When The Church Leaves The Building


By David Fredrickson


Chapter 1





The NO TRESPASSING sign was all I needed. Standing in a box canyon at the end of a quarter mile dry creek, staring at a waterfall along with a dozen tourists, was not my idea of adventure. It was about 10:00 in the morning. My wife, Rachel and her friend, Penny would not return to fetch me until early that afternoon. With three hours to kill and no transportation, I decided to make the most of it. The banks of the canyon were overgrown with the lush, green foliage that dominates the landscape in this Hawaiian rain forest. I paused for just a moment to consider the disadvantages of a steep climb through the jungle in my attire, a tank top, shorts and flip flops. A large leather case full of camera equipment dangled from my neck. The sign signaled the challenge, and off I went with the delicious anticipation of an explorer about to encounter the great and dangerous unknown. The terrain grew steeper and the challenge stiffer as I sought footholds and vines to propel and pull myself up the ever-beckoning cliff. Finally, I reached a level area where a narrow path wound its way through mountain apple trees and dense undergrowth. It ended abruptly at a sheer cliff, about 12 feet high. Hanging from the top was a thick rope. Ah! This was good! Hand- over-hand I pulled myself upward while the camera case swung back and forth and bounced off my hips. Scrambling over the top, I could hear the distant roar of cascading water and knew I would soon be at the top of the falls.

It was an awe-inspiring sight. From my lofty perch at the mouth of the falls I stared at the endless expanse of turquoise ocean dwarfing the toy-like buildings of Honolulu far below me. Hidden from my view by another mountain was the leeward side of Oahu where the native Hawaiians lived in stark contrast to the frantic bustle of the city. They would be mending their fishing nets outside of humble dwellings on the hillside. Or perhaps they would be patiently waiting for a catch at the edge of the clear waters while children swam in the warm currents or frolicked on the sandy beach.
I finally tore my gaze from the captivating scenery and turned to survey the trail ahead. My eyes followed the path to a section where it cut into the side of the cliff carved from the mountainside by the raging waterfall. Arriving at that point, my left shoulder brushed against the steep embankment rising from the edge of the two foot wide path beneath my feet. On my right was a sheer drop to the base of the canyon hundreds of feet below.


A Frightening Predicament


I had come this far banking on the presupposition that the trail would lead me around the falls and back down to the floor of the canyon. Having observed during the ascent that the lack of footholds on steep embankments would most likely make it impossible to descend, I assumed that this was a one way trail. What I now saw before me made my heart skip a beat. About four feet of the path was completely gone, washed out, no doubt, by heavy rains. Beyond the washout, the path was hard but surfaced in sand and sloped to the edge of the drop-off at a 20 degree angle. Not a promising landing spot. Panic began to shorten my breath and knot my stomach as I considered the options. Attempting to leap across the missing section of path to land upon the angled, sandy surface would most likely send me plummeting hundreds of feet to my death at the bottom of the falls. Yet I was almost certain that the cliffs I had scaled on the way up provided no way down. Suddenly, the path that had offered such stimulating challenges and delightful vistas seemed to cut me off from my goal while making the potential for retreat costly and dangerous.




The “ministry” path I had traveled over the last 24 years left me in a similar predicament. When first answering the call to “full time” service at 26 years of age, I was full of zeal and vision, anticipating great things ahead. I planned to explore spiritual vistas that were unknown since the days of the early church. I dreamed of leading a company of front- liners from the lowlands of mediocre Christianity to lofty heights where the rarified air had been breathed by the spiritual giants of yesteryear. Each challenge was merely an opportunity to flex my spiritual muscles; each obstacle but a headwind lifting the ministry plane to greater heights.

But after ministering in San Jose, California for 14 years and then in the Sacramento area for the past 10, I realized that the goals and vision I so passionately embraced no longer seemed possible. A decade of zealous preaching, intense discipling, compassionate counseling and creative outreach evangelism had failed to produce an on-fire army of sold out followers of Jesus ready to take the world for Christ. I would often return from ministering overseas with new enthusiasm only to despair at the contrast between the commitment and passion of third world Christians with the apathy and self- centeredness characterizing so many of those I labored amongst at home. Yet after ministering in over a dozen countries, I was forced to admit that even many I worked with in the persecuted church seemed to disappoint my expectations. Sometimes I felt that I was being flattered as a potential source of U.S. dollars. Great emphasis was placed on buildings (except in the underground church of China) and the need for more money. Many seemed overly dependent on the “senior pastor” who “ran” the whole show. The “average Joe” attended meetings hoping to receive a special prayer or touch from the leader, or better yet, from the foreign minister. Often, people would say what they thought I wanted to hear, which would turn out to be opposite of the truth.


Wake-up Call


Back at home the most troubling of all was the lack of love flowing among the members of the body. Day after day I prayed for God’s love to grow and flourish anew in our hearts, yet gossip and backbiting continued. My prayers, sermons and counseling seemed to make little difference. Why didn't God come through?

I will never forget the first time I “lost it” while halfway through a sermon. For weeks I had been reading through Isaiah and Jeremiah. One day I told the Lord that I was not getting anything out of the repetitious account of Israel’s cycle of idolatry, warnings from God and finally, judgment. I couldn’t relate to their gross sins. God’s dealings with them seemed predictable. What was supposed to be learned by these gloomy, redundant passages? Suddenly, the unwelcome truth began to dawn on me as though the beam of a searchlight had penetrated my soul.

It seemed that the Holy Spirit was bringing to mind my own self- centeredness. It became painfully clear how often I had indulged my own desires without considering what Father's might be. I had often dictated my own schedule rather than choosing to take His hand and letting Him lead me through each day. I was blind to the self-love and hidden agendas that I had designed to protect my image and thus "save my life.” Self was my idol. I remembered that God had called Israel the “apple of his eye.” If he had spoken such things to them, why would he not address me just as severely?
Humbled, I began to confess my sin as the Holy Spirit brought conviction and worked to bring me to a place of repentance. In my arrogance, I thought that because I had quit watching TV, did not attend movies, and tried to keep myself from any other “contaminants,” I was above such indictments.


Gently, the Holy Spirit revealed my self righteousness and desperate need for God’s grace. I was reminded of Jesus' words when on one occasion He condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. "You clean the outside of the cup and dish," He said, "but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean." It seemed that the higher I raised the standard for myself and for others, the more critical and unloving I became. I had mistaken my own concept of “right doing” for the righteousness that can only come from the faith of Christ who has already finished the work. I had used my will power to clean up the outside while my heart remained proud and selfish. It began to dawn on me that the many hours I had spent in prayer and Bible study, the strict disciplines I adhered to, and the “sacrifices” I had made to serve God were all dead works without love. And love was not something I could produce. I could only ask Father, by His grace, to change my heart.

After a season of repentance and reflection, I sensed the Holy Spirit beginning to draw my focus away from my own condition to that of those I ministered to. Once more, the severe words God had spoken to Israel and had now applied to my own life were brought to mind. I could not shake the strong impression that God was asking me to share this same message to the congregation I addressed every Sunday. This was a chilling thought. I had never heard any preacher deliver such harsh sounding words to a congregation of well-meaning people. As the days went by, I found myself heavily burdened for the church at large. It seemed as though the Holy Spirit was groaning and weeping through me over the condition of the bride of Christ.


Revival at Last?


It was on a Sunday morning at the Seventh Day Adventist facility we rented in downtown San Jose, California. I was about a fourth of the way through a message on the prayer the Lord taught to His disciples when the Holy Spirit interrupted my lecture. My mind was suddenly occupied with one thought. It was almost as though I could hear him say: “This will not cause them to pray. Why don’t you share the burden I’ve given you?”

Instantly, I was nearly overcome with passion. Words began to spill out of my mouth in a torrent as scripture after scripture was delivered word for word from Isaiah and Jeremiah, verses I had never memorized.

“I hate your new moon festivals and appointed feasts, they have become a burden to draw near with your lips, but your heart is far from Me. For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns --broken cisterns that can hold no water.” And on and on! I had never spoken with such vehemence, yet felt no personal anger toward the people. Finally, the scripture found in Revelation 3:14 - 22: “Because you are neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, I will spit you out of My mouth...He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

With that last scripture I threw my Bible down on the pulpit, fell to my knees and began to sob uncontrollably. People began to weep and confess their sins. For two hours the deep conviction of the Spirit seemed to alternate with almost hilarious joy as many wept, laughed, or cried out to God. Later, as Rachel and I drove through the downtown streets on our way home, the common sight of a homeless person brought me to tears again. I was certain that this was the beginning of revival. At 35 years old I had witnessed some powerful works of the Spirit and had suffered little disillusionment; surely God was about to move in an extraordinary way!


An Invisible Barrier


Yet sadly, within a week, everything returned to normal. Though I now preached with greater zeal, boldness and freedom, the Word seemed to have little impact on most of the congregation. Though we shared the love of Christ from door to door and ministered to the homeless poor, the revival I prayed for every day never came.

Finally, we merged our fellowship with a larger congregation with which we had a long-standing relationship. We hoped that the strength springing from unity would surpass the combined results of our individual efforts. Soon after, Rachel and I were sent north to “plant” a church in the Sacramento area. We renewed our hopes that God would do a “new thing” in the new work we began. Yet scores of “break-out” meetings, powerful prophecies, prayer vigils, fasts, cairos moments, impartations, deliverances, evangelistic, apostolic, prophetic and pathetic conferences passed, and 10 years later I was still asking the same question: Where are we missing it?

I do not want to seem ungrateful for the many wonderful things that God has done in the past. Yes, I have seen lives transformed with miraculous healings and supernatural interventions. I have witnessed seemingly impossible doors opened and numerous prophetic revelations. Yet these have been mercy drops compared to the “normal” Christian life we read about in the scriptures. And something else became increasingly disturbing. Most of the people I considered to be in my care seemed to reach a certain level of maturity and then stop growing. I was convinced that God had equipped us with every tool necessary to grow a called individual from new convert to disciple-maker. But the frustrating reality was that even the most “advanced” leaders seemed to be crippled by a pattern of false starts, failure and ensuing guilt. I had taxed every resource within and without, striving through counseling, discipleship groups and prayer vigils to make sure we were rooted and grounded in love as well as in the Word. I had labored to enable each member to discover their gifting and to provide venues in which to practice them. Still, our dreams and goals remained unfulfilled. It seemed as though neither our best efforts nor even outpourings from above were able to break the invisible barrier keeping us from victory.


Disturbing Illusion


Equally unsettling was the illusion most of the congregation seemed to have about me. I did my best to adopt an equipping and coaching role, staying in the background until it was “preaching time,” while encouraging them to step out in their gifts. I tried to be transparent from the pulpit and on a one- to -one basis. My goal was to see them excel in their “spiritual exploits” beyond anything I had achieved. Yet somehow they saw me as being categorically different than themselves. I was special, in a class by myself. I was to be treated differently, expected to know everything and was perceived as living a standard they felt they could never achieve. After all, I was the Pastor.

Disillusionment is a dirty word among those whose very self- worth is wrapped up in perceived success and the ability to display an optimistic attitude and shining example for all to follow. Yet I am convinced that the Holy Spirit revealed the sad truth that I was living an illusion.

I had labored under the illusion that we were a ministry founded and built on relationship. My preaching, discipleship and counseling emphasized intimacy with Christ and love for one another. I believed that out of that characteristic would flow the power of the Spirit, resulting in the realization of all that the church was to be. Yet I was blind to the obstacles that I, myself, had put in the way of pure relationship as Father had designed it to be.


Desperate for Change

This revelation sowed seeds of desperation deep within me. Undoubtedly, there had been seasons during which God had begun a cleansing work in my own life and had touched the congregation in a significant way. Yet it was clear that a radical transformation must take place, and I was unwilling to go on without it. But I was out of fresh ideas and wary of counsel that spoke contrary to my convictions. I was on the edge of a cliff with no place to go and without a trick left in my bag. Yet Father's purpose was to lead me and those I walk with on a challenging and exciting journey toward discovering a more excellent way. The following pages are intended to chronicle the portion of that journey that has been traveled at this writing. Perhaps some of the discoveries we have made along the way will bring new freedom to you as they have to me and others.