When I started Tree of Life Church nearly ten years ago, I always knew there would be perseuction.
The Bible is so clear that if you want to live godly in Christ Jesus you will be persecuted, and I know there is nothing more godly than planting new churches and building up the church, so I knew it would come.
I assumed it would come most when I talked about God’s grace, and that righteousness is accessed by faith not works. Failing that, I assumed it would come when I preached on prosperity and abundance. Both issues that in the UK, many Christians struggle to see what the Bible teaches such are the overwhelming religious traditions being taught on the shores of my island.
However, it has been proven over the years that the number one thing I am persecuted about, the number one thing I am criticized for, attacked for, called names about, falsely accused over, uninvited to speak because of is this: I believe with all my heart, and teach with all my passion, that the will of God is that every Christian should be in a local church no matter what, and that God wants a plethora of growing, healthy, strong, happy, blessed mega-churches. God wants every single church to grow big!
Now reading that above, doesn’t seem controversial to me at all. But it is to many people. But then again the fact that I am right with God because of Jesus, and that God’s will is abundance for every Christian don’t seem controversial with me. But the problem is people develop traditions, people get hurt by church, lots of Christians just don’t dream big. So, it becomes a big issue for some people.
I am absolutely committed to growing big churches across Europe. So when I point out that many churches are small, because the pastors are thinking small, some pastors take it as a personal attack. They accuse me of hating small churches – when I have some of our churches smaller than theirs, when I drive 6 and 8 hour round trips to preach to a handful of people. I don’t hate small churches, everything must start somewhere! I pastored Tree of Life Churches with 1, 2, 3 people. I don’t mind small, but I believe that a well fed church, like a well fed baby, will always grow. But people who wouldn’t dream of investing as much as I do in small churches accuse me of hating small churches!
When I point out that many Bible Colleges, while providing a phenomenal foundation in the Word of God, are not always preparing people well for church ministry, or indeed training people to appreciate and love the local church, then I am falsely accused of hating Bible Colleges.
I have spent six years in full time Bible College education, and I am currently doing a doctorate in theology and a continuing education for ministers programme. Tree of Life gives thousands of pounds a year to Bible Colleges, and again I travel the world to speak to Bible College students at my own expense often, and spend a lot of time helping students find a ministry after Bible College. To say I hate Bible Colleges, or to even say anything less than I love them with all my heart, is just foolishness.
But to point out that they need to alter to focus on building local churches, and have systems to ensure their students can both be a healthy part of a local church while at college and beyond, and to release people into planting churches, then you cause waves, as this is not yet intuitive or understood by so many people.
Yet, I keep waving the flag for local church, I keep focusing on building churches, I keep speaking. Recently someone asked me “why bang on about it”, what they meant was why keep talking about it all the time. Why preach the importance of local church? Why get involved in conflict?
This was someone who loves me, loves local church and gets it. The issue is that they didn’t realize how vital this is, how hard it is to see believers who are not in local church wither in their souls, become emotional thrill seekers going to conference after conference looking for a high when what they need a church to be in consistently. They had never had the phone call from the arrogant Bible College student who doesn’t go to church who has never spent time with the people of God but who presumes on your pulpit because he has a deep revelation for those people. They have never had the call from the person who needs immediate counsel and as they outline the problem you know that Sundays message would have saved them a week of hurt.
We need to keep reaffirming the value of local church over and over because it is the body of Jesus. Over the next few posts I will share why the message of Church Life is something we must, to be Biblical, to be Christ-like, bang on about no matter the critics.
Last month, I met a student who had graduated from Bible College the day before. As I said, I love Bible Colleges, I love Bible College students, so I asked him, what next?
He said that he wants to be in ministry, so I asked what kind. He said he wasn’t sure, so I asked the simplest question which is “do you feel you should be pastoring or should it be a field ministry?”. He wasn’t sure.
I asked what church he went to. I wasn’t trying to trap him or trip him up, I know a lot of pastors, and I know how to speak to pastors, so I was planning to offer him some advice to get involved in his church, and how to get released in ministry in his church.
He looked at me said “I don’t go to church, I haven’t been all my time at college, I was thinking of going back maybe next month”.
That almost brought me to tears, here is a young man trained with all this Bible knowledge, his heart is to serve and bless God’s people, but there is no one to serve and no one to bless because he had zero idea how important local church was. If he had been at local church while at Bible school, I reckon that he would be already ministering to people. The gap of time between getting involved in ministry would not be there if he had realized the value of Church Life.
If that young man wanted to go to Tree of Life, he would have to come to Tree of Life “brand new” and started at the beginning. I couldn’t take him on as staff or even an elder because although he has a few years of Bible training, he has zero idea of Church Life. That’s a real tragedy. And unless he plugs into a local church and learns the power of Church Life, I could meet that man a year on from now, two years, five years, decade, and they would still be dreaming of ministry, but still no closer to it.
I have seen so many ministries in the UK lost because people did not realize the value of Church Life and therefore never realized their ministry. And the UK needs more ministers. That breaks my heart.
That’s why I bang on about it. If you like the beat of the drum or not, it’s the only beat Jesus has promised to build with. Local Church!