Updated: Jun 29, 2021
The title may sound a little “click-baity” but I don’t think I’m exaggerating. I have observed dozens of times and over the span of eight years, two formative pathways that transform churches. What are these two pathways? One, a pathway that leads people to freedom from all that hinders. Two, a pathway that leads people to freedom to our full empowerment in Christ. If you develop each pathway (they can be connected) and offer onramps to each experience several times a year for several years, you will see Jesus radically transform your church more into his character.
Jesus wants these pathways for his church. More specifically he wants these for your church and expressed uniquely through your church. Without some meaningful expression of both, your church will always be a pale version of what God intends. So let’s describe each pathway.
Freedom from all that hinders
As important as preaching is it does not adequately facilitate genuine transformation in people’s lives. They need more. They need personal guidance. They need to be discipled. Specifically, this pathway disciples people tangibly from the many matters of the soul that hinders the fuller expression of Jesus within them. They need coaching and modeling in the interior formation of their soul: learning how to forgive others, to root their identity more firmly in Christ, to discover the brokenness of their life story and Christ’s rewriting of their narrative. They need to receive the Holy Spirit’s transformational work of healing memories and trauma. They need deliverance from the foothold of demonic spirits. Probably a majority of the people in your church would find deeper freedom through deliverance.
These dynamics may sound obvious enough but in the fifty-plus renewal events I have been a part of leading I predictably hear from people, “I’ve never been taught this before!” I have come across literally thousands of people who have spent their lives in church who feel like such experience is brand new to them. Bottom line: in many churches this is not taking place. We may assume it is occurring because it is being preached about and small groups are studying the subjects. Both are valid but neither is a substitute to life-on-life, walking people through the personalized experience of inner transformation that Jesus desires to bring. People need tangible pathways to realize the incredible freedom Jesus brings.
Freedom to our full empowerment
If the previous pathway is currently sketchy in the broader church this next one is in even worse shape. Jesus commanded the church to not engage his mission until they received his empowerment from on high (Acts 1:4-8). People need genuine experience of receiving an initial and continual outpouring of Holy Spirit. Yes, some of this is somewhat mystical in the laying on of hands and praying for the filling of the Holy Spirit. This is needed and should be a normal experience in every church. Churches that have a theology of the filling of the Holy Spirit and empowerment would do well to disciple their people exceedingly well into this reality and with experiential regularity.
Some of our empowerment is less mystical and can be taught and learned. People need to be personally discipled to hear the voice of Jesus in their life. They can learn how to exercise their authority in Christ to push back darkness and release the Kingdom of Light. These latter elements are largely learned elements. Without them our effectiveness in mission beyond the walls of the church is too often hamstrung in a world that is suspicious of our message. In the West, the front door to tasting the Kingdom of Jesus is increasingly a demonstration of God’s tangible presence through deeply empowered believers, then followed by the message of the Kingdom.
This is the Pattern of Jesus
We see this dynamic of freedom from hindrances, and freedom to empowerment in the life of Jesus. In Matthew 10:8 we read the words of Jesus to his disciples, “Freely you have received; freely give.” Context is important. His immediately preceding words are, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freedom you have received; freely give.”
Make no mistake, Jesus first led his disciples on a pathway of freedom from that which hinders. Jesus healed their ailments, he drove out their demons, he brought restoration to their life. Only once they had received freedom from him could they have something to give away to others; that is, their empowerment. If you are a Christian leader and you are unsure of how to lead others in these ways, it is likely that Jesus desires to first lead you personally and more deeply into both freedom and empowerment. We can’t take people where we have not yet been.
It doesn’t have to be complicated
Many churches offer Alpha or The Kairos Course several times each year. I commend them! In doing so they have seen the composition of their church be transformed with many new believers in their midst. It is the same with pathways of personal transformation and empowerment. Find a vehicle or create a pathway that affords an onramp for people to be discipled into transformation and empowerment. Ask peers what is working for them. Get training. Partner with those further along than you. But find a pathway that fits, yet challenges, the culture of your church. Offer it once. Experiment with it. Offer it again. Begin to offer it several times a year for several years. Your church will be transformed. Guaranteed.
For a deeper dive on this subject matter check out Doug’s book, The Empowerment Pivot: How God is Redefining Our View of Normal.
Doug Balzer serves as Director of reKindle, a spiritual renewal catalyst and is based in Calgary, Canada.