By Dr. Richard B. W. Ing
August 24, 2005
God chose the church to represent and establish His kingdom on earth. Christ is the head and we are the vessels through which He manifests His power, glory, presence and love on earth. There can be no kingdom without obedience to the king. The apostle John says that we cannot say we love God and hate our brother. 1 Jn. 4:20. Similarly, you cannot be disinterested in the welfare of your church and claim to be a servant of God. Serving the church is serving God and rejoicing in His highness.
If Jesus is Lord of your life, then He is Lord of your church. If God is the head of this church, then everyone in this church is called to obey God. Obedience to God is obedience to His leaders. When obeying God’s delegated authority, a person who knows the Lord does not see the man behind the pulpit, he sees God’s authority in that leader. A lackadaisical attitude towards obedience to leadership reveals the same attitude towards God, who is behind church leadership. Certainly, one must first conclude that: (1) this is the church that God planted you in; (2) God appointed and anointed the leader to lead this church on His behalf; and (3) that leader is God’s delegated authority.
Obedience and unity in the local church is essential. It is in the local church that God trains and disciplines His army. Joel 2:7-8 says this of the soldiers in God’s army:
They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks: neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path: and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded.
THEY SHALL MARCH EVERY ONE ON HIS WAYS
The statement that “they shall march every one on his ways,” speaks of knowing what your calling is and walking in it. What is the vision of your local church? Do you agree with it? Do you believe that the vision applies to you? If it does, what role do you have in it and what is God calling you to do within the context of that vision?
If you do not agree with a church’s vision, you do not belong in that church. You need to find a church with a vision that you agree with. When you find such a church, you need to embrace that vision, obey it and follow it with all your might. It is God’s will for you.
Unity in God’s army or any group of Christians is unattainable where the members do not know what path or way God wants them to walk or march in. If God has called a soldier to be a foot soldier and he thinks his calling is to be the supply clerk, he is out of the order of rank that God has purposed for him. Many privates think that they should be the platoon leader or even the company commander. Some even believe that they should be the General of the Army.
No matter how gifted you are and no matter how high you are in the secular world, it does not matter with God. He is not a respecter of persons. Ro. 2:11. You can be the governor of the state and God may want you to be a buck private. You may think that you should be behind the pulpit, but God may want you to clean toilets.
The world may think that the one on top is the greatest in the army; but Jesus says that the one at the bottom is. “ . . . (W)hosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your slave.” Mt. 20:26-27. The highest in God’s army are the lowly foot soldiers who humble themselves, submit to leadership and obey God’s authority, whether direct or delegated.
Do not strive for leadership positions in the church. Instead, strive to learn submission and obedience. Seek a greater love for God and His church. You cannot love God and ignore His body. Conversely, the more love you have for His church, the more love you have for the Lord and His kingdom. After all, Jesus chose the church to demonstrate His authority, reveal His love and moral character and manifest His kingdom on earth. God chose the church to witness about Him and establish His kingdom on earth. Therefore, loving His kingdom means loving His church.
In early days, the church was the central gathering place for all members. Their daily lives centered on the church itself. I am not advocating that you waste your time on useless activities that some churches devise. I am proposing that you concentrate on growing your church and make it the true church of God.
I recall a law case I had many years ago that involved an old church in Hawaii. I was required to interview a number of former members reaching back over 60 years into the past. Several women in their 70’s and 80’s (the case was during the 1970’s) shared how they lived in Manoa and Kaimuki and the church was in Moiliili (on the site of the present Contessa condominium project). The entire family would pack up their clothes and other items and start walking to Moiliili on Saturday mornings. If they were fortunate enough, some would come on horseback or buggy. They would reach the church in mid-afternoon and would start cleaning up the churchyard and the inside of the church. Some would mow the grass and clean the graveyard that surrounded the church. The women, and some men, would also start to cook rice and beef stew, using wood stoves. When evening arrived, they would have supper, and then prepare for evening service. After the service was over, they would clean up and everyone would sleep on the benches and floor. They woke at 5 a.m., ate breakfast and started setting up the chairs, podium and other pieces of furniture needed for the service. At 6 a.m., people would start arriving. There were two services in the morning. After lunch, they would make their ways back home.
During the week, the members who lived close to the church would come to the church for mid-week meetings and services. Members would visit each other during early evening, share supper, sing and read the Bible. There were home meetings every night at more than one location.
It was strange that as modern inventions made it easier to travel, the people became disinterested in church and more interested in the world. By the 1950’s, the church shrank to less than one-fourth of their previous attendance. By the mid-1960’s the church closed its doors. I became involved in the matter when the mother church decided to lease or sell the church property for a condominium project.
When its members become disinterested in growing and helping the church, the church slowly dies. What fascinated me was the fact that the members did all the work. The pastor’s job was to pray and seek the Lord so that he could feed the sheep. Even the work of praying for healing and visiting the sick were done by members. Every one rolled up his or her sleeves to do the work of the church. We cannot turn back the clock and we don’t want to. But, there are things that are worth copying.
I am not advocating that our members do everything and the pastor do nothing. However, the more the members take interest in helping grow the church the more united the church will be and the more growth will take place.
OPEN CHURCH MEETINGS
The church today is quite different from the church of yesterday. It is ever changing. We recently embarked on a life-defining moment in our local church. We changed not only the order of, but the very nature and substance of our services. We went into the “open-church” format. In the 1990’s a group of churches began experimenting with “open” services where after praise and worship, people were allowed to share testimonies, praise reports, give short dissertations, prophecies and the like. The meetings reportedly became more animated as the people began to participate. The church became excited and soon grew. Books were written about this “new move of God.”
Several years ago, we experimented with an “open church” format. It really didn’t work at the time because the members were not prepared and did not participate. After about a month, we abandoned the idea. For the next few years, we went back to our standard services with a set format: Prayer to start the service, praise and worship, announcements, collecting of tithes, prayer for the tithes and offerings, pulpit message, prayer to end the service.
A few times, we intentionally altered the order of service and had pulpit preaching first and then praise and worship. Even that alteration did not work. After a while, it became old hat and just another ritual and order of service.
Recently, God reminded me once more about an open format. He did not say, “Go back to open church!” What spurred the change was a reading of Watchman Nee’s book on the Body of Christ. He claimed that there was no such thing as pulpit preaching in the Church during the first three hundred years. The responsibility for the church was in the members, not just the pastor. The pastor was a facilitator, a moderator and coordinator. He kept things going and in proper order. However, each member was responsible for participating. Another book on Evan Roberts, a leader of the Welsh Revival related how church services and meetings were led by the Holy Spirit and there was no set program. The plan was “not to plan.”
Other articles on church life began to speak about moving from spectator/entertainment churches to personal participation by each member.
The past month and a half, we have gone back to participation-based services. This time, the results have been better. More members have participated through prophecies, visions, dreams, personal testimonies, songs, praise reports, and so forth. However, the transition is not yet over. It has just begun. We have not yet become completely open to the Holy Spirit. When we run out of things to say out of our past, we have nothing more. We need to receive a fresh revelation from God each week. The insurance industry claims that a true agent is one who can sell insurance policies after he runs out of family and friends to talk to. Likewise, in a Holy Spirit service, each member must be able to share fresh revelations from God each week, and not just old teachings and past experiences. That is our goal.
In Revelation 19:9-10, John apparently heard from a heavenly being that was so awesome that he fell on his knees. “And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.” Rev. 19:10. Immediately following that verse, John saw Jesus on a white horse with His armies following Him. It is my belief that John had seen a member of the army of God for the end times. He identified himself as a “fellow-servant, and of thy brethren….” Moreover, he said that he had the testimony of Jesus, “for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.”
If you are in the army of God, you must have the testimony of Jesus within you. The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy. What is the Spirit of prophecy? It is none other than the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us visions, dreams, prophecies, revelations. He teaches us all truth and opens the windows of heaven to reveal the Father and the Son. Therein is the reason for your earnest participation.
THE REASONS FOR OPEN CHURCH
God has reasons for us going back to member participation in services. The overall purpose is to mature the saints. Maturity requires that we be able to hear more clearly from the Holy Ghost. If we cannot hear from Him, we cannot obey. If we cannot hear from Him, we cannot share revelations in church. After we collectively run out of things to say, our services will run dry again. That is why our open church format did not work the first time around.
The radio waves are present in the air all the time. However, until we turn on our receivers, our radios, we cannot hear them. It takes effort to turn the knob or press the button on the radio. Likewise, it often takes effort to hear from God. The Holy Spirit’s speaking is like radio waves in the air - He is always speaking, but most of the time our ears are closed. We need to turn our receivers on in order to hear from God.
Hearing from God starts with intention. The Spirit can speak and make Himself heard anytime He wants, but our relationship and desire to fellowship with Him is important to God. He most often waits until we desire to hear from Him and make the effort to listen. That is why prayer, fasting and meditating on the Word are vital to our walk. The more mature saints have their spirits already attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit and He speaks directly into their spirits. They know that they know that they know. They have the mind of Christ and their very thoughts are in line with God’s thoughts. For the rest of us, we have to practice hearing from God. The net result is that you have to make a concerted effort to hear from the Holy Spirit and receive fresh revelation every week. That requires a decision to do whatever it takes to hear from God. We cannot by-pass this vital step.
Each one of us must determine in our heart to participate during services. It does no good to have the same few people dominate each service. All of us must reach that level of our relationship with God where we can receive revelation from the Spirit every week and hopefully all the time. Each of us has the duty and responsibility to seek God’s voice and to receive revelation from Him. Each has the duty to participate during services. We should not come to church mindlessly and sit as a bunch of sponges. Each one of us is an indispensable part of the service. If everyone has nothing to say, there is no service. If some have something to say and others do not, the service is only half-complete. God wants all of us to receive revelation from Him and to share it.
As we all make the effort, our services will become electrifying and the presence of the Holy Spirit and angels will become weekly occurrences. Although we can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in almost all of our services and occasionally someone sees angels, we have experienced nothing yet, compared to what God wants to give us. God wants to manifest Himself in a greater way. He wants healings to take place automatically and prophecies to flow back and forth during services. He wants the singing to be spontaneous and new songs to come out of the mouths of the saints. This is the beginning of revival/harvest.
THE MUSIC MINISTRY
The music ministry must get out of their own jail cells. Like our past traditions and customs regarding the order of service, the music ministry is also bound by traditional praise and worship. They must re-make themselves. After all, for centuries the music and methods of praising and worshiping God have been well defined. Even Pentecostal services with their dancing, clapping, jumping and so forth have not yet become totally spontaneous. More often, praise and worship have been contained in a “proper” place and time and given certain guidelines. Men and women still control what songs to sing, when they are sung, how they are sung and when to quit singing. In short, we are still in control. The Holy Spirit can come into our praise and worship only under our preconceived conditions and requirements. He most often does not.
We need to let the Holy Spirit control the music too. That is not an easy thing to do. Just as it is not easy for a teacher or preacher to give up his time slot and spotlight (I dearly love to preach), the musicians will likely find it difficult to let go. Be clear, however, that they are not giving up their ministries. They are moving up to a higher level of ministry where the praise and worship are joined by heavenly choirs and angels. There have been times in the past when we can hear angels or a heavenly choir singing with us. This should become common occurrences. Even as the pastor has to move up to a higher level of revelation by letting God have His way at services and to step back and discern the order of service God wants, the music ministry has to do the same.
Just as God wants the membership to be spontaneous and revelatory, the music ministry must learn to be spontaneous and revelatory. We look forward to the day when the musicians will suddenly exclaim, “Pastor, God has just put this song in my heart. We should sing it now!” Or the musicians will spontaneously start to play a certain song. Hymns will flow forwards and backwards. People will weep and come running to the front for prayer. According to Evan Roberts, that’s how revival services are.
The music ministry must lead the army into higher realms of the Spirit and not shrink back. Open church does not mean that the music is done away with or that the music leaders are no longer needed. It means that the music comes from God. Therefore, all of us must begin to seek the Lord more and be open to the Holy Spirit. If we expect the ordinary members to spontaneously enter into song, the musicians should be even more spontaneous. Even as the pastor is to coordinate and facilitate the sharing, the music ministry are called to coordinate and facilitate the praise and worship with spontaneous singing. The most difficult thing is to let go of control and let God have His way. The net result will be a Holy Spirit meeting with the heavenly choir in control.
We may stumble around for a while, but in the end, we will give God back His church.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE?
Whatever your calling and ministry is, God wants to take it to a higher level. If you are a prophet, your prophecies must become clearer and more powerful. If you are a musician, your music must become more spontaneous and anointed. Expect God to give you new songs in the night and a more powerful ministry. You will move people when you play, demons will flee and God will heal people! That’s God’s purpose for you.
If you are an evangelist, people will start coming to God because of what you say and do. You will have more boldness, discernment and anointing because you are now seeking to hear from God.
If you are a teacher, you will set aside your outlines and books and teach through the Holy Spirit. There are many different teachers and anyone can teach superficially out of books and outlines. However, once you run out of outlines, what do you do? A true teacher can teach any subject at the drop of a hat, without outlines. He will teach through the Holy Spirit and even surprise himself with his own teachings.
A prophet will begin to give individual prophecies. Anyone can prophesy in church and in a general way, but individual prophecy is for those who can hear clearly from God.
A pastor will hear more clearly from God and be able to guide the saints with more certainty.
God is not suppressing your ministry, but rather increasing it and taking it to a higher level. Do not be afraid of this new move of God! Let’s move together!