Church is not a prison
A provocative title- on purpose. If you think about it, church goers and prison inmates have some things in common. They are acknowledged offenders; they are in prison to reform their ways. Church goers have faced their sin and want to change. Of course church goers do not have to pay any penalty for their misdemeanours, that was all taken care of at the cross – although there may be some church settings where you are made to feel you have to pay.
Prison inmates are not to be trusted, they need to be watched and monitored. Business can be structured this way too, supervisors are there to make sure the work is done right, that you don’t spend company time texting your mates or surfing the internet. They want the job done to certain standards and that needs accountability and control which is often about correcting and restraining the negatives, with some reward for good performance, but its all about external behaviour monitoring.
There’s a doctrine, that’s been very pervasive in church life which states we are all sinners saved by grace. That means we may be wonderfully forgiven, but still in the grip of the powers that lead to our offences, and hence we are not to be trusted. If we are not to be trusted then the structures and philosophies of church leadership can become more about preventing error and controlling inevitable waywardness (see prison!). Church leaders want people in meetings, doing productive spiritual stuff, reaching the lost, reading their Bibles and not doing too much internet surfing or facebooking on God’s time.
When the church borrows from business management techniques it can also run the risk of buying assumptions about the nature of people that no longer hold true under the new covenant. We end up teaching our people to not trust themselves, which means any initiative needs to be checked out. Church leaders want to cut out ‘hair brained schemes’ that are doomed to fail and do damage to the schemers and the church.
What I am saying is, if we believe the gospel, then we must believe that every new believer is a new creation, the inclinations of the heart have been changed and the bondages to sin and Satan fundamentally broken. (Romans 6). Of course we are not perfect, and we have to mature we can need further healing in our lives. But the assumption about the individuals core nature and value must change so that we know one another after the Spirit. The church is truly the only place on the planet that is ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave!’
Surely as our assumptions change so must our goals in church life. We are here to help people discover the wonder that is their new natures, the glory that is the new inclination to please God and the beauty of their unique destinies and gifts.
Independence is the danger here as is irresponsibility. But if we can recover a Biblical view of church as family then interdependence, loving confrontation and positive accountability become norms in our environment. The kind of accountability we need is that which holds you to account to fulfil your great calling, and to help you clear up a mess if you make one.
We are the freest most loved and trusted people on the planet, we have the power to change our world because Christ lives inside us. Let’s discover church family life that releases powerful people. But in a way where they love being in the family, honouring the family and making the family famous by living exemplary lives. They are not break-away prodigals determined to do their own thing, but powerful sons and daughters carrying the family honour and needing the family’s best in their lives in order to succeed.