The Barnabas Ministry

Why I'm a "Revolutionary"

After reading the book "Revolution" by George Barna, I realized that I did not agree with Barna's definition of a "revolutionary" and there was a need for someone to speak up about why some Christians have chosen that path.  Nobody else appointed me to speak on behalf of "revolutionaries," and I only use the name here because Barna coined it, and it seems like a lot of people will know what I'm talking about if I use it here. In this article I hope to shed some light on the reasons and the passions behind revolutionaries that I think might not be very well understood  When I use the word "we" it's referring to myself and other "revolutionaries" I know.

I guess we are revolutionaries if we are part of an "alternative faith community."

We didn't start out our faith journeys as revolutionaries. We loved God, we were involved in a local church and were zealous for it. We sacrificed greatly for it. After seeing the rise and fall of several churches and movements, we still love and trust God, but we've learned a few things from our experiences and we just can't ignore them.

Why do churches rise and fall? Answering this question is beyond the scope of this article, and I'm not sure I know exactly why anyway. But
I don't need to know the answer to know that revolutionaries are sick of riding that roller-coaster. Revolutionaries also think the institutional church of our day is missing something significant and profound that leads to this roller-coaster.

Somehow, someway, our church culture has turned "the church" into something it wasn't intended to be. When a church culture focuses on a subset of values, practices and teachings from the Scriptures and ignores the rest long enough, it ends up with distorted version of Christianity. It's like eating an unbalanced diet. Doing that for a few days won't be all that bad for you, but if done over the course of weeks it will have a bad impact. Do it for a few years and you will die.

But ironically, institutional churches seldom view themselves as intrinsically deficient. They seem to view themselves as the peak, the best thing out there. They seem to think that what they do, they do better than anybody else. And they seem to think that what they don't do doesn't matter. I'm not trying to criticize or condemn anybody, I'm just saying what it seems like to me.

Young Christians or new attendees believe the vision or image and invest themselves in the church system. They are happy and grow for awhile.
Some people fit quite nicely into the system and everything looks fine for a while. Of course, others don't fit into the system very well, though they also crave the growth and acceptance it offers. So they shoe-horn themselves into the system and make a desperate effort to "fit in."

Regardless of how they end up in the system, eventually something happens to just about everybody in the system. The program or system that got them up to a certain point can't take them any further.
What once seemed so hopeful and promising now is so dead-end. But nothing "else" exists in the institutional church. They are stuck. That's it. And there is nothing more.

But revolutionaries don't think "that's it."

We don't reject the institutional church in its entirety, nor do we consider it inherently bad or useless. On the contrary, it can do some wonderful things and it has its place. It's just not all that there is, and it's not for us anymore. And we know and understand that it's not for a lot of other people anymore either. So when we see people on the upslope, we know a downslope is coming. And when we meet people who are going through a downslope, well-- we understand.

Revolutionaries are not going to
slink away from the institutional church, shrivel up and die spiritually, assuming they just don't fit God's plan. They know God is bigger than all of this. They are going to venture into the unknown and seek to build a spiritual environment where they can be faithful to God without the negatives and limitations they've seen along the way.

At the risk of over-generalizing, here are some of the other values driving them:

  • They are tired of having their faith measured by how many arbitrary hoops they jump through, how well they fit into somebody else's system or program, or how much they suck up to the leaders in these churches.
  • They want to be what God made them to be, not clones of somebody else or feathers in somebody's cap.
  • They are not a "cog in a machine" or a peg to be stuffed into a pegboard with a bunch of other pegs. The church is a body, not a pegboard!
  • They are tired of the politics, favoritism and fighting over institutional-church stuff instead of just being Christians.
  • They are tired of the denominational "tribe" mentality and turf wars among groups claiming to honor Christ.
  • They are tired of church leaders who lead by controlling, treating people like children, playing favorites, and assassinating the character of anyone who won't bow down to them. They are also tired of leaders with an entitlement mentality.
  • They are tired of institutional churches that leave them milked dry. They are genuinely pained at seeing the life sucked out of people in institutional churches-- seeing zeal for God get hijacked into zeal for a program and then when the program fizzles so does the zeal for God.
  • They are tired of the "disposable Christian" mentality-- seeing 9 people walk out the back door for every 10 who walk in the front door-- and nobody cares!
Some might say, "Why don't you revolutionaries stay and try to change the institutional church?" Great question! Revolutionaries have been trying to change churches from this subset mentality for years. Rather than being valued in attempts to help churches be healthier and more balanced, we have been treated coldly, deceitfully marginalized, regarded as bad dogs and rebels, had our integrity and love for God questioned, been spoken against from pulpits, in church writings and even in front of our children. We've seen the whitewashing of real problems and the "if you don't like it, leave" mentality. Bottom line-- we've beaten our heads against the wall trying to bring about changes until our heads are mush. We've come to realize that you just can't change the DNA of a church, especially if it doesn't want to change.

People should not underestimate the frustration revolutionaries have towards the institutional church because of their experiences with these issues. In many cases we've left home and families for the faith, planted new churches, served on the staff of the church or held positions of leadership and service. It takes a lot of despair for hard-working, dedicated people who have invested many years, thousands of dollars, their names and their faith in a congregation or movement to finally throw up their hands in frustration and say "enough." They leave a huge piece of their lives behind. They write off the losses of time and heart invested, they leave behind relationships, familiarity, security, the approval of others and a lot of other things that most people don't have the courage to leave behind. Leaving is a life-shattering experience. They often walk out the door alone-- bearing a curse instead of a blessing-- all because they believe God is bigger than these roller-coaster church systems and that there has to be a better way.

We are not a revolutionaries because we are self-centered, malcontented, misfit Christians who are impatient with the institutional churches; we're revolutionaries because it's where faithfulness has led us. When we became Christians, we intended to follow God and his plans. Conforming to some institution's limited vision of Christianity-- as though conformity was the cardinal virtue of Christianity and as though all of the negative effects didn't exist-- just isn't good enough.

People may think revolutionaries are "quitters." Those who do what they believe is right even when it's unpopular or difficult-- that's a quitter?  No, that's a picture of faithfulness. They would only be quitters if they accepted a subset of the faith and the praises of men for their "faithfulness" in spite of knowing the dead-end to which it leads.

But this isn't to say that revolutionaries are better than anybody else. Let's put that idea to rest right now. They are not "super-Christians." They are just Christians. It's not about being better than everybody else, or anybody else. It's just about being faithful.

Revolutionaries don't need to do anything to justify their existence. Revolutionaries deserve to be treated as brothers and sisters in the Lord, because that's what they are. They don't hate Christians in institutional churches. They just want to be what God made them to be.

Copyright © 2007 John Engler. All rights reserved.

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