Jesus did not come to build systems or new institutions.

Just over a week ago I had the opportunity to visit a relatively “new” church (per United Methodist standards) and share with that church my doctorate thesis. Wesley Seminary requires doctorate students to “present” our project and findings before we can graduate. My project was “It Can Be Done! A Church that Reaches the Nones and Dones.” The original idea was for me to present it to pastors in the North Georgia Annual Conference. Yet, circumstances did not allow for that. So I asked a clergy friend of mine that has been using West as a model for ministry if I could come share with her leadership teams.

Prior to this experience, I’ve only presented “West” to seminary students and other pastors who are looking for new pathways for their churches to follow. I had not yet presented to a “church.” So . . . my assumptions going into that presentation were not founded or true.

I made the assumption that the way West does ministry is appealing to others that are trying to do ministry in new ways. I should KNOW better, and know that anytime you speak to a group of people there are always going to be ones in the room that are not on board with the presentation. However, that seemed to gnaw at me as the evening progressed.

During the question and answer time, I was surprised to find that many of the questions were centered around why things “would not” work instead of why they would. Instead of “how” questions, the people asked questions beginning with “What about . . .”

Example, at West we do not take up an offering by passing a plate on Sunday mornings. There are offering baskets in the back and people give online. Yet, instead of asking “How do you fund a growing church if you don’t pass the offering plates and have pledge cards?” They asked, “What about Consecration Sunday?” (A Sunday when everyone brings a pledge card to worship with a weekly amount committed. Then they process to the front of the sanctuary and put the card on the altar rail.)

After the presentation was over someone remarked to me that our lack of “systems” exhausted her. I laughed and thanked her for coming . . . but of course, those words and the lack of engagement by some are what infiltrated my mind on the drive home.

There is something about systems that we crave. And yes, while some are necessary to lead and manage an organization, they also are dangerous. At West we do try to create systems that are fluid and focused on the mission and vision, not to cover up for fears and insecurities of the people in the organization and/or leadership.

In The Shack Mack shared with Jesus that he did not enjoy being a part of religion and religious systems.

Jesus responded, “Religious machinery can chew up people. An awful lot of what is done in my name has nothing to do with me and is often, even if unintentional, very contrary to my purposes.”

“Institutions are for people who want to play God. Often times they are used to prop up illusions of security and control. People are afraid of uncertainty, afraid of the future. And institutions, structures, and theologies are all a vain effort to create some sense of certainty and security where there isn’t any.”

That’s so true in “the church.” It is how all the structure and theologies began. The early church was trying to determine what “rules” needed to be followed so that ALL people (both Gentiles and the Jews) could be followers of Christ. The first Council of Jerusalem was about just that! So . . . maybe we need to ask ourselves. Do we like structure/rules that keep people out or are we looking for structure/rules so that we can build a movement that will keep looking and encouraging people to find their way in.

15 1-2 It wasn’t long before some Jews showed up from Judea insisting that everyone be circumcised: “If you’re not circumcised in the Mosaic fashion, you can’t be saved.” Paul and Barnabas were up on their feet at once in fierce protest. The church decided to resolve the matter by sending Paul, Barnabas, and a few others to put it before the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem.
3 After they were sent off and on their way, they told everyone they met as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria about the breakthrough to the non-Jewish outsiders. Everyone who heard the news cheered-it was terrific news!
4-5 When they got to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were graciously received by the whole church, including the apostles and leaders. They reported on their recent journey and how God had used them to open things up to the outsiders. Some Pharisees stood up to say their piece. They had become believers, but continued to hold to the hard party line of the Pharisees. “You have to circumcise the pagan converts,” they said. “You must make them keep the Law of Moses.” Acts 15