You will learn quickly that I am NOT at all a cessationist. Yet, while I do believe God uses dreams, visions, and miracles to communicate his plans, his self, and his will to his people, I don’t believe those dreams, visions, or miracles ever run extra to, equal to, instead of, or different from the scriptures. In fact, I would say, if someone claims to have a vision or ‘word’ from God and that word or vision can’t be substantiated by the holy scriptures, then it was not from God. That, being said, I want to give 1 Word, and 2 Visions that I believe I had as a young man, way before I ever heard of words like missional, communal churches, incarnational living, or pouring yourself out for the broken:
Word 1: When I was 17 I went to Russia, on a mission trip, but for me, I was in the “trying to figure out who I was” stage of life. To spare you the details of the trip, there are two very distinct things that happened in Russia. (1) The first was sitting in an old run down Russian cafe, God very clearly mandated my life with: Proverbs 31:8-9 – Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (2) God didn’t let me take all of my heart home, some of it was left in Russia
Vision 1: I was leaving a church in Iowa, that was a very modern, mega, seeker sensitive, CEO’ed styled church. They leaned pretty hard to the word-of-faith church, and the pastor and I we’re like oil and water. We had very different ideas of church, leadership and calling. Anyway, in this vision I basically saw me in a protective cellar with a bunch of other pastors, a bunch of them. And we were having a great time, living it up, laughing, etc, etc…then all of the sudden my mood changed, and I kept peering up at a small window at the top of the cellar wall…one of the pastors said, “hey, don’t worry, we’re in here, we’re fine…” Then all of the conversation going on, all of the laughter, became noise, it became horrid. I found a walk-way in the cellar that led to a door that led to the outside world, that we were protected from…I started to head up the walk-way to go into the unknown, to leave this ‘church world’ behind, and one of the pastors, with a smile in his face, yelled at me, “hey, you’ll never make it out there…you can’t do it…” I yelled back at him, “Jesus had a dream for his church, and this is not it...” I turned around, ran towards the door, and woke up…Later that day I told my wife, “We are moving to Austin.”
Vision 2: we were now in Austin, and I was driving down a road, wide awake. And all of the sudden, when I looked over to my left, I didn’t see the actual physical field that I was driving by. I saw a group of men (pastors and church leaders) walking in anti-contamination suits, I was among them in the same suits. We were walking towards a group of people. Apparently, some others were willing to follow me outside of the cellar into the unknown, but we still kept ourselves protected from them, we still lived apart from them, away from them, and would ‘protect ourselves’ when we would go ‘minister’ to them. Then, a heaviness set on me, and I began to shed the anti-contamination suite, again, being warned to stay back, I walked into the midst of these people, the ones we were afraid of being ‘contaminated’ by. I couldn’t minister to them, without being with them, among them, touching them in the midst of their suffering, pain, loss, madness, etc…then the vision was gone, but I had this deep uneasy, yet peaceful sense, that this is what the church, myself, and life was to be about…there was still a frontier…there was still an unknown…would we venture off into it?
Here’s what I know, this was not so much about me, as it was about the church, a church, a new kind of church, as it is not through individuals alone that God works through, but through his church.
So what if…what if there was a new kind of church, or better stated, an ancient type of church revived (read more HERE) that did not find its identity in the Sunday or the central meeting place, but actually took the Hebrew and Middle Ages definition of the word ‘sanctuary’ as its definitive quality: the Hebrew definition for ‘sanctuary’ is ‘a holy, sacred place‘ the Middle Age definition was ‘a place of refuge and protection; shelter.’ Then add one more element, and that being, that this Sanctuary would not be a static place of worship (much like the OT Temple), but rather dynamic place of constant movement (much like the OT Tabernacle)– in other words it was always in motion. What would this look like? What would it look like if you could never say, “this is So-and-So’s church” because the church did not find its identity in one charismatic leader, but actually recognized Jesus as the head of the church and believed and trusted that he alone was responsible to grow his church, and we were responsible to be faithful to his mission and gospel. Then after and under Jesus it was led by a band of brothers, a team, that submitted to each other, and in different areas in respective to giftings a first among equals would arise.
So, what would these pastors, elders, or brothers look like: They would be Knights at a ROUND table. The hope would be to see them play dual roles. Instead of the goal being to make a church so sustainable that all the leaders get paid, you start off knowing they won’t be (personally, I think this helps us stay away from unhealthy dependency from the congregation and the need to make decisions based on money rather than the Spirit’s direction). So you would have some elders who are part-time paid elders, and the other part-time would be in the fields of justice, business, education, aviation, or whatever, so what they did outside of the church would add value to the church, not compete with it…. (of course I’d be selfish and want one full-time all-purpose, admin person, but that may not be necessary)… When you put this together, you have a church that looks more like a small Spartan army charging into places of injustice, darkness, blindness, oppression, and fear with the gospel of justice, freedom, truth, and peace.
Would this church gather together, sure they would, but it wouldn’t be the defining factor of the church. I would be a Some people, due to tradition, place where the leadership and lay together formed a brotherhood and sisterhood who were informed by and found their identity in the gospel, and their movement in justice…these would be people who would fight, cry, laugh, hurt, and bleed together. This church would probably be smaller than a ‘normal’ size, but the sending factor would be more important than the gathering factor (while not neglecting this, because it would be needed). The measurables would be more around sending not gathering – and if God saw fit to grow it, then so be it, more people on mission for God is even better. To make this happen, you’d have to ‘plant’ in a place of poverty, desperation, and hopelessness – the work would be a combo of community development; mission and church…
It would be a church who was bent on doing 3 things: relentlessly activating and pursuing justice; being generous dispensers of mercy; and with all humility, uncompromisingly commit to living for, by, and with God according to the Gospel (Micah 6:8/Isaiah 1:17)…the only way to be a place that is constantly doing this, is to be in a place where injustice is present, mercy is absent; and survival is the mode of existence…