The Way to Heaven
- 2011 15 Feb
In Stephen Harper's, The Way to Heaven, we see the emergence of a new type of Christ follower. Harper paints the picture of this new believer as following a movement of God. This move of God is a new wine like that which was poured out in the power of God's Spirit on the disciples of Jesus. It also requires a new wineskin. The early church's way of thinking about the church's mission and what constitutes success is vastly different from what we see in the majority of church ministries today. The younger evangelicals are rejecting how modern churches tend to measure success. They now want to examine the viewpoint of achieving an early church missional focus.
The lack of direction and misguided measurements for success of many churches boils down to a failure to focus on the mission of the church as defined by its early members. Most church leaders think their mission is to build up the church out of the life of the community. In reality, Jesus calls us to a transformational mission that builds up the community out of the life of the church. The younger evangelical sees the church as the agent of change with in the community much like that of the early church.
The first, second and third century Christians were about this kind of transformational mission. They preached and practiced a Christ-like life in the communities where they lived. Being a follower of Jesus wasn't a separate church function of their lives in which they participated once a week; it was their life in community with one another. This is what defined them. When new believers were added to the church, Scripture tells us, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teachings and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). These early Christians had a mindset vastly different from our western 21st century world. They saw prayer, walking in the Spirit, working at their jobs, caring for their families, ministering to those in need and the rest of their lives not in compartmentalized facets, but as a whole—integrated and continuous. This is true of the younger evangelicals today. They really want to get back to a holistic approach of the Christian life.
So the emerging church in the first century tended to see prayer, faith, worship and loving others as Christ loved as an integrated whole. Church wasn't a weekly event, separate from their daily living. They were the church. That is what defined them. The younger evangelicals do not want to just think and talk about Christ one day of the week in a building somewhere. They don't think in terms of participating in a church program or just attending a series of events. They want to experience the totality of what Jesus was all about and model it daily before their children and within their communities. They understand the mission Jesus gave them as a journey, a relational pilgrimage of becoming more and more like their Lord, a mission that is to be lived out in every aspect of their lives within their local communities. It is an experiential relationship with Jesus that transforms their attitudes and actions. Their corporate prayer and worship in a fellowship is experience in attending to the physical and emotional needs of people—by caring for the sick, feeding the hungry and befriending the outcasts and rejects of society. Their mission is to raise up transformed followers of Jesus by seeing people in their communities redeemed spiritually, as well as restored physically, relationally, economically, etc.
As I read this book, I could not help but think of my own Christian walk and how it has evolved through the years. When I first came to Christ, I was a real legalist. Things had to be done a certain way or else face the consequence of hell. I did not give anybody any slack. I really was not interested in helping serve people. I just wanted to tell the truth of the gospel and not move much farther beyond that. That was until I had a unique experience happen to me in college.
When I was in college, I accepted Christ and got involved in the local Baptist Student Union (BSU). After I was there for a few months, I volunteered to lead a Bible study on campus. One day I was running late, so I grabbed my materials and ran up the hill to the building where the Bible study was being held. As I approached the top of the hill, a homeless man started toward me. When I saw him, I moved to the other side of the street. So he moved to the other side of the street. I switched sides a few time, but he always followed me. In my mind I thought, "I do not have time for this. I'm late. Maybe I can give him a few bucks and he will leave me alone. So as I approached him, I pulled a few dollars out and handed it to him. As he took the money, he grabbed my hand. He would not let it go. He said, "Before you go, I have a quick question to ask you." I thought, "OK, here comes this guy's sob story."
He asked me, "Do you know Christ?" My heart sank. He said, "I see college kids go by all the time, and I wonder if they know Jesus." At that moment, I felt 2 inches tall. Here I was, going to teach a Bible study about Christ and would have missed an opportunity to minister to someone else.
As we talked, he told me that it was hard to share with people because he did not have a Bible. I had some with me, so I gave him one. I walked away changed that day. As I read The Way to Heaven, I really began to identify with the description Harper gave of this new type of believer. I really see how I have incorporated some of his ideas into my own ministry.
• Who are the younger evangelicals in my church?
• Who are the younger evangelical leaders within my community?
• How can the younger evangelicals minister to the postmodern mindset within our community?
• How do I train my leaders to be sensitive to this type of need in ministry?
I believe God is raising up a new breed of Christ followers who want nothing more than a mighty move of his Spirit. God is calling each of us to return to the purity of the early church. I believe people around us need to experience a face-to-face encounter with God, be united as a body in continual prayer, and engage their communities with a culturally relevant message and lifestyle. We must heed the call of the apostle who said, "I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will accept. When you think of what He has done for you, is that too much to ask? Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world [not even the behavior of the religious world], but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do…" (Romans 12:1-2).
I have realized that instead of leading people to say the prayer of accepting Christ, it is more about coming out of our upper rooms of prayer, empowered by God's Spirit to lead them to a face-to-face encounter with God and a spiritual formation process played out in the cycle of believing, behaving and belonging. This establishes a grid by which we measure our lives in relationship with Jesus. Rather than focusing on church attendance, donations and the number of programs and events, I see that my journey must focus on getting to know Jesus intimately for who He really is and becoming shaped and formed by the power of God's Spirit in very specific areas of my lives. In doing so, I will be better equipped to fulfill the ministry to which God has called me.