Due to my move on August 16, I am spending a lot of time around boxes. I’ve developed an interest I never had before in box sizes and their capacity to hold certain weights and objects. Boxes full of books need to be smaller than boxes full of clothes, because books weigh more than clothes. Loose shoes fit nicely in a big box. Jewelry needs very small boxes. Kitchen items require larger boxes with papers between glass items. I’m spending hours arranging items in boxes to maximize space and time, and reduce the odds that the box will break in transit.
Eventually I will get to my new apartment and unpack all the stuff. All the things that were neatly placed in a box will be taken out of their boxes and assembled for use. In the process, I’ll take out things I haven’t used in awhile and find new use for some of those items. Some things that have been used for awhile may take a back seat. Other things unused will finally be used. The catch, however, is that I need to take things out of the box for them to be useful. While a box is useful for transport and for moving items for one place to another…things have no purpose nor useful function in a box. Even though those things may seem well-adjusted and comfortable in their boxes, they cannot accomplish anything while they are in there.
Tonight while at a service, God began to reveal to me about the boxes the church has created for itself. Truth be told, the last thing I wanted to talk about with God was boxes, especially after tripping on a rather good-sized one today. As God began to speak, however, what He said really resonated with me. In today’s church situation, we find a variety of boxes that are used to contain the people and, ultimately, the flow of the Spirit.
There’s the Big Box: the box that is large in size, and can hold many, many people. Because it’s a big box, people pay a lot of attention to it. People come from far and wide to cram into the big box, simply because it’s well-known for its size. The big box is into numbers. The big box wants to be noticed. It doesn’t matter if people are truly reached or discipled; they just want people to show up, follow their ministries, watch them when they are on television.
The problem with the big box is that is can quickly be misjudged because of its size. People think they can keep adding and adding to it, with no consideration to its weight. When the box gets too heavy due to too many followers, too much pride or arrogance, or lack of substance, the box collapses on itself and breaks. Just as quickly as people flocked to the big box, suddenly…they all now go looking for another big box to fit into.
There’s the Small Box: It is so small, it operates by a tight system of conformity and constraint. Only so many can fit into the box, those in the small box have no room nor desire for evangelism. They want to stay on their own, observing the rules and legalistic conformities to which they adhere.
The problems with the small boxes are obvious: there is no room for outreach, there is a high risk of judgment and legalism, and the people in the small box are so used to tight crowdedness, they are used to having people micro-inspect and gossip about each other. There is no room for spiritual growth in a small box.
There’s the Box With a Lid: A box with a lid doesn’t hold people who are covered, it holds people who are stifled. Any expressions, ideas, gifts they may have are quickly snuffed out with the lid. They are spiritually oppressed and depressed. In such a state, they are easily handled, manipulated, carried here and there by various winds of doctrine, and neatly pressed into the image of their stifling and controlling leadership.
People in the box with the lid are smothered into non-existence. They are void of spirituality, but don’t know it. They think they are following the right way, even though God’s still, small voice in their lives lets them know something’s wrong. Being so used to smothering…when it comes to God’s voice…they put a lid on it.
There’s the Box With a Hole in the Bottom: Have you ever seen boxes with a big hole in the bottom? They are usually for big objects that are boxed, kind of like providing storage for a box within a box. They seem to do well for what they are used for, but they don’t serve any other purpose. Those churches that fit this description seem to do well for the things we associate with “church:” They may have great Sunday services, a good worship team, and a children’s program that brings people in from all over, but when it comes down to it…they don’t serve much else of a purpose. They aren’t effective in their communities. They don’t offer teaching that changes people’s lives. They look the part, sound the part…but in the end…they have a big hole by which people quickly fall out.
Boxes Labeled Due to Content – “Fragile.” “Explosives Inside.” “Open Other End.” “Postage Due.” “Priority Mail.” “Book Rate.” “Parcel Post.” It’s amazing how we judge a box by the writing we may find on the outside of it. Something marked “Fragile” may make us think we’ve found quite a find, while “Explosives Inside” may make us run for our lives. Churches labeled for content are billed with current trends and fads of the day, hoping people will judge and assess them with their current trends. Whether those trends are “Seeker Friendly,” “Emerging Church,” or, “Mega Church,” these churches have an identity crisis: they have no idea what they themselves actually are. This means they can’t effectively help anyone else.
It’s probably safe to say that the church has a “box” problem. Instead of being the storehouse for God, the church just looks like a big, huge warehouse. People who are often well-intentioned, but very misled, flock to different types of boxes to fit in with other people and blend in, just like the rest of them. One could easily get discouraged realizing the church has created conformity in boxes, and confinement in thinking, potential, and spiritual growth. Even in this realization, God provided the answer, the hope:
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19, NIV)
I think it’s interesting the Word refers to the ways of our ancestors as “the empty way of life.” A box, any box, in which we place our things or ultimately ourselves is “empty” in and of itself. There’s nothing in a box by itself that gives it substance. No matter what we try to stuff in it, a box is a box is a box. The only things that differentiate boxes are their size and what they contain. In paralleling the teaching God gave to me tonight, the various boxes we are using to contain the populaces of churches are empty. There is nothing to them if we truly evaluate them for their own merits. That means it’s time for a long, hard, pause and a powerful change. We must look to Christ, Whose purpose and presence is without blemish or defect – a better, more perfect, more powerful way.
The word “church” is from a Greek word, “ecclesia.” The word “ecclesia” literally means “called out.” God calls us to “come out” of the emptiness we are so often drawn to and embracing down the ages. If we are to rightly be what it means to be church, we need to come out of the box!!!! We need to be a different people, noted by different things and embracing the differences that lead to life instead of simply setting up house in a box that has been established to withhold instead of assist in growth. The longer God’s people stay in the box, the more ineffective they will be.
Are you in the box? Do you stifle what God has placed within you because you want to “fit in” with other people in the box? Do you sit back and refuse to speak out because it will mean the people of the box will censor you? Do you live in fear that you’ll get kicked out of the box? It’s time to rise up and step out of the box so you can resume productivity and function in Kingdom work. You can’t keep a good believer in the box, because God established His Kingdom, not a boxdom. Over time, we simply will reach a point where we just won’t fit in it any longer.
(c) 2013 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.