I began reading “Deep & Wide” by Andy Stanley this morning. What I’ve read so far has been really good. In the opening section of the book, Stanley tells the story of how his church, North Point Community Church came to exist. I would highly recommend reading the story, but make sure you find an account told by him or his father, Charles Stanley. Without going into the detail, I’ll just tell you that it was messy. The circumstances that lead up to the formation of what would become North Point was not a nice, fun story. As I was thinking about what I read, a passage came to mind, I’m going to paraphrase, but I would encourage you to read Psalm 40:1-3.
“I waited on God, on His timing. He pulled me out of hopelessness, out of the muck and showed me the way, giving me a firm path. He gave me direction and I worshipped Him. Many saw what God did and put their trust in him.” Psalm 40:1-3 (My own paraphrase).
I love this passage because it reminds us that God works through some of the most difficult, painful, and filthy circumstances. God’s grace and power are most apparent when things are the messiest. This morning in my devotional I read a few chapters out of the first part of Acts, the formation of the early church was not “pretty.” Men died. People were driven out of their homes and rejected by their community. And yet, despite the persecution, they persevered. Acts 5:13 says, “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.” The people were afraid to join them, some of the people even participated in persecuting them, but still they respected the church. They were drawn to the church, even though they were too afraid to join, they WANTED to be a part of the church.
Stanley points out in his introduction that when people say “they, ‘felt the Spirit moving,'” what they typically mean is that attendance was good, or the music was good (to their taste), or the sermon connected with them. While having good attendance, or good worship, or a good sermon, or all 3 is not a bad thing, it is not a good sign when that is what we consider “the Spirit moving.” When the Spirit moves in the New Testament, or the Old Testament for that matter, one of two things happens (or both): (1) people’s heart and minds are changed, (2) God brings people to know him.
I couldn’t get the question out of my mind this morning, do we focus on being a “nice” church or do we allow God to use the mess? While I don’t think God wants churches to go through the things Stanley describes his churches going through, I do think that a lot times we are so focused on preference and creating a “nice” worship service that we don’t give God the opportunity to pull us out of the chaos and create something that He can use to transform our community.
I picked this book, “Deep & Wide” because of its subtitle, “Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend.” I think a lot of times we (myself included) spend too much time asking question and working to create churches that reach the churched. What does a church look like that the unchurched in our community WANT to go to? God doesn’t call us to be pretty, but he does call us to be useful. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)