The church is returning back to its original roots as we near the return of the Lord.
The Bible is filled with stories that go “full circle”. In fact, you could basically summarize the entire Bible as a story that describes God bringing humanity full circle back to what he originally intended for us in Genesis. In the beginning, we were living with God in the perfection of the Garden, with no sickness, no pain, and no separation from God Himself. (Genesis 2) The story of the Bible ends with humanity with Him again in absolute perfection. (Revelation 21) The whole story of history and all of the Bible is a circular story of us going back to what God originally intended for us. It’s a circular story.
In fact, I believe that one of the most powerful tools available to churches today in sharing the gospel is something called the “3 Circles” diagram. This is a simple way that millions around the world have used to explain the gospel message and its circular nature. (Click here to learn more)
Right now I believe that we’re experiencing a global shift concerning the church today. This shift has to do with the circular nature of how God works and tells stories. From the time of the Acts of the Apostles to the return of Jesus Christ, I believe that we will watch a full circle story take place. We will slowly drift back closer and closer to the biblical example of the early church as we approach each day closer to the Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:1 2 Peter 3:10).
2020 is a catalytic year that is helping us launch more and more into the circular journey that the Lord is taking the Church on.
How is the global pandemic and other crisis’ helping push us more into our destiny?
Some of the things we see happening in the church today should inspire us to have hope rather than feel discouraged. God is preparing the Church more and more for the return of the Lord and is bringing us back to the biblical example of how the Church was intended to exist.
I want to point out TWO things happening this year that I believe can actually be seen as positive moves forward for the Church. (There could be more added but I have kept it to two items for the sake of article length.)
# 1 – Focus on End-Times Teaching
I was born in 1988. Most of my life I can honestly say that being around the church I have barely heard any teachings about the return of Christ, the coming Day of the Lord, and other end-time biblical teachings. It seems that this has consistently been a large portion of scripture that the average congregation in America has ignored or barely talked about.
What’s interesting is how much emphasis there is in the scriptures about the Day of the Lord and how disproportionately we have been teaching on the subject. The letters that were written by the Apostles to the early church movement were filled with references to the return of Jesus Christ. These letters were not something that was only given to seasoned leaders but was read publicly to the churches. New believers were quickly taught about not only the first coming of Christ but very quickly the truth of His imminent return.
In the early church, there was a common greeting that was used. It was the Aramaic word, “Maranatha”. This word was used to conclude the end of Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth. The word can be pronounced in two ways that can mean two different things. One way it can be pronounced means, “The Lord has come”. Another pronunciation means, “The Lord is Coming.” The word Maranatha is a perfect depiction of the Good News we celebrate as Christians. The Lord Jesus has come, he died on the cross to redeem us and forgive us! The Lord is coming to establish His Kingdom, destroy all wickedness, and make every wrong thing right! Both of these realities have equal significance in the gospel reality we all celebrate as the church. One of the issues we have faced in the Church has been a strong emphasis on, “The Lord has Come!” while ignoring the equally important facet of the gospel message, “The Lord is coming!” This is changing quickly however….
In 2020 I have seen a massive shift in this and suddenly people all over America and the world are interested in learning more about the end times. I believe that this is from the Lord and that God wants us to not be ignorant concerning what the bible says about the last days. This year there has been a rebirth of focus on the end times in the larger church across America and beyond. I believe we will not stray away from teaching on this subject but we will see even larger “seeker-friendly” congregations beginning to teach on these subjects.
Two friends of mine, Dalton Thomas and Joel Richardson have recently started developing a comprehensive library of very solid and biblical teachings on many of these passages. I’d encourage you to check out their teachings on YouTube or to download the FAI APP for a bunch of great teachings. Also, another great resource is the Mike Bickle teaching library that is totally free and has a massive catalogue of teachings on the various scriptures that deal with the end times.
#2 – The Church has left the building
I think one of the hardest things for the Body of Christ in 2020 has been the closure of buildings and assemblies all over the world. For hundreds of years, the church has traditionally met together at a certain time on a certain day in a certain type of building. Suddenly, the traditional rhythm that we’re all accustomed to has been halted. What we have seen in the midst of this is what I would call an “Identity Crisis” of the church.
What I mean by the Identity Crisis of the church is that the very core identity of the church has been challenged more than ever in our recent history. What has been exposed is that we have mostly believed is that our identity is found in this specific gathering we have in a specific building at a specific time.
As hard as this season has been, I believe that this is going to be used in a powerful way to reshape the way the church works moving forward. The Church’s identity in the Bible is found in the movement of people that are connected in discipleship and community that hold to the doctrines of the scripture. The church is not a Sunday morning gathering. The church is not a building. The Church is the people.
As we approach closer and closer to the return of the Lord, I believe the church will begin to look more and more like the early church. They met in homes (Acts 2:46). They focused on evangelism and disciple-making (Acts 5:42). They had no buildings. They had no bank accounts. They simply focused on multiplying the model of making disciples that Jesus had shown them and teaching what He had taught them. (Matthew 28:19-21)
We have an opportunity to refocus ourselves on the basic calling of the Church to be witnesses (Acts 1:8 Mark 16:15) and make disciples. However, we have to resist the urge to try and preserve the way we have always done things. The reality is that the Gospel is powerful enough to bring salvation to mankind (Romans 1:16) but the Gospel is not limited to our Sunday services and or programmed events. We can’t strive to move forward if we keep looking backward, longing for everything to just go back to normal.
We can’t keep our hands to the gospel plow if we keep trying to look back to the way that things once were. (Luke 9:62)
What if God doesn’t want the Church to snap back to “normal”?
How this has challenged me personally
For the past seven years, I have led a ministry that has been mostly driven by one event after another. At the core of our ministry, I would say that we are an evangelism ministry with a focus on equipping churches and reaching people with the Gospel. The reality, however, is that over time we very much became an “events” based ministry. We had maintained our focus on reaching souls and equipping people in the church but I had a realization of how much “events” drove our ministry when the world shut down due to the coronavirus.
After three years of almost non-stop travel and ministry, everything suddenly came to a halt. I think one of the most healthy questions I asked myself during that first month of transition is, what is our ministry really? What do we really do? Are events actually essential for us to carry out the mandate that God has called us to? That first month was in a very true sense, an identity crisis for Take the City. How does an evangelistically driven ministry that plans events all year continue to thrive and exist when there are no longer events happening? Is our identity in the events we host or is it actually found in the network we help to lead?
What I have discovered is revolutionary for me and my whole team. We are not limited to events and church services. We are able to still make a significant impact while using other means and strategies. We have also been able to restructure and focus more on prayer and discipleship than ever before.
I believe that this major shift is catalytic for our ministry and for ministries around the world if we will allow the Lord to recalibrate our focuses rather than straining to get back to “things as usual”. May God give us all grace to navigate uncharted waters and to be innovative as we focus on the primary things He has called us to do. This disruption may be painful but I believe that it’s a necessary refocus for everyone to get back to the basics.
Many of our traditions, programs, and services are actually very powerful and effective but this is a season of pause that will help us actually assess, what is beneficial and what is a hindrance? What has been effective and what things have been a distraction? Do our gatherings actually make disciples? Do our services actually invite people to respond to the gospel in a biblical way? Is our current format of teaching the scriptures really even the best format moving forward? I don’t have the answers, but I think these are some great questions we should all be asking as we look forward.
Here are some final practical steps that we have taken that might be helpful for you as well:
- Prayer – We have made a firm commitment to staying dedicated to prayer during this season. Our team is now praying together more than ever before. This is vital now and is vital as we move forward. This can’t be a temporary new rhythm but we must be committed to this sacred rhythm over the long haul in the days ahead. What if we made bold commitments during this season to labor in prayer for hours and hours each week for God’s will to be done in us and through us?
- Disciple-making – We have committed to replacing much of the time we were spending on planning programs, events, or services with disciple-making efforts. We’re taking our efforts and devoting it to making disciples and multiplying them in the cities where we have contacts. We have chosen to use our time on building solid relationships and training leaders as apposed to planning digital productions and reproductions of former events. Right now a lot of ministries are spending a lot of their money and efforts trying to create an online version of services and events. What if we embraced the break from our events and services and took the time we have to solely invest in our relationships with each other and raising up leaders?
- Scripture – Personally and corporately we have given ourselves to a deep devotion to staying in the Word of God. Right now there are more competing voices and perspectives vying for all of our attention. We must allow the Bible to be the “light to our path” that it has always been intended to be. Right now we must let the Word be our great instructor, guide, and filter as we navigate the rapidly changing environment all around us. We need to commit ourselves to read the whole counsel of scripture, even those passages that deal with the end of the age, the day of the Lord, and the return of Christ. Now is not the time to “cherry-pick” what we want to read and what we don’t like from the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) We need to study and show ourselves approved as we consistently dig into the Word of God.
As we move forward through the remaining months of 2020, my hope and prayer is that we live filled with boldness, faith, and hope. I want to encourage you that God is still moving powerfully even in the midst of canceled services, restrictions, and setbacks. May we all embrace what God may be trying to teach us and choose not to look back as we take bold steps to advance God’s Kingdom moving forward.
Founder, Take the City