Those of prophetic understanding know that these are some of the most exciting times the world has ever seen! God is doing something fresh and new, because He finally has a people who will follow Him into it, and He won’t be restrained. Those whose hearts are one with Him are already trained and understand, through the preparation of journeying with Him, that God is doing things differently and all things are new. So they’re not surprised when He downloads blueprints and gives instruction that are different to what we’re used to.
I’d actually just been pondering on a powerful prophetic word I’d recently read, about what God is doing in the church right now, a transition from the old wineskin to the new wineskin. This resonated with and excited my heart, because I’ve seen how God has been setting this up for years, and preparing His people for it. As I read this word, I saw it was given in the context of what we understand as church. It referenced services and a transition of leadership, yet within the same roles as we’ve come to know. I knew the word was of the Lord, yet was mulling over the fact that the true Ekklesia is going to look very different from what we’ve come to know as ‘church’. And as I was contemplating this, the voice of the Lord came to me strongly and clearly:
MY BODY’S OBSESSION WITH SERVICES IS A MANIFESTATION OF THE VALUE PLACED ON THE EXTERNAL, INSTEAD OF THE INTERNAL. WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT TO ME IS NOT WHAT HAPPENS IN THE BRIGHT LIGHTS OF A PUBLIC SERVICE, BUT IN THE INTIMATE SECRET PLACE OF THE HEART. SERVICES HAVE BECOME A SUBSTITUTE FOR INTIMACY.
The boldness, urgency and rawness of His words startled me. As He spoke them, it was as though they came with a whole new level of understanding as to why services as we’ve known them are part of the old wineskin ways, and that He is declaring that no longer will these ways stand, but His new wineskin will come with ways that bring intimacy with Him. In fact, that is the defining shift between the old wineskin and the new wineskin church – intimacy. Many have functioned in the old wineskin church, treating intimacy as though it’s optional. But if we want to function in His new wineskin church, we must know that intimacy is not-negotiable!
I was standing at the top of a ladder, paint, roller and brushes in hand, undercoating my bedroom when Holy Spirit decided to share these words with me. I asked, ‘Lord, why did you pick this moment to share that with me?!?!, as I hurriedly got down off the ladder to record it. Yet I knew He was just showing me what He is training His people to do – that in any and every moment, convenient or not, we live in intimacy and obedience with Him. We don’t have times that He can talk to us, and times that He can’t. We’re one with Him and when He speaks, we respond. We live for His agenda, not ours. And His agenda is to bring His people into intimacy… a people who live from the heart… a people who live and have their being from the inside out, not from the outside in. Because to this point, the church has been predominantly living from the outside in. But we’re learning how to live from the inside out. And indeed, those who choose to align themselves with this form of living will experience the presence and anointing of the Lord. And those who refuse to align with this, and continue living from the outside in, will not.
Our understanding of the church is a big example of this. We hear His voice in the secret place, but we hear through the filter of our established ‘understanding’ of what the church is, and what it looks like. The Lord is saying to us clearly: IT’S NOT GOING TO LOOK LIKE YOU THINK IT’S GOING TO LOOK. It’s for sure not going to look like it looks at the moment. The Lord is inviting us into a wide-open space of freshness and freedom in Him, where according to the truth revealed in His Word, we receive what He has to say to us in the secret place with a blank canvas – and allow HIM to do the painting to show us what it’s going to look like. We lay aside our denominational filters, our programming and schedules, our experiences, even how He has led us so far, and we give HIM the right to tell us how it’s going to look now and into the future. We are one with Him in His Spirit – He is not one with us in our flesh.
The Lord is going after every place from which we’ve lived externally, and bringing it into a place of intimacy. And our services are one area in which He’s no longer willing to accept counterfeits. As I got down from that ladder and started writing, I began to flow with a deeper understanding of what He was saying. He was asking us why, when many of us are hearing the fresh word of the Lord about what He’s doing in the church, do we assume that it has to happen in the context of a service as we know it… the ‘church’ as we know it? We understand that as His body, we have been directed not to neglect the gathering of the believers. Well let’s stop there and note one distinction. That is, the distinction between the word ‘Christians’ and ‘believers’.
While we all identify with being ‘Christians’, because we’ve accepted Christ, this was never actually a name given to us by Jesus. It was given by the Romans, and was intended as a word of taunt and dishonour, meaning ‘little Christs’. Of course, to be identified with Christ is to us an honour, and this name has been accepted. But over time, it has also been diluted. Because it’s become an external title instead of a representation of our hearts. It has become permission to sit our bottoms on a pew each week, tick the box and go on about our lives, calling ourselves a ‘Christian’, yet still living in very little manifestation of either faith or fruit. Yet we’re called to be sons of the Most High God! We’re called to live by faith! That’s why Jesus referred to His church as believers – because believers BELIEVE! You can’t get away with identifying with an external name instead of living out of a reality of faith in your heart, when you’re evaluating if you’re a believer.
So in short, we were directed not to neglect the gathering of the BELIEVERS! How different this can look to the congregating of the Christians! The gathering of the believers looks more like the coming together of the sons of God, who live life from the secret place, receive revelation from the throne room, and live the faith adventure of a moment-by-moment, day-by-day heart walk with Him. Sons believe. Sons receive. When sons gather, it’s for the partaking of the treasure that each one brings out of their intimacy with the Lord, the collective praise of the King, the collective prayer of ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, the building up of one another to walk in each one’s kingdom assignment, and the receiving of new assignments from heaven.
Contrast that to the way Christians are gathering in services at this point, with the star players on the platform entertaining the masses, many of whom are living externally instead of internally, and who identify the four walls of the building as the church. It’s a totally different picture. And the Lord wants us to take a good, hard look at this picture, and listen to the cry of His heart. Our obsession with services has to stop and we need to instead seek Him for how to live from the inside out, refusing to be satisfied with anything other than intimacy.
So that brings us back to what the Lord spoke to me, on top of that ladder. And His urgent message to us is that our current ‘format’ for gathering is stealing two things from us as a body:
- Our intimacy with Him.
- Our understanding of who we are as the Ekklesia.
We’ve been accepting a counterfeit in both areas. Our services require no or little intimacy from the Lord, yet this hasn’t bothered us enough to change our approach. And when we ‘go to church’, or label the building we sit in as ‘a church’ (an impossible statement really, because there is only one church and the people are it), we accept the definition of a building or an institution as the church, instead of the people. We have to see how He sees, if we’re going to walk in what He intends for us to walk in.
Restoring Our Intimacy with Him
Really, we can turn up at a service week in and week out, never having had any intimate time with the Lord, and few would know it. It’s really easy to hide that and live externally when we just need to get up and sing a few songs and then sit down and hear someone else (who may or may not have experienced intimacy with the Lord that week) bring a word. We can then drive home, feeling good about ourselves for ‘going to church’, and then turn around and do it all again the next weekend. There is no requirement for intimacy in that lifestyle or that format of gathering. All it does is train Christians into external living, as we fulfil the ‘requirements’ by DOing something, rather than BEing something.
That’s not how it was in the early church. 1 Corinthians 14:26 – 31 (NKJV) says:
How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent…and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged…
This was a letter written to and read out to the whole church at Corinth, not just a few hand-selected ‘leaders’. Two things are entirely obvious:
- All shared, or at least had the invitation to share. Paul, in this letter, had to give instructions about order, and not interrupting one another, so enthusiastic was the sharing of songs, psalms, prophetic words and teaching, which means that the people actually acted on this instruction, or should I say permission, to bring a treasure from the Lord.
- The sharing wasn’t scheduled. Paul, ‘the leader’, obviously didn’t know what they were going to bring each time. More than likely, neither did the people, as at the appropriate time when they gathered, Holy Spirit would prompt them.
This is why the early church model was that of the house church – gathering together in homes. Within a home, only an intimate number could fit, and when they overflowed, they didn’t just find a bigger venue but instead started gathering in multiple homes, which enabled them to continue this heart-to-heart sharing. How on earth can everyone bring something from the Lord and each contribute what strengthens others, in a ‘mega-church’ so big that people who have attended years on end still don’t know everyone else, let alone have had the opportunity for true heart-connected sharing of the treasures given to them by the Lord in the secret place? In the early church, the big gatherings were regional or geographic gatherings to hear the teaching of the apostles, being that the apostles are given the blueprint for building the church, and the Lord made it clear that this is necessary for all to hear. The rest of the time they gathered in homes, in a lifestyle of seeking, sharing and receiving spiritual treasure.
In this home gathering environment full of anointing, people couldn’t bring a word of the flesh that wouldn’t immediately be recognised as such by others. These people were not babies. They were able to discern and bring something that was of worth to strengthen the others. In fact, they each knew that was a big part of their purpose for gathering – to receive something from the Lord in the secret place that they could share when gathered and which would build up the rest of the believers. The concept of turning up and receiving something from the person on the platform was non-existent. In fact, it wasn’t until the emperor Constantine decided to merge the ‘Christians’ and the pagans that the concept of sitting down to listen to one hired person on a platform speak came into being. This was part of the pagan way of doing things – a hired man to keep everyone entertained, rather than a collective sharing of the treasure given by the Lord.
Holy Spirit is saying today that no longer does He want His people to tolerate lifeless services which require no fruit of intimacy to be shared for the building up of the body. This is no longer OK. What He wants is for us to stop having a mindset of ‘going to church’, and instead simply BE the church. The church is not the four walls of a building; it is the collective temple of each one of our hearts. And we build up the entire body when we make intimacy with our Lord not-negotiable, and when we gather – as believers – around the fruit of this intimacy, to strengthen one another as we each share and feed from what we have gathered. He wants us not to neglect the assembling of the believers, but He really has come to the end of tolerating the box-ticking and formally orchestrated service of the Christians.
Restoring Our Understanding of Who We Are as the Ekklesia
The church is not and has never been the four walls of the building. When Jesus first spoke about His church, the word He used was ‘Ekklesia’. This wasn’t a new concept to the believers. It was actually a Greek word to describe the group of people who were sent out by the government when the Romans conquered new territory, to teach the newly conquered peoples how to be truly Roman. They basically infiltrated every area of society to share and teach the new culture. And this is what Jesus likened His church to – sent out ones. People, not buildings.
Somehow, along the way (also with a bit of help from Constantine’s religious system), man turned His understanding of that word Ekklesia (translated church) from people, to buildings. Language started coming out of hearts to reinforce this, statements such as “Going to church” began to affirm church as a place to go, not someone to be. Then man started making reference to “churches” as though Jesus didn’t birth one single church, giving each of these different buildings different names, and ‘competing’ for the lost. Pastors started calling these buildings with people in them “my church”, or “my people”. And along the way, we lost our concept of what Jesus was actually talking about. He was commissioning a group of sent ones to go into every area of society and bring the Kingdom of God. Yet we reduced it to people withdrawing from every area of society for a few hours each week, to gather together inside buildings and TALK about the Kingdom of God. There’s no comparison, yet most Christians continue with this counterfeit, without even raising an eyebrow. But God says ‘No more!’
It’s time to understand who we really are as the Ekklesia and to act like it. Why is it that the only way we validate the body gathering together is in the context of a service? Because if we see the Ekklesia as a building, that’s the only way to have a part in it. But if we see the Ekklesia as people sent out on assignment, there are many ways for His Ekklesia to gather. It can be when two believing mothers sit over a table in their home, and their conversation is centered around the revelation which has been whispered to their hearts by their King, or they are praying together for their children. It can be when a group of friends feel a leading to intercede together for their community, or the believing employees of a business pray together to bless the customers that are going to come through their doors during that day, and be open to opportunities to share the love of Christ with them. It can be board members praising the Lord together before a meeting, to enthrone the Lord and seek Him for His guidance. It can be Spirit-led corporate gatherings in His timing and at the location He chooses.
When I attended the Transform Our World global conference in 2016 for the first time, I was shocked to hear about the Ekklesia arising in the marketplace, with believers who took their assignment in the marketplace seriously. They would start a business or start working for a company, with the purpose of their heart being transformation. They would start blessing the business and employees, or the company and employers they worked for, in prayer, deed and word. Before long, someone they were praying for would receive Jesus, and the remnant would begin to expand. In many of these places, the new believers began to meet together before work, to read the Bible, learn together and pray together. The new believers were discipled and caught the vision of transformation, and would begin praying for others. Before long there would be more salvations, and these people too would gather together in their workplace to honour and seek the Lord, and do the work assigned to them of discipline and praying in new believers. And in effect, instead of going TO ‘church’ on a Sunday morning (again, an impossible statement), they just started to BE the church, every day, wherever they were, whatever they did. They were constantly gathering as believers to seek the Lord and to obey His word (sounds like Acts 2:46 – 47!) I’ll tell you the truth – this challenged my heart to begin with. I legalistically thought, ‘How could they be ‘real’ Christians, if they don’t go to a service on a Sunday morning? But the Lord challenged me to see that they were actually being the Ekklesia every day of the week, seeking Him daily in intimacy and obeying His instructions, while much of His ‘church’ was acting like something quite different to the Ekklesia, and then coming in on Sunday morning to again be entertained. I immediately understood who His true Ekklesia is, but it stretched my mind. And God wants to stretch our minds today.
He is the Master Builder
He wants us to understand also that we don’t have to orchestrate it. When we have a heart hard after Him, we can trust Holy Spirit to lead and direct the gatherings. We don’t have to control it in fear that connection won’t happen, we just have to live that life and demonstrate it before the people we’re discipling. When there are those in hot pursuit of the Lord and in full submission and obedience to His leadings, there WILL be gatherings because there will be unction of the Holy Spirit, testimonies happening in people’s lives that they are burning to share, joint callings being birthed and a deep Holy Spirit desire for corporate prayer. Birthed of Holy Spirit, these gatherings will all be Divine and fruitful. We are so used to listening to programming and scheduling that we’ve forgotten to listen to Holy Spirit. There may be fear in doing it another way, giving up our schedules and control and enthroning Him to do the orchestrating, but it’s time we raised up believers to BE believers and trust God to build His church as He promised He would do (Matthew 16:18). We keep doing it the way we’ve always known it to be done because we haven’t seen anything else, and we’re not confident that He’ll be able to handle all the potential challenges that may happen if we just gave Him control. We’re also not always confident that we’ll hear Him accurately and not miss it (or that the people we’ve been called to disciple will). But we don’t have to worry – whoever puts the Lord first in their lives will not miss it!
I remember hearing a testimony once of a man who decided to simply be led of the Spirit. He had been religiously tithing 10% of his income, down to the last cent, and wanted to test what would happen if he instead was led of the Lord to give and obeyed whenever there was a prompting. He started doing this, and after a time, sat down to tally up what he had actually given. He had given almost twice as much as his previous 10%, and at the same time He had prospered, He’d had joy in doing it, and had experienced the increased intimacy with the Lord as He lived in this beautiful place of abiding and obedience. So in other words, when He set himself a requirement, He actually was limiting what God wanted to do in His life. Yes of course, if His heart was actually not submitted to Jesus as Lord, He’d have given less out of the flesh. But for those who are submitted, God will always take us further.
If we compare this to services, we think we have to have services and schedules planned because otherwise the people won’t connect with the Lord and with each other. I put it to you that if someone will not connect with the Lord and each other outside of services, they are actually not really connecting with the Lord and each other (in their hearts) when they are in services. When there is a remnant of people who are mature in the Lord and walking with Him in intimacy and obedience with Him as He leads, others will see it, want it and follow. And when they do, we’ll find that the Lord will orchestrate the gatherings, and He’ll do so in the most profound and amazing ways. Instead of the duty of attendance and the laziness of external living, there will be joy and excitement. There will be Divine connections and gatherings of different sizes with different people, in different places, as they are called to various streams of ministry and anointing. Holy Spirit will draw people to gather in businesses, pray across kitchen tables, Divinely connect them with those they are to journey in purpose with and more. It will be prolific, it will be fruitful and it will birth more intimacy. And I truly believe there will be more gathering together than when it is programmed. I believe this because I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen a remnant in our community who have been drawn from the Lord outside of organised and programmed services. Yet the Holy Spirit empowerment draws us into multiple gatherings and connections, all of them purposeful and powerful, with no one person orchestrating it. There is intimacy, there is true heart-connectedness and relationship, there is fruitfulness, there is purpose and there is advancement, because it’s the Lord who draws, connects and gathers. If we’ll stop trying to be in the drivers seat and instead let the Lord lead and obey Him as His ekklesia, He will take off the limits we have given ourselves and will do so much more than we can even imagine!
Does this mean that the Lord doesn’t want services? The Lord wants intimacy. If the current structure of our services is either not producing or requiring intimacy, it needs to change, and He is the only one who can tell us how it’s to change. The Lord is going to re-structure. He is dismantling the external box-ticking, and He is enthroning His heart. The Lord also wants (as He always has, because it was Jesus who directed it) the assembling of the believers. Holy Spirit is awakening His remnant and they are going to lead, whether or not they’re the ‘recognised leaders’ of the church or not. After all, the Lord says, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS LEADERS, ONLY THOSE WHO LEAD. If the services are not going to be life-giving or if they’re going to be limiting, the BELIEVERS are going to gather elsewhere, as led of the Lord, where the life of the Spirit is sensed and moving.
The question is always, who is in control? God or us? Will we lay down our obsession with services as we know it, and give God a blank slate to direct us, laying down all of our preconceived ideas? Will we refuse to conform to external structures and expectations and instead make intimacy our measuring stick? Will we live a life of intimacy in the secret place of the heart so that when we do gather, it is a gathering of believers, not a congregating of the Christians?
Can we hear the cry of His heart today? STOP LOOKING TO SERVICES, INSTEAD OF TO ME. IF A SERVICE CAN SUBSTITUTE INTIMACY WITH ME, THEN WE NEVER REALLY HAD IT AND YOU NEVER REALLY KNEW IT, BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING ON THIS EARTH TO COMPARE TO INTIMACY WITH ME. IF YOU ARE NOT HUNGRY FOR IT, IF YOU DO NOT REFUSE TO MOVE FORWARD WITHOUT IT, YOU ARE BEING FILLED AND STUFFED ON BITTER THINGS WHICH YOU THINK ARE SWEET.
Yes, the Lord is going to do something tremendous. He’s going to absolutely WOW us with what He’s doing. It’s going to be a transition like we’ve not seen since Christ changed everything from the old covenant to the new. The church is going to become who she was called to be and she’s not going to look like the sleeping giant that she is at the moment. It’s not going to look like how we’ve been used to seeing it, just with a few personnel changes. He is overhauling, tearing down man-made structures and making all things new.
Let’s stay open to the HOW and give Him a blank canvas to paint it on. Will we draw a line in the sand today and refuse to do anything other than what He’s doing? May it all be about intimacy and obedience for us today. And may we be found in the gathering of the believers.