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Vertical Church

Perhaps it is time for our church to do a “Tebow!”

“We are so excited about what God is doing here. In fact, the whole world of evangelical churches is looking to us, contacting us, learning from us. Incredible things are happening here and you are all a part of it. This morning I want to just tell the story again and let you know of the great things that we can anticipate in the days ahead!” Linda and I just looked at each other. It was one of those moments when you knew that you were witnessing the beginning of a season of humbling.

My shelves hold several dust-covered books that testify to the sorrow of such an attitude. I mean, to have people thinking you are more than you are, to be considered a “hero” worthy of admiration and a genius worthy of imitation, even if only for a short time. Admit it—it is an almost irresistible temptation!

What is somewhat “common” in the church world of today was an amazing peculiarity back then. The self-authored story of this incredible multi-cultural ministry in the heart of one of mid-Americas largest urban centers spoke glowingly of breaking down the distinctive barriers of racial and cultural division. The leadership team looked like an evangelical United Nations. Warehouse/loft-style industrial spaces became great worship centers—a new and novel approach to church for sure. The 1971 release of its story published in hard-bound version raised the bar of expectation for what a “true biblical church” could really be.

A friend’s church in an Omaha suburb was experiencing an unprecedented season of growth. So the denominational leaders sent a writer to observe, to interview, photograph and make much of what was happening. It became the featured cover story of the monthly periodical and became the standard to which “less successful” churches should aspire. Its youthful, energetic, and creative staff became the golden boys of the leadership culture.

Barnabas and Paul had one of those moments in Lystra. A man who had never actually used his legs and feet was miraculously restored to full strength and the stunned observers immediately placed the messengers of the good news on a pedestal of adoration. Certainly it was tempting to just let the warm glow of being held in awe soak into the ego for at least a brief period of time. But instead we read, “But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed into the crowd, crying out, ‘Men, why are you doing this? We are also men of the same nature as you…’” Acts 14:14-15

The glory days did not last long. The mid-America multicultural fellowship, soon after the publication of the glowing story, broke apart—along the same racial lines, which had been the source of the admiration just months before. Its lead pastor found himself ousted, alone, and floundering in totally paralyzing depression. The once proud congregation had splintered. And the “model” church of Omaha suddenly became a model of what a church ought NOT to be rather than the church everyone wanted to become. Within two years, the pastors were no longer speaking to one another, more than ½ the congregation had departed, and the fellowship was on life-support.

Gospel success is a marvelous thing. And when special blessing is poured out upon a fellowship, certainly it is a time for celebration. But we must be careful that the source of the “success” is recognized and honored. Pride is a subtle thing. When left undetected and unchecked, it destroys. It’s not the leaders and it’s not the methods and it’s not even the members of the congregation that bring “success.” It is only the goodness of the Lord. Doing church vertically means celebrating and honoring the ONLY One who builds His Church!

“Now to HIM who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to HIM be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. AMEN!” Ephesians 3:20-21

The pastor who so enthusiastically declared that the “whole world of evangelical churches is looking to us, contacting us, learning from us”—six months after that “sermon” he as out looking for a job and a new vocational direction. Once again the biblical principle that pride comes before the fall proved painfully true. He had made it about him rather than about HIM.

Perhaps it IS time for our church to do a “Tebow”!

See you Sunday, Church!
Pastor Tom