By Michael Nieves
In the popular children's story Alice in Wonderland, the main character of the story, Alice, finds herself in many outrageous predicaments. While it seems like she is a victim of the rules of her new and strange surroundings she is actually a willing participant and contributor to her situation by her actions.
She follows the rabbit down the rabbit hole, she eats the delicacies left out on tables (one that makes her huge compared to her surroundings, one that miniaturizes her) Every time she follows, munches or moves through a door, she finds herself in yet another pinch.
Now I'm all in favor of adventure, taking risks and jumping into the unknown. But in the real world there are activities that God restricts for the good of His children. Not to hinder them but to free them. In the seemingly contradictory economy of the divine, God restricts for the sake of freedom, narrows for the sake of expanding.
In church world, local congregations have followed the rabbit down the rabbit hole and found themselves engaged in behavior and practices that hold them back, hurt the Body and disgrace the Kingdom. These practices are clearly sin but the slippery slope that ingrained these practices into the culture of the church was so gradual, churches find themselves imprisoned and they don't know why.
In one instance it makes sense to share a piece of information with someone who doesn’t need to know, tell others about a confidential prayer request and mention that latest hearsay. In another instance, it seems OK to stay connected to the group of people that understand you best, that share so much of the same ideas about the church, people, the latest message and not move out of your comfort zone and invite others in. At work it is acceptable to earn your promotion, so why wouldn't you work your way up at church? In the business world it’s all about growth, so why wouldn't the pastor compete with the church down the street for more members? What we are talking about are some of the insidious practices that hold the church back. Sins that creep in behind the scenes, become part of the culture and infects the church with a nearly undetectable disease.
Specifically I am talking about five silent killers of the life of the Spirit in local congregations.
· Political spirit
Churches want to grow but it is impossible to grow when they are unhealthy and infected with these illnesses. The problem is most of the time they go on unnoticed, not realizing that as Paul said, a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough (Galatians 5:8). Any sin will certainly infect the healthy tissues of the church and slow growth, hinder it altogether and ultimately kill it. But God wants freedom. Walk with me as we uncover and expose these killers and find freedom and rest in Christ.
A political spirit seeks to say the right things and meet the right people in order to position themselves for the greatest power. In this election year, we are witnessing plenty of politics. The disciples of Jesus were even bit by the political bug. At one point the disciples were arguing about who was going to be the greatest in the Kingdom, the mother of some of the disciples asked for a position of power for her child. Jesus, in response to their request, said that the greatest among them must become a servant.
That political spirit grows out of a seed of pride. It is pride that says, “I can do better than the other guy.” It is pride that refuses to submit to leadership and then seeks to subvert it with a political spirit. Didn't the Evil One himself believe that he deserved to be on the throne in heaven and found himself cast out in response to his pride?
Jesus knew that the solution for pride and politics would be to take off everything that symbolizes your position of power and immerse yourself in the lowest of tasks for the highest of cause. It is exactly that attitude that Jesus displayed when he washed the feet of His disciples.
Clicks are seemingly wonderful little places. They are safe and comfortable. When you look around at the faces of your click they are similar to yours, they see things the same way as you and they hold similar ideas and positions. Many of our churches have the word “Community” or “Fellowship” in their name. They uphold the idea of relational connectivity. Many churches promote “Small Groups.” At first glance it might almost seem that clicks are the goal. These clicks serve as fertile soil for the unity killing practice of gossip. There are two sides to gossip. Side one is the speaking of gossip, side two is the listening of gossip. Both are needed to wreck relationships, hurt hearts and crush the local church. All too often both are readily available in our churches.
There is a primary distinctive between clicks and biblical community. Clicks are exclusive, while community, fellowship and small groups are all inclusive. This changes the entire dynamic. Instead of a closed circle at church following service, the circle is open. Instead of leaning in, the group is looking outward. Instead of talking about the personal business of others in the church, you are looking to protect and serve them. Inclusivity says we are ALL in this together. Exclusivity says, you are an enemy.
Of course all of the previous practices find their root in this one shameful deficiency lukewarmness. When any Christ follower wanders from the central fuel of intimacy with Christ they will undoubtedly find themselves less enamored with things of God and more intrigued by things of the world. Slowly, a political spirit makes sense; clicks, gossip, pride are comfortable and safe. It doesn't seem so bad because the group affirms the actions. In the increasing darkness of distance between the individual and Christ things don't look so bad. In the increasing cold of distance between the individual and Christ, the warmth of acceptance in the click seems like the best alternative. Of course, this is a total deception and counterfeit. Sadly, churches can find themselves in exactly this spot. And it doesn't stop with congregants only as these habits can work their way up the leadership chain as well. The higher it goes, the worse it is.
The solution lies in the most basic response. True repentance. True repentance simply cannot happen without humility. And true repentance always drives the repentant toward the Savior. Humility counteracts pride, intimacy with Christ brings unity with others. While I am sure no one reading this article find themselves in this particular rabbit hole, it is a continual prayer that all would find the pleasure of intimacy with Christ and thereby frustrate the work of the Evil One. No more would the very Body of Christ find itself infected with the cancer of a Political spirit, Pride, Clicks, Gossip or Lukewarmness. My prayer is that the People of God would be as disgusted with these practices as God Himself and flee from them as Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife. May the Bride of Christ be spotless as it does the work of building the Kingdom.
Michael Nieves is Lead Pastor of CenterPointe Community Church. Michael Nieves is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College (Lancaster, Pa) and attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL). He planted CenterPointe in 2002. He and his wife, Jillian and three children Miah, Caleb and Jonah are all natives of Western New York.