The ministry machine of the last era has sunk


In August 2012, Barbara Yoder [1] visited Catch The Fire Toronto and shared (among other things) a picture she had recently received from the Lord. She had seen a massive ship, like the Titanic, sinking beneath the waves. She asked God what it was, and he gave her a word to accompany and explain the picture: "The ministry machine of the last era has sunk." She shared a little on that theme, and my heart caught flame as she spoke. A machine is something that propels us forward or that improves upon the efficiency of a task. I believe that the ministry machine God was talking about was the weekly-assembling auditorium-filling pastor-led machine of Christian-conversion and spiritual-growth that most of the Western world knows as "church". If you'll stay a while, I'll tell you why that doesn't need to scare you, and why it's the best possible news we could hear.

First, some historical review. Throughout all of human history, God has been actively pursuing restoration of the Eden dynamic[2] with the sons and daughters of the Adam and Eve that He created. As generations have passed, new depths and revelations about the love of God and His purposes have been discovered by some few brave souls. Men such as Noah, Abraham, and Job received earth shattering revelation about a god called Yahweh who was interested in them. A king named David discovered a God that would intimately love and sustain him, that would allow him into His presence, ignoring even the religious statutes this same God had instituted. A generation of prophets called out to a rebellious people named Jacob, telling them that a saviour was on the way, revealing many of the things to come.

Restoration took a dramatic bell-curve shaped leap forward with the birth of Christ in human form some 2000 years ago. A healing, forgiving, loving, compassionate and passionate son died on a cross to bring about a drastically different restoration for all, toward a father he knew better than anyone yet before him. Christ lived and breathed restoration revelation. After his resurrection and subsequent ascension, his Spirit was given unto each of us, and His body was remade in the assembled community. That spirit of restoration revelation was poured into all of us, and restoration has continued apace.

Shortly following each high water mark of any restoration, aspects of the new revelation are taken up and championed. Previously restored revelation becomes the foundation that a new wave of radicals can tread upon. This is is normal stuff. Restoration of any of God's purposes and designs also has at least 2 consistent traits.

  1. It is sensitive to people with the current level of understanding.
  2. It dramatically challenges the currently held understanding.

Point 1 is seen in steadily increasing revelation, followed by a precipitous fall, and a starting again afresh, of sorts. We see this with Noah, we see it in the time Israel spent in the wilderness, and we see it again in the Middle Ages. God is a gentle and compassionate one, and will not pass us by, no matter how far we get from his plans. We can't "screw up" irrecoverably, because he is faithful and draws us along his path. While we sometimes find ourselves out of alignment with what he is doing, we were never left there, and we can never get "too far" behind. Birthing a new thing doesn't mean what came before was wrong necessarily, it just was what it was, and now there's a new thing.

Point 2 is seen every single time there's new revelation, the violent upheaval that occurs, the attempt to stifle dissenting voices, the violence against radicals, and so on. This has happened all through history, is written about all throughout Scripture, and will continue to happen in parallel with every new aspect of the Kingdom that God restores to us here on Earth until the new Heavens and Earth are created. Arthur C. Clarke has a famous quote on predicting the future, which I think accurately addresses how new revelation challenges the old:

Trying to predict the future is a discouraging, hazardous occupation, because the prophet invariably falls between two stools. If his predictions sound at all reasonable, you can be quite sure that within 20 or at most 50 years, the progress of science and technology has made him seem ridiculously conservative. On the other hand, if by some miracle, a prophet could describe the future exactly as it was going to take place, his predictions would sound so absurd, so far fetched, that everybody would laugh him to scorn... Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen. [3]

Back to church history. Somewhere around 100 AD, a notable ministry machine was born. This machine was inspired by the concept of Christ and his 12 disciples, and it's expression was an attempt to replicate that structure by the appointing of an individual of highest authority over a group of those with lower authority. Ignatius of Antioch was instrumental in the creation of this machine, as can be evidenced from his letters:

Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself... All of you follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father... Do nothing without the bishop... Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, so neither do you anything without the bishop and the presbyters... You should look on your bishop as a type of the Father."[4]

I don't think there's any doubt that this ministry machine was hugely instrumental and effective at growing the church. Within 2 centuries this new model was the prevailing model throughout all of Christendom. It wouldn't have been if it wasn't effective in some capacity, regardless of whatever flaws it had. Within a few more hundred years, Christian history became very murky indeed. The progeny of Ignatius' bishop machine gave rise to an increasingly corrupt regime that stunted Christian growth just as the Dark Ages stunted the growth of all knowledge. A remnant remained, however, and countless monasteries and men and women at out-of-the-way abbeys prayed and praised for silent centuries.

In the 16th century, through men such as Luther, Calvin and others, God performed a massive restoration revelation. A major aspect of this revelation was the corporate aspect of the believing priesthood; the priesthood of every believer. As the violence subsided, this new restoration took root and a number of Protestant ministry machines were born.

Over the last 500 years, the rate of restoration has dramatically increased, with reformation after reformation taking place. Spiritual gifts have been restored, the five-fold ministry has been restored, signs and wonders have been restored. As we march inexorably towards the culmination of this present creation, God has been pouring out new understanding about his timeless nature. God hasn't been changing, but we certainly have been.

It's now 2012. We have seen various ministry machines spawned by evangelicalism make huge gains for the Kingdom of God throughout the world, winning untold numbers of people to a Christ that is actively involved in their lives. Praise God for all the tools He has led us towards for His glory! Like 100 drilling machines going in different directions through Bedrock, worldwide Christianity is now flavoured, faceted and fragmented, like a particular mobile smartphone OS. There is a common thread that unites almost every single one of us Orthodox, Catholic, Coptic, Anglican, Lutheran, Anabaptist, Methodist, Adventist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Emergent, Revivalist, Missional people today, and that is undeniably the regular (typically weekly) meeting of a group of people, most often in a physical structure dedicated for the purpose (or rented towards that end), under the watchful leadership of a (mostly Godly, often genuinely wonderful) man or woman.

History tells us that this is indeed another machine of ministry, it's not "the way" because it only began to take shape some 70 years after the death of the One who called Himself the Way. So we needn't fear when God says that the ministry machine of the last era has sunk.

As God has continually restored us to His plan, He has provided new machines to propel us forward. We have corrupted much of what we've touched, but God is bigger. If the ministry machine of the last era has sunk, then God has a new machine. New machines come with new positions, different roles, alternative ways of seeing or doing. All of this is natural, historically proven, present in Scripture, and God ordained.

Here is more of what Barbara spoke over Catch The Fire Toronto. I believe some aspects of this apply uniquely to Toronto, while others apply to Christendom worldwide:

Some have developed a sense of entitlement... Senses of entitlement will be shaken, but there is grace for the humble.... He is building a new formation that will house a greater thing, that He is yet to do.... That will hold the greater thing, for the glory of the latter house shall be greater than the former, and there is yet the birthing of the latter house, and it's glory shall be unparalleled.

There is a new tent of meeting that is being built.... The cloud of the presence of the Lord has not left. He has only been pulling us back for a season so he can catapult us forward into our future.

God will upset church cultural tradition. Things may look negative, but they're not... they are for something far greater. [We] will have to evaluate what is God and what is cultural.

My only entitlement is my destiny... We have an invitation to become the very embodiment of Christ himself. That He would live in us, that for us to live, is Christ.... God is looking for a brand new company that will go after Him with their whole heart, whatever that looks like.

"I am looking for desperate seekers, who won't be satisfied with common place living. Come out from the safe places. Come out from your white picket fences" says the Lord.

More than anything else that God has done in the five years that my wife and I have lived in Finland, he has been preparing us for the departure of this ministry machine. What started as a detox from "busy North American church" developed into something far richer, as we found that outside the walls, He still was! And now He's called us back to Toronto; I don't know what purpose lies there, but I honestly don't care, because I have fallen so passionately in love with Him. I have become, by His grace alone, a desperate seeker. Finland is the epitome of a safe place: economically, socially, practically and criminally, and we absolutely love it here and wouldn't ever want to leave, but for one thing.

Safe places are typically not high places. And God has extended the invite to you and I, to go up the mountain. God gave this same invitation to his people Israel, but they were so scared of leaving the ministry machine they had become accustomed to in Egypt, that they elected a man to go up and meet with God, represent God (maybe even be God?) for them. In so doing, God gave that man a machine of ministry for their time. I firmly believe that machine would have looked incalculably different, had the entire nation gone up the mountain together, as God had so earnestly desired.

Just over three thousand years on, God is again offering us all the invitation to go up the mountain. It may mean leaving behind the assurance of our weekly gatherings, the safety and comfort of our buildings, and the ease and predictability of having a pastor take care of us. But know this! The glory of the latter house shall exceed that of the former! And of the reign of Christ, there shall be no end!

I give you permission to start exploring a new world with Christ, wherein the ministry machine of the last era is rusting on the bottom of the ocean. I've already found I'm not alone out here. The water is lovely - and living!

[1] Barbara Yoder is an author, speaker and recognized prophetic voice. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan where she pastors Shekinah Christian Church.

[2] I will write more on the Eden dynamic in future, but consider it the simple living, abiding, communing with God without any pretense or religion (or even any clothes!) that existed before the fall.

[3] It's worth watching the video and seeing how brilliant his predictions where.

[4] This taken from numerous epistles of Ignatius to various regions, as quoted in Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola.

The photo of a ship sunken in the sand is from here: