Sunday, October 16, 2016

God Doesn't Mind Long Church Services (The Presence-Driven Church)

My back yard

Linda and I are in Queens, New York City, this morning. We just spent two days at the 23inMe Conference, where I was sharing my materials on spiritual formation, abiding in Christ, and "Leading the Presence-Driven Church."

This morning I'll preach on The Presence-Driven Church at Hollis Presbyterian Church in Queens.
Redeemer, my church family, is a Presence-Driven Church. Not all churches are. Some churches are McChurches, where high priority is placed on getting people in and out because, hey, a lot of people don't like long services.
God, on the other hand, doesn't mind long services. God doesn't mind being worshiped for looooong periods of time. Actually, from God's POV, he is willing to be worshiped for an eternity.

McChurches suppress the Vertical. James McDonald writes:

“Church leaders raised on rationalism lead ministries where the supernatural, the Vertical, is suppressed and where God Himself is at best an observer and certainly seldom, if ever, an obvious participant in church.” (MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be., Kindle Locations 533-535)

A pastor who suppresses God? Been there, done that, myself. It is the worst place to be, pastorally. Remember that Jesus shut down the Temple because the religious temple leaders "shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." (Matthew 23:13)

This whole thing called "church" is really about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Not just theoretically, but experientially. What people need is Emmanuel, God with us, existentially. 
And not just for a few pre-set, programmed moments.

The Horizontal Church is the godless church; Vertical Church is the Presence-Driven Church. It's all about "entering in." The word is Christ in you, not as some epistemically distant object. When the real thing happens, and people enter in, it is common for them to stop looking at their watches, because this is precisely what they came for. These are the people of God who are panting, like deer in a waterless world, for transcendence.

John Calvin, who is often inaccurately portrayed as being spiritually cold and aloof (don't mistake Calvinists for Calvin himself), had as his 
emblem a flaming heart with an outstretched hand. On it was the motto: Cor meum quasi immolatum tibi offero, Domine ("I give my flaming heart to you, Lord, eagerly and honestly.") Calvin had these words carved over the pulpit in Geneva where he preached. Alvin Plantinga writes:

Of the Holy Spirit, [Calvin] says that “persistently boiling away and burning up our vicious and inordinate desires, he enflames our hearts with the love of God and with zealous devotion.” The Institutes [written by Calvin] are throughout aimed at the practice of the Christian life (which essentially involves the affections), not at theological theory; the latter enters only in the service of the former. (Plantinga,
Knowledge and Christian Belief, p. 72)

Jonathan Edwards wrote:

"There is a distinction to be made between a mere notional understanding, wherein the mind only beholds things in the exercise of a speculative faculty; and the sense of the heart, wherein the mind doesn’t only speculate and behold, but relishes and feels. That sort of knowledge, by which a man has a sensible perception of amiableness and loathsomeness, or of sweetness and nauseousness, is not just the same sort of knowledge with that, by which he knows what a triangle is, and what a square is. The one is mere speculative knowledge; the other sensible knowledge, in which more than the mere intellect is concerned; the heart is the proper subject of it, or the soul as a being that not only beholds, but has inclination, and is pleased or displeased." (Quoted in Ib., p. 73.)

There is a great longing in the human heart for something more. For something beyond us, that will complete us. We see this in the Psalms.

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Psalm 84:1

 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; 
my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you. 
Psalm 63: 1 

 One thing have I desired of the Lord, that I will seek after; 
that I . . . behold the beauty of the Lord. 
Psalm 27: 4

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. 
Ps. 42: 1-2

 I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. 
Ps. 119: 131

Plantinga writes:

"This love for God isn’t like, say, an inclination to spend the afternoon organizing your stamp collection. It is longing, filled with desire and yearning; and it is physical as well as spiritual: “my body longs for you, my soul pants for you.” Although eros is broader than sexual love, it is analogous to the latter. There is a powerful desire for union with God, the oneness Christ refers to in John 17." (Ib., 75)

In The Weight of Glory C.S. Lewis wrote:

“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” (Lewis, 
The Weight of Glory, p. 8)

Presence-Driven leaders understand this and cultivate this, in themselves and in their people. Presence-Driven leaders have met Emmanuel, and introduce others to him. Presence-Driven Churches are slow-cooking, simmering crock pots; McChurches are microwaves. Just as food always tastes better slow cooked, people who are panting for the presence and experiential knowledge of God have staying power, because they understand that real relationships take time. (See, e.g., Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus.)

For those of us who are yearning, fainting, thirsting, and panting for something more than the McKingdom, knowing about God is not enough; knowing God is. When God's presence manifests, we are not wanting to leave, and our God is wanting to stay.

I'm now writing my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church. In the P-DC the "services" are not planned out to the minute. That's the Program-Driven Church, even the Entertainment-Driven Church. These latter do not allow for unexpected moves of God. The goal is to entertain, and then get the people in and out. The Welsh Revival could break out in a Microwave Church and it would be quenched, seen as a hindrance, because "the service is going on too long."