As you read, I hope and pray you sense God drawing your heart to His, while also hearing ways we may be stuck behind the glass. You may think you hear me saying that all churches in the West are horrible and that everyone in them is completely wrong, and they are all prisons. I am not. There are many bright spots that shine for Christ. But if you are one of those people who are stuck, and you are asking, “Is this really what it’s supposed to be like?” then keep reading.
Our Leader does not put His fish in an aquarium.
We do that. We build fish prisons. We sometimes work frantically to maintain them. Our own personal ones, and our religious ones. We keep what is comfortable near us, many times avoiding all else.
If you say you follow Him, pick up a hammer. Those who follow Jesus are to break people out of prison as He did. We must set captives free, just as He did. Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:18 tell us that He came “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” He came to set captives free. But are we free? What’s containing us? A fish prison? A religious prison or a personal prison or both?
“Follow me, I will make you keepers of the aquarium,” Jesus did not say. He said, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
I’m pointing the above questions at myself. I struggle daily to get beyond the glass of my own prisons. I must. What does it mean to break the glass? I have to start my own breaking. You yourself must start your breaking. We each can decide to run to God, and increasingly, day by day, become more relationally close to our Heavenly Father, to Jesus our Lord and Savior, and to our guard and guide, the Holy Spirit … then to help others do the same.
When I started thinking there may be some glass to break I was in what I call “factory church.” Not being mean. It just felt that way to me personally. I have been a part of rural churches and mega-churches. Now, don’t hear me wrong—I loved those churches and the people who called themselves by His name in all those places. But since I started being a part of leading, I could not get past the nagging feeling that I was running a system and not doing as much loving and relational connecting as I could. I had one of my pastors say this, “There have been many Sundays where I feel like I am pouring my heart out … I’m up there preaching with a firehose trying to give out living water…and the congregation is sitting out there catching some in thimbles … and then as they leave … they trip in the parking lot and spill it.” I know that feeling. There were great people I got to minister to and with. But so much of the time I was either worried about numbers or knowledge. I found myself stuck behind the religious glass, as well as the personal glass. “How many did we have?” was the question many times. Or “What are they studying?” “How well do they know it?” “How many classes have they gone through?” These are not bad questions. But they left me hungry for something more.
Years ago I realized I was wanting to answer questions like, “How well are they loving each other?” “Who has come to realize recently how much God loves them?” “How are they loving others beyond the hours they are on this property?” Those questions came from the great commandment … to love God and love others. In Matthew 22:37-40 God says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” But no one was asking me those questions. Yet I knew my God was asking me to do things beyond the glass, that I just could not seem to fit into my schedule. I found myself more than once feeling like the two guys who walked past the half-dead guy before the good Samaritan came by. “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” (Luke 10:33). I just had too much on my plate to slow down … so I thought. But, since the questions about relationships were rarely if ever asked, I really didn’t have to answer them. Right? Even though God was asking them of me, I was too busy answering the other ones. I justified my actions. I was wrong. Again, I’m not saying I was working in bad places. It is just how the system worked. More questions about “how many are there?” than “how well are they?” The second question was just assumed. We assumed if we gathered, they would get better. Not necessarily true.
What is assumed is rarely intentional.
Over the last fifteen years or so many disciple-making churches have emerged, and some significant bright spots of light started shining. God is at work more than we imagine. His work just might not be measured the way we are used to.
In fact, that which is most important is hardest to measure.
May you find Him more and more as a loving Father, and help others do so too…beyond the glass.