My recent trip to Brazil allowed me to draw some comparisons between the behavior of some believers there and some here in the U.S. I know, comparing is almost always a dangerous proposition and in this case even more so because the sampling is so small, so take my comparisons here with a grain of salt.

I am not going to suggest that churches in Brazil are perfect. There is no such a thing. And I am not as studied on the trends of Christianity in Brazil as I am here in the U.S. where the decline in the number of people who call themselves “Christians” is now a fact. We have also heard of the percentage of young people leaving the Church and that the population of the so-called “nones” (people who don’t identify with any particular religion) has doubled over just a decade. But these are only symptoms of a much larger problem, as we shall see shortly.

But before we go too far, let me clarify what I mean by “Church.” This word can refer to the universal bride of Christ – that invisible throng that is being gathered from around the world to be presented without blemish or wrinkle to the Father at the end of times. There is nothing wrong with that “Church.”

“Church” also refers to a local body of believers gathered in a specific place for a specific purpose, whether in a huge building, a home or a coffee house. That is what most people mean when they say “Church.” In this sense the word was not even “Christian” when it was first used – it was simply an assembly, a group of people summoned for a purpose. This aspect of “Church” is in crisis today.

There is another meaning for the word “Church,” i.e., the individuals who make up either the universal or the local body of believers. In this sense, it is customary to say that “Church” is not an organization, it is an organism. And here there are problems, starting with the fact that many people who are members of this “Church” may not even see themselves in that light. They are looking for “Church” outside of themselves, when in reality it is beating within their own heart. But that is not all.

There is trouble brewing on the “Church” front, the people and the gathering that is. But perhaps the foundational one is this: people lost the sense of hearing directly from God. Christians claim to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, yet on a daily basis there seems to be no direct line of communication between them and the Spirit. And when the Spirit is MIA, the Church is AWOL.

Growing used to not hearing from God on a regular basis has made us dependent on the voices of others, whether a preacher or a popular author. Christians by and large have forgotten how to think for themselves with a mind that is guided by the Spirit. They don’t know how to be self-feeders of the Word and are always looking for permission from someone else to tell them what to do, preferably in a step-by-step manual with a video option that delivers the message in 45 seconds.

I look at Paul’s letter to the Colossians and I see a completely different picture. At the moment, the Colossians were without a pastor. The man who had started the church (and possibly the ones in Laodicea and Hierapolis as well) was with Paul in Rome. Yet, the church was continuing to meet in several homes. Paul mentions by name several people who were hosting small gatherings of believers in their homes. There was no central authority present yet Paul is instructing them to “admonish one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” He is telling them to live their Christian life in communities. He even instructs them to read his letter and then read the one he had sent to the believers in Laodicea. In essence, he is saying that they need to be in charge of their own spiritual growth. That is how the early church flourished. There was a high expectation that in the shared experience of community God would speak.

Before we jump to conclusions, let me assure you that Paul and Epaphras did have an important role to play. But they were prayer warriors and spiritual advisors, which is what a shepherd does first and foremost. The fact that Paul was writing letters and encouraging people to read them speaks clearly of the role of the pastor as someone who guides the sheep in a journey of self-discovery. He is teaching them truth but He is not spoon-feeding it to them.

In my brief time in Brazil I met Christians who are in the habit of opening their homes to reach unbelieving children in their neighborhood. One couple even skips church on some Sundays so they can invite not only the children but also the parents (mostly single moms in a very troubled neighborhood) to their house. As a result, they are reaching people for Christ.

One couple refused to move to a posh side of town because they would be leaving behind the work they had started with the people in their neighborhood. They open their home every Saturday and upwards of 25 kids come. The kids get help with school, play sports, eat, and hang out with a real family where the love of Christ is pervasive. On Sundays, they haul 15-20 children to Sunday school in two small cars.

One person shared with me how she shared Christ with some kids while she awaited the results of tests during an emergency room visit. Later on she looked and the kids were sharing the same thing with their mom. (It did help that the mom was a friend!).

A female, single, high school teacher in a remote town started teaching Bible in her public school and now teaches 150 students. She is also leading Bible studies with 8 families in that town.

Now, who do you think told those people to start doing all these things? The answer might be more complex than this, but ultimately I believe it is this: THEY HEARD FROM GOD. They allowed God to speak into their hearing then they simply obeyed.

Could this also happen to you? I would like to challenge you to do whatever it takes to hear from God. Here are some steps (video to follow :): a) Learn to do community with other believers; b) Spend time in His Word; c) Pray earnestly; d) Don’t stop until you hear something specific from God speaking to your heart; e) When you hear it, don’t hesitate, not even for a second: Go and do it!

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA