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Second Class Christians

Copyright 2000 by Dave Kahle

For much of my Christian life, I've struggled with a difficult and painful image of myself: I was a second-class Christian.

No one ever said that to me in so many words, but the practices of the Christian community made it perfectly clear. Those practices have evolved in response to a belief that permeates our Christian culture so deeply that few Christians would ever question it. Unfortunately, the result of this belief is that millions of Christians, like myself, lead lives that are far less productive than God wants. And that means that the Church's influence and impact is light years away from that which it could be.

Let's gain a little perspective.

We all have deep seated beliefs that impact our view of the world. These beliefs have formed in us over a period of many years, beginning with our childhood and continuing till now. They are often so deep within us that we are not consciously aware of them. Yet, because they define how we see the world, these deep-seated beliefs shape our attitudes, impact our emotions, shape our thoughts and determine our behaviors. For want of a better word, let's call them paradigms.

These paradigms impact everything we do, and can cause individuals as well as entire groups of people to act in certain ways. For example, in Christopher Columbus's day, most of the world thought that the earth was flat. This paradigm meant that they would not sail to the horizon, because they did not want to fall off the earth. It took someone like Columbus to question that paradigm and act differently. Prior to his journey, people were held back by their beliefs -- this paradigm -- not by the reality of the situation.

The same is true for all of us. Our paradigms impact everything that we do, because they color our perceptions of what the world is really like. These deep-seated beliefs help us to make sense out of the world around us. Without them, we'd be unable to function.

However, we are always at risk of nurturing paradigms that incorrectly interpret the world and cause us act in ways that are not positive. I believe that the modern Church has been rendered ineffective by some paradigms of this nature.

I became a Christian when I was 24 years old, and have walked with the Lord ever since. For much of these 30 years, I have been puzzled by what I have seen as a mystery. On one hand, I read in the New Testament about the early church and see that it was filled with the Spirit, enthusiastic, energetic, joyful and victorious. In a very short time, it had penetrated into much of the known world. That's the church that the Lord established. But then, I look around me, and see a church that is apathetic, passive and lethargic. I look at my own life and am disappointed by the feeble expressions of the gifts of the Spirit.

This contradiction between the vibrant church of the New Testament and the apathetic church of 21st Century America has always been a source of puzzlement to me. Why, I've wondered, is that? When we have the same Spirit as the early Christians, why was the power of that Spirit so much more visible and powerful than it is today?

I've recently discovered an image that helps me to understand. Imagine this. Imagine that you have a large wooden box that is open on one side. The inside of the box is lined with shiny aluminum foil. Inside the box is a powerful light in the shape of a globe. Now imagine that you place that box in a dark room and turn on the light. It would allow a powerful beam of light to shine from the open side, illuminating everything around it.

That's sort of like us and the Holy Spirit. We're the box that contains the light, and the Holy Spirit is the light shining out from us, illuminating a dark world.

Now, take a screen, like the kind that we use on windows and doors to keep the bugs out. Nail that screen over the open side of the box. What will be the effect? The screen will have slightly cut down on the amount of light shining out of the box. The light will still be there, just as powerful as ever, but the screen will have hindered its impact on the world out side of the box. And what would happen if you would then nail layer after layer of screens on that open side of the box? With each succeeding layer, you would have hindered a little bit more of the light, until the light has been totally contained.

Our errant paradigms are like those screens nailed to the opening. We have the Holy Spirit in his full expression, just as the early Christians did, but we have hindered that expression and power of the Holy Spirit by nailing layer after layer of incorrect paradigms over the power of the Holy Spirit. Not one of them is sufficient to totally hinder the power of the Spirit, but the sum total of all of them does the job.

In this article, I want to try to pry one screen off by examining our paradigm concerning what we consider to be "ministry." It's this paradigm that has caused me to think of myself as a Second Class Christian.

Here's the paradigm. See if it doesn't sound familiar.

    "Real ministry is defined by the time you spend in the official efforts of the church to evangelize the lost and edify the saved. This is the work that God is interested in, that He considers most important, special and significant."
If you are like most Christians, you are nodding your head, thinking, "Of course, who would ever question that?" The expressions of this are all around us. Remember, paradigms shape our attitudes and determine our behavior. So we can look at attitudes and behavior and use them to discover the paradigm that lies under the surface.

Here are some examples of this paradigm in practice. One of my clients recently indicated to me that one of his salespeople had left the company to go into the "full time ministry." We all know what he means by that. This person is going to make his living in some sanctioned work of some church. That's real ministry. What he was doing before was just making a living.

A few years ago, I read Bob Buford's book entitled, "Halftime." I was impressed with it, and bought several to give to friends. The premise of the book, written primarily to Christian business people, was that now that in the first half of your life you have achieved some degree of success, use the second half to do something significant. Donate your time, money and talents to a ministry. Another expression of the paradigm.

It's not unusual to hear a pastor or fellow Christian talking about "God's work," or referring to the church building as "God's house." This kind of language indicates, of course, that God is more interested in these things then he is other things that are not "God's work" or places that are not "God's house."

I could site hundreds of other examples, but you get the idea. This concept of ministry is a deeply held, pervasive paradigm that is embraced to some degree by almost all of 21st Century Christendom.

But let's take a moment to consider the implications of this paradigm. Consider that if some work is significant, what does that say about other work? Insignificant. If some effort is special, what does that say about other work? Ordinary. If some work is important, what does that say about other work? Unimportant.

In other words, if we hold "church work" to be special, significant and important, than this says that the rest of our lives are ordinary, insignificant and unimportant.

But is that what the Bible teaches? Hardly. In fact, it's just the opposite. For example, Paul said that everything we do, if we do it as a service to Christ, is important:

    Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. I Cor 3: 23, 24 (NIV)
Clearly ministry in the Bible is not determined by what is done, but rather by for whom it is done. What ever you do for Christ is ministry.

God's work and will for this world is far greater than just those activities we know as “church work.” God desires to extend the kingdom into every aspect of His creation. And he expects us to be obedient to Him and offer our lives as ministry, to extend His influence into every nock and cranny of His world. When we go to a meeting at our children's school, we are taking Christ's influence with us, extending His impact into that aspect of creation. When we go to work, we are extending Christ's influence into those contacts with people that we connect with. When we talk with a neighbor, fill the car up with gas, cut the grass, or shop for groceries, we are Christ's ambassadors, extending His influence into those realms.

Jesus called us to be the salt of the world. He intentionally chose that analogy. Salt has no value when it is held inside the salt shaker crushed against other grains of salt. It is only when it is mixed with other things that salt imparts its influence on that around us. So too for us. When we are huddled with one another in the confines of church buildings we are not fulfilling the ministry that God appointed to us. While time together is necessary for encouragement and equipping, it's a means to an end. The end is our influence in our ministries that we call our lives.

Here's a little self-test. Imagine yourself in two totally different mental states. In one, you believe that your talents, experience, education and the gifts that you use in your job and your family are of little interest to God. They are just the way to fill your week. The really important things to God occur only on Sunday mornings. You understand that church work is real ministry and that our lives are something that God really doesn't care that much about. He's more interested in evangelism and edification under the auspices of a church than He is in anything we might do in our daily lives. Church work is special. And what you and I do most of our lives is ordinary. Church work is significant, and what you and I do is insignificant. And, while you desire to be active and pleasing to God, you know you cannot be because you aren't ordained, you are not a full time minister, and you have not enough time to devote to church work.

Now that you are temporarily immersed in that mindset, ask yourself some questions. How energized are you to see your life as meaningful to God? To what degree do you feel filled with the Holy Spirit every minute of the day? How close to God do you feel? How great is your Christian influence on those around you? Record your thoughts and feelings.

Now, consider the opposite paradigm. Image yourself fully accepting and believing this:

God has selected you for a special ministry, that you alone can fulfill. You believe that God has personally and specifically equipped you with experience, talents, gifts and education to use in your job and your family. He has personally given you a ministry that is incredibly important to the growth of his kingdom and directly in the center of His will. This ministry is your work and your family. Every moment of it is empowered by the Holy Spirit, ordained by God, and overseen by Jesus Christ. He has appointed you to be his unique ambassador to take His influence into every corner of His creation touched by you. What you do on Sunday morning or in regards to the institutional church is only incidental to your main and special ministry.

Now ask yourself the same questions. How enthusiastic are you? How full of the Holy Spirit? How close to God? How excited to be using your spiritual gifts? How energized are you to see your life as meaningful to God? To what degree are you inspired to and feel filled with the Holy Spirit every minute of the day? How great is your Christian influence on those around you?

If you are like most of us, you'll quickly see that the first paradigm serves to depress the power of the Holy Spirit, to isolate you under the burden of a debilitating self-image, to hinder the power of the Holy Spirit in the church. Yet, the second paradigm does just the opposite, energizing you with spiritual power and purpose. The second mindset fosters an attitude of joy, peace commitment and empowerment.

Consider the impact of these two mindsets on your Christianity. Now multiply your thoughts and feelings times the millions of Christians in the world. And imagine the impact on the universal church, and consider the impact on the growth and impact of the kingdom.

The conclusion is obvious. The cultural paradigm that holds "church work" as a higher calling than real work is an insidious, debilitating concept. It's time to do away with it. It's time to recognize that our lives, when lived for Christ, are our highest and most noble ministries. We have been selected by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to extend the kingdom into every area of creation.



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