I was baptized at the age of six in a small church off of Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville, GA. I was so short, I had to stand tip-toe on an overturned bucket submerged in the bottom of the tank, just so I could see over the plexiglass shield. It was especially exciting when that bucket tipped over and I got to doggie paddle back to safety. The name of the church was Broadway Baptist, which was perhaps ill-advised considering Jesus’ instructions that His followers should walk the narrow road. :) Nonetheless, this was a meaningful moment for me, and one that I think about often. Ever since that baptism, I’ve been a part of a global group of people who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus - I’ve been part of the church. I have to confess — I really love church.
Something is Missing
I’ve read a lot over the past few years on the subject of church. I’ve come to realize that this term means many things to different people. Like politics, almost everyone agrees that the church has problems. Also like politics, almost no one can agree on how to fix them. There is one common phrase I hear again and again. “Everything would be better if we could get back to the way things were in the book of Acts. THOSE people really had it right.”
I think we forget how challenging this statement is, and how few of us are actually prepared to see it through. I agree. We do need to return to a first-century Christian mindset. However, it's not about our worship style or how we choose to gather. It’s so much more. It's a radical shift in thinking that is currently fueling church growth around the world and largely missing in America. We have more resources that anyone, but we're lacking this defining, first-century Christian element: martyrdom.
A Willingness to Die is a Big Part of This Life
Martyrdom is still common around the globe. On one hand, this is a tragedy that we should use every resource to confront. On the other hand, it’s a mighty reminder that we have a faith that is more valuable than this earthly life. This Sunday I had the privilege of listening to the preaching of Emir Caner, president of Truett McConnell College. He recounted the story of Dirk Willems, "who is most famous for escaping from prison, turning around to rescue his pursuer—who had fallen through thin ice while chasing Willems—to then be recaptured, tortured and killed for his faith.” (courtesy of wikipedia) Later that evening, I had a conversation with a close friend who is going through a hard time. We both agreed that life is guaranteed to get hard — but that doesn’t mean it can’t also get better.
Jesus’s Solution — The Kingdom of God
People got disturbed when Jesus' radical teachings on the Kingdom of God violently began to disrupt the status-quo. This was even true of his followers. The disciples loved following a controversial teacher and an inspirational leader. They heard about the kingdom, but to be honest, it's not what they were looking for...yet.
Jesus’ martyrdom is the only thing that really got their attention. In the days immediately following the crucifixion, the disciples looked a lot like so many modern-day, self-professed Christians. I'm referring to those of us who are content to follow after Jesus when He's doling out free lunch and a host of other benefits, but scatter at the first sign of sacrifice. Those of us who critique pastors based on preference and not content, grumble about styles and models, and seek our own earthly significance over sanctification.
It's essential to discuss theology and practice good missiology. However, I don't think revival was ever just figured out in a strategy session. At least, that's not how it worked for the disciples. In the days following the death of Jesus, the disciples didn't spend their time white-boarding a new assimilation plan. They didn't debate the merits of mega vs micro gatherings, or up their game on their social strategy. (I do all of these, by the way.) These men finally encountered something that opened their eyes to see beyond this fading, dusty globe and allowed them to peer into the coming kingdom that will never fade. They witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it changed everything. What would this radical self-abandonment change in us? How would it change our churches?
These men weren't great or effective because of their training or their ability. They changed the world because they realized it had nothing left to offer them. They gave their lives because they had first-hand knowledge of what new life looks like. It rendered everything else irrelevant. Hardships are awful...AND yet, they are bittersweet arrows pointing to a gorgeous truth. This world is bad. But it's not all we have.