Buzzwords, Buildings, Tents, and Rain

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Sometimes finding water for baptism is complicated, but we always find a way.

Organic

Relevant

Postmodern

Emergent

 Missional

 Journey

 Resonate

 Authentic

That’s a pretty long list of words but they may “resonate” with you as you read them. You may recognise them as the hip lingo used today as we struggle to keep in step with the “relevant” crowds of today. The list of buzzwords of generations past no longer holds our attention: orthodoxy, fundamental, evangelical, and so on. Today’s crowd equates those words with an older, non-relatable faith that doesn’t resound with today’s more educated and sophisticated crowds.

I’ve read blogs and articles on the evolution of Christian language; some critical of the new lingo and others suggesting the expansion of vocabulary is simply the church’s attempt to define Christianity in a clearer, and more concise way. I’m not qualified to make judgments on the hearts of those expanding their vocabularies to suit the times we are living in, I only know that the Gospel demands clarity.

The Gospel is as simple as the world is complex.

Some of the buzzwords we hear today point to our desire for things to return to a simpler time – a time when things were clear and easy to understand. We have a need to be accepted and understood. We know that the message we have within us has the power to transform this fallen and broken world. We know that our hearts are pure in our desires to bring this wonderful message to those who have yet to hear.

At the same time, there is a line that must be drawn between bringing the message with words that are understood by the hearer and speaking words that please the hearer. We’re not called to be accepted, for the world cannot accept or understand the wonder of this faith that has commanded the loyalty of our very souls. Jesus Himself understood that and spoke clearly – without diluting His message.

John 5:41 TLB Jesus speaking, “Your approval or disapproval means nothing to me…”

Rejection is painful and we would do well to remember that while we know God doesn’t reject us – many in this world will. Fear of rejection by our peers will cause us to do many things: change the way we speak, change the way we dress, change our ideas of what is right and wrong, and even change the messages we deliver.

For most of us, there was time when we remember how clear things were for us in our faith: those early days when we first accepted Christ or those times when God bailed us out miraculously and we saw clearly. As time would have it and life ebbs and flows, slowly the clarity with which we understood our faith was dulled. This desensitization often takes place over time, gradually, as if invisibly – then we wake one day to the realization that we’ve lost the fervor of our initial, simple faith in Jesus.

I am thankful that here in Malawi I’m reminded, almost daily; of how simple we need to keep things. At our church property, we have no electricity or running water nor do we have any kind of facility to speak of. All we have on site is a tent with a dirt floor and a makeshift platform. On the weekends, if we want more than acapella music, we have to bring the musical equipment, speakers, amplifier, wires, and the generator to the property. We can’t leave it stored there due to the insecurity of the area, especially at nighttime. While it all sounds simple enough, and it is, it’s quite labor-intensive just to get the service going. We do well to have visitor’s letters and offering envelopes let alone lights and sound effects. We are satisfied if the sound is at a level that won’t blow our ears off (that in and of itself is a feat of major proportions). At the end of the day, when we have managed to pull of a full day of activities, we return home exhausted but happy.

Do we need a building? Definitely. We are praying for God to bring the finances to get going on our facility before the next rainy season. The rains were so fierce this past year that one morning, after a storm, we woke to news that the tent had come down. Several days were spent getting that tent back up in time for weekend services but what to do about midweek activities? We just met outside – it was as simple as that. We can’t wait for a building for the church to meet for the church is not a building or sound effects, the church is made of people.

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Praying without a building or even a tent after the storm; the solution? Sunglasses!

This simplicity with which we do church astonishes some, refreshes others, and causes yet others to mock us. As exciting as it sounds and is, planting churches from the ground up is dirty work – literally! Initially when the church is launched, of course it’s exhilarating. The thought of being part of something that has an eternal lifespan carries a certain euphoria with it, until the excitement wears off and there’s no one else but the two of us to take care of the growing congregation. Everything from counseling, visiting, leading services, speaking, even leading songs (that’s the hard one for us) lies within our scope of responsibility.

Some might think we’re careless in the way we plant churches; that we should be more prepared to undertake the task. I understand the sentiment! We have had the luxury of enjoying the presence of colleagues during various stages of our church plants and it is wonderful when it happens. However, if we wait to have an entire team coordinated and ready to plant a church – very few churches will be planted. The cost of church planting is high: it requires great sacrifice from those involved. Sacrifice of finance, personal time, and even reputation for not many people consider meeting in dingy rented buildings or under tents worthy of the effort.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 TLB “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”

So how much have buzzwords, the bells and whistles, accolades and crowds of wealthy congregants effected how we do church? Perhaps the correct question would be: should buzzwords, bells and whistles, accolades, and crowds of wealthy congregants effect how we do church?

When the buildings get built, and they do for this is God’s work and He has never failed us, and those buildings stand where once there were piles of dirt and stones, who will be those who were brave enough to walk with us to see the miracles happen? To see God build something from nothing? Often it’s the least likely candidates that God uses, but they are the ones who accompanied us when there was nothing, except the real church: the precious people who God gave us.

I’ve learned to keep it simple. To remember these days we are in now, the beginning days when everything needs to be done and there’s nothing to work with but the two hands we have. All of the distractions (make no mistake, I enjoy the bells and whistles) that we pour ourselves into when they are available to us: lights, sound, musicians, offices, chairs, a PowerPoint presentation to go with our catchy sermons, can be our downfall when they pull us away from the simplicity that is this: God is good and He wants the best for us and He can give the best because He is the best. If those bells and whistles make His voice sound dim, if they become more important than ministering to the people, then we’ve missed the point.

 

 

 

 

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