My wife and I have six kids, and we’ve homeschooled (and are homeschooling) them all. We’re finally starting to get the hang of this, but that first year was the worst. Tricia and I are both products of the public school system; that’s all we knew. So, when we decided to try homeschooling our firstborn through kindergarten, we simply set up a public-school classroom in our dining room complete with posters, desk, and a flag. It was… miserable! Eventually we would connect with other homeschoolers and we began to incorporate unit studies, field trips, and other teaching approaches, but the key to turning a nightmare into a prosperous experience for everyone was unlearning what we had learned about education. What gets employed to accommodate the masses is seldom the best and most effective way to do something.
This truth applies to church as well. The way most churches are structured and run works for businesses, it’s convenient for reaching crowds, and it does well to build the egos of leaders as buildings, budgets, and butts in the seats all increase, but even effective large church leaders admit that the Sunday morning, stage-centric approach is not an effective vehicle for true and transformative discipleship… which is our mandate.
If we are going to be effective in equipping the found and finding the lost, then there are some things we need to unlearn about church. We aren’t creating a club where we provide certain amenities and appeal to cultural preferences in order to attract a crowd. Believe it or not, when it comes to church, bigger does not mean better. I love what Francis Chan said when he was stepping down as pastor of a large mega-church. He talked about standing before God with thousands of people who were lukewarm versus standing before God and saying, “I only have these few people, but they are wholeheartedly devoted to you!”
Discipleship is not a program we can run. Revival isn’t an event that we plan. We have a tendency to fall back on Old Testament systems of works—checking the boxes—trying to earn God’s favor and make ourselves good. The problem is, we can’t ever do that! Our expressions of religion can, in no way, earn God’s favor nor make us good. Our religious observances are only responses to what God has done for us and in us. We sing as a form of confession or celebration. We give so others can know the hope that we have been given. We listen to the Word of God because we want to know God more. We love others because of how God has loved us. We forgive because we know how much we have been forgiven. Worship is a response to God and making it a program or routine can actually hinder our walk with God.
So many Christians are afraid of “doing it wrong” when it comes to faith and life. These systems, traditions, and programs become a life preserver which keeps us afloat but hinders our ability to swim. When we rely completely on the liturgy of our religious traditions, we forget how to swim altogether. We need to take off the life preserver and remember how to swim. God has called us to freedom, not slavery to traditions… in fact, this was the apostle Paul’s entire point to the church in Galatia. “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Traditions can be immensely helpful, but they are of men, not God. We are not bound to traditions. We are not obligated to religious observation. We are free to respond to God as He reveals himself in our lives and through His word… to worship Him in spirit and truth.
When we homeschooled our son, we had to unlearn most of what we’d learned and experienced about education so our son could effectively connect with the material we were teaching. One year ago (as I write this), I felt called out of traditional pastoral ministry and into something new—something much less structured and completely unfamiliar. I’m having to unlearn (or at least expand on) much of what learned about ministry, faithfulness, and even what it means to be Christian. I’m learning more about who I am, how far I still have to go in my pursuit of Christ, and how much God has done already. Our educational experience, our ministry experience, our Christian experience certainly wasn’t wrong, it is merely incomplete. God loves breaking down walls. Sometimes, He does this to raze the old and begin something new in its place, and sometimes to gift us a more expansive view of all He is doing in, through, and around us. God is greater than we all we can think or imagine, and we will lose our sense of awe and wonder if we grow complacent in what little we’ve known so far. Take a step of faith out of the ordinary, and follow Jesus into the extraordinary. Do something untraditional. Seek God in the unfamiliar. Seek God in the everyday things of your life, and encourage others to do the same.