Selections from Escape from Church, Inc

by E. Glenn Wagner, First Vice-President of Promise Keepers, Author of Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs, etc. Pastor of Calvary Church, Charlotte, NC

Glenn speaks to both relationships/community and shepherding as THE primary purpose of the church and its leaders.

(p. 9) How do we bring men and women into an ever-deepening relationship with God and with one another in the body of Christ? That question has consumed me for many years now. I have believed for a long time that Christians yearn for the kind of relationships they see in the Scriptures, but they don’t know how to develop them.

(p. 11) For many years I had struggled with the question, How do we do church? I went to all the seminars, just like everyone else. I attended How to Be a Better Manager, How to Do Strategic Planning, How to Lead, How to Grow a Church, ad infinitum. I read hundreds of books on church growth and leadership development, both Christian and secular. And all the while I tried to analyze my frustrations with ministry Certainly I had enjoyed some successes, but I also sensed that there had to be more than just buying the latest, hottest program.

( p. 17) A subtle heresy has crept into the evangelical church. It seemed innocent enough at first, since it came from people who love Jesus Christ and his church. These folks meant well and sincerely wanted to stem the tide that has been threatening to engulf us. But the end is worse than the beginning.

The problem? Like Esau, we pastors have sold our biblical birthright as shepherds called by God for the pottage of skills and gimmicks designed by humans. We have misunderstood the role of pastor and defined it incorrectly. We have left our biblical and theological moorings.

(p. 30) One of our friends — one of the few who is still passionate about ministry — pastors a difficult church. If that church doesn’t kill him, nothing can. In twenty years, my friend has not lost a bit of his passion to be a shepherd. He leads a church of over a thousand, but he still visits individuals in the congregation. He still gets with them personally and lets them know by his actions that he loves them. He’s not merely the guy in the corner office.

Recently my friend confessed, “Glenn, everyone tells me that I have to be a rancher. But I’m a shepherd, not a rancher. So every Thursday, I randomly visit people who are not among the Who’s Who of the church. Every week, go see some of my lesser-known sheep. I keep a list people who aren’t that involved. I seek them out and minister to them because I am a shepherd. I believe that if I love my sheep, this church will grow and produce.”

(p. 54) A few things are certain. We live in a universe created by a Shepherd God. The Lord is our Shepherd. Our world is redeemed by a Shepherd Savior. Our elder brother is a shepherd.

The man whom humanity most needs is a shepherd. Every messenger of Christ is sent to do a shepherd’s work. We are to stand at last before a shepherd Judge. God is going to separate the good shepherds from the shepherds who are bad. The questions which every pastor must meet and answer are three: “Did you feed my lambs? Did you tend my sheep? Did you feed my sheep?”

(p. 192) This principle explains why God created the church. He intended it to be the ultimate community for life transformation. God designed the church to be the primary setting in which we can be equipped and challenged to encourage and help one another.

For some reason, however, we have gravitated toward building models based on tasks rather than on relationships. That’s why many people today say that the church feels more like a corporation than a community. The tragedy is that men and women in need depend on various support groups outside the church because we haven’t figured out what it means to be community.

(p. 193) Nearly all of the terms God uses in the Bible to talk about the church are relational.

Certainly the church has tasks to complete, but they all flow out of the relational model. The fact is, the New Testament couches virtually all its instruction about spiritual growth and development in relational terms.

A genuinely caring church develops only when people understand who they are and what they are called to be in Christ. Effective churches universally emphasize connected, relational ministry.

(p. 232) What would happen if we turned once more to the Bible’s central model for pastors?

What would happen in our neighborhoods, our communities, even our nation if pastors took seriously God’s call to shepherd the flock of God?

I believe a church led by caring shepherds would provide such a radically appealing vision of human life that our secular, fragmented society couldn’t help but clamor to get inside. Could God be withholding his hand of revival until our churches are graced with pastor-shepherds at the helm? I believe he could be — and that is another reason I am so passionate that we rediscover the wisdom of God’s shepherd model.

(p. 233) Pollster George Barna often declares that the reason many non-Christians reject our message is not that they disagree with our theology but because our professions of faith ring hollow. We live no differently than they do, so why should they become one of us? They hear our PR pieces about the church being a family, but it feels like a corporation to them. They hear that it’s a community, but they see no evidence. They’re told the church is a body, but they wonder, If that’s true, why do I feel so ignored and disenfranchised?

(p. 240) In his sovereignty God may choose to prosper even our errant efforts, but I don’t think we best display his heart that way.

While God doesn’t always judge methods that do not align with Scripture, he is under no obligation to bless them either. We must ask ourselves, Are we really experiencing his blessing?

Is God pleased with us? When outsiders see us, do they see the community of God?

(p. 242) Because our people have not, by and large, been taught a sound ecclesiology, if you were to ask the average man or woman in the pew why the church exists, you’d get five answers from three people. Our reason for existence is simply not well understood.

Some believe the church exists to win the lost. That’s a great task, but is it really why the church exists? Others say we exist to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. But what does that mean? What does it look like? (Some questions sound almost heretical, but ask them anyway.

I agree with those who doubt that the Great Commission is our starting point. In fact, I think when you make the Great Commission the starting point, you actually violate the heart of God.

As John Piper has observed, “missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Missions is not the priority; worship is. One day missions will be no more, but worship is forever.

God created the church to reflect his image, to be a community that both invites and embraces everyone near it. Authentic community, real family, is enormously attractive, even contagious. There’s just something about it that people can’t resist!

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