Six Upgrades Demanded by the Necessary Future

Part 6 of What We Should Have Seen, Where We Go From Here (6/8)

The future of human warfare is frightening and fascinating. From World War I to today, the range and effectiveness of cannon fire has multiplied more than 20 times, while a single musical greeting card (the kind that plays those little songs when you open it) has more computing power than the entire U.S. Army had in World War II. Yet these tiny examples hardly tell the tale. New weapons and new modalities (force multipliers, etc) are rapidly expanding into the realm of science fiction, including (just to name a few): smart tracking bullets, quantum computing, micro-drone swarms, powered eskoskeletons, hypersonic projectiles, acoustic assault weapons, robotic soldiers, laser canons and electromagnetic railguns. Peruse for yourself reports from the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institute.

Natural things often speak of spiritual realities. For this reason, I have recently become fascinated with Jeremiah 50:25, “The Lord has opened his armory and brought out the weapons of his wrath, for the Lord God of hosts has a work to do.”

Precisely because the Lord has a work to do, He has an armory. Now consider that statement: if the Lord has an armory, how advanced is that weaponry? Also take note that an armory is not the same as a vault or treasury. The instruments inside an armory are intended to outfit others for war. Might new, higher tech weapons and system upgrades be part of God’s navigation of history, or is everything flat and static? Are we stuck with bows and arrows, or have we always had nuclear weapons and didn’t know it, or is it a progression, with still-to-be unlocked spiritual tech? (2 Cor. 6:7, 10:4). What upgrades does your necessary future require?

I propose six upgrades the Body of Christ will increasingly need in the days ahead:

1. We need a dramatic increase in the gift of discerning of spirits — Especially with regard to the active, present voice of God among us, we should never underestimate how prone we are to personal and collective error. This is why the least and smallest of the nine spiritual gifts, discerning of spirits, is going to be elevated in importance in the days ahead. We increasingly need tested, mature discernment gifts (read: not self-anointed heresy hunters) to function in our midst because they are part of God’s answer to our blind spots.

Note that I distinguish between discernment and the gift of discerning of spirits. Sometimes they are related. Discernment can offer a valuable combination of wisdom and intuition for many practical situations, but as a particular gift of the Holy Spirit, those who move in the gift are really minesweepers in the spirit.

The lack of gracious, mature, recognized discernment is part of why we erred so badly heading into 2020. Nobody raised a red a flag, and if they had, they might have been told they lacked faith and vision. No, actually we lacked discernment. We still do. Our churches lack discernment. Some of what happens in worship requires discernment and correction. Some of what happens in deliverance ministries needs discernment—and I don’t mean the minister who is discerning the troubled person’s demon, but low-level soulish witchcraft that can begin to tarnish the process itself.

“Discernment systems” that actively cultivate the gift and leverage it in a leadership context are lacking from the corporate infrastructure of many otherwise strong movements, leaving their flank exposed. Glaring anti-christ agendas are being wrapped in incredibly subtle, sophisticated and satisfying social justice sentiments. The net effect is so emotionally persuasive it’s hard to argue with. My friend, Stuart Greaves, made the terrifying observation that a new generation of charismatic and articulate Social Justice Warriors (SJW) is rising. The fact that they are already “anointed” in a negative sense wasn’t the terrifying part, but the possibility that they will begin to move in false signs and wonders. Believers will have few defenses to resist the powerful appeal of such compassion- and justice-based messages.

Don’t kid yourself, thought systems are transport vehicles for demonic ideas and values. While these have been scaling for fifty years, the residual strength of Judeo-Christian biblical understanding formed an invisible bulwark against these schemes. This is now vestigial, and fading quickly. Believers are increasingly ripe for deception. 

(For more insight into the competing language and value systems we face, read Tim Keller’s excellent overview of the tensions separating individualism from collectivism on a spectrum ranging from Libertarian values, to Liberal, to Utilitarian, to Postmodern, each with a different center of gravity for determining what constitutes justice. Also get Stuart Greaves’ deeply Biblical, carefully articulated book, False Justice).

2. We need a total overhaul of ministry models — This is hardly new, but seems to be such a slow train coming that I hardly have energy to talk about it, yet it’s so ripe, so overdue, and so resistant to change. I’m not talking about a congregational model versus ecclesiastical or presbyterian, nor am I describing the need to migrate from denominations, or from buildings to homes, or making an argument for apostolic networks, etc. I simply mean that we need a new way of thinking. Otherwise, everything else becomes little more than a series of procedural tweaks. Our ministry models need brain and heart transplants. I consider this such a given, I’m only going to skim this upgrade by breaking it into six components:

  • From star to servant: The spiritual elder who labors in preaching and teaching is worthy of double honor, but if the pomp-and-circumstance, showmanship and “man of God” culture continue to focus your people on you, then you are in the way. Brother Pastor, Apostle, Teacher, Prophet or Evangelist; turn down the spotlight, grab a towel, and get your hands dirty. Why are we still talking about this?
  • From solo to team: Church management is not always about having a budget to pay a large full-time staff, but having a mindset to appreciate the power of teams. However, staffing is only part of the equation. The real shift is to move from single dimensional, visionary leadership, to cultivating the mind of Christ in a more collective manner. If leadership, character and dunamis are the sole provenance of individuals, you are your own limit. Corporate ministry mindsets are vital.
  • From platform to people: A church in the midwest with a charismatic leader and an international ministry features a massive tribute wall celebrating the lineage and faith of the leader. Why? Why doesn’t that wall celebrate the faith and works of the people of God? Pyramid systems are bound for a mass exodus.
  • From influence to endurance: Mike Bickle describes radical Christianity not as going on a missions trip or a big conference: “Radical Christianity is staying steady for decades.”If the Ephesians 4 mandate is to equip, are we equipping people for the long haul, what Eugene Peterson called a long obedience in the same direction, are we preparing people to overcome disappointment, to practice joy, to learn servanthood? Are we training them to put down deep roots in the Word that can sustain them through trials? Are we training them to value hiddenness, paradox, and those divine rhythms by which we celebrate struggle as much as triumph for the character it builds?
  • From resourcing to revelation: Though the Early Church was resource poor, it hardly mattered, because the most powerful resource at the Apostle Paul’s disposal was “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph. 1:17). Over and over, we see Paul’s method was to immerse his small, scattered churches into a dynamic spirit of high revelation, after which he turned to the practical matters of discipleship—how to treat one another, grow in virtue, give generously, act honorably. I love exegetical preaching—it keeps things from going off the rails. But exegesis only, and practical primarily, makes for anemic believers over the long haul. The human spirit needs grandeur, vision, mystery, faith and calling to flourish. We need those who can break the bread of life with revelatory apostolic and prophetic insight so that people are beckoned to a higher plane. Bible teaching should rarely feel like eating a saltine cracker.
  • From followers to fathers and sons: Leader, leave a mark in the soft clay of the young brothers and sisters you walk with. Invest your soul and DNA into them, then watch in wonder as they multiply beyond you. Learn to relish how you diminish, and they expand, and you will come to see that you actually surpass yourself in the vibrancy and impact of their lives. We talk about multi-generational ministry, but it’s really Abrahamic at heart. The promises God made to Abraham (and hopefully, to you?) cannot be achieved in your lifetime. If they can, I urge you to get a bigger dream, then pour it into others. 

Meanwhile, son or daughter in the faith, you have so much beautiful conviction, energy and passion—you really will change the world—but your ideas are untested, your perspective is limited, your experience lacking. This isn’t a problem unless you choose to break away in pride and impatience when “the system” or “old guard leaders” don’t change as fast as you wish they would. One day, that will be you! Instead, value those who have walked the long road with Jesus over many more decades than you. Learn to serve and value their vision before insisting on your own. Take their dream upon yourself as if that dream could not be fulfilled without you.

3. We need a new sense of mission in our churches — Allowing for minor cosmetic updates and denominational variance, the Sunday Service as practiced today was designed before civilization had the printed word. That’s both a wonderful and potentially myopic tradition, especially since we don’t even question the assumption or format anymore. Yet our actions belie our fears. Why else have we been propping it up on life support for years with cushy stadium seating and million dollar light-and-projections systems, instead of admitting that the wineskin itself is old and tired? 

If Sunday is a sacred cow, Covid-19 has begun serving prime steak. In a study just released by Barna on “The New Sunday Morning”, we find that half of churched adults have not streamed a church service in the past four weeks, while one in three practicing Millennial Christians say they “often” replace church attendance with other forms of Christian content. As I will devote all of next week to this topic, I’ll merely summarize the needed upgrade with this statement: the Western Church needs to shift from passive Sunday community-sharing and information transfer to apostolically-driven, prophetically guided, city-by-city initiatives operating from an ekklesial paradigm that radically overhauls how and why we assemble (more on that next week). It’s not about Sunday, per se, and only superficially about format. It’s about the other 166 hours in the week. 

4. We need to revisit rules of permission and accountability for “national prophets” — When the Holy Spirit began to emphasize, and, in measure, restore, the prophetic gift (and office) in the 1980s, it was a Wild West of raw anointing with little understanding or maturity, zero protocol, no pastoring, and no checks-and-balance. The prophet was the new superstar. Their gift was dynamic; also explosive. Slowly, pastoring and teaching began to emerge. Councils began to form. Words were submitted and weighed before they were released. But as certain prophetic people began to rise in the ranks, demonstrating a calling, anointing and track record with foretelling words that surpassed local boundaries to touch nations, the local dynamic became first a support system, and then a rubber stamp. Perhaps support systems are still widely in place, but the transparency around them is not. We’ve seen a number of public figures put a black eye on the Body of Christ giving wildly variant prophecies with no accountability and questionable personal discipleship. Prophetic councils and movements should not be self-congratulatory vehicles of mutual praise and support, but instruments of integrity, nurturing, training and transparency. We need a gracious rigor to bring godly pruning to these gifts with edifying discipline for the gifted so they can be even more fruitful in the future. We need the prophets!

5. We need a baptism of prayer and intercession to sweep the Body of Christ — I’m not going to belabor this one. While a lifestyle of prayer and intercession is perhaps the weakest muscle in the Body of Christ, acknowledging that doesn’t add anything new or helpful to the necessary future. What will be new, and very hopeful, is the possibility that the Lord is planning to add grace upon grace to our weakness that will produce dramatic, sustained unction for prayer, and joy in prayer. John 17 is key to this being more than wishful thinking. When Jesus prayed that we would be one as He and the Father are one, we know from Jesus’s life that this unity came through constant communication. Intimate fellowship, love and prayer are an inseparable unity. Basically, Jesus interceded for you and me in our weak prayer life, and asked the Father to give us His prayer life, among other things. That prayer will be answered. Can’t get better than that. 

Hint: don’t wait. 

6. We need a spiritual identity makeover — Instead of describing this, I will recount a story about the son of King Louis XVI of France, as told by Sean Covey in The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Teens. The point of the story is to highlight the extraordinary manner of life with which we are meant to occupy a corrupt world as sons and daughters of the Living God…if only we understood our truly royal identity:

“King Louis had been taken from his throne and imprisoned. His young son, the prince, was taken by those who dethroned the king. They thought that inasmuch as the king’s son was heir to the throne, if they could destroy him morally, he would never realize the great and grand destiny that life had bestowed upon him. They took him to a community far away, and there they exposed the lad to every filthy and vile thing that life could offer. They exposed him to foods the richness of which would quickly make him a slave to appetite. They used vile language around him constantly. They exposed him to lewd and lusting women. They exposed him to dishonor and distrust. He was surrounded twenty-four hours a day by everything that could drag the soul of a man as low as one could slip. For over six months he had this treatment—but not once did the young lad buckle under pressure. Finally, after intensive temptation, they questioned him. Why had he not submitted himself to these things— why had he not partaken? These things would provide pleasure, satisfy his lusts, and were desirable; they were all his. The boy said, “I cannot do what you ask for I was born to be a king.”

In the final two installments, we’ll rediscover ancient blueprints for this new era, including a series of corrective measures which I believe to be the most hopeful and critical realignment for our necessary future.