Theres’ a little zoo in Red Lodge, Montana. Well, I think it’s still there. The last time I was there legwarmers were cool for the first time and Jamie Lee Curtis was producing work out videos. VHS and Beta bay-beee!
Yes, it’s been a while.
I was 5-ish and we saw ostriches, zebras and even rode an elephant and I was so impressed and so completely in awe. What a cool adventure for a little kid, huh? We walked the small loop and at the very end was a little hut with a thatched roof. We opened the rough door and walked into a dark room where the sign read “The Deadliest Animal On Earth”. A glint in the back caught our eye and we walked toward it, cautiously, carefully… A fun kind of spooky, you know?
Know what we found?
Yes, cliché. So very cliché.
Yet that is what I am seeing as the result of this entire conversation on the organization and exo-skeleton of fellowship.
The Word is clear that in any healthy and properly functioning group of believers there will be those given to the Body for a specific purpose. A unique calling that is a heavier weight than the calling given to another. Not levels of importance. Don’t read that into it! Some were given (given to whom? The Body!!!) as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, (Ephesians 4:11NASB). Why and when? To build up their fellow believers, to disciple those younger in the faith than themselves. To reflect Christ to His people in a unique and significant manner.
When? Well, anyone can see from even the most cursory study of the New Testament (B’rit Hadashah) this fledgling Body met daily, on the Sabbath, and any opportunity they were given. They met corporately and they met individually. They met casually and they met intentionally. They gave to help their brothers and sisters in far away places and they served each other and gave liberally to all those among them who were in need.
And while life was happening around them, those who were wiser, older, stronger and more importantly, specifically called and gifted, were recognized. Their leadership, their status (if you will) was an important part of the familial structure of the early church. The elders were granted positions of authority, recognized by Apostles and were commanded to lead well, with prayer and fasting, to maintain a heart of service and a sacrificial love for those who listened and followed as they led.
Those are non-negotiables. I don’t really care what you name them. Episkopos, overseer, Spiritual Super Heroes. It’s not relevant to the point I’m making.
There is an innate hierarchy in relationships. I don’t know why G-d made us this way, but He did. Leaders lead, helpers help, shepherds tend and teachers teach. Big brothers and big sisters who love their families will care for the little ones. And little ones will look up to, seek out and listen to their older (elder) siblings in the faith.
We look toward the Head of our Body, our Messiah Yeshua, and in moments of purity and righteousness we acknowledge a desire to look just like Him.
The system is fine. No problems with it. The best time in a fellowship I’ve ever had was when my Dad, Jack, Tim, Jamie & Allen led our little group of 150. These men spent alternating weeks teaching and stood shoulder to shoulder leading us in growing and understanding the faith.
The problem today is the “Deadliest Animal On The Planet”. The people!
We, the Body, have allowed our places of fellowship to become Petri dishes for producing the Perfect Worship Leader and the Super Star Pastor. We haven’t taken the time to know enough of the Word or of the nominees so that we can honestly determine if the guy on the voting ballot is Elder Material or if he’s just popular and makes the rest of us look good.
We’ve abdicated our own personal responsibility to pray for and seek out and treat like a human being the men who lead us. We’ve chosen to stay blind when the men we’ve put in front of ourselves behave badly or even abusively.
It’s so much easier to pin point the problem, to point fingers at the other side and to personalize issues as a way of buffering ourselves from the reality of our own choices.
I have to make choices. IF I am commanded to love the Body, the good, bad and ugly of the Family, then I must choose to be where they are. I can’t hide away in my home only taking the time and effort to seek out those who are comfy, warm, and pleasant. Safe. I can’t refuse to listen to someone who speaks abrasively, who perhaps offends me. I have to suck it up and hug the person across from me, look for those who stand alone and earnestly, intentionally and consistently lay down my life for those around me.
Honestly? I don’t want to. And that really doesn’t matter. Maybe I have a small piece of truth about the sweetness of “organic” fellowship. How can I invest that in the greatest number of believers?
Go where they are and show them.
There is a saying that I have said for years, I’m sure you’ve heard it. “You can’t pick your family.”
How true is that, huh? Well, you can’t. I can’t pick and choose the Family either. I need to be where they are. Not because of the Pastor, not because of the fear of being alone and not because of a sense of obligation to the traditions of our church fathers.
I can’t say what your choice and your path should be. I would caution all of us to make sure we haven’t painted ourselves into Freedom or Function corners and thereby eliminating the opportunities to be sharpened by the steel of a brother.
I don’t know you all very well. I know one or two well and a few more a little better. Doesn’t matter. You speak, I listen. That is my commitment. I don’t hear the audible voice of G-d anymore. He uses you, the radio, the guy up front on Saturday night, my son in the back of the van. I need to be ready to listen.
And learn. And grow. Especially when it hurts like hell. Even when I am so confused I can’t see straight.
Wanna know something I’m learning? Slowly and painfully?
I can’t blame G-d for the behavior of His kids, or those who call themselves believers but sow only seeds of destruction. Free will swings both ways. I can’t also see the good around and not acknowledge Him working in the lives of those who do call on His name.
If I seek Him earnestly and I take step after step after step and still end up disappointed and broken it’s not because He led me astray. My motivations could have been pure as driven snow (not that they have ever been that…). Still I cannot coerce those around me to respond in the same way and if I am offering chocolates and roses and they are only seeing manure and weeds… G-d isn’t any less faithful.
I need His Body. I need His people. I need the ones who won’t “support my every decision” but will call me on it, at a risk, if they see the need.
I believe this controversy, as with many Biblical controversies, finds its Truth smack dab in the middle. We need order, we need structure, we need the Elders to speak into and lead those who are the Youngers. And we need free-form fellowship outside the structure to prompt personal growth and the accountability of fellowship and family. I know I need to be among the Body in a corporate sense, in an intentional manner. And I have this hunger for fellowship and study that doesn’t find itself hindered by the walls and man-made traditions.
So, I’m going in among Them, taking this desire for fellowship with me until They become Us. And I’ll stick with it.
Until the next time they kick me out.
Then you’ll probably find me back here again. Wondering how to make it all work.