Needs-Oriented Church: or which came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

The Waterhole Blog

Is that a stupid question or what? There are some things which just can't be gotten to the bottom of.

Other things are not questioned, simply because we never thought that our way of looking at things might not be right. For a while I've been wondering if we as Christians might have been setting the chicken before the egg - or is it the other way around? It might be better to say we have been putting the horse before the cart!

What I mean is, is - what has priority? That which God wants and is looking for, or that which I think that I need? In my relationship with God, should I expect that He will always be looking to meet my needs as fast as He can, that they have priority for Him as well as for me? I suspect that anyone who believes in the biblical revelation of God through Jesus Christ will immediately recognize that the will of God must be above all other considerations.

Whose Needs should be in the Forefront?

Yet in spite of this truth what we see almost everywhere in Christian churches is that leadership as well as church members have made a small course change from the God-given one. We have put human needs in the forefront.

Sermons seem to be becoming more and more self-help lectures in which we are encouraged - on the basis of the scriptures, of course - to be positive thinkers, to practice thankfulness, and to apply good life skills that we have learned from psychology for a healthy inner life. These good life philosophies can be gleaned from the pages of the Bible, so therefore they must be originally God's ideas and solutions, right? That's why they work - whether we learn them from psychology or through the Bible. Or so goes the argument anyway.

Yet do they really reflect the ways of God? Is not God always working to bring us to the end of our own strength and of leaning on our own abilities? How many people has He brought to the point to desperation, with the plan and in the hope that they will turn to Him and throw their own self-reliance overboard so that He can finally begin to change them from the inside out. And then, at that moment they hear a message designed to "help them make it through" or they run to the church counselor and get just enough from-the-outside-in which helps to bandage them back together so that they can manage life a little better. And the change the Lord was looking for never happens.

As ministries and church programs we seem to be very focussed on meeting people's felt needs.

Why is that? We tell each other, that it is because that is what will draw the people in long enough to hear a salvation message and get saved. Or it is what touches people where they are at, so it will keep them coming.

And yet, I can't help a sneaking suspicion that the majority of the answer is that we are simply afraid. We fear that if we don't tailor the message of God to somehow touch the felt needs that most people have, then no one will be getting saved in our church. No one will be coming to hear our sermons if it doesn't meet a "practical need." "What's in it for me?" seems to be the typical attitude.

Yes, it is true that people are getting more and more self-centered. Everything revolves around sex, money and fame - as they say. Or everything revolves around whatever makes me feel better about myself. "I," in other words, am now the center.

But does it really have to be that the fallen human nature is catered to? A more direct question might be: does God really do that with us? Were the actions and teaching of Jesus needs-oriented?

Whoever knows the New Testament history very well has to say a clear "no" at this point. Jesus did heal the people, but it was because of his compassion. His teaching and messages were quite different than ours. His were God- oriented, or even better said, they were Kingdom of God oriented. That word Kingdom would be much more accurately translated with the word "kingship," which makes more clear that it is talking about God's rule, not land or territory. Now we can recognize that in Jesus eyes it was the Father who had the say, not the people around him, although he loved and chose to help them with words and actions of power.

That the message of Jesus was neither flattering to people's egos nor aligned with their felt needs can be clearly seen in John chapter 6. Jesus told the crowd that unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood they have no life in them. Only eating him and drinking him would constitute spiritual food. This was not an acceptable nor a popular message! The people were horrified. And yes, they left him. Even some of his disciples and followers were offended and left him. Yet this is the way of God. God's purposes and truth itself are more important than apparent success with people.

If we look very closely at Jesus sermons and teaching it becomes very clear: he spoke provocatively, sometimes even shockingly. His words seemed designed to make enemies, yet he didn't care. He didn't shock for the sake of shock, but to clearly communicate God's ways to man. Even the word "gospel" was provocative to the Roman government, because it was only used at that time to announce the birth or coming of a new king!

He spoke directly against the grain of the culture, and ignored it's traditions and usages - at least when in HIS eyes they were a hindrance to the rule of God. His words and ways were so different and alienating, that in the end they rose up and killed him. This story doesn't seem to tell me that Jesus cared much of what the people thought that they needed.

The Course Change

As I said above, out of the fear of losing people we have made this seemingly slight change of course in our services and teaching which stresses their needs and how God wants to meet them. There is at least one massive problem with this strategy. When we put human needs in the center and focus, then we necessarily make God our servant.

As someone once said, "Christ is either lord of all or he is not Lord at all." We can't have it both ways. If Jesus has become the servant of our felt needs, then we humans have become his lord. The way in which the average Christian lives today makes it quite clear that they have believed the subliminal message very well. They rule in their lives, not he. The Lordship of Jesus Christ remains just lip service for them, if they even recognize his claims at all.

But didn't Jesus say, "The Son of Man did not come in order to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many?" Yes. But he serves us as the overwhelmingly powerful Lord who, in his great humility, serves us and heals us, and gladly wipes our tears away just because he loves us and because it is part of his wonderfully loving nature.

If we serve Jesus in our hearts as well as in our everyday activities, then his service to us will take on a new character. These days he seems to be playing ball with our way of doing things, when we lift up the meeting of everyone's felt needs to such a high level - because he loves us and because we chose to do it that way. That's the kind of freedom which he gave us. If he had to wait until we did everything perfectly the way he desires, then we would remain always out of reach for him. In spite of that however, he knows that his way is not best for us and can be even self-destructive. When we choose to go with him on his way, we find out that it really pays dividends.

God's Ways have Priority

In the course of the last 20 years of my experience in charismatic circles I have noticed something. Many of us, myself included too often, approach God out of a rather egocentric attitude. We seek him for that which he gives to us, not really for God himself. Oh yes, we say, "O God, I need you!" But what immediately comes is: I need your healing. I need a touch. I need wisdom. I need a job. I need your peace. I need, I need. Fill me! Bless me, Lord! More, Lord!

But what about God's needs? Who is concerning himself with His needs? Could it actually be that the Almighty has a need that He cannot meet from within Himself? If true, would that mean that He is not perfect and sufficient in His own person? I suppose it depends on what His purpose is. If the fulfillment of His purpose, or at least some of His central purposes, in creating everything is dependent on our choices, then, yes, God has needs which can only be fulfilled through us, people who are outside of His own person.

Isn't it amazing that God would allow Himself to become dependent on our taking action or refusing to take action, that that would determine the fulfillment of His great plans? If we don't act as He has hoped we would, then He cannot have the that thing which was His reason for creating all that is. The fulfillment of this longing of God is in our hands. So there is a power that we hold in our hands, the power to give God great joy and the fulfillment of His dreams regarding us.

I have made my choice: from this time on I will more and more seek God for that, which I can bless Him with, rather than just what He can bless me with. I will spend time with Him - because it is what He as been longing for, fellowship with me (just the same as He has been longing for fellowship with you). THAT is the reason He made us!

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved." (Ephesians 1:3-6)

Here is a question that you can set our sense of logic free on: If you put into God's hand what He is most longing for (especially in relation to you: your time, love and fellowship), then will it be long before He pours out over you in return the things that will make you most fulfilled? It reminds me of a verse in the Psalms: "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."

Out of my own experience I can say that since I have begun to seek the Person and nearness of Jesus - out of this reason, to give Him joy through my love and presence before Him - He is closer to me than ever before. His joy, rest and beauty are touching me over and over again in the course of each day like a powerful current of Life flowing through the spirit realm with which I am now connected. When I tried to make Him the fulfillment of my needs and dreams, then that which I experienced with Him never lasted. From now on I want to be the fulfillment of HIS dreams . . . and that is something else altogether.

And what about the visitors to our churches who seemingly will only react to a needs-oriented message? Well, I think that people are more drawn to reality, the real McCoy, so to speak. They will react more to God's presence and the Love of God experienced through us than they will to any cleverly packaged and apparently convincing self-help teaching. That is, when they see the real thing in action. That is our calling now, to know God in spirit and in truth. He will take care of the rest.

  1. Who is God really?
  2. the Waterhole Blog
  3. Needs Oriented Church

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