I remember our first Lord’s supper. Some of us were terrified because there was no one “officiating.” As time went on, we discovered that the Lord’s supper was a Christ-centered fellowship meal rather than a token ritual. This moved it from a high-and-lofty clergy-authorized religious rite to a pot luck dinner shared by lesser mortals.
Thus we began taking the Lord’s supper as a meal regularly. It was an important part of many of our meetings. What did it look like? A simple yet joyful potluck dinner that included the bread and the cup. A celebration feast remembering and honoring the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, participating in His body and blood.
In the early years, we faced the problem of some believers contributing a great deal to the meal, while others contributed nothing at all. One brother in particular had a ministry to young people. So he would often bring a bundle of young people to the meetings without bringing any food for the Lord’s Supper. Many sisters in the church were quite troubled by this, and they eventually gave voice to it. (When the sisters are unhappy, the church had better do something quick or else. I won’t finish that sentence.)
We eventually ironed the problem out. However, it was encouraging for us to know that the early Christians faced this same challenge. En. According to 1 Corinthians 11, there was tension between the rich Christians and the poor Christians in regard to the Lord’s Supper. This was but one example of a principle I learned early on: That if you gather in a New Testament fashion, you will begin to have New Testament problems.
I also remember when we started baptizing people. It was a scary thing because we didn’t have a pastor or a clergyman overseeing us. A Scripture that helped us a great deal was in 1 Corinthians where Paul said that the brothers and sisters in Corinth did most of the baptizing in that town. He, the great apostle, baptized few. En. 1 Corinthians 1:14-17.
So that first year was wonderful. But in the year that followed, things started to get dicey. We began to grate on one another’s nerves. At one point, churching together became so difficult that I resolved to leave. But on August 18, 1989, something happened that would prevent that. The Lord gave me a dream which revealed that I was not to entertain thoughts of leaving the group. So I stayed. Part of me was glad I did. Another part of me wished the dream was the result of bad pizza the night before.
From 1988 to 1990, we sought to discover how to meet. We had two things going for us—a love for the Lord and a spirit of experimentation. We had hearts that were very open to learn. I later discovered this one thing. That if a group of people have open hearts toward God, and they are willing to be stretched in their views, beliefs, and practices, the Lord will have a clear path to work among them. If your heart is truly open to learn, He’ll actually teach you more than you wish to know.
Throughout the years of 1990 and 1992, a specific burden for the poor began to grow within us. We helped one of the brothers purchase a home to house and minister to homeless men. More than a few homeless people were brought into Rodney’s house during those years.
During that season, I learned everything I wanted to know (and what I didn’t want to know) about working with street people. It was a world I didn’t know existed. The church grew pretty quickly as a result. We brought a number of homeless men to the Lord, baptized them, and had special meetings where we instructed them in the faith. Not to mention doing all we could to rid them of their drug habits and helping them to land work (some of our efforts failed miserably).
Two major lessons came out of that experience. The first was that it dawned on me that so many contemporary Christians separate individual piety from social concern. Yet the two go hand in hand.
Echoing the words of Paul in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Interestingly, many Christians have focused on clause B “especially to those of the household of faith” and have ignored clause A “let us do good to all.” En. See also Titus 2:14. Significantly, Paul’s words to the Galatian Christians are the same that Luke used to describe the ministry of Jesus while He was on earth:
“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” En. Acts 10:38, NKJV.
In the gospel of Luke, the ministry of Jesus is clearly outlined. En. Luke 4:18-19, NKJV
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
The above words came out of the Lord’s own mouth. He was referring to His unique mission on earth. En. Luke 4:20-22. The interesting thing is that Jesus Christ hasn’t changed. He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” En. Hebrews 13:8. Consequently, a church cannot boast that it is expressing Christ if it has no concern for the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, the oppressed and if it’s not engaged in “doing good to all.”
The reality is, Jesus Christ hasn’t changed. What He did on earth reflects His unchanging nature. He still wishes to do the same things through His Body today. Please notice that I didn’t say that He wants us to do these things. Not so. He wants to continue to do them through us.
Doing good is not an activity. It’s the expression of a life form. Only God is good, and what He does is good. When the church lives by the Divine life that inhabits her, she also does good. So when a church truly lives by Christ, it will express Him in the same way that He expressed His Father on earth.
The second lesson I learned had to do with the affinities and antipathies between the “ministry” and the “church” (albeit, some of these lessons came out of much conflict and dialogue over the issue).
Once a week, we would go out to a park in the city to play butler to the homeless. We would feed them and share Christ with them. As time went on, one of the brothers became increasingly passionate about ministry to the homeless. So much so that he felt it should be the central focus of the church. Most of the other saints didn’t agree. This created a conflict, and it grew more tense as the days passed on.
I learned a valuable lesson from that experience. It was this: People in the church need to feel free to pursue their dreams and their callings.
If your dream is to feed the homeless, you should be free to pursue it. If your dream is to share the gospel on the streets, you should feel free to pursue it. If your dream is to work for social justice in your neighborhood, you should feel free to pursue it. If your dream is to help pregnant teens, or to help curb abortion, you should feel free to pursue it. If your dream is to engage in apologetics with college students, you should feel free to pursue it. If your dream is to care for children or bless the elderly, you should feel free to pursue it. If your dream is to fight pornography, you should feel free to pursue it. And as much as it lies within the other brothers and sisters, they should support you.
But here’s the rub. Not everyone in the church may share your specific burden. And that’s okay. They should be free not to pursue your dream. And if they don’t, that doesn’t make them less spiritual than you are.
This poses a serious test for many devoted Christians. Your reaction to those who don’t share your specific passion could mean the destruction of your church. It could also mean a bloody split. Or it could mean that the Lord will get His way in you.
Point of advice: Be faithful to your burden, but never pressure others to embrace it. And never present ultimatums over it. Your reaction is everything. It will either build the church or destroy it.
Pursue your dreams in the church. But do not demand or pressure your brothers and sisters to share those dreams. They may not. Just as you have the freedom to pursue your burden, they have the freedom to pursue theirs. And they may not be the same. It took us a long while and lots of hurt feelings to learn that lesson.
(Years later, I learned a related lesson that had to with the seasons of an organic church. We’ll discuss that lesson in Chapter 12. I also discovered what I call “servant groups.” A servant group is a group of two to six people in the church who share the same burden to serve a specific group of people in the community or to take on a specific redemptive mission. A church, therefore, may have a servant group for the elderly, a servant group for the homeless, a servant group for pregnant teens, etc.)
During that season of ministry to the homeless, I discovered another important principle. There’s a beautiful illustration of it at the end of John 21. In that passage, we find Jesus charging Peter with some specific responsibilities. In so doing, He also mentions how Peter will die. Peter’s response is all too human. He points to John and asks Jesus, “What about him?”
The Lord’s reply is telling. He essentially says, “What I do with John is not your concern. You have but one concern—that you follow me.”
These words have echoed within me virtually every time I’ve been tempted to concern myself with what others are doing (or not doing) for the Lord. Especially in those areas where I felt wronged or where I was shouldering the full responsibility for something, when others were shirking it.
I am the steward of my own obedience to the Lord, not the steward of someone else’s. You and I are the master of our own obedience. The lord of our own self-denial. Our part is to follow Christ. That should be our concentration. What others do (or not do) is the Lord’s business, not ours. As Paul said, “But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.” En. Of course, this principle doesn’t apply to situations when someone is committing gross sin in the church. The New Testament is clear that in such cases, it is the responsibility of the members to take responsibility for such problems (1 Corinthians 5; Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3:13-14).