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The Fig Tree Has No Figs

by Chip Brogden
A growing number of people have come to the conclusion that the social benefits of going to church can no longer compensate for the lack of spiritual life.

“And seeing a fig tree by the road, [Jesus] came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, ‘Let no fruit grow on you ever again.’ Immediately the fig tree withered away” (Mt. 21:19).

People are tired of going to fig trees that promise fruit, but offer a hungry person nothing but leaves to eat. They’ve been eating leaves or chewing on bark, but there is no fruit, no sustenance, no nourishment. One day they wake up and say, “No more.  Whatever this place used to mean to me, whatever purpose it used to serve in my life, this place no longer represents the Lord Jesus.  I can’t fully explain it, and I don’t completely understand why or how, but the religion of church is hindering my relationship with the Lord and it is time for me to leave.”

You do find two groups of believers in the Book of Revelation who were doing well, who received no rebuke, only praise from the Lord; only two out of seven that He expressed satisfaction with.  Before you begin to think that your church is one that Jesus is satisfied with, let me tell you one thing both these had in common: both of them were suffering persecution.  Isn’t it interesting how persecution has a way of re-arranging your priorities?  Isn’t it amazing how the only two that Jesus was completely satisfied with were the two that were going through deep affliction and persecution? Persecution brings adjustment. It brings a sense of eternal purpose.

I had a ministry to burned out pastors when I was still working for a denomination. What a great ministry; there’s never any lack of burned out pastors. I would take over their pulpit for one or two Sundays and give them a break so they could take some time off, spend time with their families, go get counseling, or do whatever they needed to do but couldn’t take time to do because they were so consumed with running their church. That opened my eyes to a lot of things.

I remember getting a call from a pastor of a medium-sized church, and he wanted to take me to dinner. I agreed to meet him because I was flattered, and I was really looking forward to it because he was someone I considered “successful.” His church was growing, they had a nice building, he drove a nice car and had nice clothes. I was struggling with all those things so this man was someone I kind of looked up to. I was hoping I could get some words of wisdom or some ideas that would help me become as successful as he was.

So we met for dinner and things are going well. He seems friendly and I am just on the verge of asking him, “What is the secret to your success?” The words were on the tip of my tongue, and then this pastor broke down right in front me. His personal life was a mess, his church was a mess, and he wanted me to take over his services for a couple of weeks so he and his wife could take some time off and put their marriage back together. I nodded and listened but inside I was thinking, “My God! Here I am looking to this man as an example of success, and he is a nervous wreck.” And that meeting taught me something.  I learned not to judge success by the outward appearance of things. I saw that pastors are just as clueless as anyone else, but they have to convince themselves and everyone around them that they really have it all together.  Most of the time they do not, and you can only be a hypocrite for so long before the whole things takes its toll on you.

I like to teach, and I have a heart for pastors.  If it were up to me I would probably be working with burned out pastors. But God had something else in mind. “Leave them alone, Chip – they are blind leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind, they will both fall in the ditch.” And God showed me that until a blind leader falls into a ditch, they cannot be healed.  He can’t have his eyes opened until he realizes he is blind and has no business trying to lead others. My efforts to help them by taking over their pulpit for a week or two was like treating cancer with a band-aid.

Pastors aren’t bad people. Pastors, for the most part, are good people who become trapped in a bad system. It’s the religious system that is at fault. Yet this religious system was created by people – well-intentioned, good-hearted people who thought they were doing something for God. And now this thing called “Churchianity” has become a monster, a grotesque creation of our own hands, and now we can’t control it; IT controls us. It masters us, all the while tricking us into thinking that when we serve IT then we are serving God. The work of the Lord becomes more important than the Lord of the Work.

How far we have fallen from the days when people could look at disciples of Jesus and would notice that they had been with Him. They had been with Jesus. Now we look at religious folk dressed up and going out to eat lunch on Sunday and all we can say of them is that they have been to church.

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23 Comments

  1. Sally Packer

    Dear Chip,

    This is a very pressing problem – what is the answer? Do we all leave church and then what? At least by coming we have a place where those who don’t know the Lord can come and learn of Him and can commit their lives to Him and wait upon Him until the crooked paths are made straight. You see Chip I was in a dreadful place in the mid-eighties. I wandered into the church where I am still a member, and I never left and in that time the Lord has put my life together so I can bear it and cope. I am still a work in progress, but I dread to think what would have happened to me if I hadn’t wandered into Mount Zion Family Life Centre. There have been many ups and downs, and the place is by no means perfect, and there are times I ponder about leaving, but I have no peace either way. My husband is a relatively new believer and needs the input of Churchianity to get him going, just as I needed it 20 years ago. Whenever I think about these things, I then think of all those who aren’t believers yet, and poor though this system may be, at least there is a place for those who don’t know the Lord to come and learn of Him, and help for them in their time of need. But I agree, the Laodicean Church is the church of complacency and we have to be aware and fight against that with all our might.

    Reply
  2. Darryl Reinsel

    I agree! Seems the modern church is more concern about form than function. The apostate church no longer teaches the Word, but functions to please goats.
    1. Making people (goats) feel comfortable in their sin.
    2. Redefining faith to mental assent instead of Jesus being Lord today.
    3. Redefining Grace as an excuse not to obey Jesus.
    4. Defining Obedience to Jesus’ commands as legalism.
    5. Teaching a False Grace Gospel.
    Yes the modern “church” has fallen.

    ~The greatest danger in the church today is calling people “Christians” who are not.~

    Reply
  3. Crystal Whitfield

    Now CHIP, this one REALLY BLESSED me. This is the BOMB.

    Reply
  4. eve

    church used to be a few people gathered together to worship the Lord to teach from his word and to share examples of what He is doing in your life, a place of personal encouragement, in this it was natural to help others in need in the community all week and so the love of God spread

    today church is run like a business, get numbers of bottoms on seats, get them tithing to support the church, teach them to work for the church, leaders are stressed, people expect the leaders to give them all they need … the problem is we the people are supposed to be holy priests who worship the Lord in our lives every day not just on sunday, so leaders burn out trying to please the people or there denominational values and in this the Lord is forgotten

    i am a church goer but i am also an outside church person too for if i feel lead to go or do something else on a sunday then that is what i do…but it is like that for me all week not just on a sunday morning… today i visited a new church with my family, we were invited by friends so we went, and i found myself praying for a lady that needed something from me…. how to rest encouragement… having MS meant the Lord used me to help her and in turn she prayed for me… a mutual blessing as we did the Lords work

    church is not the way to find salvation, a relationship with Jesus is the ONLY way to find salvation

    church was good today and the Holy Spirit directed the service… church like that today is rare indeed

    be with Jesus, seek his face whether you are in church or outside of church… when you seek Him do as he leads in church or outside of church

    churchianity is not good…if Jesus is not Lord of that church there is no point in you attending it however friendly it is.

    IT’S ALL ABOUT JESUS AT THE END OF THE DAY, NOT YOUR NEEDS BUT HIS DESIRES TO BE HONOURED AND WORSHIPPED. JESUS IS LORD. 🙂

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  5. Its me

    it is so true Chip, hot happening globally. I went to church this morning and heard wise words. no major church, no earthly wealth but our love for Jesus Real King. Tuesday we get an earthly king who does not know the True King, but the mammon.ik writing this with the translation of google.

    I am your sister,

    Carla

    Reply
  6. Susan

    God bless you for stepping out to follow Christ Jesus and for sharing this excerpt of your journey. It expresses how the Spirit of God began stirring my heart back in 2007 to give me to courage to say “no more”.
    In April of 1977, while sitting on the beach one night crying out to Jesus Christ to help me, He came – answered my cry and I surrendered my life to Him. In those early days I sat at His feet learning of Him ~ His gentle and humble heart. He became my resting place.
    Then I was instructed to get established in a local church and learn “how to” live this new life.
    So, I began serving “it” assuming I was serving Him … which over time subtly placed me into a spiritual coma, until the summer of 2007 when Jesus kissed me with His Truth and awakened me to His Love. Following Him was all that mattered. I left the place that was safe and familiar to a place called “there”. The only problem – “there” had no blueprint or address.
    I just downloaded ‘The Church in the Wilderness’, and look forward to reading. The title alone confirms where I’ve lived the past 5 1/2 yrs.

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  7. Linda

    Chip,
    I have had some interesting experiences with church attendance. When I began in earnest to seek out the Lord and the body of Christ, I attended this one large church (beginnings of which were in the 60’s). Loved the teachings and music, but found it hard to gather with others in the Lord outside the walls. As I struggled with this along with other issues, was told by some that it took them over 5 years to establish a relationship with any brethren outside of church! I also noticed that there was a clique surrounding the pastor, which included staff and those ‘lucky’ enough to be accepted into that inner circle. This was not how I perceived the true Ecclesia of the Bible. This pastor had a saying about those who went from one church to another: that the problem was with them, not the church. I did leave and struggled with a bit of guilt in doing so. But resumed being taught by God, who nullified my guilt.

    After 3 years, really wanted fellowship to share things of the Lord and so went to another large church (also had beginnings in the 60’s movement). I found a couple of friends right away and found everyone very friendly. But eventually realized a few things. I listened to some around me during service declare that if the pastor were to leave, so would they. If I corrected their motive, they backtracked. We had to vote for members of the board every so often. Part of the instructions were to vote for the person who best exemplifies godly values etc. I asked, “What if I do not know any of these people?” I was instructed to vote for whoever was running anyway (there was limited choice, usually those already on the board or someone running to take the place of one who left). I and many others were manipulated into becoming a teacher for the children’s sabbath school (they needed two people for each room and so needed some 200 or so teachers and in order to fulfill this every year, they kindly coerced folks into it). I am partially deaf and can not understand children speak. Yet, I was constantly being pushed by those in charge to teach rather than be a helper.

    At one point after a service, I walked by the pastor and stopped in front of him as he had a dark countenance on his face, as he stared out at the Pacific ocean a mile away. I asked him what the problem was. He said in so many words that the people in the church were not becoming mature and I guess he felt the pressure of being the one and only. This prompted such declarations during meetings where he would mention that a brother had approached him the week before to ask if the church/pastor could help start a ministry to do…. to which the pastor replied, “It is your idea, you run the ministry …”
    All this and the fact that people boasted about all the years they were there, teaching children, doing this and that (they have some 20 or more ministeries) etc and breaking rules set up by the church, not to mention coercing the poor to attend services if they wanted free food from the pantry wore on me. But most of all, it was the absence of the Holy Spirit in all this. So much of what I did experience was ministry by man, not the Holy Spirit. I don’t think this pastor yet understands that he is one of the main causes for the immaturity of the flock.

    I resigned the children’s ministry and wrote the pastor I would not be back because of what I had experienced. I received a short reply “Linda, try not to judge us so harshly”. I have written him a few letters since regarding what I have learned and experienced in the Lord, but no response received. Father once again had to empty me of some guilt. But His teaching since leaving this church has been glorious! I do, however, still miss fellowship. I have yet to find anyone near here who craves the Lord sans churchianity.

    You can not fix what is going on in churchianity today. Only the Holy Spirit can chance such conditions. As the Bible says, if you can not make any headway in the outer court, press into the inner court, fully submit to the Lord and let him use you to fulfill God’s purpose. Nothing less is going to work.

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  8. Karen Brandt

    I have other concerns as well. It bothers me that the vast majority of churches are non-profit (business) corporations, submitting themselves to a government that is more and more hostile to Biblical faith, and basing strategies of winning people on consumerism. The bottom line is money. Along another vein, I am interested in being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Disciples were imitators of the Master, even down to voice inflection. That’s why they were so easily recognized. Churches offer nothing in terms of discipleship, and they keep holy days gleaned from paganism, rather than the feasts that it is known that Jesus kept, including Hannukah (John 10:22). Then I ask about tithe and the New Testament. Pastors in the churches I’ve visited do not like my questions. Then generally, they go the other way when they see me coming… Of course I quit chuch. I read my Bible. Seriously.

    Reply
  9. kenneth dawson

    a very good post-so true-I read the book and loved it-im living here in Tulsa,ok and I went to a church recently,put in a contact card,then stopped going to see if they would check up on me–never heard from them-its ironic that their church was for those who have given up on church.

    Reply
  10. Clif

    As of 21 April 2013 I have resigned from Religion. I no longer want to be identified with ‘Christianity’, and do not see why I should accept a name ‘ Christian’, that the world gave or a religion that Rome imposed. I am free, and called out from the leaven of the Pharisee’s and the leaven of Herod and the d false worship of Bethel and Gigal.
    I shall endevour, by His grace, to live and to be known as a follower of ‘ Jesus of Nazereth’ and Him alone.
    That is a decision I made when I said that I wanted to folow HIM. Religion very much clouded the issue but now I remember it is Christ and Christ Crucified, no need to add on.

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  11. John

    Thanks Chip for this,
    Just few things I want to say and it’s a usual quotes I’ve been given for many years. “Christians are settlers” “The disciples are those Journeying with Christ”. “We are not called to be Christians rather we are called to be Disciples”. The former has it roots in “Romanism” the Later in “Christ”. Go and make disciples not go and make Christians!!
    This is one reason you can separate a man that call himself christian from his denomination. And in this day, God is on a mission of restoring all thing into Christ, whatever men has taught for many years to keep God’s Disciples under the radar of their “systems” cannot and will not sustain them this time around, for the trumpets is already sounding..”He that is a thirst, come. He that is hungry, come” is the cry of the Spirit. I’m glad to be one and I’m glad you are also part of this.
    Blessing!

    Reply
    • Eve-Loraine

      I like the word disciple. I have been uncomfortable with the word Christian for a long time and tend to describe myself as a follower of Jesus but disciple is much more meaningful. Hopefully I will remember to use that in future
      In reading all the posts I am so grateful that Jesus told me to leave the church 20 years ago. I don’t know why I am so privileged when I read of people struggling along in a church. I think the church was corrupted when Christianity was legalised and Jesus never intended us to meet in this way.
      It is much easier to relate to non believers when I am not trying to get them to join a club.

      Reply
  12. Marlon

    Chip, thanks for these insightful words.

    You very eloquently describe how I have been feeling over the past several months. But not only that. You also ‘hit the nail squarely on the head’ when you described the reason for my feelings. I just hope I can find my way unto the narrow path which leads to life.

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  13. Kat

    This is so true.

    I went to this church in my hometown for 10 years. In the early years, the church was the center of my life. Everything I did, everyone I knew revolved around it. I was your typical church-brat. Then my father’s sinful life and lustful ways were revealed, and the pastor of that church advised my mother to separate from him (because of the abuse). She did, but he turned his back on her and she lost her job as the church secretary. We were shunned, after 10 years of being devoted to the church. After a month or so we left, and I slowly drifted away from Christianity. I stopped attending churches all together, stopped praying and started only hanging out with my non-Christian friends. I had already had a hard heart to begin with, but the facade of “following Christ” that the church had presented me had only made me FEEL like a Christian for a while. Once I was outside the church, I didn’t even think twice about God.

    Eventually I became a true believer, this past year. But I think the disillusionment that I went through is typical of those raised in these types of churches.

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  14. Nan Cameron

    Amen. Yes! Got it in one! This is why my family left the established church. Our then 17 year old son telling us he got more out of his daily devotional than church sealed the fate of our church membership. Since then we have become so much closer to Jesus. Our membership in a church was definitely hindering our spiritual growth. I see it continuing in that church and it is so frustrating, especially when new Christians come to that church looking for growth.

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  15. Frank

    Chip, another GREAT message.
    Thanks for your insight.
    I can proudly call you my mentor.

    Reply
  16. Brian Mines

    Chip,
    The Holy Spirit got me to go back to my former church a month or so ago, just for one day, and I didn’t want to go – but I did go in obedience.
    It was like I must have needed another shot of the vaccine against this deadly virus.
    It was such a shock.
    It was an experience of darkness and control.
    Church had become worse in the year that I had been away from it.
    The extra shot of the vaccine did its job really well.
    Best regards.
    Brian.

    Reply
  17. Garry Ballard

    Yes Eve-Loraine, I too have difficulty with saying I’m a Christian. I usually say I’m a believer which I’m not entirely happy with either. I haven’t used the term disciple but might try it.

    Reply
  18. Rolando J. Torres

    …thanks for sharing your experiences sir…

    Reply
  19. Brenda Brown

    Hi Chip,
    My Daddy used to have a saying (his having lived in WWII era):
    “I’m not like the Japanese. I know when I’m whipped!” No disrespect meant to the the Japanese: Christ died for all.

    This just describes the way I felt right before I left the church system…I had fought and fought to prove church was the only path for living victoriously over sin..
    I defended it.
    I held on to it.
    I criticized others for not attending.
    I learned the hard way that I had to “surrender” in order to survive…
    I was finally “whipped” by churchianity….I left while there
    was something of Life left in me…My husband and I have never returned or regretted it…

    We don’t “want” to be lonely.
    We don’t “want” to be misunderstood and rejected as “backslidden heathens”. (We live in the Bible Belt)…

    Church, as we had came to know it, was hindering us and others from Spiritual growth and the relationship we desperately needed with Christ…It was also keeping us from needed family time…
    Our son was growing up, and we had left him to others in church to teach and train him up in the Lord…how blind and dumb was that…
    Just look around and see what is happening to our families in the church system…startling statistics…

    Jesus is enough! I’ve tried and proven it in my life…He expects so little of us compared with the “busy-ness” of the outer court ministry of religion…

    I’m a fish in a much smaller pond now, but come on in; the water’s fine!! There’s lots of room over here in this pond…not crowded at all:)
    Brenda Brown

    Reply
  20. Timothy

    We can all complain of the faults and weaknesses, “till the cows come home”, of the current religious system of most all Denominational Churches. We can also complain about Cults and Schisms in the Christian Church. We can complain about former Pastors, Music Directors, Board Members, etc. WHAT IS CURRENTLY HAPPENING WITH YOU IS WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD! Here is your opportunity to be an intercessor; to lead others to see how your own “relationship” towards Jesus Christ truly matters. I recently prayed for healing of an 8 year old Indian boy in Intensive Care (critical condition) on life support. Amazingly, God has healed him, and he is now at home with his mother! PRAISE GOD! It isn’t WHO or WHAT we are; as much as WHO and WHAT Jesus Christ IS that matters most. Let us give Him our fullest trust and obedience. He alone can then work miracles. Amen

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  21. Claudette

    Churchianity: Believing in Jesus Christ, instead of Believing Jesus Christ. I believe those that are members of a religion institution may need to take a stand for our own well being, the only question is how to do that? How ever that is to be I would totally be part of it. Thank you Chip for planting the seed.

    Reply
    • Patty

      I find it sad to say that when I was having the struggles with what I viewed is legalism or the need to do activities rather than be walking with Christ I tried to explain this to some of my brethren in the church system. There were a couple of responses one of which was an uncomfortable silence another was an awkward assurance that I needed to keep doing the right thing and Assemble and I expect that I am now on the roster of cult follower. Of all of the like-minded Believers I sat next to pewsitter I have communication with only one person on a regular basis. And that person is also someone who senses being called out of the system it is true that somedays it feels lonely in the church in the wilderness but it is also true that I was lonely sitting in the Pew as well. I find that I am more and more okay with loneliness because I’m spending time with my master and learning to be his disciple and though I may be lonely I am not alone. The Lord knows our hearts and then to me he says what about us ?our relationshipneeds to be my number one priority and all other things fall into their proper place..

      Reply

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