The Kingdom of God is about God’s interaction with humanity, and Church is God’s executive branch in bringing forth the Kingdom
I grew up in the “Church”. I grew up in a “Christian home. I grew up as an “MK” (missionary’s kid) and a “PK” (pastor’s kid). I grew up around “Christian faith” and “Christian religion”, and I grew up around all kinds of people who would call themselves “Christian”. The “Christian” faith was my “normal life.” I was not overtly protected in my family and societal environment, and my “Christian life” was not a “ghettoized” experience or existence. I spent the first decade of my life, living between France, trips to Belgium, Netherlands, West Germany, Switzerland, Luxemburg, England, Scotland, and my native Northern Ireland. I was as European as you could make me. I spoke French, some German, and learned some English.
The faith I grew up with was a robust faith, as living in France tested the faith of Evangelicals. France had a heavy secularist influence that lingered from the effects of the French Revolution. Roman Catholicism dominated the landscape with a smidgen of Reformed people, the descendants of the persecuted Huguenots who fled France during France’s “Religious Wars”. These very ancestors of the modern French Reformed Christians migrated across Europe, and then to America. They came to Northern Ireland and established the world famous Irish linen and Irish crystal industries, as well as world famous liquor and beer industries. I have Huguenot blood lines, that go back to the Huguenots exile from France to settlement in Ireland. My faith is as robust as my genetic DNA. My spiritual DNA is made of what my Dad called “the sterner stuff.” My parents believed in God and in advancing the Kingdom, and even took us kids along for the ride. The “church” was the executive arm of God on earth, to fulfill His desires among the people. The crucible of any living faith is found in its living out among and with other people, both within and without the faith.
Living by faith and trusting God’s people to work with us
In all my upbringing I experienced those relationships with people, whether rubbing shoulders at the market, on in school, or at play or in our place of worship, it was always people engaging with other people. My Mum and Dad were always personable people that met people where they were at, and tried to meet their needs as they were able. I remember that we were never well off, and my mother had over a hundred recipes on how to cook rice for dinner. My parents worked hard as they lived by faith for those first 12 years as missionaries in France. Their home church in Belfast, N. Ireland, had a little wooden box at the back of the church (I saw it when I went back to Belfast with them in 1966). The box was a brown coloured box, with gold paint around the edges, and had gothic printing on the lid and front side, with our family name “Buick”. Every month, that like Elim Church, on Park Avenue, sent whatever was in the box to my parents in France. Sometimes the money came the day it was needed, and other times just before.
God was faithful and the people were faithful
I got to understand early on what it meant to “live by faith”, and that it is “more blessed to give than to receive.” I experienced it frequently when I was young. I remember my Dad had gone on a preaching trip to Nancy. Mum was home with myself and with my baby brother Paul. There was a homeless man that was knocking on doors asking for a help. My Mum noticed how disheveled he was. He was around my Dad’s weight and size. She went into their bedroom, and into my Dad’s dresser. She found the pale blue sweater my Dad had received from his grandmother that previous Christmas. It was Dad’s favourite. She joyfully gave it to the man, who tried to refuse it, but my mother kept insisting that he take it. He wept as he put it on and my Mum glowed in delight that she was able to bless this man. Me, I started and took the scene in. This was just how my parents loved on people. To my Mum, this was the reality of living out her faith, and loving other people who had less than she had. My mother modeled this for me. My Dad came home, and was startled when he realized his favourite sweater had been given away. He looked at my mother. My mother said what she did. All of a sudden my Dad’s countenance changed. He sat on the bed. He lifted me up and sat me on his knee. He took my Mum’s hand, and he said, “Samuel, this is how Jesus loves. Never forget. This is how Jesus loves. We give to others because this is how Jesus shows love. He cares for us and he cares for everyone.”
I had my own encounter with people and “giving things away”
In 1966, our family was offered the opportunity to go to Canada as missionaries. Dad and Mum had assisted a Canadian couple (the first Canadians I got to know, who were from Alberta), the Norman Worth family. Norman Worth was going to take over the leadership of the little congregation my parents had formed in St. Die, in the Vosges mountains in Eastern France. We had to “travel light,” so we could not take all of our “stuff” with us back to Northern Ireland and then to Canada. All the toys that my grandparents had bought for me, I had to give away. I had to give away my bike, my hiking gear, the bulk of my toys, my lead soldiers, my various soccer balls, my train set, and my racing car set, and all my Dinky cars. The only toys I got to take were my golden Teddy Bear, which I got when I was two weeks old, two Dinky toys, one was an armored car, and the other a Jaguar car, and my German camera. Everything else I gave to the Worth family. The hardest day of my life was watching another boy riding my bike when we left St. Die for Paris, and then Belfast. It really hut to give it all away. It wasn’t until later I remembered the words of my father, about how important it was to bless others by giving things to them. I never felt badly about it after that time. It healed my heart that was filled with disappointment, misunderstanding and confusion. I realized I helped a kid adapt to living in France. Years later the Worth family and I would reconnect in the mid 1990’s. They were back in Calgary. They said that their kids adapted well to living in St. Die largely due to how our family gave all of our belongings to them to help all of them adapt and settle in to living in Eastern France. That really blessed my heart. The Kingdom of God is about people blessing other people, and even children get to play in the Kingdom.
There are all kinds of ways and means of advancing the Kingdom through ministries, but ultimately, it is advanced through God equipping and commissioning people through intentional missional vision
My family, and my own life and my wife and our kids are the fruit of what was poured out into us as children. My wife was raised in a pastor’s home. She knows and understands the challenges of ministry, the challenges of balancing ministry life and needs, and the needs of the family. She had to go without like I had to go without. But that was our own sense of “normal.” We did not know anything else. We have over the years realized again and again, the crux of living our lives for the glory of God has always involved “loving people” and “helping people” and “ministering to the needs of people.” This has been the defining DNA in our family’s life.
We raised our kids in a “homeschooled” environment. We raised our family for a season on a vegetarian diet when our first born, Carragh, was battling cancer and eventually succumbed to the disease. All this time we were in several churches, where I had some kind of leadership role either with children’s ministry, youth, or small groups ministries and preaching and teaching. All this time our kids were nurtured on helping others, even taking part a variety of fund raisers for missions, and making ongoing donations to the Mennonite Central Committee. We developed a strong sense of intentional and missional living, living with open hearts, open minds and open wallets.
No matter where we are, there are people, and all of these people in some way engage with God, and all these people need God
I discovered over the years, be it working within the “traditional church” (Institutional church / IC), or cell based church (CBC), or church based small groups (CBSG), or even organic simple house churches (HC), all of these church types and expressions involved “people” meeting and working with other “people.” Even when I worked with various national and regional ministries from IVCF in high school, to Intervarsity on university campus, as well as other national and international discipleship training and teaching ministries, I was always in the thick of “people ministering with and serving people.”
The people are always “right” or are they?
The idea of “church” is one of those things that creates all kinds of responses in people. For some it is a trigger which conjures up in living colour and sound effects, ancient wounds that are as real in the moment, as if they had just occurred. For others it brings back childhood memories of Sundays with Mom and Dad, and the Sunday meal, and the “Sabbath Day of Rest” that accompanied the meal. No TV. No games. And, you could only do homework. For others, there was that indifference of going through the motions, where you were there bodily, but your spirit was absent from the body. Your mind wandered off elsewhere, sometimes day dreaming, sometimes thinking, sometimes staring at people, sometimes mimicking the preacher or the worship leader. Yes, the idea of “church” stirs things up for a lot of people.
I kind of relate to the travails and challenges faced by Saul of Tarsus
In the writings of Paul, we read just how much he loved God and how much he loved people, and also just how difficult it was to minister with people who had huge egos, or who were actively plotting against him, trying to kill him, and also the jealous Christians who put him down. It seemed that no matter what he did, where he went, people loved him, hated him, and did anything to get rid of him. This is the same man who said, “Be all things to all men that I may win some” (1 Corinthians 9), of which Petersen translates it this way in The Message:
19-23 Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, The Message)
I get what Paul was talking about. I haven’t lived it to his extreme, but I know it, and I know what it is to give all of yourself to people.
Seventeen years ago, I left the “institutional church” and stayed away for over fourteen years. I left the IC (institutional church) after my resignation from a Vineyard church where I served as an assistant pastor. I resigned and had nowhere else to go. I had just found a job so I could be bi-vocational and not depend on the church salary I was on. So, I was left on my own, after spending a couple of years in what had been my best church life and ministry experience to date. I did not know what to do. We met with some folks for some prayer time, and we gathered, prayed and worshipped and had the Lord’s Table and shared some food. The Lord spoke prophetically that we should just continue what we were doing. And this is how we stumbled upon the simple house church model of church life and ministry. Over the next fourteen years Lori and I founded and established and planted several house churches locally in our region, and we assisted others in planting their simple house churches in other parts of Ontario. I even got to travel internationally and speak about intimacy with God and intimate community church life. I became part of an apostolic council that arranged and planned and facilitated regional and national house church conferences here in Canada.
The challenge of engaging and managing a voluntary group of people
When people don’t get what they want or expect, they will quit and walk away. Like any social enterprise involving people, people will be the greatest thrill and the greatest adventure, with the good, the bad and the ugly happening as readily in a simple house church as it even happens in the bigger “traditional” churches. It is our engagement with people that leads to disappointment, frustration, failed expectations, conflict, pain and rejection. Anywhere people congregate, there is the potential for great blessing and even greater disaster. It just happens. Interpersonal relationship. It requires interchange, dialogue, communication, understanding, and a great deal of love.
Trials and tribulations and burdens of shepherding even come in small communities
I can say before God as my witness Lori and I were sold out to God on this journey, and we held nothing back. We loved people and supported people, emotionally, spiritually and in some cases financially. We sought the good in people, poured into people, and walked with people and some of that was difficult for not only the people themselves, but all of us who walked the journey together. Lori and I suffered ridicule, rejection and judgment, and people in whom we had invested a great deal of our lives into, just upped and walked away from us. It was a very trying time. It was even more trying when it happened more than once.
No back pew in your house!
You see in simple house churches, there is really no place to hide. You space, your rec room, your living room, wherever you are meeting, that is your “sanctuary”. It usually involves around 10 to 20 people. If there are issues that arise that are divisive and are not dealt with appropriately, it can come in and divide asunder what God has put together. People’s egos are a big deal, and even a bigger deal in smaller relational simple house churches.
Moving from surviving to overcoming
In the end, we “survived house church” simply because we survived people. Egos get in the way and cause people to do things that they would not normally do. Egocentric people want their own way all the time, and that is hard to deal with in any church context, large or small. Lori and I had a couple of self-imposed sabbaticals that we took to get our hearts and heads sorted out. In the end it was all good. We learned a lot. We learned a great deal about ourselves, our own hearts, our attitudes, our desires and our passions. We learned a great deal about human nature and the power of the ego. We learned a lot about dysfunctional people and equally dysfunctional families. We learned about relational dynamics, intimacy, dealing with heart issues, healing, wholeness, and real church vs. entertainment. We learned to navigate the supernatural and operate in all the gifts, and helped to equip people to do the same. We learned and we adapted, and we learned to survive the “church game”.
What have I learned?
- I have learned that the church is the church, wherever people meet together, no matter how large or how small, when it gathers in the name of Jesus Christ, and proclaims the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ as the only mediator between God and man, and the only atonement and sacrifice for the sins of the entire world.
- I have learned that people are people no matter which church you participate and engage in and all people face the reality that church is “relationally challenged.”The “church” is all about the people, the people of God, and God seekers, and those just exploring spirituality, the unchurched. When you are dealing with the diversity of people, you are encountering the dynamic of life which brings with it relational challenges, the potential for exuberant life, the context to have wonderful personal and ministry growth and development. You also have the potential and greater risk of problems arising.
- I have learned that people want to be engaged to a level of comfort and use their spiritual gifts.I have seen people become truly remarkable in their gifting and yet have huge character and heart issues. As John Wimber explained so well:
“Gifts and abilities, no matter how magnificent, are either limited or enhanced by character.” ~ John Wimber
- So many people with so much potential and the one thing in the way is character, and the lack of maturity. I experienced the most hurt and rejection at the hands of immature people. Egos swelled, and voices raised, and threats made, just to have their own way. People hurt by other people, all because they wanted to be the centre of attention and centre of ministry. Facilitating and managing people is no easy task, and as such I have come to realize that hands down, maturity in life and in character is more important than any spiritual gift and more important than the wealth and finances you contribute.
- I have learned that all people have genuine perceived and real needs. I have seen people of every stripe gather in church communities and they all have perceived and real needs that ought to be met, and sometimes there is the double challenge of their fear of rejection or judgment to go along with their very real needs. Church should be a safe place for people, but I do not believe it to be a safe place. The vulnerability to be real and open is too great for many congregations and it seems a challenge as more people who try to be vulnerable and open, ended up feeling rejected because they don’t happen to have it all together. Many church say that they accept people where they are at. That is more easily said than done. When people come in who are different or who have huge needs, and a congregation is not ready for the “heavy lifting” required in meeting the needs of these kinds of people, it becomes a exercise doomed for failure.
- I have learned that people need to evaluate and take account of the cost of following Christ and that the cost of taking up their cross is as much the same for a congregation. Most congregation say they are willing, but it is rare to find one that actually works it out and actually does what is required.
I have also learned that every living human being has personal heart issues of some kind.
At the end of the day, I cannot give up on the “Church.” Jesus said He was building it, not us, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. He is establishing the Kingdom of God and the “church” is his instrument in doing so. Jesus chose to use disciples to spread the message of the Kingdom, and he has called us to do likewise. He empowered his disciples through the Spirit and he still empowers us today with his Spirit to do the same. Nothing has changed. God uses broken people to help other broken people. He pours his love and grace into us to enable us to do the impossible, including loving people that we cannot stand in the natural, and including loving the enemies of our souls who would rather kill us than allow us to love them and help them. THIS is what it means to be a lover of God and a lover of people.
It is not being derailed by our own egos, our own agendas, our own wants and desires, or our own expectations. Rather it is finding God, becoming intimate with him, being transformed by him, and renewed from within, and listening to his voice, and then going forth and doing what he has asked us to do in partnering with him in extending the Kingdom of God, one person at a time. It has more to do with getting over ourselves and what we think the Kingdom or the “church” should look like, and to let go of our egos and our own perceptions and expectations. Gandhi said it best, “Be the change you want to see.”
Don’t sweat the big stuff…
So, the way forward for me, is to look beyond the big stuff, and don’t even worry about the little stuff. Look at the people with the eyes of Jesus, and ask for his love and grace, to love the people as he loves them. The world we live in would surely change, if we could but love God and love people better. If we could get that one thing right, imagine what that would look like. My Dad had it right all those years ago back in 1964, “Samuel, this is how Jesus loves!”
~ Sam Buick