you may have fallen into one of these at risk groups. I must also wrestle with this myself.
I’m disturbed. That’s not news, really, as I was created to carry the burden of God for the bride—his church. This results in a life of both continual joy and non-stop grieving—and never-ending bold calls of consecration.
The dissatisfaction with God in our nation has resulted in an attempted upgrade—a 2.0 version of God that meets our demands and fits the picture for the perfect leader. Always happy. Always nice to us. Always working to fulfill our desires. Not inconvenient. His personality matches what we expect in a God.
Exodus 32:7-8 (ESV) 7 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”
The previous verse reveals the motive of the people:
Exodus 32:6 (ESV) 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
The Hebrews were not satisfied with the current version of God, so their 2.0 upgrade was in the form of a golden calf—a god of their own design.
After all, God’s purpose is to perform as we expect him to, right? He is mostly interested in our desires to eat, drink and play, isn’t he?
My God, how far has the church fallen?
Entire movements in our nation have upgraded God to their 2.0 version, and have successfully seduced millions of Christians to abandon the old, outdated, ancient Jesus. The arguments of the emergents have infiltrated the main line church in America.
Before I continue, I have to make an important point. When bold truth is revealed that threatens the status quo of the church, it’s common for those who are invested in that system to accuse the messenger of being unloving or unconcerned for the bride of Christ.
How opposite the reality truly is!
It’s deep, troubling love that causes those who are broken over the compromised bride to sound alarms and shine lights to shake and wake a church that’s in extreme risk of living forever without the Bridegroom!
We must be concerned not for the personal desires and perspectives of those who presume to identify with the bride, but for God himself and his desire for those who are lukewarm or deceived to pursue him with passion!
Josh MacDonald from The International House of Prayer said on a trip to Detroit recently, “This might be shocking to you but 1/2 of the church or more will probably fall away in the end-times.”
That, my friend, is why we must risk offense to let an at risk bride understand just what is at stake. Many in the church will be shocked to find themselves in Hell one day. That reality haunts me non-stop.
The False Bride
Do we understand that not everybody who calls themselves a Christian actually is? Again, that is why we have an urgent job as forerunners. The false bride, those who think they are Christians but are not, are at extreme risk of burning in Hell for multiplied trillions of years. Actually, forever. We cannot remain silent.
An immediate, and unbiblical response that many people have today is, “It’s not your place to judge.” How many times have you heard that defense from the secular camp? Now, we are hearing it from Christians when their pet sins, false doctrines or structures are threatened!
The accusation is that we are being cruel, unloving or presumptuous by dealing with this subject matter. Again, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
As Christians, we actually have a very serious responsibility to judge in love! It’s a part of our job description. Pure love of the bride will reveal all that hinders love!
We absolutely have a responsibility to urgently warn. To release messages of awakening. To talk about eternity, about Heaven and Hell. To call people to greater fervency. It’s love that demands this, yet so few are sounding alarms.
If I see a child wandering into oncoming traffic, I don’t really care so much about whether he chose to rebel by running into the street. I’m not thinking about his motives or his error of judgment. I just want to warn him so he isn’t crushed by a bus. Yes, it is that simple. It is that urgent.
At Risk Churches
With that in mind, I want to reveal some major church movements and expressions that are actually opposing the cross. The call of every single Christian is to hear God’s voice, to know him deeply and to intercede for the nations. You can gauge where the general church public is by calling a prayer meeting. The most elementary call for any Christian is to pray…and when Christians avoid the prayer room, it’s a revelation of just where we are as a church in this nation. Frightening.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if most people in the church in America are unsaved.
Leonard Ravenhill said he doubts that 5% of American church goers are actually saved.
I heard someone once say, who had a heavenly encounter, that only 1 in 1000 who die on any given day make it to Heaven. Possibly 99.9% go to Hell. That wouldn’t surprise me, and it grieves me beyond what I can bear. God 2.0 would never support this statistic. He is benevolent and unconcerned with our hearts.
Mike Bickle said that the false-grace message, which is one of the leading causes of people being deceived as a false bride, is more dangerous than the issue of abortion and 54 million baby’s blood crying out in our nation!
Listen closely! This is serious! My God, help us! Masses of people who are convinced that they are saved are actually following Jesus in an unsaved condition right now! Many more will fall away in the future! Who will warn them?
Before we look at the problem churches, we must consider this: We have to resist the urge to presume the current Sunday driven church structure is the biblical norm. If we think we’re functioning normally, we’ll resort to minor adjustments to that system as repairs are needed instead of the destruction of it in favor of the introduction of the biblical church.
When we truly understand this, we’ll devote ourselves to the removal of man made systems and give ourselves to the development of the new.
Most people alive today have no idea what revival is. They have never experienced it. They have no grid for it. So, we default to what we have experienced and try to build on that faulty foundation.
1. The Money Changers Church
In Matthew, the passage that deals with the money changers follows immediately after another type of church that we’ll discuss next—the Triumphal Entry Church. I find it interesting that these two stories are back-to-back, and that they are events that are closely situated to the drama of the cross. Simply said, the cross of Christ is not only foreign, but resisted.
Matthew 21:12-13 (ESV) 12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
The money changers church is possibly the best representation of the current American/Western church. This is a serious issue. This is possibly the most severe and violent reaction from Jesus to a situation when he was still on the Earth.
Note how aggressively Jesus rebuked and resisted the money changers. Why is this?
They were fueled by a spirit of religion. Religion defined is man’s attempt to use God and his church to get what he wants. They were using the temple for personal gain. They were thinking about their own needs and desires instead of ministering to God. They went into the temple with the expectation of leaving with more than they entered with. The call to the church is for us to enter with an offering. A sacrifice. We leave with less than we entered with!
Today, prayer is nearly dead in the church. Additionally, even in churches that support prayer, if every service was cancelled and replaced with prayer meetings, there would be a mass exodus of disappointed people who aren’t getting their desires met. In Acts, the “wait and pray” mandate was resisted by almost everybody. Thank God for 120 who weren’t waiting for a call from a pastor, a pat on the back or the perfect ministry center for their family. They showed up, laid down their agendas and changed the world.
I’ve said it probably thousands of times and I’ll say it again. Our false expectations of what a church should be are resulting in a defiled structure. The church isn’t a house of teaching, a house of evangelism, a house of friendships or even a house of musical worship. It’s a house of prayer first and foremost. The other focuses are important, but secondary at best. Would you stay in a church that prayed as their primary activity? Or would you get frustrated and leave if your demands weren’t met? Is it possible you may be functioning in a similar spirit as the money changers? You go to church to receive instead of to give?
Pastors know most would not stay, so they have all too often traded in their mantle of prophet for salesman. The church product has been altered, spruced up and packaged in a way to let the people know that they will receive the best bang for their buck if they come to their church.
This is grieving, and must end! I am looking for pavement people—those who aren’t looking for comfort, but will hit the pavement and cry out to God as they did in 2 Chronicles 7!!
2 Chronicles 7:1-3 (ESV) 1 As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2 And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. 3 When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Long ago as a young, first time church planter, my wife and I would often take visitors out to lunch after the service. I’d do my best song and dance to sell the Revolution Church experience to them. I’d ask what they were looking for in a church, and more times than not I’d encourage them that we’d get right on that! We’d be sure to sell them the product they are looking for!
My brilliant wife would get so frustrated with me! She wanted me to stop the nonsense and simply communicate our vision. Boy, was she right! I was acting in the spirit of the money changers!
I slowly changed my sales pitch. Instead of letting people know how much they would receive if they chose our church for their home, I was reveal the challenge and the cost. I’d let them know that we all pray together 10+ hours a week. We give financially in an extravagant way. We are fervent and burning and calling people into a radical lifestyle—to the cross.
I’d actually try to discourage them from participating if they weren’t on board with the vision! And, surprise! I got more response from that call than I did trying to sell the perfect experience!
2. The Triumphal Entry Church
Now this is church!
I’ve witnessed first hand how people will flood into an environment that’s full of celebration and exuberance. I enjoy those environments too!
I’ve also witnessed first hand how those same people—those who are dancing at the altar, going after a happy experience, will get sad when the call to the cross is preached. It’s heart wrenching.
The focus of the people at the Triumphal Entry is 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.
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.
Matthew 21:8-11 (ESV) 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 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!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
Notice how there was a measure of sacrifice by the people. They gave their cloaks. They got to work and cut down palm branches. They were exuberant in their worship. I can imagine a spirit-filled environment where people are at the altar dancing and laughing and worshiping. I’ve had 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 driven by people who will not stay the course if the cross is preached with boldness.
See, Jesus was willing to save them now. However, his methods were nowhere near satisfactory for a crowd of people who were looking for 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.
3. The Rich Young Ruler Church
There is some relation between the Rich Young Ruler church and the Money Changers Church. In both scenarios, personal gain was the focus.
The Rich Young Ruler, however, possessed a sincere desire to follow Jesus. Notice how Jesus reveals this story is all about salvation:
Matthew 19:16-25 (ESV) 16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
I am convinced there are millions of people following Jesus in an unsaved condition. Pastors have affirmed people’s commitment to Christ and, in turn, their eternal security, all while, in many of those cases Jesus knew the deeper truth—they were not willing to surrender all. I believe the sinner’s prayer has probably led more people to Hell than to Heaven. Handled wrongly it gives people false-confidence in their position in Christ.
How many go to church each week, raise their hands in worship, pay their tithes and “follow Jesus” in a very public way, the same way the Rich Young Ruler wanted to—but are actually not saved?
Even Billy Graham admits less than 2% of people who make decisions at his crusades over the years remain true followers of Jesus. Wow!
If you are struggling with this and the truth of your own salvation, that’s good! That’s healthy! I don’t know where it started being negative for us to wrestle with that. Today leaders don’t want to upset people with messages like this out of fear of accusation and ridicule. We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling! The disciples in the above passage wrestled with it, and so should we. Let’s see what Jesus says next:
Matthew 19:26-29 (ESV) 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
The most controversial thing I’ve ever said just may be this:
I give myself about an 80% chance of making Heaven.
Is there any part of the Rich Young Ruler in me? Is it possible that I could fall away? It would be arrogant for me to presume that I’m exempt from the great falling away. I wrestle with Jesus and with my own heart—and I love that process.
Again, it’s healthy and necessary to work that out day by day. And, we need pastors and leaders who won’t skirt that tough topic out of fear of losing people who would rather be coddled. It’s possible that the best giver and most vibrant member of your church is on a track that leads to Hell. We can’t stay silent on this issue.
When you understand how deeply God loves you, it’s wonderful to wrestle with the difficult topics. It’s invigorating!
It’s critical! So many will be shocked to enter Hell. We see this proven in scripture:
Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV) 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
I’ve written on this previously, so I’m going to be extremely short with this concluding point.
The coming church will be marked by:
- Everybody praying as their primary ministry
- Everybody ministering to God
- Praying in the Holy Spirit will be continual.
- We will be together most days of the week to pray, receive apostolic instruction and move out in unity to fulfill that assignment.
- We will arrive at church full and leave empty—after we’ve poured out to God.
- Friendships will be forged in the foxhole more than at potlucks and picnics.
- The cross will be central.
- Repentance will be continual.
- Freedom will be overwhelming.
- The bar of expectation will be high.
- It will be apostle led more often than pastor led.
Lets see an Acts 2 & 2 Chronicles 7 church arise!