Will the Real Church Members Please Stand Up?

I am tired of hearing so many complaints thrown against the church from those who no longer even attend church. There, I’ve said it and feel like a weight is finally off my chest. It’s really easy to stand against something you’re not involved in. We do this so regularly in our own lives. “Yes, I’m a Christian, but I’m not like THOSE Christians.” We build ourselves a nice little fence and are content to live inside it for the rest of our lives, leaving no room to be pushed, prodded or encouraged to think outside our fence. And unfortunately, that means we have a tendency to put God in our own little fence and refuse to allow Him to grow outside of it. As a much more published author than I has said, “Your God is too small.

As has already been said by many people, they love Jesus but not the church. Unfortunately, that’s like saying you love a friend but can’t stand their spouse (admit it, you have one of those friends too!). And when you’re not regularly involved in something it’s really easy to judge it based on a preconceived notion. This has happened to me recently with the movie Gravity. The previews didn’t interest me at all so I didn’t think I’d be interested in seeing it at all, yet when I finally got around to seeing it, I was blown away! There’s a similar phenomenon with those disenchanted with attending church regularly. You can’t judge a church body accurately by a one week visit. It takes time to dig in and get to know the people that make up the church. And guess what happens when you start getting to know them? Issues come up, just as they do in every family I’ve ever met.

With many of those my own age who I’ve talked to, I’ve seen the reoccurring theme of always wanting and expecting the best things right now. We want the best/dream job right out of college, we want the most ideal church body that will serve all my needs, we want the killer body, the perfect significant other, the nicest car and the list could go on. The biggest lesson that has repeatedly come up in my life is that I need to do a better job of waiting and being patient. I don’t have my 401k set up perfectly, I don’t drive the nicest car, and I don’t even have a significant other! But God has me in this season for a reason, and I’m learning and growing through it. And one of the biggest ways I’ve grown has been because of the local church I’m involved in. I regularly spend time with people who are completely different than me. They vote differently, eat differently, read differently, talk differently and dress differently. And that’s good. That’s the way God has intended it. We are all works in progress who are regularly needing the reminder to be more like Christ.

So in this day of un-involvement and complaining, my biggest question is: what are you doing to change it? If there isn’t a church nearby that you like and connect with, how could you make it better? Is there a ministry area you could become involved in and help grow? It’s so easy to complain and blame these issues on other people, it’s much harder, but much more vital, to get plugged in and involved in people’s lives. So let’s spend more time together pushing each other to become more like Christ.

“And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.”

-1 Corinthians 11:1

Lead the Church and Family

I found a fantastic article today titled, ‘Leading the Church While Leading Your Family.’ I was again reminded how grateful I am for my dad who, although he didn’t always put the family first, he still does his best to put us first. I’m grateful for the example of my dad and pray for the strength to put my family first when I, Lord wiling, have one. One of my favorite things from the article is:

Fourth, little things really do matter. Every night when I would say goodnight to my children, I would usually pray with them and then my last words to them were, “I love you. I will always love you and there is nothing that you can do that will ever make me stop loving you.” (There were times I would have to add, “But don’t push it!”) I did this night after night, year after year, until when I started in they would say with a sigh, “Yeah, I know Dad, and there is nothing that I can do that will ever make you stop loving me.” And I would respond, “And don’t you ever forget it.”

I wanted them to know that what I attempted to do imperfectly was done for them perfectly by God through Christ. I wanted them to know their acceptance and security was not rooted in their grades, awards, achievements, and success as the world defined it. They heard this before solos, piano competitions, spelling bees, basketball and soccer games, final exams, college entrance exams, and every night before bed.

One day I was at a track meet for my youngest daughter. I was screaming loudly as she ran her event when my other daughter called from college in great distress. She was facing a test of monumental importance that would determine the success or failure of her entire degree program, and she felt that she was cracking under the pressure. Four years was resting all on this! I reminded her that she was not sufficient for this, but that her confidence and rest was in Christ. I was eleven hours away. With my fist pumping the air for my youngest who was crossing the finish line in record time, I cried with my other daughter and prayed with her to rest in Christ. Then I said again. “Remember, I love you, I will always love and there is nothing that you can do to ever make me stop loving you.” She knew I would tell her that and just wanted to hear it.

What would your family say about you? For those of you who are single, what about the people in your church and your siblings and parents? Is Christ leading and guiding all your relationships?

Who Is My Family?

One topic I’ve touched on before is the concept of the church as a family. Today I’m going to expand that thinking just a little bit as we explore what the church says about the family.
In 1 Timothy 5, Paul expands upon this idea, starting in verse 1, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” Plenty of things have been written about that last part, “in all purity,” but not as much has been written about the rest of those two verses. My Bible (ESV) describes this section as “Instructions for the Church.” We can already see the family ties beginning to connect in the church as we are to treat everyone in the church as our family. I would even extend this thinking into treating those who are considerably older as grandparents, and those who are considerably younger as grandchildren. I have some people like that in the church I serve now. Godly men and women who have taken me under their wing and give me a hug every time they see me. I’m so grateful for their influence in the church and my life.
So then if the church is to be one big family, what is the purpose of your immediate family? Paul has some very strong words to say about your immediate family in verse 8, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Wow! Worse than an unbeliever! Paul clearly expects people to provide for their families. I’ve heard stories of pastors who have had the children of older people in the church come to them and expect the church to help their parents out. I’m sorry, but that’s NOT what the church is called to do! The church is called to help those who have no other family to help them out, as Paul says in verse 4, “if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.” Again, we see immediate family is called to provide for their immediate family. So now, how does the church fit in to that?
Acts 2:42 provides a picture for us of what this should look like, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of break and the prayers.” When your blood family is provided for, then out of the overflow of God’s blessing in your life, use it as an opportunity to help those in the family of the church. Just a few verses later in Acts 2 it says, “They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” How can you be helping those in your church family as they have needs? This isn’t always physical! I wrote last week about the importance of prayer, and just yesterday had the opportunity to pray with a dear friend at church who is today having surgery. How can we spiritually, physically and emotionally care for both our family through blood and our family through water.
“It’s been said that blood is thicker than water,
But in the church, the opposite is true
Water is thicker than blood.”
My Dad

Creating a Contrast Culture

The Gospel Coalition had an interesting article yesterday titled ‘Create a Contrast Culture in Your Church‘. The article starts of with many people asking what program the church uses to produce the discipling, evangelizing, and hospitality that are easy to see. The answer is not a program, but rather that they offer tools to create a different culture of discipling, evangelizing and hospitality.

One of the phrases that most stuck out to me was: “Think about the local church as an embassy from the future.” I had never thought about that before. Christians on this side of heaven are preparing for a new heaven and a new earth where we will constantly be in God’s presence in a New Jerusalem. I think there has been some great work done on helping us appreciate that heaven will not be us sitting around on clouds playing harps, but instead a place where we will continue to do the things we love to do, but without pain and suffering, just like the Garden of Eden (see Randy Alcorn’s Heaven).

The article then lists 12 ways churches can create a culture that contrasts the culture of the world around them. One of the most important that I see in this list is number five:

Encourage church members to build their lives into one another’s. Yes, we want friendships outside of our churches. But Christians should also prioritize relationships within their churches, where they can leverage the same ministry of the Word in one another’s lives.

I think it’s far too easy to neglect the church family for your own family or for your own wants and desires. I think people have a far too narrow view of their relationships-the relationships they have with people who are believers will last for eternity. The phrase “blood is thicker than water” is true, but the reverse is true for the church body, “water is thicker than blood.” Those of us who have been baptized into the body have a new family that we need to invest our lives into and encourage them regularly, and even more as each day brings us closer to the day of Christ’s return.