Strange, unnecessary practices in the church are hindering the advance of the Kingdom.
I'll admit, there are many who will read this article and disagree with me on one or all of the points. That's par for the course no matter what topic I address, but I need to make it clear up front that what follows is an opinion piece—yet, I believe it's a valid opinion and one that many in the church world would agree with. I feel it's important to introduce the topic of this article so we can honestly analyze unnecessary cultural additives to the church that are making the mission more challenging.
I personally believe it best to de-clutter our church structures. Eliminating much of what makes up the construct of the local church would do wonders. I know many are yearning for a church experience that brings focus back to its foundational, governmental purpose—prayer. Check this out from a previous Ministry Today Magazine article:
I'm on the hunt for what I call Pavement People. These are the 2 Chronicles 7 people who couldn't even enter the building due to the glory of God filling it—so they hit the pavement and worshipped. No comfortable chairs, no music, nothing but them, the pavement and God.
Oh how glorious it would be to turn our Sunday morning church experience into a white-hot furnace of prayer! Clear out the chairs, pace around the perimeter or lay face-down and contend as the groans of Spirit-fueled intercession resound!
Good graphic artists and web designers understand the importance of white space. They add art, graphics, text and other elements only as is absolutely necessary, ensuring that there is a significant amount of white space—blank space—absolutely nothing added to a large portion of the art board. It's just empty. It gives room to breathe. You can focus on what is most important. We need white space in the church. Eliminate everything but the most important things.
This being said, there are some unnecessary and often times compromising practices that are taking up precious white space, and it's making the mission of the church tougher than it should be.
WHAT NEEDS TO COME TO AN END IN THE CHURCH?
I absolutely believe in rank and order in the government of the church. I also believe it's important to honor leaders intentionally and to be a very real support. Their arms need to be lifted at times.
However, the armor bearer culture is all too often dysfunctional and bizarre. While I don't argue that some leaders handle it in a healthy way, I feel it's simply unnecessary in most cases. By design, assigning an armor bearer creates distinction between the leader and the body. Leaders create their own pedestal, climb up on it and expect to be served in front of everyone. If not handled with extreme caution, it stinks of self-promotion.
I've been in ministry for a long time, and while I appreciate the assistance that people offer, the idea of finding an armor bearer, even when others recommend I find one, I find to be something that would cause more problems than it would relieve. Instead, why not develop a team of secret intercessors who are aggressive in the spirit as they support you from the closet? Nobody has to know, but the support would be supernaturally powerful.
Here's a story that illustrates this point. Several years ago I was asked to gather a team of intercessors to cover Sarah Palin during one of her tours. I had the privilege of spending quality one-on-one time with her, prophesied over her and heard her heart. With hundreds of people swarming around her, Sarah, her makeup artist and I retreated beyond the intense Secret Service type security detail into a small room where we spent the next hour and a half together. It was a God ordained moment. Then, my team of three intercessors who were waiting patiently for us were escorted, along with myself, Sarah and her media director onto her tour bus. That gave us additional private, quality time to pray over her as she prepared to address hundreds of people in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
I was the first person off of the bus and the rest of the team followed. The crowd roared and the cameras were rolling. Well known national news personalities had their microphones in hand. It was a media frenzy and quite an experience! We also babysat her son Trig that night as she interacted with the crowd for hours, without an armor bearer in sight.
Later, as I watched some YouTube videos of us stepping off of the bus, people were commenting that we were most likely her body guards or support staff. They or nobody would ever know that we were actually Sarah's intercessors, the most important team of people that she made sure surrounded her in every city she visited. Prayer warriors, not armor bearers, are what we need surrounding leaders in the church today.
EXCESSIVE SPIRITUAL FATHERING/MOTHERING
I'm sure this point will be met with some indignation. I understand the issue of fatherlessness in the nation today, and while some in the church have addressed it appropriately (and others have ignored it entirely), many have capitalized on this inappropriately. It can get quite strange.
Yes, it's true that we need spiritual fathers and mothers. This is a fact that cannot be debated, and it's fully scriptural. The problem is when we take a simple truth and turn it into a movement or attempt to overemphasize it in a church culture.
I've had people identify me as their spiritual father, and I'll admit it can be quite awkward. There's often a dysfunctional, co-dependent feel to it. I understand that people are craving impartation and fatherly/motherly guidance, and I fully affirm that. However, it can get weird when we take it too far. It can reveal insecurity in both the spiritual son/daughter AND the spiritual father/mother who both want to experience relational significance while slapping a spiritual label on it. This is toxic.
I wrote my eBook Orphans No More! with this issue in mind. A spirit of insignificance will cause people to look for human fathers and mothers and others who will affirm them instead of drawing their identity from God the Father directly.
EXCESSIVE RELATIONAL FOCUS
Today we are seeing a rise in churches that are mostly focused on connecting people—to people. Pastors are mostly focused on developing relational holding tanks for the congregation and creating systems to ensure everybody feels like a part of the family.
Note, I'm not saying connecting people to the church family is wrong. It's the weight of the focus that is way out of balance in many churches.
You'll notice many church marketing campaigns, signage, fliers and other forms of communication today are focused mostly on how people will be loved in their new church home, on how they will fit in and on how there's a place for them instead of inviting people to surrender all and encounter the Holy Spirit.
In fact, I dare say that many a pastor, especially those in the millennial ranks, are zeroing in on developing a mutual admiration society as they attempt to create an atmosphere filled with warm hugs and an ever-growing community of friends with them positioned right at the center of it all.
I understand this would be an unfair critique if I were labeling all churches as being excessively relational or all millennials as out of balance. I absolutely am not. What I am doing is bringing light to a troubling trend that needs to stop, and fast.
We need to nurture godly relationships, but not at the expense of the mission. The fox hole of ministry is where friendships are forged. As we contend for revival together and war in the supernatural realm, our connections become more valuable and much deeper than we could ever imagine.
EXCESSIVE PASTORAL CARE
Related to the above point, but still distinct, in many churches we are seeing the "hospital mentality" drive the day-to-day. I've heard many people comment that the church is to be a hospital. It is not.
The church is a governmental, missional army of people who are unified, equipped and advancing against the enemy. It's a weapon of war.
Yes, in battle there will be many wounded warriors, but this calls not for a hospital but rather a MASH unit. We tend to the wounded and minister healing to them for the purpose of seeing them return victoriously to the battlefield.
We need to stop putting pressure on the pastor to be continually tending to our every wound and whim instead of moving ahead, blazing trails with his sword aimed squarely between the eyes of the enemy.
In fact, it's a healthier and stronger move to see the body rally around the wounded instead of expecting the General, the leader, to be the sole person expected to tend to them. A spiritual community that's focused on running the race together will be much better equipped to reach the hurting than a single leader who is being pulled in too many directions to count.
Of course, there are times the senior leader must break away to go after the one who has lost their way, but that's the exception, not the rule.
Again, let's find the pavement people, those who are not drawn to the show, to the theatrics, to the fog and lights, and who simply are energized by contending in prayer and advancing the Kingdom.
I'll admit that atmospheric supplements such as video, lighting and other effects are benign. They aren't evil or good. They are aids, but too often it just gets ridiculous. The draw of the church should be the undeniable presence of God, not a carefully produced environment.
This point takes us right through and well beyond the lights and fog. While I've seen some church services that are terribly disorganized and slopped together, many churches that are forward thinking put great thought into every moment and everything the people will experience. For example, is anybody else tired of the visiting minister orchestrating a circus atmosphere by attempting to push over every soul with enough force to create an Instagram worthy altar of people sprawled out all over?
What about perfectly timed and controlled services? Everything is produced as precisely and efficiently as a Broadway show. When I see a church schedule with 9am, 10:30am and 12pm Sunday morning services, I'm pretty sure, most likely, it's a church best skipped.
Let's shut down the production and the carefully controlled and humanly ordered services and simply worship, pray, get equipped and see the presence of God overwhelm us. That's church.
One of the most amusing meetings I've ever had occurred several years ago in Detroit. A local pastor whom I had never met requested that we get together over coffee. We did, and it took everything I had not to smirk between sips of java. He berated me for allowing people to call me by my first name. I had to make sure I clearly understood what he was saying. Yes, he actually was upset that people called me John! He personally didn't allow anybody even to know what his first name was, much less call him by it. He expected everyone to call him by his title. It was such a strange and humorous conversation!
Now, please hear me on this. I know many leaders who do go by their title. Pastors, apostles and other leaders do value the distinction that comes from putting a title before their name. Many, many of these are amazing and godly men and women, and I absolutely do call them by their title if they prefer I do. I respect them and I honor them with abandon.
In fact, when leading a church, I did find myself struggling with this issue. My preference was for people to call me John. However, many wanted to call me Pastor. I was okay with that, except, it caused some functional problems. Why? My office isn't Pastor. That much is clear. While I don't care to identify myself by my office, others, including leaders in my life, have acknowledged a prophetic/apostolic office. So, now what? Do people call me Apostle John? They have, and it's okay, but honestly I kind of cringe when they do. The reason I'm bringing up this point is because I agree that titles can be very helpful when they designate function and expectations in ministry. When people presumed me to be a pastor, with all of the gifts and skills of a pastor, their expectations were frustrated as I couldn't meet them. However, when they understood I was prophetic/apostolic, they began to value me in that role. Again, titles can define function, and that's fully appropriate.
However, like this pastor (or apostle, or doctor, I'm not sure) in Detroit, it can get unhealthy. I'd challenge pastors, prophets, apostles or others to consider allowing people to simply call you by your name. It removes some unnecessary barriers and weirdness from the relationship. If you do prefer a title, that's okay, just handle it in a healthy way and understand that you may not be as big a deal as you think you are.
I asked some of my Facebook friends what they felt should be eliminated from the church. In addition to confirming the above points, I received several additional interesting suggestions:
Skinny jeans, pulpits, ministers pushing people over at the altar, new stage props every week, organs, tambourines, one-hour services, worship leaders influenced by secular music, the subordination of women, praying in tongues on the microphone, not praying in tongues on the microphone, quenching the Spirit, excessive manifestations, controlling manifestations and comedy acts from the platform.
Why am I suddenly envisioning a skinny jean wearing, tambourine playing woman telling jokes as she pushes people over at the altar? Oh well. Nobody is going to agree on all of this, as I stated at the beginning of the article, but I'd imagine we all want God to lead his church! What changes do you think would be appropriate?
— John Burton has been developing and leading ministries for over 25 years and is a sought out teacher, prophetic messenger and revivalist. He ministers in churches and at camps and conferences throughout the nation. John has authored ten books, is a regular contributor to Charisma Magazine, has appeared on Christian television and radio and directed one of the primary internships at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City. Additionally, he has planted two churches, has initiated two city prayer movements and a school of ministry. A large and growing library of audio and video teachings, articles, books and other resources can be found on his website at http://www.burton.tv/.