Finding The Perfectly Imperfect Church

I sat there waiting for the Executive Pastor to show up. He was twenty-five minutes late. I had been asked to interview for the newly created Campus Pastor position at this well known and highly effective Orange County megachurch.

The lobby was bustling and the waiting easy. There were plenty flat-screens on the walls pumping out the latest worship gigs, a Keurig station offering dark bold Sumatran, free wifi, leather couches and interior decor that coagulated the best of surf hipster, New York chic and rustic farm house. Stunning. Unfortunately, the few people hustling by did not seem to notice.

As I sat there in opulent comfort, my mind flashed back to a church meeting I had attended in Thailand a decade earlier. The coffee was instant, the floor seating hard and the only decor a faded picture of a brown eyed Jesus hanging on the cross. The spirit of peace in that place was tangible. It was as if no one was trying. I mean that in the best of lights.

The executive pastor arrived with lavish apologies for his tardiness. A radio interview had gone long. He was likable, focused and obviously loved Jesus. Under his arm was a copy of Fast Company magazine. He told me to wait another five minutes and that his assistant would come out and collect me for the meeting. I was offered another coffee. For me, the interview had already ended. I knew we were headed to the same destination, but on different paths.

If there is one thing I have learned in twenty-plus years of leading in churches is that you can buy church. Check that. You can buy or create a church experience for your community that will offer them the temptation to think that this church has it all together. It’s also a great growth strategy, as it allows people to check the box of being part of something that is effective and meaningful.

As a pastor of a small local church and having just come out of 10 years ministering in a mega church setting, I feel the pressure to create a “Fast Church”, one with all the modern bells and whistles, singing the latest anthems and offering clean efficient systems to organize people around legitimate spiritual causes.

The problem that I face, is that if I went after that, it would not be long before I was the wizard behind the curtain offering up an illusion of spiritual perfection that would not only be soul killing for me, but also for those I lead.

It’s one thing to talk about messy churches and lives from the pulpit, but it’s quite another to actually allow that messiness to be part of your church staff, volunteer base or even organizational systems.
What I often see are churches that preach and sing about brokenness and authenticity, but then go out and try to create a church image and culture that presents modern ideals of perfectionism. Here is what I mean. Would you allow a seriously obese person  to be your door greeters? Can we allow someone to stay on staff who is not reaching their targets and goals for one reason or another believing that sometimes God cares more about your staff as individuals then what they can produce. Can someone be on the worship team that occasionally sings flat and do heads roll if the sound or PowerPoint is not run with Spielberg perfection?

I believe that when we present authenticity and imperfection from the stage but don’t allow that to play itself out in the ebb and flow of our church matrix’s and social systems, we are actually creating a culture that never let’s people truly be free. In fact it heaps unseen heavy burdens on their heads.

No, I am not advocating a sloppy church. Being an A Type control junkie, it pains me to be patient as God grows those I lead. I see every perceived misstep, off note and occasional unedited promotional piece. The thing is that deep down, my desire to present the perfect church has more to do with how I want people to perceive me then trying to offer them a savior who brought a casual perfection, but never demanded it in return.

The Blessing of Contentment

Phil. 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I have come to expect getting the best parking spot in the lot. I don’t pray for them, they just appear. Out of nowhere they materialize, and there I am with another premier spot. If Jesus would quit giving me parking spots it would be a lot easier not to expect them, but there it was again today as I pulled into Rubio’s during the storm of the century. I was content, at least for the moment.
The secret of contentment is expecting nothing more than Jesus. When we are satisfied with knowing Christ, we can be satisfied in all situations. Jesus is either everything or nothing. There is no middle ground. The pure Christian life equals Jesus plus nothing. Most agree to this when it comes to sin and our fleshly desires, but what about in the arena of blessings? What about all the good things we want God to lavish on us – like parking spots, spouses and the new iPhone 4? The things we feel entitled to as a follower of Christ?
While I want blessing in the temporal, blessing beyond knowing Jesus is always icing on the proverbial cake. To be sure, God takes great pleasure in blessing his children in the temporal. He regularly messes with my personal theology by giving me parking spots. I don’t remember the last time I had to look for a stall to park. It is almost like God is saying, “Hey, don’t forget that I love taking care of my son.”
What I want to steer clear from is feeling this type of blessing is a foregone conclusion to knowing God. This is the essence of the prosperity gospel: We are due a certain amount of worldly blessings because we are children of God. I personally prefer to stand with those who have preached Jesus as crucified, risen, coming again. This is all I need, and all I need to know. Do I want that parking spot, Yes! But, my hope is to have a faith survives devoid of temporal blessing. Am I the type of believer that is content when these things don’t materialize?
The central question then stands, “is Jesus enough?” Is Jesus and cancer enough? Are Jesus and an unfair lifetime prison sentence enough? When it is not – when God’s path leads to a life of suffering instead of plenty – how will we stand? How will we not question why? How will we cling to our faith?
The deeper I submerge myself into Christ, the less I am caring about blessing on this earth. The greater glimpse I get of the true extravagance of Jesus’ worth and the ultimate blessing that is knowing him, the more all temporary forms of lesser blessing seem. The blessing of knowing Jesus nullifies all others. This is not to say that they are not good, even given by God. Rather it is to point out that they fail the test of eternity. They all will pass away.
Nonetheless, the fact still remains that God is a God of rich blessings in the temporal and eternal. As the apostle John say’s:
John 1:16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.
So I guess I am going to keep getting my parking spots while doing my best not to put my faith in their appearance.
Be blessed,
Adam
More scriptures on contentment:
Phil. 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
1Tim. 6:8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
Heb. 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

So How is your kingdom going?

Psa. 16:6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.
As a pastor I deal with people and their kingdoms. Granted, most are not lavish in regard to worldly kingdoms, but nonetheless, they are still kingdoms of a sort.
I meet very few people who have a grasp of the boundaries of their realms. Many complain that they want a greater kingdom (and strive to attain it) while others are in the process of losing what they do have. Some are even having their kingdoms divinely increased. In the case of Bathsheba (1 Sam 12), David wanted something beyond his ordained kingdom. When Absalom usurped David from the throne his kingdom was protracted. Thus, David experienced both of these scenarios in a very short period of time. One argument key to this post is that if you are not stewarding well over the kingdom you have been given, it is very possible that someone else will soon be doing it for you. We see this in the case of adultery all the time. One spouse or both begin to neglect the kingdom of their marriage and someone else comes in to assumes the throne. This definitely happened with David when Absalom slept with his fathers concubines for all Israel to see.
The obvious question then is, how is your kingdom going? Are the things you are currently possessing truly part of your kingdom. Have you attained things in your own power that are not ordained within your kingdom boundaries? I would argue that many people do this with their careers. They take a job to maintain a lifestyle that they are not called to. Like I said in my talk on 10.8.2010 (See Speak). Some of us might be called to never live above middle or low income. Still, much of the church encourages believers in the idea that we should all be wealthy and that this is a sign of God’s blessing. I don’t think Mother Theresa or St. Francis lacked any blessing and they were called to be poor.
Here an example from another area of life of what I mean. Recently, I have gotten back into endurance sports. Back when I was 25, single and working as a personal trainer, I was pretty fast.
For that last few months (now at the age of 41) I have been trying to recapture the old glory. I counted every supplement, did not miss a workout and was spending about 5-7 hours a week on the road either running or biking.
About two weeks ago, I felt the Lord tell me that I was trying to capture a kingdom that was no longer in the boundaries of what God has for me now. Yes, as a single guy who was a personal trainer, that lifestyle was right. God used me in that then and it was within the flow of my kingdom blessing and business.
The thing is that I am just not that guy anymore. My wife and kids can’t afford me to be that guy even if it is attainable for me. Basically, God told me to measure my kingdom. The point is that when we live within our kingdom boundaries we will live in peace and blessing. When we don’t we move into a place of striving.
I think that this relates to all areas of our life. Like Nehemiah (Neh Ch. 2) we need to walk the wall of our life, looking at each gate measuring the boundaries of each and decide if they are in need of repair. In some arenas we might need to step our game up and assume our kingship. Some parts of our life might need to be backed off so we can live within our kingdoms boundaries, so we can live in true blessing. While there is grace when we live outside of our kingdoms, there is not the same blessing.
The word of God calls us to steward no more then we have been given from heaven. Any increase of that territory, whether relational, financial or territorial needs to be given by God. That increase only comes when we live in submission to our current set out boundaries and steward them well.
This is how David claimed his greater kingdom. He submitted to a jealous Saul, served him faithfully, played his harp and dodged spears. As soon as David tried to assume a kingship that was not his (Uriah’s wife), David lost his kingdom.
So how is your kingdom going?