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Does Your Church Position God Alone as Father?

Does Your Church Position God Alone as Father?

The Bible leaves no doubt about the identity of those who follow Jesus.  We are God’s children.  He is our Father.  Satan’s perpetual lie since the dawn of time is that our Father cannot be trusted.  Religious leaders throughout history have questioned our identity and access by positioning themselves as intermediaries between the Father and His children.  Christ came to prove once and for all that His Father (and ours) loves His children personally, unequivocally, and unconditionally.  Often unwittingly and unintentionally, church leaders divert attention from the Father to themselves and churches in ways that undermine our relationship with Him.  The result are churchgoers not grounded enough (in their status as a son or daughter) to represent Christ well, fueling popular perceptions of Christians as hypocritical and judgmental.

Our Heavenly Father Produces Faithful Children

Our Father knows His children and they recognize His voice.  If parents are rarely fooled by their kids, the Father is never deceived by His.  Jesus looked at the heart, merciful to those acknowledging their weaknesses but reserving His harshest words for those projecting under false pretenses.  Genuine Christ-followers pursue the Lord with all their hearts and seek His righteousness, not self-righteousness.  Our Father is interested in authentic Kingdom advancement, not the size of a church’s congregation or number of confessions of faith.  He is looking for true disciples, not cultural Christians, who embody…

  1. Growth – To find out “who was who”, Jesus preached His most challenging sermon at the height of His popularity.  His objective was relational, not numerical, growth.  How often do pastors “preach a church down” on purpose to weed out the insincere or (perpetually) unrepentant?  Losing excess weight typically makes people, and churches, healthier.  Jesus didn’t entertain (or, in some cases, tolerate) those only interested in what He could do for them, not a relationship with Him.  He knew who was seeking a favor (temporal help), not God (eternal hope).  Our Father is about depth, not breadth.
  2. Sincerity – In the early Church, no distinction existed between “disciple” and “Christian”.  A public profession of faith in Christ could be a death sentence.  Anyone that courageous was desperate for a relationship like Jesus had with His Father.  Persecution forced believers into small, house churches.   In America, where conspicuous church buildings dot the landscape and Christians are just beginning to experience relatively mild forms of persecution, it’s more difficult to tell those who has surrendered from who’s simply going through the motions.
  3. Obedience – We want our children to obey because they love us, not to get something or avoid punishment.  Their motive for obedience becomes more important than obedience itself.  Agape love, the purest of all motives, is the Greatest Commandment.  Jesus exposed those strictly following the law to appease God or impress people.  In today’s culture, sin has left our vernacular and society flouts and celebrates violations of God’s commandments.  Authentic Christ-followers repent, transform, and even love those who hate them.
  4. Discipleship – Jesus provided a vivid example of how to live out the Great Commission.  His discipleship approach was personal, intensive, and multiplicative.  Christians who don’t become a disciple or make disciples aren’t one.  We discover who truly walks in Jesus’ footsteps by how they respond to adversity.  Do they cower, revile, defend, or view disappointments as God’s appointments?
  5. Compassion – The Greatest of All identified Himself with the “least of these”.  Jesus’ economy flips ours on its head – rich is poor and poor is rich.  He modeled healing and feeding to open ears before disclosing who He is (i.e. the Gospel).  The implication of Jesus’ parables of the Good SamaritanSheep and Goats, and Rich Man and Lazarus is clear – no genuine Christ-follower will ignore the (materially) poor.  For roughly 1,900 years, churches took those warnings seriously yet few churches and Christians today make them a commensurate priority.

Any intermediaries or impediments in our lives that operate outside the bounds of Agape will inhibit our relationship with the Father.  Their lack of authenticity will diminish ours as distance from Him impedes our growth, sincerity, obedience, discipleship, and compassion.

Spiritual “Fatherhood” Produces Spiritual Orphans

Intimacy with the Father suffers when churches repair the curtain (separating us from Him) that tore when Jesus was crucified.  Our last blog post listed 25 ways in which churches today insert themselves between man and God, redirecting attention from the Father to the institution.  It becomes difficult to sense the Lord pursuing us (as a child) when the church is pursuing us (as a member).  It’s hard to distinguish our love for our Father from our love for our church when both are asking for our loyalty and allegiance…

  1. Growth – While Jesus humbled spiritual “fathers” and demanded commitment to the Father, many churches today elevate pastors and emphasize commitment to the church (invite/involve/invest).  There’s nothing wrong with numerical growth if it’s attained despite regularly challenging members to follow Jesus’ non-negotiable call to authentic discipleship no matter the cost.
  2. Sincerity – While Jesus invested in those desiring God for who He is and not what He can do for them, most churches exhibit transactional behavior.  Services have been reduced to an hour, salvation to repeating a phrase, evangelism to extending an invitation to church, and metrics to achieving commercial objectives.  “Kingdom” and “Church” often take a back seat to “kingdoms” and “churches”.
  3. Obedience – While Jesus wants love to fuel our obedience, which is normally the case for aspiring pastors, temptations lurk once a church becomes “successful”.  We are to call no man “father”, but leaders can evolve into spiritual “fathers”.  They can begin to believe their own press and become less dependent on their Father.  Spiritual “children” of church “fathers” can be pulled away from our Father as reverence and affinity for pastors grow.
  4. Discipleship – While Jesus instructed parents to disciple their children, churches who don’t disciple members aren’t preparing them to disciple their kids.  Instead, parents drop them off at children’s ministry and youth group, counting on church to assume their discipleship role as spiritual “fathers”.  However, churches that don’t disciple adults don’t disciple children either (to ensure they have fun and want to come back next Sunday).
  5. Compassion – While Jesus treated those He healed and fed with dignity, most churches conduct local missions transactionally and paternalistically.  We are to love our neighbors year-round, but occasional outreach events that “check the box” perpetuate (rather than alleviate) poverty by fostering dependence.

Contemporary church growth models encourage treating “church” as a place, members as “customers”, worship services as events, and metrics as a business.  Pastor-led churches can look like a “genius with 1,000 helpers”, drawing attention away from the Father and toward spiritual “fathers”.

How Churches Can Position God as Father

The following are steps pastors can take to ensure they’re positioning the Father as “Father” and members as His children (not their own):

  1. Growth – Risk losing lukewarm churchgoers and all they’ve worked so hard to build by leading like Jesus, who loved His followers enough to challenge them and hold them accountable, finding out who truly is a child of the Father.
  2. Sincerity – Disintermediate by flattening the hierarchy, equipping and empowering members to resume their rightful responsibilities for living out GC3 (Great CommandmentGreat CommissionGreat Calling) all week, not just on Sundays.
  3. Obedience – Repent of a Priest/King dichotomy.  Swim against the cultural “current” by decentralizing “Church as We Know It”, relinquishing ownership of the “priestly” role and dependence on “kings” to staff and underwrite the operation.
  4. Discipleship – Reintroduce personal and intensive discipleship, starting with leaders, but quickly multiplying through parents to children and then to families, coworkers, and communities (reaching those who wouldn’t come to your church).
  5. Compassion – Plant or support ministries year-round that serve the materially poor, risking the culture shock of welcoming into the congregation those who look little like your average member, realizing we’re all in some form of poverty.

Few church leaders would argue with that roadmap, yet it remains the road less traveled.  Prevailing church growth models encourage dependence on pastors and loyalty to church – undermining authenticity and intimacy with the Father.

It’s Your Turn…

Does your church position God alone as Father and Christ-followers as His children?

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