I’m in a writing mood today, so there’s a bit of a vent coming. The pressing need, which is code for what’s on my mind, is to discuss a great cultural elephant that sits in the church’s living room. Some, maybe even many, are ready to discuss this elephant, but it seems few are willing to pay the price to make the change required to make the elephant go away. In order to set up this mornings thought I want to offer a central thought that will drive the rest of the article.
The church, universal and local (big “C” and little “c”), exists for one distinct purpose; the display of God’s glory. The church, locally (little “c”), consists of covenant members who are growing in truth, sharing & serving in life, and declaring the gospel to the world. To be part of the one you must be part of the other.
This is more or less a summary of the stuff I’ve been reading on biblical, healthy church, church, as well as being part of it. I even preached a sermon on it last fall. I would even hazard to say that most people would agree, and certainly most pastors would agree. However, the church buffet just seems to keep growing, and thus we have our elephant.
The local church, which is really the local, visible expression of the universal church, is the most talked about form of the church (or assembly, gr. ekklesia) in the right half* of the bible, yet it seems to lack value, culturally, when it comes to living out our faith. It’s not that people don’t go to church, in fact I think the problem is the exact opposite, they go to too much church, or maybe it would be better described as going to too many churches. In my experience, in our region (and I suspect this may be happening in others, but who knows) it is all too common to see people taking part in multiple churches. You might read that and then ask, “what’s the problem with that?” which is a legitimate question, but has an answer in what is really the heart of the problem. While people are busy taking part in multiple churches, they are committing to none. People have largely come to see the church as just how I described above, a buffet of sorts. When this occurs the local church suddenly exists to provide for the larger Christian community a swath of programs, opportunities, and events. I’ve even heard people comment on how cool it is that people partake in so many different churches and their activities. Going Saturday evenings to one church for the preaching, another on Sunday for the music, attending small groups with another church, kids going to youth group at another, Awanas at yet another. Then when asked which is the home church, there is no definitive answer, and if there is, the answer is not backed up with membership, or even commitment to that local body. It’s just the place where you might find that person, or family, most often. Now, the argument can be made that I’m being a bit hyperbolic, and yes that’s true, but only a bit. While this specific extreme may be rare, there are many degrees of the problem at work around the region. I have even heard church leaders talk positively about this happening, without realizing what they are then promoting.
It may be time that we asked ourselves some honest questions, seriously, have we ever stopped to think that maybe the reason the world holds the church in such low regard is because they see so many “believers” doing it first? Let’s be honest, the world may see us running around going to all these churches, but do they really see the church as being a valuable part of our lives? Is our involvement in church lending to more meaningful interactions with our neighbors, especially our unchurched neighbors? Are we taking part in the life of our local church, or are we just partaking of the offerings of local churches? Do we count involvement (membership) in a local church as essential to our understanding of what it means to live as a Christian? Do we understand that hanging at the lake, going out to golf, riding the dirt bikes, heading to the mall, the slopes, the river, or the coffee shop, is not church? (Unless your local church happens to meet in a coffee shop.. shout out to my friends over at Origin Church) Do we understand that being part of the big “C” church happens by being part of, not just attending, the little “c”? (in other words the big ‘C’ consists entirely of the little “c”) Do we know that loving the church means loving the people, not the cool factor? Do we love the church
WE NEED A RESET! We need to get back to the place where the church, the local church, the local, on the corner, less than 30 minutes away, expression of the BRIDE OF JESUS, matters, and we are rejoicing that we get to be part of her sanctification. Where we have “our church” where we are members, committing by covenant to be part of the life, the doctrine, the beauty, and the grime of our church family. This is one of the most essential needs of the church in this age. It’s not a return to some utopian dream, it’s getting back to a proper biblical view of the church. It’s not pitting churches against one another, nor is it promoting isolationism, exclusion, or superiority, it just means we stop flitting about town going to many churches and neglecting our responsibility to be part of one. In fact I would hope that it would be at that point that local churches could stop trying to build massive ministries and partner together in the communities they exist in.
It’s holding to an understanding that the primary purpose of the church is a proper display of God’s glory to the world around us. We as Christians are not the purpose of the church, the church does not exist for us, because we are the church. This means we exist to display God’s glory to the world around us. This does not mean we consume every program that we enjoy from every church within an hour driving distance and never commit to becoming members of a church and submitting to church leadership and spiritual authority (Heb 13:7). It doesn’t mean just going once a week to a specific church either, going and taking in is still just another form of consuming, you need to commit being part of the body, its life, its ups, its downs, its sorrows, and its amazing joys.
We need people that are willing to start adopting this view and then making the sacrifices necessary to follow through. Although the odd thing is that you may find that there is more time available to you to get rest, and not be so rushed. You may find that the ache to be more deeply connected (known by, and knowing others) in a church becomes satisfied. It requires an understanding that it’s messy and beautiful, painful and joyful, weighty and light all at the same time. It’s serving one another and serving together in the communities we live in. It’s resisting the urge (the enemy) when we want to abandon ship because of something petty, or slander leadership when they make a mistake. It’s submitting to that same leadership in humility, trusting their lead, yet a willingness to go to them when there are issues in the church. It’s committing to covenant membership, submitting to healthy accountability and possibly discipline.
In addition we need church leadership (pastors/elders) who are clinging to this view and are willing to walk through the costs that come with it. It requires true life on life discipleship, especially by the pastors/elders. It requires the pastors to live in and invest in the communities where their flocks are (My good friend in the bay area always says; good shepherds smell like sheep). It may cause people to leave the church, which we hate to see, but may be necessary. It means churches need to stop pandering to the consumerism and may even need to correct those in the congregation that are taking part in it (it may even require direct conversation with other pastors and people, helping with that local church working as a network thing). It means churches evaluating the practices of membership, discipline, and discipleship.
I don’t say this lightly, and I don’t say this just to stir up controversy, I say this because the Church was purchased, called and set apart through the blood of Jesus. It’s His Bride, and yes He has entrusted it to flawed humans, but that doesn’t mean we get to abandon ship for our own versions of church. We desperately need to get a good view of the biblical church, the amazing way in which it was set up that we as God’s people would flourish. We need to value Jesus’ Bride, be involved and invested in her growth, which is our growth, in her sanctification, which is our sanctification, and her mission, which is our mission. So really the question is, whatever your part is, will you settle in to one church, make it your church family, for better for worse, putting the fun in dysfunction at times? More importantly… will you love the church? Because Jesus loves the Church, and He loved her enough to purchase her with His blood. And I say all of this, because I love the church…
Here are some things for further listening/watching and consideration…
The sermon series by Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Seattle – Jesus Loves His Church
Plus check out the material from IX Marks, it’s spot on in evaluating what a healthy church and church member look like. With books like, “What is a Healthy Church?”, “What is a Healthy Church Member?”, “9 Marks of a Healthy Church”, “A Display of God’s Glory” and so many more, they are a more than helpful resource in firming up your understanding of the church (ecclesiology)
and for a little more fun, but still deep
Stephen the Levite – Membership (it’s a gospel rap song, but even if you don’t like rap, listen to the lyrics)
Lecrae – The Bride (more gospel rap but listen)
* right half = NT (you may have to think about it for a second but it’s direction right, not correct right)