In our new book, Church Transfusion, Phil Helfer and I start by claiming that the true expression of Christ's kingdom should stand out as very different from all other religions. To demonstrate the radically different nature of God's kingdom we list 6 ways that the upside-down kingdom stands in contrast from the world's view of what is right and often is at odds with the Church as well. In these blog posts I will list those six different paradigms of the upside-down Kingdom. This is the third: the way to be strong is to become weak.
Success can often become your greatest hindrance in a church. Does that sound strange? The spiritual truth is clear in the Scriptures: the stronger we are, the weaker we become spiritually. True spiritual strength comes in weakness. Success is sometimes a tool of the devil that spawns pride, self-sufficiency, and an inability to learn anything new. A person (or church) that acknowledges his/her weakness is more likely to turn to God for help. One who is self-sufficient is further from dependence on God for the fulfillment of needs. "Success" and all it entails creates a false sense of importance and masks our worst deficiencies.
Perhaps the worst part of this "success" scenario is the delusion. The pastor feels good about his or her popularity and thinks all must be well because so many people come to here his/her sermon each week. The people also feel good with the “success” and the fact that their felt needs are being met, so they too believe this must be right. Both parties are happy with this scenario; therefore, it must be good, and God must be pleased. But nothing could be further from the truth.
It is possible as a church to think you are doing well when in fact you are very sick and near death. Of the seven letters to churches that Jesus sent in Revelation 2–3, almost half of the churches suffered from a form of self-deception, two in a negative way and a third in a positive manner.
To the church of Sardis, Jesus dictated to John the apostle, “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.”
To the church of Laodicea Jesus said, “Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”
Even in a positive way a church can think it is worse off than it really is. To the church of Smyrna He wrote, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich).’” Some churches that do not appear "successful" by the standards of the world feel inferior even when they are actually truly healthy and strong.
The worst part of self-deception is that by very definition, you do not think that you have a problem. Because you do not recognize the problem, whatever the illness is, you believe you are healthy and successful, and all the while you are evaluating and celebrating or perhaps bemoaning the wrong things. Because things that need correction go unaddressed, problems progress from bad to worse, and through it all everyone feels happy and content. If you knew you were deceived, you wouldn’t be deceived; that’s the sinister part of the problem. Most sane people do not leave their zipper down on purpose, but it happens and we are embarrassed when we realize it. Until then we are deluded into a false sense that all is fine...and it is not.
Jesus concludes each of His letters with the same admonition: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” If we are to have any hope of transfusion, we must have an ear that wants to hear the truth even if we do not like what the Spirit has to say. Our vision will be polluted if we simply rely on our own viewpoint to assess our health and success because we are part of the problem, not the solution. Only when we are brutally honest, repent (change our mind), and seek Jesus’ own viewpoint will we be able to see the truth.
In church transfusion it is harder to get a church that
thinks it is strong to accept that it needs a transfusion. "Successful" churches often do not have an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying. Jesus said,
“It is not the well who need a physician but those who are sick.” Jesus
also said, "Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of
Heaven." Our greatest blessing in this upside-down kingdom is to start
from weakness and poverty, not from a place of strength and success. It is the weak that confounds the strong.
Weak things are often the strongest in God's upside-down kingdom. Beware the wrath of the lamb.