Although I don't like for things to go public when someone jets the faith, I felt a need to speak about this one. Marty Sampson, an awesome and creative songwriter and worship leader with Hillsongs in Australia, who has penned hundreds of songs (either as a main or co-writer) and who has led millions of souls in worship through Hillsong Church in Australia, his travels worldwide and his recordings, is now at age 40 stating publicly that he is losing his faith. He essentially has shared that because the watered down version of Christianity most prevalent in today's society is not even remotely associated with what we see in Scripture (AND HE"S RIGHT), he feels that it is actually more of a man behind the green curtain sort of mirage and he can no longer remain part of it - not only his involvement in leadership but also stating that he is trading in his faith in general.
His words: "How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me."
Well, Marty, there are many people talking about it, you’re just not joining in on the conversation.
Sadly this is becoming more and more common. Those who have had such a limelight experience in the body of Christ are rethinking their spiritual belief system and letting their faith go.
But what is the common thread in many of these people’s reason for leaving?One might consider the age of some of these people leaving the faith so publicly. They are young. They have not weathered many storms in their life or their ministry. They have high expectations of God, which is AWESOME, but often times those things we see do not always come when we are young. We have not let the Word of Christ dwell richly in us for seasons until we have genuine, time-tested truths that have changed us internally and we are able to pour into others from the overflow of the fruit we are bearing for the Lord. He called us to bear fruit and that can only come by abiding in Him. Staying in place. Staying connected in and out of seasons until we produce fruit good for the eating. When people are young and have a notable gift to offer, we often too soon place them in a place of authority and leadership but do not fully vet them from a number of standpoints. Too often, we see churches that wish to remain relevant to the up and coming generations, pushing young and hopeful spiritual prodigies to the front and then, after a few seasons of high activity and low fruit yield, they burnout and start to question the reality of their call and also their faith. We must mentor the young and upcoming generations to the point where they are proving their call through faithfulness, through holiness, through submission (not a bad word here) and accountability to the living out of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we quickly turn these young ones into stars that will hopefully recruit the masses of the each successive generation, we short change the ability to actually give those newcomers with stars in their eyes, the true call to sacrificial living. More on that later.
And then there's the issue of many spiritual leaders who are talking the talk but not walking the walk and it is, in my humble opinion, watering down the power and glory that should be displayed through the body of Christ made up of millions of people who claim to be followers of Christ deep in their heart. Jesus said, "Greater things shall you do because I go to my Father." And for a generation, Peter, Paul and the apostles they rocked their world with the outflow of just that: God’s glory and power. Where did it go? We often see these large ministries and think, God must be blessing them if they're that big." What did Jesus do when throngs of followers were on his tail? He thinned the herd by saying things like, "Eat my flesh and drink my blood." Um, excuse me, what? You can almost hear the people saying, "Whew, look at the time." Then he said stuff like, "If you don't hate your family then you can't follow me." He checked people's hearts along the way to see if they were really committed to HIM, or if they were in it for the miracles - the show. Jesus never did the miracles for show, He was drawn to people out of compassion for their brokenness and pain. The miracles were simply a natural outflow from Him to them because of His love. But like moths to a flame, many were drawn to Him because of what they could get out of the deal instead of being drawn into what God was doing to show His love to a wayward people. The apostles also encountered people who were into the show and they quenched that whole thing pretty quick as well. Sons of Sceva needed no help from the Apostles. They had "you know what," handed to them on a platter. Simon the Sorcerer who wanted the power for his show was quickly put in his place by Peter and scared out of his wits. Nevertheless humbled. Never were the disciples/apostles about the show. They kept themselves in check quite often. The disciples/apostles were implicitly about the Great Commission, letting the world know of God's love and open invitation to life everlasting. The Apostle John, almost 60 years after Jesus, wrote letters to believers everywhere to hold onto their faith because they were turning away from the truth and bring drawn to other spiritual belief systems. Even Peter implored believers to not stop holding on even though it had been a while awaiting Christ’s return.
If judgement truly does begin with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), it's going on now in some form. For too long, the Christian church (in western culture, at least), has been more of a "form of godliness but denying the power thereof." (2 Timothy 3:5) It has been the church of Laodicea, seen in the book of Revelation with Jesus standing outside the church knocking to come back in and do life together. Most will say, "Not my church, we got it going on." Yeah. Be really careful with that ok? 1 Corinthians 10:12 "So the one who thinks he is standing firm should be careful not to fall." There are many churches today where Jesus, just like Elvis, has left the building. It is time for the church at large to look at itself in a very deep and organic way - in the quantum realm if you will - and ask, "Are we full of the Spirit and boldness of the early believers?" "Are we standing up for truth based upon the Scriptures - which are an extension of the heart of God?" "Are we truly standing for the power of the resurrected Christ to be seen in our world today through us or are we just living status quo lives, going to church but needing to get home in time to get the roast out of the oven so 'hurry up pastor, let's get this service going!?'" SMH.
There is so much backbiting and power plays in the local churches of today. Every so often it is uncovered and a number of Christians all over the world take this gut punch and feel it deep, praying it won't have this long lasting effect and cycle out of control. There is an inordinate amount of sin in the church - much of it sexual in nature. This is an ongoing issue that plagues at least 46% of church leadership. But also, there is manipulation and control over finances, committees and deacons hanging pastor's positions over their heads if they don't preach what will keep the machine well-oiled. If that's your version of "being the church" then dont bother attending anymore. It's useless and impotent at best and hurtful and dangerous at its worst. And it's a slap in the face to all that Jesus died for. Jesus never called us to sit back, pay our tithes and let 5% of the local church body do it's bidding while 95% enjoy a good pep talk about being a good person or meet in home groups that are never encouraged to live outside the walls of each respective house in which they meet. I've been the new guy and seen the stares. it's like no one knows how to connect with someone outside the clique. They always seem to form and they always send the stranger packing. In Bible times, people marveled at the power that was resident within the unlearned fishermen disciples of Christ. They went about healing people, raising the dead, setting captives free from Satan's power, speaking truth into people's lives revealing hidden sins, all for the redemptive purpose of grace and freedom! Welcoming all!!!! Mark 16 baby! Peter needed a bit of a push but he got there. :)
2000 years later, there's very little left of the formation of the church based upon Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The good thing: there's a form of the story still being told. The bad thing: much has been left out of the story to the point that we are drawing people into a belief system based on high emotion and not a lot of rules OR a series of rules to be followed and sacraments to be obeyed instead of a balanced approach where we teach the WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD from beginning to end and hold ourselves accountable to walking out the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. We are not teaching that to follow Christ means we are at enmity with the world. Enmity? Google it. (Yes we are to love the world, the lost, the sinner, the hurting, the needy, those in darkness looking for meaning and purpose in life - just so you don't think me a separatist.) But here's what we've done. We have crafted such a great display for people to find out that church can be "cool" because we have great music, high energy motivational speakers, great programs for children up to senior citizens, all the best large building designs created for excellent acoustics, pallet walls and Edison lights to show how relevant we are. Like I said, anyone can start a church. We have been greatly influenced by society and culture so much that we just keep opening the doors to let all kinds of things in but has today's society and culture been greatly influenced by the church, or better yet, Heaven?? Instead of going to them, we have a placed a demand on them to find us and come to us. Are we truly changing the culture around us because of the release of God's power and wisdom flowing through our lives as we relate to others in our community OR are we living at arm’s length not inviting them into our lives? Song of Solomon shows a picture of this as the lover is desperately trying to get into where the beloved is and is practically breaking down the door. The beloved says, I’m in bed, clean, must I get out of bed, dirty myself to answer the door? Then just that quick the lover is gone. Although it has an alternative meaning within the church I see it as people who are trying to get in who desperately need us to show them the way but we just don’t want to get messy and answer their call.
***And please hear me, although it would appear I'm painting with a broad brush I want to be careful to say that I'm not standing in accusation against all churches or followers of Christ on the planet. I know I'm just as guilty of behavior not becoming of a saint and I have also played my part in driving people away from churches with my elitist righteous attitude. I hate that I have that as a part of my history. I wish to live like that no longer and have been challenged by God's word and His leading to live more vulnerable and transparent to others.***
So many people attend worship junkie one-word-named conferences and feel they have experienced heaven. They did, I'm sure of it. I'm a worship junkie. I wish to experience God in the atmosphere of musical praise and worship. I've led worship for years and wanted so desperately for God to be glorified and for people to connect with God during the times that I was leading worship. There is no greater experience on this planet than to truly exalt God and be drawn deep into who He is. Sharing that corporately in a gathering with other brothers and sisters in Christ who are pressing in and taking their time connect with Jesus is the ultimate. Allowing those times to breathe, where we can flow in and out of music and intercession and receive a directive from the Holy Spirit that is timely and even for that moment??? That always rocks in my book. But if that's ALL we do and leave a conference or church service "high" and don't share that overload with those who really need that encounter, then we may think we are changing the culture (because we've been changed) but we aren't. I've seen movies and documentaries on people going and praying for people all over the world. Praying for healing and deliverance and sharing Jesus with different religious cultures. I cringe often when I see that or hear people saying, "We went downtown with a group and just prayed for people and some experienced this or that." I then say, "Awesome! What are you doing to follow up with them?" Some reply, "Well we told them where our church was or told them to find a Bible believing church." TILT. A for effort on reaching out. F for follow up and discipleship. It's great that you want to take the power of God to the streets, but unless these people you encounter are brought into relationship with other believers and taught the truth of God, they are simply going to flounder. Maybe 1% will find that church and actually walk in. Maybe a higher percentage will think about their encounter and keep thinking about it and read a Bible for awhile. But Jesus didn't tell us in the Great Commission to "do some cool tricks like I showed you and I'll take it from there."
Culture doesn't just change by osmosis from sky high believers who just spent hours worshipping Jesus. It comes from heart to heart connection with those are hurting, seeking truth, struggling. It's messy and it should be. It's rarely convenient and so we should perhaps change our definition of convenient. It takes time and relationship building. Intentional relationship building. Sacrificial relationship building. Consistent relationship building. Just like Jesus. 3 years and almost nothing to show for it until they encountered the resurrected Christ. Then it was GAME ON! There's nothing wrong with mountain top experiences where you feel like you have entered into Heaven and experienced God. But why do we do that? To personally grow spiritually? Yes. But it's to allow that overflow of the Spirit to minister to others in service and to live sacrificially, putting yourself in a place where people begin to be drawn to you because of your love for them. The same love God shows us on a daily basis. Agape. Unconditional. Love that allows Jesus to wash the feet of Judas just as much as the other disciples even though he knew in a few hours Judas would betray Him to the Roman authorities - and then, the Cross. Do we love the hurtful to us? Do we keep coming back for more just so we can love like Jesus? Can we visualize those people as disciples of Jesus? Do we have vision to see them radically discipling others with the love of God? I have a feeling it's in those places where the real power of God shows up that defines the embodiment of what Jesus came to teach us about the Father's love. Those are the places where people like Marty Sampson and Josh Harris (I KISSED DATING GOODBYE) need to spend more time than in the limelight of huge ministries that create a false sense of Christianity and in turn cause them to jet when it doesn't stand the litmus test of a crisis of faith. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
We had a saying in a church myv fur and I helped to plant: "What you lead them through, is what you lead them to." If people find Jesus in the huge show of lights, music, fog and energizing motivational preachers then that huge show is going to need to be part of their continual journey. If the church doesn't bring it a few weeks in a row and they can't emotionally engage, then their faith system begins to falter. If the motivational speaker finds himself mired in scandal, then that new believer begins to lose spiritual focus. If they were "saved" in a local successful church - success being based on pews being filled and money rolling in - when the crowd shrinks they may find themselves questioning what they really believe about how God works. Which is not a bad thing if you have a seasoned true lover of God to ask. Fun Fact: Did you know that 70% of church growth is transfer growth? Mostly Christian consumers wanting a better show OR others who move to a different area and find a different church.
I believe we are seeing a number of people leaving their version of the faith because it was never truly presented to them in all its fullness to begin with - maybe. This is the tip of the iceberg to what is going on below the surface I know but I believe it is a major part of the reason we are seeing people walk away. And it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's good to be shaken. Hebrews 12 talks about a time coming when all will be shaken in Heaven and on Earth. But we are receiving a kingdom - it's an ongoing process - that cannot be shaken, as our faith so easily is when it is not grounded on the true Kingdom principles of God.
I believe God is sending a clarion call now to believers to be the church that Jesus originally formed. A church, the world wide body of believers, that moved in power, stood against the normal belief systems of society and were treated badly and harrassed for it, but a church that was so strong because of its sound doctrine founded upon the Word of God that not even the gates of Hell could prevail against it. Following Jesus headlong into the unknown because when asked, "Are you going to leave too? the disciples replied, "Where else can we go, You alone have the words of eternal life." What is released into the earth by believers who live that way is the stuff that those leaving the faith need to see.
Lastly. Pray for these that are leaving. Do not condemn them but pray that the The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit and The Cross will become so real to them that they will be drawn back into the body by His love - shown consistently by imperfect followers of Christ.