A Tale of Three Churches: Fantasy, Factory and Family

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cross on the top of a healthy church in the city

Tale of Three Churches:
Part One – Fantasy, Factory and Family

I wonder if we are living out the picture Jesus had in His head for a healthy church. I feel the Church of Jesus Christ is at a crossroads. We stand on the cusp of what could be the greatest harvest of souls in human history, but our values and priorities need a massive overhaul if we hope to be ready for what God is about to do on the earth. As a student of the Church throughout the ages, and one who coaches churches on a regular basis, I see three kinds of churches emerging in the coming season.  Here’s my best attempt to provide some definition:

The Fantasy Church

One of the most engaging preoccupations of our generation is Fantasy Football, in which players assemble make-believe teams from real-life players and battle one another for victory. This is a lot like the Fantasy Church. John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Movement, used to say that, for the most part, doing church is a lot like playing basketball without a ball and without a hoop. More often than not, churches are like a mouse on a wheel. These churches are working hard and expending a ton of energy but are never really arriving anywhere.

In other words, many churches have lost the real metrics for measuring our success and have defaulted to a set of measurements that are irrelevant to the priorities of Jesus.  We measure attenders, income, buildings and events. Jesus measures the transformation of souls, saints and spheres. In the Fantasy Church, the majority of our time, energy and money goes into simply maintaining the status quo and managing our members until they get to heaven. Only a small percentage of our resource is used to actually advance the Kingdom of God. This isn’t the healthy church Jesus died for.

The Factory Church

In response to the ambiguous expression of Fantasy Church, many have developed a variety of systems and programs, designed to create metrics that are in line with the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. These models produce program-based churches that are designed to streamline the discipleship process and create cookie-cutter Christians in an efficient and effective manner. The Factory Church can be a mega-church or a cell-church but the eventual outcome is the same. They end up with a system that relies on policies and programs rather than on relationship and personal process.

Unfortunately, Factory Churches almost always end up like a massive furnace with all the members feverishly shoveling coal to keep the fire burning. As Jesus once said, “Man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for Man.”  Healthy churches thrive best when they exist to foster the destinies of their members, and not exploit their members to fulfill the destiny of the church. Unfortunately, Factory Churches put the cart in front of the horse which leads to frustration and eventual fruitlessness. Although the innovators of this kind of church have the best of intentions, they have sadly opted to a corporation model of church that can easily violate some of the key values of the Kingdom of God. I feel like this misses the mark of a true healthy church.

The Family Church

Every believer intrinsically desires to be part of a healthy church family but building this kind of church can be full of challenges. Firstly, our model of family in current culture has been damaged through materialism, workaholism, divorce and a hundred other problems. This has produced a deep wound of orphanhood in our culture. This orphanhood either leads to a deep “performance orientation” where people obsess and strive to receive love and acceptance through outward achievement, or where others just give up trying and surrender to resignation and resentment. Many churches mistakenly utilize the orphan mentality to recruit and reward their workers.

In response to this, many people have romanticized the idea of “The Family Church” into a Disneyland ideal, of a place where each member is accepted, loved and cared for, without any expectations of reciprocation. In pursuit of this ideal, they miss the whole point of family. When I ask leaders to define what they mean by Family Church most will say, “A safe place to belong.” Being safe is an important facet of belonging to a family. However, sometimes in the effort to create a safe environment, the Family Church will accidentally allow a culture of enablement to exist.

In my experience, families are the forge that craft human masterpieces. Each member of the family is a craftsman. Being in community with family is the careful heat that exposes the imperfections within each other, and exerts painstaking effort to correct those blemishes, ultimately leading to the finest quality of Christian.

How to Build a True Family Church

The process of building a true Family Church is almost never accidental. A healthy church family is built on the solid ground of unconditional love and acceptance. Without this essential foundation, a home will always revert to an orphanage.  But love is not the only quality that defines family. In order to truly understand family we must consult scripture. When God created the first family, he had a prime purpose in mind. “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” In other words, family is God’s methodology for ruling the earth and filling it with His glory.

After sin entered the world, God raised up another family, under the leadership of Abraham and Sarah to lay the foundations for God’s great redemption plan. After the Son of God purchased our redemption, he gave us the Great Commission. Jesus commanded us to “go into all the world and make disciples”… in other words, create a healthy church family that would bring restoration to God’s purposes on earth.

God’s methodology in creation was family. God’s methodology in redemption was family and God’s methodology in restoration is also, family. Yet true family is not about raising CHILDREN, it’s about hand-crafting ADULTS.

In the three upcoming blogs, I will further illuminate the “stories” of these types of churches on a more individual basis. Stay tuned.

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