What is a First Class Church?
Published on 13 July 2021
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As she glided through the gilded corridors of her palace, she perceived the muted sounds of whispering that suddenly ceased as she came nearer to her servants. Thinking little of it, she continued towards the throne room, only to hear the same sound of whispering coming from her royal dignitaries as they waited for her arrival. With her curiosity now aroused, the Queen of Sheba sat down on her throne and demanded an explanation for all of the whispering around her courts.
At first, no one dared speak up, but as she insisted, a solitary, trembling cupbearer stepped forward to explain:
“Your Majesty, we are discussing the rumours of King Solomon, his great city and the temple he has built to honour his God. It is said that smoke billows from the temple day and night as they sacrifice the best of their livestock continually, and that the fragrance of their worship fills the city streets and pours over the walls.”
“And what else can you report regarding this king?” she asked.
“ Well, it is said that King Solomon can answer any difficult question, resolve any complex quarrel with irrefutable justice and solve any riddle. They are calling him the wisest king on Earth!”
“ His palace is said to be glorious—beyond anything ever before built. Apparently, it was constructed with the free-will offerings of his people and the best of their skills and talents. His subjects report that they are happy and blessed, and serve him with great joy. His household runs with clockwork precision and even his slaves are honoured with royal robes!”
Of course, this is my vivid imagination trying to bring the story of the Queen of Sheba to life, but I don’t think it’s far from what would have happened.
I wonder how she felt as she listened to the rumours and reports of Solomon’s great kingdom that had traversed vast distances to arrive in her hearing that day. Did she feel insecure or threatened by the description of King Solomon and his leadership? Was jealousy aroused in her as her own people marvelled at the wisdom, favour and strength of a rival king? Or was she just a curious person who longed to know the secrets of King Solomon’s success for herself? Whatever she felt, mere rumours of Solomon’s kingdom were enough to motivate a powerful pagan queen to pack up and travel a huge distance, with a huge entourage, at huge personal expense and risk, just to see for herself whether or not the rumours she had heard were true.
While it is true that many will come to our churches in response to a personal invitation, I believe we are coming into an unprecedented era where they will also come, of their own accord, because of a church’s reputation. Despite any personal cost and associated ‘risks’, they will be drawn like moths to the light of God’s Glory resting upon His House! This depends, however, on our willingness to embrace the First Class culture of Heaven in our churches on Earth.
When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her.
Clearly the Queen of Sheba was received by King Solomon with genuinely warm hospitality as he hosted her during her visit. He spent time with her, patiently answering every question she had until she was satisfied. He welcomed her into his home, made her feel accepted, honoured and at ease, gave her a seat at his table and showered her with gifts. Is it any wonder that she opened her heart to him and her eyes to his kingdom, and ultimately, THE Kingdom?
This incredible account is one of my favourites in the Bible. As I have studied it over the years, I have come to realise its vital role in foreshadowing today’s Church and the potential impact it can have on the unbeliever who is drawn into her doors in pursuit of answers to life’s dilemmas and confirmations regarding rumours of what goes on within her walls. Just like Solomon, we have the opportunity to establish the culture of Heaven on Earth in our churches and homes that leaves people absolutely breathless and open to the reality of our God.
Clearly, the way in which the Queen of Sheba was received and treated as a stranger played a vital role in her ability to open her heart to God’s Kingdom in Heaven as represented through Solomon’s kingdom on Earth. Could it be then that a culture of hospitality (or lack of) in a church may just hold the key to an individual’s openness to experience the Kingdom of God and King Jesus Himself? Could it be that we have underestimated the impact of many seemingly insignificant moments of interaction leading up to the presentation of the Gospel, on the individual as they journey towards salvation?
As she was graciously hosted within the walls of the city and palace, this queen saw and experienced many things that were new to her and her reaction was very telling!
When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon, and the house that he had built, and the food of his table, the seating of his servants, the service of his waiters and their attire, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings which he offered at the house of the Lord, she was breathless. Then she said to the king, “It was a true story that I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. But I did not believe the stories until I came and my own eyes saw it all. And behold, the half of it was not reported to me. You have exceeded in wisdom and prosperity the report which I heard. Blessed are your men, and blessed are these servants of yours who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you to put you on the throne of Israel; because the Lord loves Israel forever, He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.”
The things she saw and experienced that day, literally left her breathless, yet they seem so insignificant when listed as matter-of-factly as they are. What was so significant about Solomon’s house, his food, his servants and their clothing, that the mere sight of them would elicit such shock? Well, I can say that every one of these observations holds a treasure trove of revelation when studied in depth, but sadly, discussing them now goes beyond the scope of this article. Instead, these cultures can be explored further in my book entitled, Our Father’s House: Living, Loving and Serving in the First Class Church which includes detailed studies of the critical Kingdom cultures of honour, order, servanthood, excellence, stewardship and sacrifice. I wrote it to inspire Christians to fall in love with the Father’s House and to equip them to find their place serving their King. I also pray that it helps pastors and leaders to activate their congregations to rise and become the effective body, army and family that God intended them to be!
What we know for sure is that the Queen of Sheba found herself unexpectedly immersed in a culture defined by Heavenly qualities, and as such, the experience was profoundly foreign to her and greatly impacting!
The First Class Church that I see is one that practises, protects and upholds the culture of Heaven on Earth.
The Oxford Living Dictionary defines culture as— “The ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people” The effect of a specific culture is most clearly experienced on a large scale when you visit a foreign country, but is no less felt in smaller contexts such as families, friendship groups, workplaces and of course—churches. Culture is driven by the underlying values or ‘rules of the game’, so to speak. These values motivate our behaviour which in turn, establishes culture and creates atmosphere. It is often this atmosphere that we perceive when we enter a new environment, long before we are able to accurately identify and describe it with words.
The Queen of Sheba clearly experienced ‘culture shock’ as she stepped into Solomon’s Kingdom that day. What took her by surprise was much more than the magnificent décor and buildings that graced Solomon’s temple and palace—as breathtaking as they were! What left her equally astonished was witnessing first-hand, the way in which people interacted and communicated with each other, their king and with her—a foreign guest and total stranger. What captured her attention was the manner in which they served and applied themselves to their assigned tasks, the precision and peaceful order with which everything was done, the way people dressed and presented themselves with dignity and honour, how the king treated his officials and servants, and how justice was administered and conflict resolved. She experienced, first-hand, a culture modelled on the Kingdom of Heaven. The values of King Solomon and his God were on display and everyone diligently sought to uphold and protect them in their conduct and behaviour. There was very little evidence of confusion, chaos or disorder—only a visibly peaceful, prosperous and united household enjoying the protection and provision of its king.
What a beautiful picture of the Church of Jesus Christ as we seek to uphold His values, administrate His culture and enjoy His sovereign protection and provision in our lives— individually and corporately! Who wouldn’t be attracted to a taste of Heaven on Earth?
What the Queen of Sheba felt as she watched King Solomon’s household going about its normal ‘business’, so deeply impacted her that she made the following declaration:
How blessed (fortunate, happy) are your men! How blessed are these your servants who stand continually before you, hearing your wisdom!
She attributed the visible happiness, joy and prosperity of the people to a kingdom operating with clearly defined culture and order. No doubt she had never before witnessed such harmony, unity, peace, prosperity and productivity in any other kingdom—least of all her own!
So what kind of culture do people experience when they walk through the doors of our homes, businesses and churches for the very first time, and what does this culture reveal about the values of our King? Is it a culture they are familiar with—one just like the world’s with its tendency towards self-centredness— or is it so unique, captivating and attractive that it draws curious seekers to come and experience it for themselves? Does it taste of the blandness of common life, or does it add such depth of flavour and saltiness that one is eager to taste more?
Being a First Class Church has little to do with having spectacular facilities, gifted musicians and the most talented preachers and creatives—although these are wonderful gifts that come with the favour of God. If these things are all we have but we lack the culture of Heaven—rooted and grounded in love—then the Church is no different to any other well-resourced entertainment or social group. People can experience cutting-edge creativity, talent and ambiance beyond the church walls. What defines us and sets us apart is the manifest presence of Heaven—it’s culture and its King. When seekers encounter Heaven, face-to-face, they WILL be left breathless, captivated and drawn to King Jesus!
The wonderful news is that ANY church that honours King Jesus and seeks to practise His culture and values, WILL impact the world around it. It WILL attract people—even the powerful and influential—to see and taste for themselves what they have heard whispered in the corridors of their workplaces and homes, and reported in the media. In turn, they WILL bring their wealth and use their influence to further the Great Commission. Most importantly, they will have no choice but to attribute the culture that they see and experience to a God they do not yet know—but desperately WANT to know, and like the pagan Queen of Sheba, will inevitably declare:
“Praise the Lord your God, who delights in you and has placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king so you can rule with justice and righteousness.”
It is worth remembering that the modern-day church is not defined by 4 walls and a roof. When King Solomon was building the temple, he insisted that individual stones be sourced from all over the world, shaped and chiselled off-site and then carried in silently to be fitted perfectly into their place in the wall. Each magnificent and unique stone was positioned alongside the next to form the spectacularly beautiful temple walls. Once the walls were in place, God’s manifest Presence and glory (His nature and character on display) filled the space like a thick cloud that overwhelmed the people.
You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
When I first read this account, God began to speak to me about the way He builds His household today. WE are each a living stone that has been sourced and shaped through trial and fire so that we will fit perfectly into the assigned position in the walls of God’s modern-day temple. Each has a unique role and purpose, and has been lovingly and intentionally ‘shaped’ by God to fulfil that purpose. God’s House is a living building and wherever the stones join together in unity, there His Presence and glory are made manifest.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens [outsiders without rights of citizenship], but you are fellow citizens with the saints (God’s people), and are [members] of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the [chief] Cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together, and it continues [to increase] growing into a holy temple in the Lord [a sanctuary dedicated, set apart, and sacred to the presence of the Lord]. In Him [and in fellowship with one another] you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
This tells me that the Queens of Sheba of this world do not even need to come into our church buildings to experience the culture and presence of Heaven. Instead, they can encounter God wherever believers join together in unity to seek, establish and protect Kingdom culture in their lives. Unity and agreement between believers attracts the manifest Presence of God and all of the supernatural power of Heaven. This can happen in our homes, our workplaces, our small groups, amongst friends or on mission! Wherever we reverently and diligently practise Kingdom culture in our lives, people can experience the breathtaking delights of Heaven through us!
So the real question is “What is the culture of the Kingdom of Heaven and how does that look in church life?” W.R. Luchie captured the answer to this question so beautifully when he described a king as— “ The embodiment of his kingdom, representing its glory and nature”. Put simply, to know and understand the culture of any kingdom, you must first seek to know and understand its king.
When we look to the nature of King Jesus—as so beautifully captured in scripture—it doesn’t take long to identify His values. When Jesus is recognised as the undisputed Head of His household, we have no choice but to acknowledge His right to set the culture according to the values of His heart and Kingdom. When we truly love our King, we gladly adopt His values as our own, willingly laying down our right to express our own personal culture in favour of His.
Whenever we are invited into someone’s home, we are confronted with a culture that has been established by the head of that household. The culture will be evident in the way things are done (e.g., holding hands to say grace), the expectations placed on family members and guests (e.g., taking your shoes off at the door), the look and feel of the surroundings, the hospitality shown and the overall atmosphere we experience. It is often easy to ascertain some of the values of the host by simply observing the culture we experience in their home: Is hospitality important to them? Is cleanliness a high priority? Are guests honoured? Do they value generosity? Though we should never make assumptions, we can learn much about a person by immersing ourselves in their culture. Whether or not we enjoy their culture or are comfortable in it, will determine our willingness to return and continue to build relationship. We would be wise to keep this in mind with the culture of our churches. What people experience of our culture WILL reveal our true values!
Although it is normal, even desirable to interact with many different kinds of people with great diversity of personal, racial and family cultures, it can create significant problems in a church family. Issues arise when individual family members of the Body of Christ intentionally or unintentionally seek to establish their own PERSONAL culture in the church setting rather than adopt common Kingdom culture that unites every believer and results in peace and unity. Unity requires us to lay down our personal culture in order to pick up Kingdom culture that represents the values of our King. Culture will either unite or divide God’s household depending on each of our willingness to die to self so that King Jesus can be glorified and His values upheld.
Being a First Class Church that draws the lost and searching is more than seeking to be ‘the best church on the block’ or doing things with excellence. Excellence is important and certainly a defining characteristic of God, but it is the motivation behind our excellence that really counts. Being a person of excellence begins deep in our heart—the place only God can truly penetrate and interpret. It is having a deep desire to give our best effort to every task that our hand finds to do knowing that it is an opportunity to glorify our God.; It is operating with a deep conviction that regardless of who sees or does not see our efforts, we are serving God first and foremost, and He sees and rewards us—and that is enough; It is being aware that as His beloved children, we carry His image and represent Him to a lost world— both a privilege and responsibility; It is in valuing every person equally— because they are precious to God—and choosing to serve them wholeheartedly; and that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is willingly dying to self in order to live for Him.
The Church is the Bride of Christ and He is coming for her very soon. The way that we conduct ourselves, reverently seeking to uphold His values and love and care for each other and the lost, is so very important, as many are watching in the wings to see if the rumours are really true. Just like the Queen of Sheba, our desire must be that their expectations are exceeded in every way when they come into contact with Heaven on Earth—through us.
Clearly it is God Himself who draws people into His House by allowing His glory to be seen, experienced and rumoured about. When all of the preparations have been made—when the musicians have practised their final notes—toilets cleaned and floors mopped—food lovingly prepared—toys sterilised—ushers ready and standing in place, and the doors of the church finally swing open, it should be as if the curtains have been rolled back to reveal the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven and its King for all to see— not a temporary performance, but a genuine display of Kingdom culture that each member of the family seeks to diligently practise, protect and preserve. In those few hours a week when God’s family gather together to worship their King, feast on His Word, fellowship with each other and bring their needs before Him in prayer, it should be as though Heaven and Earth collide and the reality of the earthly kingdom in which we live, fades into powerless insignificance when for a moment, together, we experience HEAVEN.
Believers will carry this Kingdom with them when they leave, spreading its fragrance everywhere and starting the kind of rumours of God’s greatness that will arrest the attention and curiosity of people in every sphere of society. However, for the unbeliever, their visit to church may be the only time they will be able to taste, feel, see and experience Heaven before returning to their earthly reality. That is why it is so critical that we diligently seek, host and protect the culture of Heaven at all times instead of allowing the pervasive, destructive culture of this world to set up camp in the Father’s House. Without the atmosphere of Heaven in our churches, we are destined to become dry places of religion.
Any church, home or business that whole-heartedly seeks to honour, replicate and protect the culture of the Kingdom of God above any other culture, will without doubt, leave any seeker —breathless and desiring more. Like stepping into a warm, cosy house after enduring the relentless and brutal lashings of winter outside, every weary traveller who enters the Father’s House and experiences HIS culture, will want to linger and return to it time and time again, in order to find the restoration, healing and belonging it provides. Ultimately they will want to meet and thank the One who is always watching, waiting and longing to welcome them home.
This is the First Class Church.
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