Monday, August 24, 2009

Reflecting (On) What's Wrong, Part 19

Pat's Story (Illustrating Comments in Last Post)

I can think of one dramatic example of us longing for that power and not finding it present during my time in Las Vegas. It is the story of Pat. Pat and his wife showed up at our large gathering early on in our house church transition. They were there during the period when we devoted much of our larger gathering times to casting the vision for simple church and encouraging everyone to join one or start one.

Pat and his wife came with a community already attached, so to speak. He and a dozen or so others had been Christ-followers together for awhile. They had gone through the tragic death of their spiritual mentor and were looking for new guidance.

Birthing of a House Church

Shortly after they started attending our larger gathering, Pat approached me and said that they were ready to become a house church. He invited me to join them the following week to help them get started. I went to the humble trailer where Pat and his wife lived, and was amazed at what I experienced. A community of people were gathered together. Many of them were facing difficult life issues: health problems, addictions, job and financial problems, and relational problems. Yet they were already functioning as a healthy church community, spontaneously practicing many of the one another commands of the New Testament. In essence, this was a group of rather unhealthy individuals who, when they all got together, formed a relatively healthy church community. I came to enjoy meeting with them.

I began to spend time with Pat outside of the community meetings, training him with what I knew of disciple-making and organic church planting. We met regularly at a coffee shop and went through the Greenhouse organic church planting training. He ate it up and soaked it in like few people I had worked with.

One week, Pat pleasantly surprised me when he began sharing with me that he was having some conversations with other people in his neighborhood about coming to the church at his house and about following Christ. I remember thinking that Pat was really much better at this stuff than I was or than many of our other people were, but he didn’t even know it. It just came natural to him.

Unexpected Tragedy

Then something amazing happened. I got a phone call one day that Pat had been rushed to the hospital after having a severe seizure. He was only in his mid-twenties, so this was an unexpected development. My wife and I and many others spent the next several weeks visiting Pat at the hospital and providing support for those in his community.

To make a long story short, it turned out Pat had suffered a massive stroke. It was doubtful for awhile whether he would survive. Many of us joined together in fervently praying for his recovery. The days and weeks dragged by and Pat did survive and get physically better, but mentally he never progressed past the stage of a five-year-old.

I remember one day after Pat had been moved out of the hospital into a rehab facility. A couple of simple church planting mentors of mine were visiting from Colorado. I told them the story of Pat, recounting all of the details. I asked if they would come to the rehab facility and pray over him with me. These were men who, based on my experience in the past, knew how to pray in such a way that sometimes rather interesting things would happen.

Begging God for Pat

So we invaded that rehab facility, so to speak, that evening. We surrounded Pat and prayed fervently over him. We prayed for his recovery. We prayed for his mental and physical health. We prayed for his wife. We prayed for the spiritual community that surrounded Pat and the potential growing and multiplying community around him.

I walked out of that rehab facility that night confident that Pat would soon be restored to full health, and that he would continue to spark a church planting movement among a needy group of people that I myself was ill equipped to reach.

But sadly, that is not what happened. This is not a story with a glorious ending in which I get to be one of the heroes of the faith. Pat never got much better than he was that day.

Not a Fairy Tale Ending

Sadly, many months later, he and his wife ended up divorcing as a result of the complications of this entire ordeal. Custody of Pat, who couldn’t take care of himself, ended up going to his mother, a woman who struggled with alcoholism. Eventually, I could not even find a way to get ahold of Pat. The community that met at his house struggled and gradually dissolved as a result of a couple of years of the turmoil that resulted from these events.

I usually don’t get into spiritual warfare language, because I just think some Christians throw that language around carelessly and naively. But that was one time when if the power of God had showed up, it would have been rather Acts-like in its impact. Yet something evil showed up instead, and it wreaked havoc.

Pat has some skeletons in his closet. I am not trying to say that some of what happened to him and his community wasn’t self-inflicted. To a degree, it was. Yet this story left me wonderfully aware of how church growth, church multiplication, and disciple-making movements all are really spawned only by acts of God, not by acts of men or acts of Greg. And when, for whatever reason in his sovereignty He chooses not to act, the results do not come.

Alarmed, bothered, frustrated, scared & jolted

Pray more about this, we must. We must beg God to show up in power as He has at moments throughout history to spawn movements of multiplication in His kingdom. Otherwise, we will settle for imitation results that we know how to produce, such as filling seats at entertaining Christian events and taking the glory for it.

We need to get alarmed, bothered, frustrated, scared, and jolted to our cores that the power once experienced by Christ’s followers is largely absent from the North American church today. I need to be more bothered that I have only occasionally experienced anything divine, and that my life is dry and stale as a result. We need to beg God to do something in our time.

It Is Easier . . .

It is easier to find a Christian band we like and let their music move us.

It is easier to find a Christian author we like and read everything he has written and enjoy it immensely.

It is easier to find a preacher we like and sit on our butts for a half hour every Sunday until we die and be inspired by his words (even though we have heard it all before).

It is easier to build impressive church buildings in the suburbs, watch them grow with new attenders, and ignore the fact that churches in the inner city and rural countryside are shrinking and closing at a greater rate than our suburban churches are swelling.

It’s easier to create emotional experiences, go a little crazy on occasion, and call that God’s power than it is to admit that we are really starving for it and can’t seem to evoke it by our efforts to do so.

It is Harder . . .

It is harder to beg God to move with power, and deal with the fact that the power is only trickling these days for some reason. This is a problem we have as the church. We must be honest about what is happening around us and get busy begging God to move in power, however and whenever he wishes.

We've Seen This Before

This seemed to be the story of the New Testament as well. For four hundred years there had been no prophet in Israel. Yet the religious leaders of the day would probably tell you things were going well. They had synagogue worship. The religious leaders enjoyed power and prosperity, and there was plenty of “success” to focus upon. But not until God showed up in power through his son (the Jesus story in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and through His spirit (the church’s story in Acts) did real kingdom growth occur. The times seem very similar here in North America.

Pat’s story, and a few other similar experiences, taught me this.