Monday, February 4, 2013

A New Trend Developing Among Churches In America

A Look at Our Unique Personality and DNA

You know our story.  I never intended on planting a church in Chicago!  We did not move to Chicago in 1999 to plant a church but, even though an ordained Church of God minister, we were brought here to serve as senior associate pastor for one of the largest and most historic Assemblies of God in America.  However, and nevertheless, God had something vastly different in mind and, given His great wisdom, failed to clue me in on what He was doing – thank God!

I am abundantly grateful for EVERY Church that is preaching Christ.  I devote no time, whatsoever, at fault-finding another’s doctrine, etc., if they are leading people to Christ and stand alongside us in the absolute essentials of Christian faith.  The times are far too critical, in my opinion, to hinder another’s influence in reaching people for Christ and will save critical studies on issues such as doctrine for the classrooms and discipleship classes.

Having said that, I also love to observe a church’s personality and see what it is that they are offering or how they are presenting Christ.  Some churches are Hollywood-savvy and are able to hang with anyone when it comes to media, technology and the like.  It is absolutely amazing what can be produced, not on Hollywood sets, but on church platforms!  Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas has a fine arts budget of more than a million dollars a year and their ministry is as cutting edge, penetrating and powerful as you will find anywhere in the world!

Some churches are driven by the popularity of their pastor who may be known city-wide or globally.  So many churches have been given a global stage to present Christ and are reaching multitudes who (in what I believe are the closing seconds of time) will never darken the doors of a church.

Other churches have multiple sites and it is not unusual for a pastor to preach at his church in Georgia Sunday morning and at his California or New York church on Sunday nights!

If there is any trend that I am observing, it is one that may very well be being initiated by Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek, here in Chicago, without knowing that his actions will create a much more determined focus on God’s Word and raising up capable disciples of Christ.  Pastor Hybels may very well be reshaping the countenance of the church in America, again, away from the seeker-sensitive model towards one devoted to being people of the Word.

It wasn’t too long ago that Pastor Hybels, the initiator of the seeker-sensitive approach to church, said that they had been ‘doing it wrong’ for thirty years.  The study he initiated stated that they were quite strong on attracting people but weak on getting them trained and discipled, able to stand and be fruit-bearing, productive believers.  Consequently, the huge tide of a consumer-driven-kind-of-approach to church ensued, whereby the church offering the best coffee or media and being the best at touching the seekers’ felt needs, held the greatest likelihood to also morph into a mega-church. 
Because of that concept and strategy, mega-churches have been popping up all over the country and the world, some changing nations and multiplied millions of lives.  However, it is my conviction that that trend is changing as I observe some signals being sent out by some of the largest, main-line, non-Pentecostal churches in America.

Just recently, I have witnessed some of these mega-churches which are not Pentecostal, finding the relevance and the Promise of Pentecostal doctrine and Truth laid down long ago by their forebears and are asking ‘why not now?’

I have enjoyed listening to some of these Pastors preach messages or begin to teach their staff the validity and the importance of Pentecostal doctrine and Truth that they, at one time, disallowed as being extinct or ‘taboo’ in a cultured or educated society. 

Yay!  For me, I already knew that!  Jude said so!  Thus, the reason for this article!  We (LIFE Church) has fought to be both relevant and socially connected, etc. and thoroughly Pentecostal at the same time.  We have struggled to create an atmosphere where there is a free, yet balanced and monitored, expressions of the Gifts of the Spirit and enjoy real Pentecostal encounters every week whether it is in the ecstasy of anointed praise and worship or in the sound, Word-centered prophetic words that illuminate seekers and the saints. 

I am grateful we have ‘dressed it up’ but did not abandon the ethos and dna of who we are.  In the days ahead, you will observe people searching for places where they can touch God and be touched deeply by God and they will begin to run and tell others that ‘this is where you can find fresh bread!’

There is, without question, a spiritual vacuum in America, similar to the one created following the Japan’s surrender ending World War II.  The Japanese lost their belief system in their national identity, emperor worship and the like and viewed our American god to be technology, commerce, etc.  Instead of filling that void with the truth of the Gospel as General MacArthur requested, the void was left unattended and Japan adopted what they believed to be our belief system and they have excelled in mimicking and, in some cases, surpassing us (Toyota just outdistanced GM in auto sales for the very first time, ever). 

America has a similar spiritual vacuum going on, maybe not to the same extent as the one in Japan I just described, but it is a spiritual vacuum nonetheless.  The Bible calls it a ‘plenteous harvest’ but today, it’s a spiritual vacuum that must be filled as multiplied millions of Americans search to fill that void with something substantive or even temporarily.  This is where the Church can make a profound impact if we are alert and aware and posture ourselves properly.

We planted LIFE Church of Chicagoland in 2000 by accident.  I had not planned on doing this, but, obviously, God did.  The very day we purchased our current facility, an historic Christian Reformed Church[1], our closest Pentecostal sister Church (Stone Church Assembly of God, one block away) was meeting and sold their facility and moved much further south into the suburbs.  Today that historic facility is home to a Jordanian Orthodox congregation.

Why did God plant LIFE Church?  For me, its obvious but I also realize I need to get the word out and let others know why God did this unexpected thing with us so many years ago.

First, LIFE Church is a part of a global movement true to its Pentecostal and Holiness roots and enjoying tremendous and steady growth around the world, the Church of God headquartered in Cleveland, Tennessee.  The Church of God started in 1886 and continues to embrace its Pentecostal distinctiveness.  Rather than slipping under the waves of commercial-driven pressure to completely adapt to the seekers to such an extent that a Church no longer resembles its New Testament, First Century parents, the Church of God believes its dna is something the Holy Spirit has preserved especially pertinent to these last of the Last Days.  LIFE Church is grateful to be a part of this awesome network.

In addition to partnering with one of the two largest Pentecostal movements in the world, the Church of God provides a safe and nurturing context for ministry while so many divergent winds of doctrine, etc. are blowing.  While we enjoy complete local expression, I also know that we have a safe and nurturing connectedness that stands alongside us, regularly, to help and give aid as needed.  Should we ever dysfunction and jeopardize what God has planted, this wise, aged, tested network and brotherhood insures the ongoing success of this local congregation, preserving us in troubling times.

Third, we have come to realize and embrace the fact that we are planted in this local region as a Pentecostal / Charismatic hospital, of sorts, employing our faith, the Holy Spirit’s relevant Gifts, a heightened emphasis on Agape Love, kindred hearted connectedness and nurture to be a last day Church that continues to believe in, preach and enjoy signs, wonders and miracles as God heals, saves, delivers and makes whole many who, in other church settings, might be directed to be counseled or join a small group.  Counseling is wonderful and small groups are essential, but it will be the unmitigated Power of the Holy Spirit Who will break the bonds of sin, sickness, possession, oppression and the like and set people truly free.

You will find, at LIFE Church, that we present Jehovah God as One Who ‘IS’ rather than God Who ‘was’ and some day ‘will be.’  In other words, He IS, past, present and future all that He has Promised to be and when you have a need that can’t be resolved with counseling and small group support, God’s Word, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, will be all you need at that very moment.

We are filling a spiritual vacuum in this region and working hard to let everyone know that you are invited, welcome at LIFE Church where God ‘IS.’  We are grateful for and have great fellowship with all of the other churches in our area and want to see God continue to bless them and use them.  They have their own unique identity and calling. 

Likewise, LIFE Church is called to be 100% Pentecostal believing that in these days and times, it will be the glorious Presence of God in our corporate worship and the Power of the Holy Spirit upon the preached Word of God that will draw multitudes to where there are wells of Living Water where they will find life-changing healing, deliverance and fulfillment. 

We have not been disinterested in public perception and how we are viewed by the public and have, therefore, adapted the employment of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit so newcomers to Pentecost are not blown away or overcome by anything except God’s healing Presence.  He likes being presented in dignity, order and excellence.  And, since Chicago has such a tremendous Catholic population, we even employ some worship components reminiscent of their heritage.

I assure you that at LIFE Church, you will not encounter a god being presented as one time He was able or willing, but not now.  You will not simply be met with words of encouragement that says God knows and understands, but little else offered.  You will find hope for each, every, any situation and God Who is, right now, the Answer to your every need.

Pastor Freddie Steel – - - 02-03-13

[1] The NIV Bible was birthed here.  It was also the focus of global news when being sought for purchase to be a Muslim Mosque.