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Jesus on Leadership: Do Not Call One Another Teacher or Father or Instructor…You Are All Siblings

unrecognizable little boys holding hands and walking on sandy seashore

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:8-12

I have heard sermons and songs about the “greatest among you being the servant of all,” but I have never heard a single sermon on the command about letting go of titles. Not saying there’s not one out there, but this verse has actually been so transformative to me that if you were to ask me my leadership philosophy for the church, I would quote this verse first. Why have we not obeyed Jesus in this? It’s not just that it’s counter-cultural for Euro-American societies, it’s also completely counter-intuitive. It seems inefficient to perceive a community as growing together side by side. Who will make the decisions to move things along? Should we not consider some people as “higher” or “honorable” because they are better educated, better qualified, have worked their way up, or deserve it solely because of age and rank? After all, our whole lives are based on being under authority, of bosses, or parents, or governments, and Jesus supports our obedience to authority as long as it does not conflict with obedience to the Father. As products of the industrial revolution we have a mentality largely based on the ideals of efficiency, productivity, individual ingenuity, and top-down authority. But here Jesus takes those positions that one might aspire to, or strive to be able to reach (teacher, father), and He says, no titles. You must all come to ME as your one teacher, your one Father. And you must come to me together.

He calls us to side-by-side discipleship. Sibling discipleship. This is a mutual love that says, “I will not demand your respect. I will allow it to be a gift.” and “I will not give my respect out of obligation, but because I love you.”

Picture This

Surprisingly, most people are not comfortable with side-by-side discipleship. This is because they are used to a church organizational model of discipleship and power based on top-down authority, corporate/business models. Like this–

Notice the similarities to this…

But Jesus taught a leadership model that was very different. There is no man at the top. God is the top. He leads us. We know what He wants because of His word. He sent Jesus to branch out to build His temple by living in us, through the Holy Spirit, both individually and corporately. I’ve written about Jesus as the branch here, so I won’t focus too much on that, except to say that this is how God chose to build His church. So we purpose to live accordingly. Now what does that mean for our concept of church leadership? Let’s look at a branch.

Notice it grows up and out. Growing up refers to the fact that just as branches are drawn to the sun, we are drawn upward together to reach our fullness in Christ.

But Jesus, He is the seed. He is the shoot of Jesse. He is the main branch, the trunk, the vine. We, our church communities and the individuals therein, are the branches of the vine in this metaphor, and Jesus moves His life through us, expanding in us and moving us toward his concept of fullness, like a branch grows to make a tree full and fruitful. Let’s turn the top down model on it’s side. Literally. So we can start to think of ourselves more like this.

In other words, one may have been a part of the branch earlier in the development of the branch but is no less at the top than the other. You are a part of one another, on the same level, moving in the same direction. This is side-by-side discipleship and it’s not as unnatural as it feels at first. When it works, it’s the most life-giving thing in the world. It’s just that most people don’t get it or they’re too prideful, doubtful, or afraid to try it. Chaos would ensue if you let God lead, right?! And how would we know what He wants? We would all have to love His word (Psalm 119) and eagerly desire the prophetic gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1) and be committed to one another in love to reach the unity of the Spirit.

And most churches are completely untrained in this. House church systems, which I have talked about as well, are not exempt from the temptations of top-down organization and structure. The tendency when things feel out of hand or something difficult needs to be handled is to take control of the situation–to manage it. And if that is not done efficiently and to certain personal expectations/preferences, well you have “poor leadership.” And the tendency when there is a disagreement in a church is to go to the one “in authority” to give a ruling rather than coming together in unity according to how the Holy Spirit leads us in accordance with the Word of God given in Scripture. Now let’s unpack this commandment of Jesus.

“Father or Mother” vs “Brother or Sister”?

A father and mother have God-given authority over you because they are responsible for you as a child. You are under their care and then, as you marry, you leave their care and are under the care of your spouse, forming a new family extension of the old. We honor our fathers and mothers both naturally and in the faith because we love them and God tells us to, but also so that we will be blessed with a long life and to a thousand generations! But our humanity means we also tend to idolize those we honor. If our honor and obedience to a person is connected to their title and position or legalistic rule-following, rather than our genuine love for God and others, then we have missed the boat. Similarly, if the authority you have over another believer is simply due to your title or age, then you are not obeying Christ.

But if we are all brothers and sisters, we have a problem. How will we choose one person qualified to make the decisions or lead? Well, you don’t. You have a team of different gifted people called elders who function as a team (or body) to pray and discern in the Spirit how God is leading the community. The older ones IN THE FAITH have more responsibility than the younger because they need to warn, they have more time dealing with sin, they have experienced the grace of God in enduring the cross and its shame, they have fought temptation with success. That’s why it is elders who are called upon to help their bodies function well (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5). They simply were part of the branch earlier on and they continue to meet the qualifications of elders in their moral behavior. They have the experience, the time, the love for the family of God, an understanding of the community’s culture, the exposure to the elements. But they are still JUST part of the branch, just brothers and sisters in this journey. And they are often not at the forefront of activity or fruitfulness. The younger ones are. Why is this important? Because as soon as a person comes to trust Jesus for forgiveness and is filled with the Holy Spirit, they are to start making disciples, teaching what they are taught by the the elders in the faith, to neighbors and nations, in obedience to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20).

If you are young in age, fan into flame the gift of God! How is God calling you to step up and shepherd, teach, or prophesy alongside the older ones? Stop waiting for an invitation. Stop waiting for a platform. You have permission to speak, to speak according to the leadership of the Spirit in your life. Come on and let’s hear what God is teaching you. It’s safe. We will hold one another accountable. If you have the Holy Spirit and a Bible, I want to hear it. If you are worried your theology is shaky, invite a mature believer to listen to what you have to say first and test it. Then SPEAK LIFE to this sleeping giant we call the church. Wake us up! You do not need a platform. Just start discipling everyone! Let’s gooooo new little branches, soon to be full of fruit! Fear and insecurity have no place in love.

Releasing one another from the titles of Father/Mother in the faith releases us to love one another and respect each other without patriarchal/matriarchal authority, power, or pride being the reason. You may consider someone as a father or mother based on the fact that you came into Christ through them, but their message was nothing unique to them; it was simply Christ’s message. No one is of YOUR spiritual lineage. You may see someone as a father or mother because they cared for you or discipled you, and in a sense, like Paul tells Timothy, there is a parent-like role there, but at the end of the day, it is mutuality. Even-standing. You are still simply brother or sisters and you must discipline your heart to see one another as such. You are not to call one another by those titles and you are to try to see one another as a sister or brother, because it is dangerous to both be on a pedestal and to put others on a pedestal. You are capable of discipling those older than you the way they discipled you as long as you are in Christ. You need no other status or qualification but the Holy Spirit and a love for and continued hunger for rightly dividing the Word of truth. It’s one message. One Word. One Christ. One Spirit. One body moving together.

Teacher/Instructor/Mentor vs. Brother/Sister

Similarly, Jesus also said not to call anyone Rabbi (a spiritual teacher/mentor/guru) or Instructor. Instead, Jesus was to be considered our teacher through the Holy Spirit in prophecy and by being led through the scriptures, exploring them together in community as equally-paced learners, yoked together. That means the older ones who know how to walk by the Spirit set the pace in community gatherings, and the new ones catch on, learning quickly and willingly to move by the Spirit, in deference to one another, out of love for God and one another. We are yoked together with Christ as one.

Think of the difference in teaching or advising your brother or sister about something as opposed to being taught by or teaching like a teacher or instructor. In a healthy sibling relationship you teach from a place of empathy. There is a sense of, “I’ve been there–let me tell you from my own experience.” There is a sense of “I am with you in this and I will be by your side until we get through this together.” You are not a guru who has all the answers as people thought of the rabbis. No one sits at your feet to take on YOUR yoke of discipleship. No one is of YOUR spiritual version or intellectual lineage. We are all simply teaching the message of Christ. We are all under His direct yoke. We need no mediators to get to Him. You are also not simply a teacher who has students who pass through unattached to you. You are laying that down and doing life with these people as brothers and sisters. On the flip side of this, you are not a student who passes through a classroom taking in information and moving on with your life. You are transformed by relationship. Both of you mutually. In the same way as you can have a role of spiritual fatherhood or motherhood, someone can have the gifting and role of teaching, but still, at the core, we consider one another brothers and sister, so we do not call one another teacher or instructor.

Not calling one another teacher/guru/instructor releases us to love one another and respect each other without institutional or intellectual authority, power, or pride/insecurity being an issue. It keeps us humble and aware of the danger of these power dynamics if not kept in check. It also allows us all to wear the responsibility of discipling others and building them up, not relying on only a few “well-educated” people to teach or disciple.

It is dangerous to both be on a pedestal and to put others on a pedestal.

So since it is dangerous to both be on a pedestal and to put others on a pedestal, who do you need to take down off a pedestal? Who have you been idolizing as a spiritual father or mother or spiritual leader? How has that been putting undue pressure on that person or your relationship. On the other hand, how have you put yourself in these positions in peoples’ lives either intentionally or not? What needs to be undone, clarified, restructured, renegotiated in your spiritual relationships with people?

Side By Side Discipleship: Mutuality, Empathy, and Belonging

Obeying Christ by following these commands leads us to mutuality, belonging, and empathy. Mutuality means that our devotion to Christ is what links us together and makes us family. Blood (the community of faith) is thicker than water (of natural birth). Mutuality means that we minister to one another as we would minister to Jesus. It means that you are not always simply a recipient of my teaching and sacrifice and I am not always the giver of teaching and sacrifice. I am not always the recipient of your sacrifice and teaching and you are not always the giver of sacrifice and teaching. Rather, we sacrifice for one another, serve one another, and love one another in the gifts God has given us, none more special than the other, all equally necessary and vital to the life of the body.

I can also relate genuinely to you from a place of compassion. I can be empathetic. Empathy is the ability to relate to someone and participate in their suffering by listening with love and then together going to prayer and God’s word for healing. Empathy does not see the person as a problem, or as a patient. It sees them as a part of our own body, a family member that I love. It gives space to emotion and also calls for return to truth. Empathy and truth are beautiful together. It is not like when you empathize with someone you simply give them space to talk. That’s a part of it, but empathy also says, “if I were in your shoes I would need Jesus right now.” And you take them to the Lord in prayer.

Empathy does not see the person as a problem, or as a patient. It sees them as a part of our own body, a family member that I love.

Empathy is only possible when you are not overwhelmed by hundreds of people. You will become numb and deaf; a problem solver with no personal investment. But in real Christian community we are a body, your pain is my pain, your struggle is my struggle. We fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens and loving fiercely, the way we were loved by Jesus. Empathy is when we consider others as “belonging” to us in community; it allows relationship between generations (both natural and spiritual) without looking down at the younger as lesser-than or lower-than.

“Side-by-side discipleship” is something most of us have not seen modeled in leadership. It’s not even an official term. As one of my friends asked me the other day, “How do we become the leaders we never had?”

There is a meekness here that does not pretend to be better or more intelligent than the other, because we remember our own struggle and our own rescue. There is a grace in calling the brother or sister to follow Jesus in unyielding faithfulness, in mutually desired accountability, in mutual embrace, welcoming them close to cry, to laugh, to eat, to worship and pray together. This is mutuality. This is belonging. It says,

“My home is always open to you. My house is your house. Come and go as family. You belong to me and I belong to you in covenant with Jesus. And I will hold you in love to your covenant you made with Him. I will show you empathy but I will also not ignore your sin, and you should do the same for me. I will not be satisfied with your enslavement to addictions and lies of the enemy but I will fight for and beside you in the Spirit. I will try my best to go after you if you go missing, literally, or spiritually.”

Belonging to one another is what it means to be brothers and sisters. It is a deep, intentional knowing of one another through doing life together in a lifestyle of prayer and discipleship–praying for and listening to God on one another’s behalf and speaking the truth in love. You know all my good and bad traits. You might know my past sin, my past and current temptations. You know what I am good at and horrible at. You know how to push my buttons. Being known is scary, but trusting, Godly sibling relationships are not. They have this deep empathetic quality that comes from really knowing one another and loving one another anyway, which leads one another to healing, salvation, renouncing sin, mutual love, and belonging.

Isn’t this what we long for in Christian community? Is this what we have? What keeps us from it? It is sin and pride and rebellion and maybe apathy or ignorance, and definitely Satan. Who among us teaches this radical kind of obedience, not in the letter of the law, but in the Spirit of the law? Jesus intended us to obey His commands fully, and at the heart level.

What Obedience Looks Like

(These are not how-tos or laws, but descriptions of what this might look and feel like when it’s working):

Mutual Humility is where EVERYONE goes lower and deeper into humility so we see a loss of titles and human honorifics. Leaders need to be able to lead like Moses, the most humble man on earth, who was a leader- not by being a a political genius, a military leader, or a spiritual guru, but who was a simple man who knew His own weakness, who knew the power and purposes of God, and who found that out by coming into consistent fellowship with the Lord in the Tent of Meeting. He led by seeking the face of God in His presence. How much better if we come into God’s presence together. No pride or hatred can stand in the presence of God.

Mutual humility says, “As a spiritual mother, I am your sister. As a spiritual father, I am your brother. I am not your spiritual teacher or guru, I am your sister. Call me simply, by my given name. I don’t need a title in order to feel respected because you do respect me. You do not need a title from me because you will know by my words and actions that I respect you and honor you. I do not seek to be honored above you. I consider you more often than I consider myself, and I consider you worthy of my attention and God’s gifts, I think of you as higher than I am. This is not a competition. I do not seek a higher position than wiping Jesus’ feet with my hair and wiping yours with a towel.”

I do not seek a higher position than wiping Jesus’ feet with my hair and wiping yours with a towel.

Mutual service in humility says, “We serve this community as a team. We help make sure the people practicing hospitality by hosting community/prayer/worship gatherings and those in need are covered and we don’t leave them to handle things alone. We help those who need help. We look for those who may be lonely and ask God to show us how He wants to “set them in families.” We solve problems through prayer, not debate or votes, and not on the basis of one person in power making the final decision. We pray until we are unified in the decision. All who are in Christ have God as our teacher and Father, and He does not show favoritism. All are qualified to speak. We are not complete without you being with us in communion. We notice when you are not here. We are not complete without your spiritual gifts at the table, though we will not use you or view you as a commodity. You are a treasure to us, just you, as you are, even without your gifts; a much needed part of the body, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit and moving in obedience to Christ. You matter to me personally and collectively.”

Mutual Love is continued between brothers and sisters who submit to one another willingly and serve joyfully, giving not out of compulsion but out of joy, cheerfully. We try to show one another love in ways that are meaningful. We check on one another, give to one another, and serve one another too—and we tell one another if we think this is ever out of balance, where one is expecting too much or not reciprocating. We don’t wait to be checked on just to see if someone will.  If we need something or miss one another, we reach out, trusting the bond of love that we have and knowing people cannot read our minds. We invite one another into our homes and real life even if it’s hard or uncomfortable to do so, and we look for ways to include one another. We pray for one another, giving quality time to pray for each person, not just when there is a crisis. Not all problems carry the same weight, but each heart is important, even in their (relatively) small concerns. We love sincerely, from the heart, and without fear of rejection. We are one in covenant with Jesus and this bond of the body is unbreakable because we are in Him. Your heart matters to me.

Mutual Respect is shared between sub-cultural groups of different ethnicities, ages, affinities, political persuasions, wealth classes, social classes, educational backgrounds, or regional origins. We listen thoughtfully and engagingly and actually take time to process what one another says (show respect in culturally appropriate ways, for example, remembering the plans we make, trying to be on time in time-oriented cultures, being thoughtful for one another’s feelings and preferences when possible, not interrupting in cultures where this is important). We won’t assume we are obligated to always help each other or be immediately available—God may have tasked us to other things in that moment or we may have prior obligations that He is saying to follow through with. We encourage bravery and space for the younger to teach and train the older without fear, even if pride wells up in the older one for being corrected by a younger brother or sister, and even if fear wells up in the younger one for confronting an elder. Push through it and obey God in saying what the Holy Spirit is telling you to say. Mutual respect says “your perspective matters to me and we will resolve this in love and prayer.” Our relationship is not fragile.

Mutual Desire for Accountability means you all agree that you want to grow spiritually and you will yield in love to the truth of God’s word in correction. It says, “You will find me a true friend who is impartial and sincere and is willing to tell you the truth about your sin (gently, ideally), even if it hurts your feelings.” More than that, it says, “I expect accountability. If you don’t point out my sin to me, and I remain unaware of it, you are doing me a disservice.”

We listen to the Lord alongside and on behalf of one another in intercession. We share what we see or hear from the Lord (as He leads), as good correction and encouragement without doubting our love for one another or our high opinion of one another as a person and child of God. Our relationship is to be Spirit-led, not based on appearances, but on the heart. We keep one another accountable at the heart level and the behavioral level. We agree that repentance is not just confessing that you are disobeying the Word of God, but it is changing your heart and behavior to align with God’s Word and His heart (the Spirit of the law, the law of the Spirit). We are patient with one another, but not patient with sin. We encourage repentance and righteous living fervently. We listen for what God has for one another as we pray for each other. We are careful not to judge one another but only say what the Lord is saying when correcting. We try to communicate gently, with humility, but also leave room for emotions. We try to be gentle and kind with one another. Mutual desire for accountability says, “Because we are one in Christ, please pay attention to my life and tell me if you see anything that is not like Christ. In return, I will also pay attention to your life and gently warn you if I see a sin pattern, not so I can judge you (that is not my job), but because I love you and I will not see you shrink back and become a slave to sin again on my watch. Your obedience matters to me. We mutually agree not to teach or lead while unrepentant. And we give one another permission to urge one another toward quick, full repentance and right standing with God.

Mutual trust. This means that I am going to take you at your word. Your yes is yes, your no is no. (Matthew 5:37). I can trust you to be honest with me and defend me against slander, gossip, and against the enemy (Satan). I will be honest with you and defend you against slander, gossip, and against the enemy. We don’t entertain gossip about one another in the community. We don’t “process” our hurt feelings with others in a way that could lead to disunity but go directly to the person to discuss the issue. We forgive before we confront. If we do not understand, we ask for clarity. We try to not debate through issues. We pray instead, even if it is awkward to do so. When we share personal, sensitive information we will ask one another before we share it with others unless prayerfully considered. We take responsibility for our own emotions—we process our own stuff with God but tell each other if we feel stuck. Then we go to prayer ASAP. We tell one another if trust has been broken and we make it right. Mutual trust says “our relationship matters to me.” Which leads to…

Mutual forgiveness without mandating apologies or special treatment due to position. You will be hurt by your brothers and sisters. But as equal recipients of the grace of God, we will train ourselves to release those who hurt us from our judgment, separating the faithful wounds of a friend from unrighteous hurt, knowing Jesus has paid for their sin against us. This means we may get an apology and we may not, but it doesn’t matter to us. We have already forgiven. If we are unable to honestly let it go, then we address it quickly and to the point. We process our complaints with God in prayer first, forgive ahead of time, and ask Him how to reconcile/move forward. Most of the time this takes care of the issue. If we still need help understanding why someone did something or need to ask them to stop a certain behavior, we go to the person directly and quickly. We do not draw things out. We are honest with one another by expressing your concern in a culturally appropriate way, trying to be gentle.

“When you did this _________, it made me feel this way ________”

or

“Help me understand this situation because I understood it this way.”

Then we must let it go. Love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5). I learned this from a pastor who I greatly admire who is a master of conflict resolution (though he’s too humble to admit this). In his opinion, if we are not unified, we are in sin. Unity has to be that important to us. We keep “short accounts” with one another so we never become bitter or hold grudges. We do not let the sun go down on our anger. We agree to yield to biblical truth and make every effort to keep the bond of peace. Mutual forgiveness says, “Our relationship matters to me.”

Mutual Waiting for One Another. Move together. Though the American church is still largely individualistic in our approach to spiritual growth, we look for examples from other communities that have solidarity as an ideal, that know how to walk together. This may mean ministry plans go slower or even backpedal for a while because God is refining your team to truly love Him and one another in unity of the Spirit. We pay attention to people’s hearts and do not simply use them as commodities for ministry. If they are not ok, it’s ok to take a break. We follow up with them and offer to pray with them, especially if they are stepping away to heal or learning to fight sin. We find out what they need and try to help them, not to rush them along, but to make sure they are living completely free. We are mutually responsible for one another, not for one another’s behavior or emotions, which would make you a scapegoat with a martyr syndrome, but responsible for the care of one another. We make sure no one is falling between the cracks and ask God to bring to mind those who need special attention in each season. Mutual waiting says, “Our coordination and health as a body matters to me.”

“In [Jesus] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:21-22

Regarding Communion: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, when you gather for the Lord’s Supper, wait for each other. 1 Corinthians 11:33

We emphasize and teach this command of Jesus intentionally as a principle to both new and old members of our communities. We encourage one another to “Consider one-another as brothers/sisters” (as someone committed to walk with you but also in process alongside you, each with our own issues—we don’t put one another on a pedestal. We especially encourage this command when we hurt and disappoint one another) so that we can be patient with one-another’s shortcomings. This is a two-way relationship (we minister to each other, teach each other, fill in each other’s gaps). Remember we want to resist the human tendency toward efficiency, speed of growth, and controlling/manipulative leadership. The model of the branch is that it moves slowly but surely, genuinely, and honestly joined together toward maturity. Which leads us to a final point…pruning.

Mutual View of Pruning as Empathy. It may be difficult in our day of tolerance to imagine bold correction in the church without associating it with bad stereotypes of all we do not wish to be (judgmental, harshness, uninviting, and uncaring), but the Bible clearly teaches us to discern and discipline those who persist in false teaching or sinful and immoral behavior. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together, “Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”

If a person has sinned and is not repentant, according to the teachings of Jesus, you need to warn them personally. If unrepentant, then bring it before the church elders in a modest way, and if it is still an issue, you need to prune them from the community, and hope that they will return. Sometimes decisions will need to be made about church discipline–but this is not slander, but can become that if not handled carefully. Be patient with one another. Those in the community that brought the warning and brought it to the church and those who did the pruning will stay soft, forgive, reject bitterness, and prepare their hearts to gently restore them when they return. We agree that pruning happens on the behavioral level of unrepentant sin, not the heart level of temptation. For example, we cannot prune someone for a temptation, but only if that temptation is yielded to and a sinful act is committed and not followed by repentance.

Jesus gave us a picture of a branch being pruned or protecting a batch of flour from yeast that spreads. Sin will infect your community and spread through like wildfire, destroying everyone. So you have to prune the people in your community that are false guides, divisive, or unrepentant or ask God to remove them in His way until they repent and can be restored (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Titus 3:10, Matthew 18: 15ff, 1 Timothy 1:20, Romans 16:17, Galatians 6:1).

Remember, repentance is not just confessing that you are disobeying the Word of God, but it is changing your heart and behavior to align with God’s heart (the Spirit of the law, the law of the Spirit). In the case of addictions and mental illness, we realize change can be more complicated, but most of the time, it’s not. A truly repentant heart does not make excuses for how hard it is to change behavior, but puts sin to death by the power of the Spirit and real action. It cuts off the hand, which means, whatever makes it possible for you have access to sin, we cut that off (installing an internet filter on our home may be a way to cut off the hand, for example). A repentant person will pursue these avenues of “cutting off” willingly and will desire accountability. They cannot be forced, but should be encouraged to obey God and disciplined appropriately if unwilling to repent. If forced to do this cutting off under duress and compulsion, it is not their free will choosing obedience. It won’t be permanent and could push them further from God. But if the person is unrepentant, allow the Father to prune them in obedience to Christ.

As one last word of encouragement, just in case you think my community is like this now, let me assure you, we are not there yet, and I am the worst offender in many of these areas (not on purpose). But we ARE moving in that direction with hope as many church communities are. It requires a joint commitment to love as brothers and sisters. What that means to you may mean different things, so we need to be careful not to hold people to things which are not in God’s word and are simply personal preferences of how we LIKE to be treated. We do not want to add weight to the easy yoke of Jesus. All we are talking about here is simply brotherly love, which is nothing new in concept to Christians, except you so rarely see it in real life, so I tried to flesh it out for you. If we are all thinking we want this, why not try? Isn’t becoming all God desired for the church to be worth the risk?

I will warn you, the point most people will not want is mutual accountability, and you cannot have true Christian community without voluntary Christian accountability. And as a final warning, it is tempting to become very self-focused as a community and take our attention off of the face of God and the very basic command to love Him and people. Do not become narcissistic and idolize your community. God will not let it stand. Focus outside of yourselves on Christ and the world in need of Him. I’ll leave you with one quote that reminds us of this.

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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How to Start a House Church Principle #5: Be Good Soil

“my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it…instead of thorns the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” Isaiah 55:11-13

I am about to share with you a secret that not many people know. This secret is not hidden. Anyone with ears can hear it. But few will understand it. This has been a vital principle of growth for our community.

One of my favorite parables Jesus tells is of the four soils. I had heard it many times before, but I didn’t understand it until God started teaching me through it in late 2016. It’s through this story that He rescued me from panic attacks and anxiety. I’m going to tell it to you in three layers. I’ll tell you the story first, then we will try to really understand how it is like the Kingdom of God by truly perceiving each “character” in the story the way Jesus did, through the lens of the natural, the spiritual, and the personal.

Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times. (Mark 4:3-8)

Jesus explains what this means.

The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown. (Mark 4:14-20)

THE MAIN CHARACTERS: SEED, SOWER, AND SOIL

The seed is the “word” (verse 14) The word can be understood in the natural realm as something that is spoken, the message, the logos. It can also be scripture, which is called the “Word of God” because it is inspired by His Spirit. But do you know who is called “The Word/Message/Logos”? Jesus! Jesus is the word who was with God and in God and through whom the world was made. He was “the word” made flesh who dwelled with us, pitched His tent with us, abiding among us (John 1).

Further support for understanding Jesus as the word/seed is found in Paul’ calling Jesus the “seed of Abraham” (Galatians 3:16). Looking at Jesus asa second Isaac. God promised descendants through Abraham (his natural son was born of natural means), but Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Abraham was asked to sacrifice His son (but was stopped because God provided a sacrifice), but God, the Father gave His son as a sacrifice for sin so that the descendants of Abraham could know the presence of God and multiply to include the gentiles. Christ is the seed, the kernel of wheat, that fell to the ground and died, and now produces many seeds. (John 12:24) Jesus is the message. He is the Word. He is the seed.

Who is the sower, the one who sows the word? It is anyone who speaks the message–but in this case it is also the Father. Jesus was sown by the Holy Spirit into Mary’s womb and spoken to us by the Father, first by prophecy (Isaiah 53), then by the Messiah Himself. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (Jesus, the Word) that whoever would believe would not die, but have life unending.” (John 3:16) The sower is the one who speaks the message of the truth and love of Christ. He is invested in seeing the message grow and multiply. He is a world changer.

What is the soil then? It is our hearts. The seed is sown “in them” (verse 15). In this parable, we are the soil, not the thing that grows. What Jesus is talking about here is how the message of Himself is being received. How do you receive or host the seed of God’s Word–Christ Himself? Each one of our hearts represent a type of soil. Let’s explore our heart conditions.

THE FOUR HEART CONDITIONS

Which of the following best describes your heart?

The soil of the path has been hardened somehow. Hardness can be a result of being trampled, cold, or dry. Maybe you have been trampled and crushed by something from your past–from growing up, from past trauma or pain. Some people have naturally hard personalities. It’s almost in their make-up. If this is you, you might be stubborn, which can mean you are very capable and resilient. But God doesn’t want resilience from you. He wants reliance on Him. You might know a lot about Jesus and even believe He is the son of God, but you may have never accessed the Living Water of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17; Acts 18:24-25; Acts 19:1-6).

Are you hard towards God? Whether you are hardened by the past, hard by make-up, or hard from spiritual dehydration, nothing good can come from hardness. If you hear about the truth of the joy of Christ taking over your life it will not sink in. It will stay on the surface and the enemy will steal it. You will not even remember it’s there. You will forget. And you will stay hard. No one will be able to convince you.

Or…you can ask God, the Sower, to plow your heart wide open so He can speak to you. It will hurt. You will feel exposed. But He will speak to your heart and you will be soft again. And you will come alive. God loves to sow in impossible soil. Remember Abraham and Sarah the ones too old to bear children, or Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus? Hard soil is no match for the power of God. He is after your heart.

Rocky soil in the natural realm is where growth is constantly frustrated from underground. Unlike the soil in the path, here the soil itself is soft but it is full of hard things. The seed will start to grow and then the roots will hit the rocks, allowing the plant to grow, but only to wither under the heat of the sun. There is no fruit. If this is your heart, maybe you feel like you keep running into the same obstacles to growth: habitual sin, pride, fear of man, anxiety, doubt, insecurity, love of self, etc. No matter how hard you try, you just run headlong into these hard, immovable obstacles. When you receive the offer of Jesus talking over your life, you can’t see how that would be possible. There’s too much blocking Him. You are discouraged and feel the weight of failure. It takes enormous amounts of energy to even think that there is hope. That you could ever lift these things out of your life. Guess what? The hope is found in the fact that you cannot–it is impossible–for you to move these things.

But friend, the invitation is that you have a good sower who can lift these rocks out of you, above the surface. Out of the way. And all the things you have been hiding. They will be finished. And what used to be an impossible obstacle will become an uncut altar of remembrance. And just like the altars of the old days, it will be a marker of The Sower’s power and His faithfulness. Your testimony will be about His strength in your weakness. The shame will be gone. You will be free. And we who love you and who have prayed for your freedom will worship when we see the thing above ground that used to keep you root-bound.

Our God is the great mover of stones. And there was one stone that was rolled away that was also immovable. He does not want you living in darkness. He is perfectly willing and able to move the huge thing standing impossibly between you and resurrection life! He is strong enough.

It is growing lots of things in it–things that choke the life out of the plant. Thorns are sharp and pointed. They are like daggers, wrapping around and puncturing all life-giving things, until they have taken over the territory. Thorny soil is soft, but it is divided in attention. Thorns and weeds steal nutrients, they are invasive and they are nearly impossible to kill. When you pull them up, which is painful, it will regenerate if only one bit of the vine falls back to the soil.

There’s only one way to kill thorns. You have to burn them. The only problem is that you cannot do that. Because in this parable, you are just soil. So we see here that the thorns of anxiety, worries, cares of this world, desire for things, and the deceitful love for money and the things it can buy.

We try to “find time” but really, if we are honest, we have lots of time, we just spend it on what seems more rewarding or urgent. But urgency is often created by false fears and pressures. We have not decided that God is the best thing. We are still trying to balance being a Christian with being in this crazy world. These are mental distractions that steal our time and attention from Christ.

We find our minds filled with everything but fruit. We can look and talk like we are excited about Jesus but there is too much else competing. We need to weed things out but we don’t know how. We don’t know what it would look like to live from a place of rest because we have been taught that productivity and responsibility are the marks of a good Christian. But we’ve been going about that all wrong. The most responsible thing we could do is to return God in rest, quietness and trust (Isaiah 30:15) and let Him produce the fruit. He is zealous for His own name. This spiritual rest not breed laziness. Quite the opposite. You will never be more delightfully busy than when you are only focusing on Jesus. The difference is, you will be doing work that builds His kingdom, not yours.

Does this seem impossible? Could all these weeds of worry, reliance on money, and desiring more technology, furniture, clothing, cars, better houses, upgrades on those houses, activities for our kids so they can be well-rounded, the pressure of serving at your church, the pressure to keep up expectations of others and ourselves. How do we make it stop? Well, we can’t. We are soil. The only way to make it stop is to lay down and surrender.

Because…the seed of Abraham, Himself, laid down on the altar of shame and disgrace, our sin upon Him, and wrapped around His fixed eyes, over his anointed head, around His pure mind–a crown of our thorns. And HE was bruised and crushed for our idolatry and distractedness and our misguided affections.

Jesus took these thorns to upon Him so you would be free. Your mind can be clearly focused on the Kingdom of God. Your love of money destroyed by the call of the one who says drop your nets and “follow me.” Though, as descendants of Adam and Eve we once live under the curse of the ground, (Gen. 3:17ff), but that curse has been lifted (Genesis 8:20–21). We have a powerful God that wields a refiner’s fire (Mal. 3:3). We have a sower that gave Christ who baptizes with the Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11; Acts 2). “The Light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and his briers.” (Isaiah 10:17)

We need everything to be burned out of us. And we know it will hurt, we know this burning out is something we must ask Him for and then withstand throughout the process as all the things we thought were important burn. All the “other things of the world” that garner our affection, resources, and attention get pulled up and out of us and it looks like we are left with nothing.

Which we are…finally.

Good soil is empty soil. It is open and ready to accept seed. It simply rests and then yields–first to the seed, then to the roots, then to the water, then to the fruit! A seed planted in good, moist, soft, empty soil is re-hydrated by “living water” (that is water under the surface). Then the seed grows out of the soil and produces a harvest. In the case of wheat or corn, the kernel planted simply multiplies more of itself, 30, 60, 100 times more!

Good soil hears, accepts, and yields to fruit. That’s it. Doesn’t that take the pressure off? We simply yield as Christ grows in us and takes over our lives. My effort does not produce His fruit. We just get to pay attention to Him and follow Him into love-driven obedience as He multiplies His kingdom through us.

What were we made of in the beginning, friends? We are made of dust and to dust we will return. (Gen. 3) We are formed from the earth and breathed into by the breath–the very Spirit, of God. And though we are just dust, like the Sower will tell you that we are His greatest treasure and His greatest hope for multiplying His Word, His seed, Christ to the world!

For us, it means that we must be emptied. Andrew Murray gives a beautiful picture in his book, Absolute Surrender, regarding a cup of tea. We will use coffee because I am American and coffee is better than tea. So say that you have a half a cup of coffee and you ask someone to please fill it with water. Suppose the person you ask simply tops off the coffee with water? What will you have? Some really disgusting watered down coffee. So, if you have a cup of coffee and you want water, you need to empty the cup.

Some of us have never truly emptied out completely.

If you keep trying to pour water into coffee, you just keep drinking watered down coffee. You need to empty out so there is room for fresh, pure water. What do you need to empty?

EVERYTHING.

Truth is, there is no balance when it comes to our lives. It is all Christ or nothing. There is no balance–He demands everything of us, our very death to the things of this world and to self.

God wants all your sin and accompanying shame and guilt. That should have happened at conversion. But what He wants now (if you have not given it) is complete permission to take you over. That means everything else has to go. You cannot serve both God and man, or God and money, or God and your own desires.

Not only that, but our good stuff is demanded of God as well. Our good reputation dies, because we will be persecuted. Our renown and legacy and fame no longer matter, because our one goal is the glory of God. Our abilities, skills, acquired areas of learning and knowledge are counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:7-11) We lay each earned and valuable thing down that has been defining our identity in order to only be identified with Christ. (1 Cor. 2:2)

We are His. That is all. And that is enough.

We become literally poorer because we no longer work ourselves until all hours of the night for profit and we give generously to all who ask. We become humiliated and less socially appreciated because while we used to be able to juggle all the parties, meetings, assignments, and social things, now we only want to be at the feet of Jesus. We don’t care about climbing the ladder of success because we realize our reputation we were trying to gain so that we could be an “influencer FOR God” is actually a waste of time, because He is the influencer–He is the mover of hearts. He is our very capable leader. We see that those who are truly seeing fruit multiplying out of their lives are those who are going lower not higher.

We go lower and emptier and we finally become good soil.

We rest. And then, we start seeing the astounding beauty of Christ, the seed of Abraham, the root and the shoot of Jesse (Revelation 22:16, Isaiah 11:10). We rest and we sit at His feet and we listen to what He has to say and we finally understand the depth of His love for us. And we decide that learning to listen, and hear, and love Him in the way He wants to be loved is the best thing to waste our lives doing. We pour out our expensive time and energy on His feet. We waste ourselves in worship.

Guess what happens then? Fruit.

People come to Jesus when they experience His presence, specifically, when they experience us in His presence. My attention has been on Jesus for the last three years. It has been a reshaping and a tearing up and a deconstruction like I never could have imagined. I am not the same person.

I was the wife who idolized and found her identity in her husband and children and in my job and my church ministry, and who now worships only Jesus. I still love my husband and children, and I still love to teach and minister to people, but I find my identity rooted in Christ and His life growing up in me. I rest now. I open up to Him. I show Him my heart wide open. I ask Him every day to tend to me. To cover me. To be the one thing. To grow and multiply Himself out of the soil of my heart.

Now all of this starts to make sense:

Christ IN ME, the hope of glory. (Col.1:27)

For I am crucified with Christ and yet I live, not I but Christ who lives WITHIN ME. (Gal. 2:20)

What if we all let lay down like soil and let Jesus just take us over? What if we let Him grow in and through and out of us and see Him multiply Himself out of all this “going lower”? What if those seeds dropped to the heart soil of those around you and took root? What would that look like?

It would look like multiplication–the Kingdom of God taking over the world!

THE GROWING KINGDOM

The kingdom is this unseen thing, spreading sometimes invisibly underground. Within the soil. It is a kingdom of hearts who have given all their allegiance, even their very lives, to the King of Heaven.

20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is in you.* Luke 17:20-21

Wherever you go, you carry the seed of the Word in your heart and mouth that it falls onto heart soil whenever you yield the fruit of His Spirit in you—love, compassion, humility, peace, joy, and goodness and righteousness. This is God’s means of multiplication and kingdom expansion.  The kingdom of God is within you, growing out of you, and it’s growing fast!

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” 33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:31-33

By the way, did you know that mustard plants are notoriously invasive? You know what mustard and yeast have in common? They both multiply very quickly. Yeast multiplies by budding. The bud multiplies through cellular growth where the nucleus splits itself and becomes the center of a new a daughter cell, which may separate or stay in a chain formation connected to the mother cell. Sound like a house church? The kingdom grows like that! 

Mustard seed germinates almost immediately. Germination is the process of growing from a seed to a seedling. It requires a warm and soft environment (receptive heart), water to reconstitute the seed (the Holy Spirit), and the root grows down and the shoot grows up, sprouts leaves and is now a seedling, viable to produce food from photosynthesis. In fact, there were laws against planting mustard in Jewish gardens. It would cross over fences and walls. It was out of control. I love thinking about the kingdom of God this way.

“[Mustard] grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”**

Pliny, the elder, in 78 AD writes about mustard

That is how the kingdom is supposed to grow. It should spread quickly and pop up in unexpected places so that it is impossible to get the place free of it once it has taken root. We are talking about growth that is often unplanned, wild, and “happily disorganized” to borrow a term from Mother Teresa. I think we are about to see an expansion of the gospel that is out of control because we are going to realize our role in it. First, to rest as soil, to let Jesus grow out of us fueled by Living Water of the Spirit, bearing His fruit in the world, then to rise in this new life and sow everywhere, in every heart God puts in our path. Now that we are in his agenda, not ours, now we can actually be about His glory not ours, and actually be effective for the kingdom—on the front lines!

God does not want our projects. He wants our hearts. It’s time to get back to God’s principles of growth. Speak seed. Go back to soil. Let’s just focus on the “one necessary thing”–the seed-word, Jesus. Let’s spend our lives in worship at His feet and see what He does!


*Some translations say “among you,” but the you in the Greek is singular, and it seems like it doesn’t make sense to say the kingdom is among you, singular. “Within you” is a much more consistent translation with the message of Jesus that a person must be born again from the inside out by the Spirit.

**Pliny the Elder, Natural History, translated by Harris Rackham, Loeb, 1950, Book XIX, Chapter LIV.

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How to Build a House Church Principle #3: One Thing Necessary

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:14

When thinking about what God wants, about what thrills his heart—it is just love that drives us to His feet in a posture of listening and learning. It is an intimacy with Jesus—such a closeness with God that Jesus talked about it as being “one” with Him. So much of our craving for relationships, for community, for social standing has a deeper root of a desire for love and respect that is only found in true intimacy and vulnerability.

Once, a woman named Martha invited Jesus to dinner (Luke 10:41–42). While she was busy preparing food, Mary, her sister, was nowhere to be found. Martha was understandably upset when she found Mary just sitting at the feet of Jesus with the disciples and listening to Him.  Martha complained to Jesus asking Him to tell Mary to get up and help, But He said in response, 

“…Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” 

There it was. “One thing is necessary.” What was Mary was doing? What was that “one thing”?  

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. Luke 10:39

“At Jesus’ Feet” painting with oil by Nathan Greene

If that is true, that there is only “one thing necessary”, then we have to ask ourselves what that means for us and if we are really doing it. If Jesus is right, then the one thing necessary thing is choosing to take a listening posture in His presence. We ask Him to teach us and start sitting with Him face to face by faith, hearing His Word (both directly through His Spirit and the scriptures enlivened by His Spirit).

“ONE THING NECESSARY” LIVING

The only problem is very few of us have any idea how to do this. For me, there’s a lot of embarrassment in this for me because I didn’t actually learn to do this until about 3 years ago. I had studied scripture before. I had prayed a lot. I had sensed God moving and directing my life. But about three years ago when God showed me “one thing necessary” as a response to me hitting a wall with anxiety and panic attacks, I realized I had no idea what it meant to sit at his feet and listen to what He had to say.

So the first thing I did was sit on the couch and admit that I did not know how to do this with Him not physically there. He reminded me that He was actually there with me according to the promise in His word (Matthew 28:20). He WAS sitting next to me actually, just as real as He was sitting next to Mary. Believing that was the first step.

Then, I told Him I was ready to listen and asked Him what He wanted to teach me.

That first day, I sensed one word– “Peace” along with the impression that I needed to meet Him again. I asked him follow-up questions…”what about peace?” He whispered to my heart “Go and learn what it means that I give you peace not like the world gives.” I went back to scripture (via google because I could not remember where it was) and read his words in John 14:27. I wanted to know what the word “Peace” meant, and the other places it was used. I got curious, and it became like a treasure hunt and such treasure I found! His peace is not a shallow greeting, not an outer communal peace, but a deep pervasive peace of His rule in our hearts. It’s a peace that calms seas of our souls and that flows out in the Living Water of the Holy Spirit to the world.

It was in following God’s prescription for anxiety by doing “one thing necessary” that I fell in love with this Jesus, the peace-giver, and met Him all over again in the pages of the gospels, in the prophecy and promises of the Old Testament, in the letters to the early church. It was suddenly fresh again, after all these years following Him. It was different because I started to believe and trust that 1) He was actually there and wanting to talk to me; 2) Listening to Him in His actual presence was my ONLY necessary thing for the day–absolutely vital.

Just to be clear, He actually spoke words to me. Not through my ears, but in my Spirit—discernable words. At first, I could only hear a phrase at a time. Like the word “Peace” or a fragment of scripture I was supposed to read. At the beginning I asked Him a lot of “yes or no” questions because it was easier to discern that. I would sense a still small voice of the Spirit guiding and teaching me. The Holy Spirit enlivening scripture took me to Person of Jesus and the Holy Spirit of Jesus led me by His voice to scripture.

I started sensing Him correcting me moment by moment just like He lovingly showed Martha, “You are anxious about many things, but only one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10:42) He was so gentle with me. Along the way, I just simply stopped trying to fix my life and decided to seek Him and His kingdom instead—to take all the energy and time I was using for self-preservation, self-analysis, and my own reputation and glory and honor (the seeking of which strangely results in mostly shame and fear) and put all that into being with Him and in pursuing the kingdom.  

WHAT IF EVERYTHING MOVED THROUGH THAT ROOM?

This posture is the posture of a disciple—sitting at His feet, listening, learning from Him, hosting Him, being with Him, knowing Him more, asking His opinions, getting to know His heart, coming closer, walking out life with Him! The solution to striving, hustling, and over-production and the pressure of life, is to do the “One Thing” necessary—what Mary chose—sitting at His feet and listening to what He has to say. It’s loving, restorative time spent at the feet of Jesus, resulting in a joyful, intimate two-way relationship of continuous authentic connection to Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). I usually ask Him three things when I spend time with Him

+ Jesus, what do you want to teach me about my own heart?

+What do you want to teach me about yourself?

+What are you doing today and how can I be a part of it?  

(these three questions were always intertwined—isn’t that sweet of Him!?)

Many of us have experienced those moments of intimacy with Jesus before. Hopefully you have. Now imagine that you were able to extend this posture of “sitting at his feet” to the rest of your day and into every moment of your life, not only for a few minutes of quiet time, devotions, chair time, whatever you call it? Though these secret place, desolate, withdrawn moments/times are definitely important too (Jesus even modeled that), What if you did not get up and leave His feet ever, but every situation had to come into His presence before it could get to you? How would that change your life?

CONSTANT RELATIONAL RELIANCE ON THE SPIRIT OF GOD

This is very different than what most people know as Christianity. For years I thought the Holy Spirit’s job was to basically keep me obedient, to keep me pure, to help me live in the image of Christ, and to empower me to witness to others. He does do all of that, but I was still missing something crucial to Life in the Spirit here.

The role of the Holy Spirit is to actively teach us; to guide us; and to make us like Jesus by allowing us to live how He lived through an intimate, reliant relationship with the Father. We spend time at the feet of Jesus, we spend time in prayer, because we want to be able to know Him better—that’s the reward. We hear his voice often because we’re used to listening for it. We know the difference between our voice and His voice and the enemy’s voice the way I can distinguish my husband’s spoken voice among a whole house of other people. I know it because I hear it often. When he talks, I tuned in immediately. It’s not fuzzy or confusing. It’s clear because I am used to hearing it.  I have trained my ear.

Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.
Psalm 40:6

Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
According to the faithful mercies shown to David.
Isaiah 55:2b-3

God’s offer has always been to speak to us, in the Old Testament that was though prophecy and teachers, but now we have the Holy Spirit (and also apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, according to His gifts).

THE HOLY SPIRIT TEACHES US, GUIDES US INTO ALL TRUTH, AND TELLs US THINGS TO COME

Jesus said that the role of the Holy Spirit will be to teach us and remind us what Jesus said, and even tell us what He did not tell people while on earth! He will speak to us what He hears from Jesus, tell us what is to come, he will make things known to us, he will remind us of what Jesus said.  

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” John 16:12-15

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. John 14:26

If the Holy Spirit is going to teach me and make known to me all Jesus wants Him to, then I have to be able to understand Him. He has to communicate actual ideas, words, corrections, principles, and thoughts to me, not just vague impressions. Jesus makes the analogy to shepherds and sheep. He said, “My sheep know my voice and follow me.” John 10:27

I want to just go over some of the scripture on relying on the voice of God:

He humbled you, and in your hunger He gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had known, so that you might understand that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:3 (quoted in Matthew 4:4)

You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, And You gave them water for their thirst. Nehemiah 9:20

Note: These two scriptures are about eating through the ears! God’s words proceeding from His mouth by His Spirit are connected to manna, which was reliable, needed daily for that day only! We rely on His word for daily guidance and instruction and life sustenance.

My sheep know my voice and follow me.” John 10:27

For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. Psalm 95:7-9

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Hebrews 3:7-8

49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” John 12:49-50

10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. John 14:10-11

“When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.” Mark 13:11

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21 (this one is related to hearing teachers, but read the next one!)

“As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” 1 John 2:27

Isn’t this exciting?

This means I can ask the Holy Spirit to teach me things! Not only that, but I follow Him because He is a really good leader–a good shepherd, a good king. I follow Him because when He leads, I get to lay down and drink from cool rivers of life. When He leads, I see people around me set free!

But when it comes down to it, I follow Him just because I love Him. The sound of His voice leads me to more experiences of his love. So obedience to that voice isn’t by obligation; it’s out of love and joy. I believe that where He is taking me is actually the best place. And now I understand what He means when He says if you love me, you will obey my commandments. It might be hard sometimes, but it doesn’t feel heavy anymore, because it’s so joyful under His gentle leadership. The law has been written on my heart, and my heart of stone has been turned into flesh by the miracle of his gaze. My heart is soft toward Him now. I actually want to follow Him. I always said I did before, but now I believe He is capable of leading me really well. And I truly trust Him. I sit at His feet. That’s my only strategy.

ONE THING NECESSARY IN COMMUNITY

So you make ask “how does this relate to building a house church or small group worship community?” Well, when we are in community together, we take this same posture of asking God what He has to teach us together. We sit at His feet and listen.

That’s our “model” (though it really isn’t a model). It is a direct obedience to seek Him and His kingdom first in everything.

And He speaks every time. One of us will feel led to bring a song to sing, a scripture to share, a person to pray for, a message of encouragement (1 Cor. 14:26). And one of the most common things we say after we meet is “Wow! Look what God gave us together today! Did you see how He put all that together?”

We actually see this principle in Acts with the early church, of reliant listening for making decisions and God’s positioning for the church’s and individuals’ ministries (Acts 8:29, Acts 16:6-7, Acts 20:22). Some call it “waiting worship,” some call it “worship-based prayer,” we call it “sitting at His feet.” We are not the first ones to come across this approach to church and life. But it’s so exciting that we could never go back. When we see God’s plans and purposes gradually revealed by the Holy Spirit in a meeting of the church, through the priesthood of believers and the different gifts of the Holy Spirit, it’s absolutely mindblowing.

When we live in the presence of God, He teaches us and guides us. We sit at His feet and listen to what He has to say. Jesus said he can do only what he sees his Father doing, and say what His Father is saying. (John 5:19, John 12:49-50). Do we have that kind of abiding relationship with the Father that Jesus prayed for us to have (John 14-16). See what Jesus modeled and walk the way He walked. Get it from God. Everything instruction. Every move. It is a counter-cultural way of life. But it is possible if you have tuned your ear to hear His voice by doing the “one thing necessary.”

This kind of relational reliance on the Spirit of God is only possible when we actually relinquish our own leadership and our own scheduling of our time, otherwise we would just get really frustrated when He speaks longer than we allot Him time to speak or tells us to move contrary to our plan. We go into corporate worship listening, humble, honest, and vulnerable, just as we are. And we ask God to encounter us, to continuously keep our spirits healed and freed up, so He can give us what we need to minister to others and to Him. We are usually small enough to not need sound support so there is no attention spent on production. When we meet in a larger group we just simply set up mics and kept the sound as simple as possible. He leads us in real time, in response to our obedience He takes us deeper into His presence, and into His Word, both spoken and written, where true worship happens.

IS HEARING HIM EVEN IMPORTANT?

Some might say, well, we have the Bible which is the Word of God…isn’t that enough? Doesn’t needing to hear Him imply that scripture is not enough? Well yes. I would say scripture is not enough because we don’t only need to know and understand scripture, we need to know direction and application of scripture in real-time if we are going to operate under the actual leadership of God to seek the kingdom here as it is in heaven. This active following requires a voice, not in the ears, but in the soul/mind/heart. This sense is what people call “His voice.” Whatever you are sensing can be put into words, so as people describe what they are sensing/feeling/seeing/hearing in the spirit, they recognize it as ways that God “speaks” to us. So is “hearing” Him important?

Yes. Here’s why you need this:

1.Hearing His voice is proof of relationship.

Can you imagine if you were married to someone but you never heard their voice or saw them or felt them? That would not be much of a relationship.

We have developed a religious culture around busyness and service, but many of us don’t even know Him. We know about Him. We know the Bible. But some of us don’t really know Him as a PERSON that we are in relationship with. We use the phrase “relationship with God” too loosely and it has become church jargon for many who call themselves Christians.

2. Hearing His voice guards against false prophecy and stagnation.

Many people don’t realize they are supposed to talk with God. Some have even been taught by church leaders that God has stopped speaking. Some are scared because they are worried they may become theologically off-based. But the Bible is very clear on this point. Hearing the voice of God is a discipline of listening empowered and made possible through the Holy Spirit and the Word (both Christ and scripture). We are to eagerly desire to hear God both for ourselves and for others (eagerly desire the gift of prophecy). His Word never contradicts itself. It is always true. It never returns void. It always accomplishes what it set out to do. It always bears fruit (Isaiah 53-55). Knowing how to identify His voice (in addition to knowing scripture by heart) will help us discern against false prophecy from other sources. You can only learn to recognize it by the practice of listening in community and on your own.

Regarding false prophecy, false prophecy is always from a false source.  We can know that we are not false when we abide in Jesus. As far as testing, we also need to know the voice of God which is actually called the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13). we know that one of the signs of false prophecy is anything that sets itself up against the knowledge of Christ as the Son of God. But we can also recognize false prophets by their lack of fruit (Matthew 7:15-16) and by knowing that their voice is not aligned with scripture and what the voice of God has spoken to those abiding (can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. James 3:12).

If God speaks differently to those in the body of Christ who are abiding, we can trust that He always clarifies and brings us to unity, not the unity of our human ideas, but unity in Christ as a mature body (Ephesians 2:1-16). He never contradicts Himself or scripture. False prophecy is avoided by abiding in the true vine, knowing the true shepherd, and knowing His voice. Knowing His voice also open us up to the spiritual gift of prophecy, which the apostle Paul says we are supposed to eagerly desire (1 Cor. 12:31 and 14:1). It becomes easier to hear God’s word for others, so that we speak not out of human sympathy, but in a mutual building up of iron sharpening iron according to the word, will, and heart of God (this sometimes requires a gentle tearing down).

3. Jesus did it and so should we.

If we are being made into the image of Christ, then we should walk as He walked (1 John 2:6). How did He walk? He was led by the Holy Spirit and He obeyed His Father (Matthew 4:1, Matt. 12:28, Luke 4:18, Acts 10:38). He made disciples by saying what His Father said and did what He saw His Father doing.

How would we know where to start?

We do it the way Jesus did–in complete reliance on the Holy Spirit. We have scripture just like Jesus did. We have the added benefit of the New Testament scriptures–the gospels and the letters to the churches. Jesus studied scripture, but just like Jesus in the wilderness, we need the Holy Spirit to know how to apply the truth of God’s word in the world around us. We need to know where to go and what to do! We need power! How do we know what our Father is saying and doing? We have to listen in quiet places so we can learn what His voice sounds like. We learn how to distinguish His voice from ours, (which happens as a result of sitting with Him and asking Him questions without any other voices around us).  Then, in the moment of crisis or intense ministry, we don’t question when we hear His directions. We don’t question because we have learned His voice in the secret quiet places of intimacy. We know His voice.

BONUS OF “ONE THING NECESSARY” LIFESTYLE: NO PRESSURE

Every single day, we position ourselves close to Him so we can hear His word. This allows us to align with what He is doing and assures that we are living in His will, yielding fruit in every season as we just focus on Him through our whole lives, day to day, minute to minute. Living this way takes the pressure off. In this easy and light way, finding your calling is not something you need to really worry about. It is not a matter of you knowing yourself better or finding the right “fit” to a career or ministry activity. It is not a matter of developing your skills to perfection, because it is not about what you have to offer God. It is ONLY about learning to listen and remaining available to obey.

God’s kingdom work is done from a position of rest. Like God’s people in Isaiah 30:15, for a long time, I was unwilling to say yes to returning, rest, quietness, and trust. Yet, this exchange of my way of life for His, of my kingdoms for His Kingdom, has become my salvation. One Thing living is a lifestyle of constant reliance on the voice of Jesus—it is a constant, daily, moment by moment response to hearing him. I had heard the invitation spoken to my soul. Rest. Sit at my feet and listen.

Maybe it’s too passive sounding for you. Maybe it seems like a lazy way to live in our industrious culture. Maybe it seems too easy, like you should have to work harder or be “more sinless” for Him to be comfortable being with you or to be allowed to disciple others. Maybe you think you can’t do it, like Peter walking on the waves—you’ve tried and failed. You are too fickle to be trusted with other sheep.

Maybe you actually think God can’t do it, like when Israel asked for a human king. Maybe you don’t trust God as much as you thought you did.

But God actually really loves you. And He has made a way to be with you just as you are. He’s not waiting for you to be perfect first. Jesus always reached out to people who felt unworthy, unlovable, and full of sin. He also tried to reach the prideful and arrogant (though they rarely heard the offer.) And He sent the 12 out to announce the kingdom of God knowing that one would betray Him and all would desert Him before He died. He entrusted the message to fishermen (Peter, James, John) and tax collectors (Matthew, Zacheus), and murderers (Paul).

WHAT IF I HAVE NEVER HEARD GOD’S VOICE?

This is for you. Don’t doubt it. He promised us the Holy Spirit. He does not lie. You have to learn the voice of God by spending time with Him. There are no shortcuts. Sometimes this voice is a leading or a prompting, but there are words and instructions the Holy Spirit wants to speak to you. Often He will lead us back to scripture. Sometimes he will give us pictures. We will seek Him and find Him when we search with all our hearts. He will not hide from us (Jeremiah 29:11-13). But there are some things that can keep you from hearing His voice:

  1. Lack of faith that He still speaks or that He’s actually there with you. But He is. He promised.
  2. A broken trust between you and God. Sometimes His voice is blocked because we do not trust Him or we are angry with Him. Usually we do not trust Him because we are believing lies about either who He is or who we are. You can ask Him to reveal those things to you or you can ask a friend who walks with God to sit and ask God with you and help you identify the lies. Once you return to trust in Him, you will be able to hear His voice, and because you are confident in His love for you and His plan for you, you will be able to obey His voice out of love.

Listen and hear that there is “One Thing” necessary and then say “yes!”—get to know Jesus again, or maybe for the first time. I mean really. What do you need to know? What does your heart have questions about? Sit at the feet of Jesus—and just let Him teach you. He will absolutely speak to you.  He promised He would (John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me). 

Here’s a worship song that has meant a lot to our community. We sing it in Spanish but you can sing it in English too!