More Than A Number: The Church That Jesus Built

Interview With Michael Laborn

Pastor Michael LaBorn is married and a father of two small daughters about whose personal development he is passionate.  He has experienced the shock of undecipherable lumps in the chest and, several months later, the joy of hearing from his doctors that there is no longer any lump.  

This means for him that every moment in life has its purpose and cannot be wasted, that every person he meets has an appointment with the Lord and it’s about now, that truth and intimate reality are the most exciting vehicles in which to ride, and that teaching, and writing are two of the most important means of communication which he can employ to reach out to assist people’s walk with the Lord with delightful discernments that initially take you aback and then forward in leaps and bounds.

He has written several books of which the latest is refreshingly titled “More than a Number:  The Church That Jesus Built”.

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Faith Filled Family Magazine: From the forward I read that “Your eye will be opened to the tiny lies that the enemy has planted within the church for years… slight twists in truth that we have taken as gospel for far too long. – the demon behind the curtain.  This convinced me to read a work that speaks of things I have long thought problematical within the church.  It is about knowing the difference between being trained to do and being allowed to be.”  

This drew my attention immediately as I understand that the Lord also told me just to “Be” – as distinct from achieving this and that.  Firstly, how do you work with this concept of being rather than doing (as in doing good works, kindnesses, service, caring etc).   And secondly, and I think we have suffered a great lack of teaching on this next point: how does this relate to discernment of tiny lies and twists of truth?

Michael LaBorn: “First, I would clarify that there is a huge difference between serving God in order to appease Him and serving God because you are desperately in love with Him. This is the difference between law and grace. Under law, we serve because we are cursed without serving. Under grace, we serve because the curse that kept us from loving Him is broken and it has become our natural desire to love Him well. 

It feels like a subtle difference, but Paul makes it clear that it is a matter of life and death.

Secondly, I would answer that by point out that the majority of the lies that keep us from freedom only work because we aren’t free. If we embrace real life with Christ, the counterfeit realities that we are offered pale in comparison. So, our primary object shouldn’t be to nit-pick theology, but to embrace real freedom in Christ. Everything becomes simpler once you are truly alive.”

“Unity Means That We Are One People.”

Faith Filled Family Magazine: The Church needs to grasp that unity does not mean we are united under our leaders or their vision.  Unity means we are one people.”  The apostles developed a church that could continue on its own and then went further out.  You develop this concept in detail, suggesting that it is not about leadership, but about the whole.  How does a young person considering his calling work this out?

Michael LaBorn: Community. As a whole, we have largely confused maturity with ambition. We have measured someone’s depth by how far they are willing to go to build their platform within the church. And that is a grave error. The New Testament paints a picture where the church’s strength is found in its united love of Jesus, rather than in its ambitious development of the church. The spread of the gospel has always depended more on the power of God than on the efforts of men. Does that mean that we don’t need leadership? No, we need leaders to keep us focused. But it is important that we understand that the church is being built by the Holy Spirit, not by us. 

So, what is my advice to young people who are trying to find their place in the body? Take the pressure off… As long as you are measuring your depth by how ambitious or productive you are, serving God becomes stressful. When you take the pressure off and just embrace your place in the body of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will develop you in exactly the way He always intended to.”

Faith Filled Family Magazine: I appreciated your statement that “Leadership down not mean you are in charge.  It means you are responsible.”  Can you develop that idea please?

Michael LaBorn: “When it comes to Christian leadership, we often view it as license to shape the direction of the church’s worship. And that is not exactly the concept we find in the word. Ephesians 4 tells us that he gave us Christian leaders “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Break that down and you get a very different concept of biblical leadership than we are used to in today’s church. It was never God’s intention that our leaders would rule over us or direct every aspect of our worship. Rather, it was God’s intention that our leaders would teach us to work intimately together so that the body could be healthy. Leadership was never about being “in charge”, it was about developing and protecting an atmosphere of intimacy and freedom within the church. In that text, Paul set the expectation that the body, when it is healthy, “builds itself up in love.”

Changing a Culture…

Faith Filled Family Magazine: We have “built a system that tells them that they are free, while demanding that they sit quietly and listen.”  How would you replace this system?

Michael LaBorn: “By cultivating an atmosphere where every piece of the body reclaims its role. Look at what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:

“When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” – 1 Corinthians 14:26 (ESV)

We worship in a culture that encourages everyone to serve however God leads them while very intentionally only creating opportunities for people to serve in ways that are convenient for our vision. If someone wants to serve God from a public platform, we expect them to undergo rigorous training and testing. Which, in theory, makes total sense. Except that the Word is clear that the Holy Spirit is the one who empowers us to represent God.

1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that the roles we serve within the body (whether prophetic, pastoral, miraculous, as a teacher, a leader, etc) are determined by the Holy Spirit. If those roles are given to us by God—if our gifts are supernatural abilities handed to us by God himself—then isn’t it Him who trains and tests us? This idea that we, as people, are qualified to second guess the Holy Spirit is misguided at best, heretical at worst. 

We often call the boundaries we place on how people can serve and operate with the church good stewardship. But the truth is, it is control. Plan and simple. As leaders, we come to the table with a certain vision, and we spend our tenure shaping the church in whatever way we need to in order to get the body closer to our vision. And while that makes complete sense… it isn’t biblical Christianity.

Biblical Christianity is organic, free and alive. In the same way that your body is only healthy when all of your individual organs are doing exactly what they were made to do, the body of Christ is only healthy when all of its individual members are doing exactly what they were made to do. Convincing them to do what you need them to do is not the same thing as cultivating an atmosphere where they are free to do what they were created to do. If we want a healthy church, we have to cultivate a free church.”

Faith Filled Family Magazine:  Authority exists to drive us toward unity, not to bind us to its vision.”  You have so many statements that compel us to rethink what we are doing.  Do you believe the churches can cope with this?

Michael LaBorn: “It is difficult whenever we are forced to face the possibility that we have been doing things wrong for a long time. Especially when it means that people have been hurt because of our choices. But that is exactly where we are. When the church started, Christians were hated because they were different. Now, we are hated because we are not. We are openly called hypocrites because of our hateful rhetoric, our hypocritical teachings and the plethora of moral failures among our leaders. 

And while we can point to how each of those things became a reality in the church, what is important is that we stop and take stock… something is not working. At some point, we missed the mark and, instead of fixing it, we just kept going until those failures became a part of our culture. So here we are, hundreds of years later, and we find ourselves in a situation where we must stop and reassess what we have become. 

That is painful. There is no reality where it would not be painful. But, regardless of how painful it is, we have to do it. Jesus is desperate for the world, and if we want to deliver him the world, we have to return to being the kind of body He designed us to be.”

Faith Filled Family Magazine: Our individual health is measured by how well we equip the body to satisfy its purpose.”  This makes the whole thesis clear to me.  We are so obsessed with personal function, perhaps plus service, but if we could focus comprehensively on what we can offer we are beginning to be fulfilled.  You are saying that you have to leave the church in order to serve it with this new system.  How are you beginning – apart from presenting this book?

Michael LaBorn: “I am not necessarily saying that we have to leave the church in order to embrace biblical Christianity. But we certainly have to remember what it means to be the church. If the church would corporately turn from its dependence upon controlling traditions and would embrace freedom and intimacy the way it was designed to, I believe we would see an immediate outpouring of God’s power and favor in the body. However, if we will not do that corporately, yes… I think we, as individual believers, need to fight for it. 

History has told us that humanity is fallible. We fail. That is not something we need to be ashamed of. We fail sometimes. But when we do, we need to catch ourselves and change directions. Which is why history is full of reformation and revival within the church.

Revival is not God suddenly choosing to love the world. Revival is the church realizing it has gotten off course and turning back to who she was meant to be. What we experience in seasons of awakening… that is the culture of a healthy church. And it is what we can have if we would just humble ourselves and turn away from our failure to respect God’s sovereignty in the body.

For me, that meant humbling myself and admitting that I had missed the mark. For years, I was the picture of depth. Every church has those handful of people that everyone can point to and say, “Wow, they really love God.” I was one of those people. I had served in almost every ministry of our church. I had the confidence of pastors throughout my city. My number was regularly handed out to young Christians who were hungry to grow deeper in their faith.

I knew in my inner being that I was an example of Christian depth. Then one day, I looked at the Word and God began to speak to me about how far I was from the thing He had made. Months were spent on my face before God, devastated. I questioned my own salvation and repented for the lies I had helped teach the body. I felt so alone and so lost. Not because God had pulled His favour away from me. No, it was the opposite. God had begun to show me just how beautiful the church was meant to be, and it broke by heart that I had spent so many years completely missing it. 

I went to my church and I began to talk about the truth I was finding in the word with one of my pastors. And while he largely agreed with me, the church wasn’t willing to change. But I had seen the light. I couldn’t go back to living a lie. I couldn’t just pull the blinders back on. Now that I knew that freedom existed—now that I knew I was made for intimacy—I had to have it. So, my wife and I took our family and walked away.

 Now, we are actively living in the kind of intimacy and freedom that we have been preaching about. We started the kind of church we saw in the word right in our home and are actively helping others start the same kind of churches everywhere that we can. Additionally, I am writing. There are millions of Christians I will never have the opportunity to share this information with in person, so I am spreading the information as far as I can through social media, books and interviews just like this one.

I truly believe this next season will mark a noticeable growth in the number of American Christians who are unwilling to return to the status quo. I believe we will see an increase in house churches and an increase in men and women of God who walk in the kind of power and favor God always intended for us to.”

Faith Filled Family Magazine: Order = people coming together in harmony and being empowered.  Structure = people coming together in obedience: controlling function.  “It’s time for the church to grow up and let Dad put the bottle down!”  I think you are saying that Paul established and then left his churches, returning later to endorse (anoint) what God was already doing in terms of establishing leaders to protect the church.  

As the apostles had no decreed leader, so they developed their various churches to function as a body.  This is an amazing teaching.  Please talk about the protective role of a pastor.

Michael LaBorn: My wife and I open our home every Sunday night to a gathering of believers. We call it church, but the average American would not picture this when hearing that word. Because our primary objective is not to further our vision, but to love each other and to love Jesus together. 

I don’t serve the body by telling them how to be what I want them to be. I serve them by standing aside and letting them be whoever God made them to be. More often than not, someone brings a question or a thought to the table that launches us into an evening of studying and thinking about the word together in a way I had no way of anticipating.

Maybe someone shares a personal struggle, and the evening is spent with the body coming together to encourage them. Someone has read something in the word that week that they feel we all need to hear, and they spend time teaching us. Maybe someone asks a biblical question that everyone weighs in on. 

I rarely teach… and yet no one is confused about the fact that I am one of the elders in the room. Despite my youth, despite the fact that I rarely teach, despite the freedom everyone has to take charge of the evening, no one struggles to respect the leadership that God has given me. Because, as I have been saying, the gifts come from God. 

That is what biblical leadership looks like. It looks like cultivating an atmosphere where the body can be free and safe. Everyone knows that they are free to search the scriptures for themselves. They know no one will be threatened by them bringing a teaching to the table. They know that they are safe to dive into scary subjects. If we get super off course, there are elder Christians in the room who will guide us back to biblical truth.

Everyone knows that they can share a word of prophecy, or to ask questions, or to express personal struggles… because the goal is not to feed anyone’s ego, but to love each other in the Lord. My job as a leader is to feed that atmosphere. It is to encourage every person who comes to be who God made them to be, to intervene when we get off in our thinking and to put a stop to anything and everything that threatens the freedom and intimacy that God has cultivated here. Not to direct the worship of the body, but to protect the worship of the body.

If America’s Pastors would fight as hard to protect the church’s freedom and intimacy as they do to build their platforms, the American church would walk in the kind of power and love that we were designed to.

Faith Filled Family Magazine: “The law does not have power to define you,” stated amidst a discussion of tithing in modern Christianity’s offerings.  In what other ways might the law be defining Christians today?

Michael LaBorn: “Unfortunately, the American church is living almost entirely under the law. While we do not believe in honouring the feast days or sacrificing animals for our sins, we do measure ourselves by our effectiveness and by our ambition. The only way we can be accepted as mature is if we have achieved something worthy of note. Where the early church believed that our identity developed our behaviour, today’s church lives as if our behaviour determines our identity. 

But there is hope. Tomorrow doesn’t have to look like yesterday. There is still time for us to embrace a world where the price Jesus paid for our freedom was enough. We still have time to accept that when He spilt His blood, we actually became free. That sin no longer has a hold on us. The evidence being used to keep us ashamed and fighting for worth is all fabricated. There is still time for us to become a people who look and think and act like Jesus.”

Faith Filled Family Magazine would like to thank pastor Michael LaBorn for his insights on his new book More than a Number: The Church That Jesus Built. We would also like to thank him for his insights on the Christian church in today’s society. Faith Filled Family Magazine hopes that Michael LaBorn’s new book will inspire many to look deeper into their church community. 

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