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Church

What Should Church “Look Like”?

Has you ever been asked what Church looks like? When most are asked this question,  they talk about the physical aspects of a building.  Gothic cathedrals to modern theatrical spaces, tiny white clapboard buildings to movie theaters and rented halls – we all have an idea of what Church ‘should’ look like.  Perhaps our ideas are shaped by our upbringing or by personal preferences.  Whatever the reason,  if you ask three different people in Church what it should look like, you might get four different answers. 

Too often, I find that we measure the success of the Church by the way it looks.  If we have a building that looks like what we think Church should be, the Church is a great one.  But what if we stopped looking at the physical aspect of the building and started to consider the spiritual ones?   Instead of thinking in terms of bricks and mortar, let’s think instead in terms of God’s people accomplishing the mission that was given to them by Jesus.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:19-20

To be a Church, the first thing we need to consider is: do we reach out to others with the love of Jesus?  As a group of believers, do you prioritize  reconciling our world with Jesus?  One of the benchmarks of a healthy Church are how many new people come to faith and if there is a growing body of believers who are being baptized into the Kingdom of God. 

Is the Church not just growing bigger numerically, but is it growing deeper spiritually?  Jesus calls us to the messy (but joyful) work of making disciples as we teach them to obey His word.  We need to be about the business of helping others to be transformed into the image of Christ.  While we might have a great building with an abundance of programs, but the end goal needs to remain the making of disciples.

Finally, a healthy Church recognizes the power of Christ being with them.  They take comfort and direction from Him, striving to live out the mandate that He has gave us in Matthew 28. A healthy Church relies on God for His provision, magnifying Him through the worship of their lives, and giving Him the honor and glory for how He works in and through them.

In my own life, I have had to learn to let aspects of Church life that I enjoy go, all for the sake of the mission of the Kingdom of God.  So like me, what do you need to re-evaluate in light of our mission?  What is there that you might need to let go to be faithful to the call of the Great Commission? Personally, I am working at scaling back to a simple focus on that which brings God joy and fulfills what He calls us to.  And in that, I am learning to find peace.  Why don’t you join me on the journey as we realize that the Church is not a building or a place, but a way of life.

Church

How Does the Bible Describe the Church?

Imagine for a moment that you’ve never stepped foot inside a church building before in your life. You’ve never opened up a Bible, never heard a sermon preached. Maybe you’ve never even heard the name of Jesus spoken before.

But then one day someone gives you a Bible, and you begin to read it. Cover to cover. You read about the beginning of all things in Genesis, and discover a God that is larger than life. You read about Noah’s flood, and discover a God who demands righteousness and punishes sin. You read about Moses and the Exodus, and discover a God who will rescue His people from the bondage that enslaves them. You read about King David, and discover a God who loves us despite our glaring imperfections. You read about Jesus, and discover a God who would send His Son to die, so we could live eternally with Him. You read the New Testament, and discover a God who wants to spread the message of His Kingdom to the ends of the earth, that none might perish.

Now imagine after reading about this God, you stepped foot inside a church building for the first time. What would you expect? Any expectations that you enter with would have been born solely out of what you’ve read in God’s Word. Your expectations would not be tainted by centuries of church rituals and tradition. There would be no influence of past observations and experiences. No expectations based on what you’ve been taught since you were a child. Just the teachings of the Word of God.

I’ve written in the past about our common modern day church experience, but my aim here is not to observe and critique our church experiences of the past. It’s to begin to consider what the gathered Church might look like if we stripped away any preconceived ideas of what we believe the Church is supposed to be.

If we look to the Book of Acts, where the New Testament Church begins, we see that the Church is built around four defining features: the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  (Acts 2:42)

Let’s take a closer look into the first three of these four features, to learn more about how they impacted the daily lives of the first century believers, and how they should impact our lives today.

The Apostles’ Teaching

Teaching has always been a central focus of Christian gatherings. Early Church gatherings provided an opportunity for believers to receive instruction from the apostles’ teaching, as they submitted themselves to the authority of the Scriptures. In Acts 20, we even see an example of Paul preaching from early evening until daybreak, probably a timeframe of 10 to 12 hours! While this was a special occasion, we see that the Apostle Paul believed the teaching of the Word of God was so important that he filled an entire night with it. The same should be true today. While a good sermon lasting 60 minutes isn’t necessarily any better than a sermon lasting 20 minutes, we should always hunger for more teaching and preaching of God’s Word.

Fellowship

As we continue on in Acts 2, we read the following:

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2: 44-45)

Here we see that the early believers didn’t view the Church as a place where they gathered together on Sunday morning, they viewed themselves as the embodiment of the Church. As a fellowship of believers, they would live as one community sharing everything they owned. We see further example of this in Acts 4:

“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common … There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32, 34-35)

This is where we seem to miss the mark most often today. Most likely, this is a result of the focus we’ve placed on Sunday morning in our culture. We’ve made Sunday morning the central focus of our Christian lives, while we live out our own lives Monday through Saturday. But what if we placed a greater focus on gathering together in groups throughout the week, living our lives together as the early Church did? Sunday morning still has an important role to play – its role simply needs to be refocused.

The Breaking of Bread

In Acts 20:7, we read a curious statement indicating that the early believers were gathering together not for the apostles’ teaching, or for prayer, but for the purpose of breaking bread together. Sometimes this meant sharing a meal together, and other times it meant partaking in the Lord’s Supper. But what is apparent is not only did they break bread every time they gathered together, they considered this to be a foundational practice.

As we continue to read further into Acts 2, we learn more about this practice of the early Church:

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” (Acts 2:46)

Here we read that the early believers would break bread together daily and attend the temple together. But while the early believers did meet together often at the temple in Jerusalem, the primary meeting place for the Church in the New Testament is in people’s homes. They would go from home to home, breaking bread and teaching the Word.

So ask yourself a question: Is that something you’ve ever done? Today, is it enough to simply observe communion once a month, or does the Bible call for the Lord’s Supper to be more than that? You be the judge.

In the end, Christianity is not simply about our individual relationship with God. It’s about a community of believers living out their lives together in obedience to the teachings of the Scriptures and in spreading the message of the Gospel. When we look back at Acts 2:42, the verse states that “they devoted themselves” – it wasn’t an individual thing, it was something they did together.

When we begin to live like this, I believe a funny thing will begin to happen: Others will take notice and want to be a part. And what better way to teach the world what it means to follow Jesus, than by following His directions for how to live our lives.

The Church Experience

The Church Experience

Have you ever read about the early church in Acts, then sat through a modern day church service and observed an obvious disconnect? What originally began as a fellowship of believers focused on relational discipleship and spreading the message of the Gospel, seems to have, in many places, evolved over the course of 2000 years into a model of “doing church” for which we have very little biblical basis. Sam Pascoe, a 19th century American scholar, described that transformation like this:

“Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.”

That’s a disconcerting observation on the progression of Christianity throughout history. But from where I’m sitting, his assessment is alarmingly accurate in many cases.

As Christians, how have we watched the church get to this point and somehow acted like nothing is wrong?

Simply put, centuries of church tradition have conditioned us into believing that we’re actively living out the Great Commission by merely sitting in a pew for an hour once a week. We’ve created a “cookie cutter” Christianity by teaching people that salvation comes through praying a prayer and “accepting Jesus into your heart” – a concept you won’t find anywhere in your Bible, no matter which version you read. The “American Dream” has permeated Christian culture to the point where many churches are a better reflection of a Fortune 500 company than the body of Christ.

That last point in particular is a troubling one, and should cause all professing Christians to examine themselves and their church experience. When we plant churches, is it because we want to impact our local communities with the message of the Gospel? Or is because it will enable us to build whatever version of the church we’re most comfortable with? When we make the decision to become part of a church family, is it because we want to live as Disciples of Christ within a community of believers, or is it because we grew up in the church and attending is merely a tradition? Or is it simply because going to church is a more attractive option than our perceived ramification of going to hell instead?

If your experience with today’s church looks anything like the assessment above, the question must then become: What are we going to do about it?

To begin with, we need to recognize that we’ve created a church culture that is ostracizing to unbelievers. Many of today’s churches have essentially created a bubble world within four walls. The focus is placed on the traditional way of “doing” church and utilizing church resources to build a bigger building or buy a better sound system, with the goal of establishing high quality internal programs and creating a church environment that will make people feel comfortable. We’ve created a church culture that is inwardly focused, not outwardly focused. As a result, church growth often does not come from converting the unchurched, but from “church hopping” Christians looking for a comfortable church experience where they feel their needs will be met. And ultimately, isn’t that the problem? While part of any church’s mission is to shepherd their flock, the greater mission is to grow that flock. Instead, we seem to be fostering a generation of believers that is inwardly focused on their own needs, rather than outwardly focused on the lost, and meeting the needs of the widows and orphans of the world.

In reality, the opposite must be true. We need to grow the church outside four walls and take Jesus to the world. Being a Christian is about more than sitting in a pew on Sunday morning. It’s about serving soup to the homeless on Wednesday night. It’s about being a witness in your workplace every day of the week. It’s about making Christianity more than an enterprise, a culture, an institution, a philosophy … it’s about making it a fellowship of believers once again, living life together with one eternal purpose:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20b, ESV)

While I believe deeply in the power of the church, many churches around the world today weaken that power by missing the true purpose of the Church described in the Bible. Once we return to living out that purpose, the disconnect between the modern day church and the early church in Acts will begin to disappear and we will become the true fellowship of disciples that God intended us to be.

 

Unity in the Church

Unity in the Church

Colossians 3:15-17 reads,

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

I couldn’t help but focus on this verse all week as I recently received an email from someone which detailed the very reasons why he was planning to leave our particular church. His very last sentence to me was “I am not expecting a reply. See you in Heaven.” It caught me off guard and as I processed this email over the period of a week, I kept referring back to the idea of what unity looks like across denominational lines. The reality is, we don’t have to like particular ministry objectives or styles to be united – we can even view some theology differently when the core of the Gospel is the same. You see, Paul writes to the Roman church in Romans 15:6 about unity in the Church,

“That together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The key to Paul’s teaching is the idea of “one voice.” We can look at people around us and see hundreds of differences daily. Do we recognize ourselves as an overall part of the community we live in or simply by our differences?

I heard a song by the band The Avett Brothers which has lyrics I believe helps to illustrate this point further,

“If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected.”

God loves us, and by us I mean all of us, there is no one that is outside of His love. Psalm 133:1 also emphasizes the importance of unity,

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

As I continued to reflect on the importance of unity in Christ, I wrote back a simple email to the individual planning to leave the Church. I shared with him that while we might not always agree with every teaching, being connected to quality people of the body of Christ is one the most important facets of our walk with the Lord. What about you? How do you view unity and your Church experience?  I’d love to hear your comments below!

 

Committing to a Church

Church Shopping 101 – Committing to a Church

This is part four of a series on Church Shopping; if you would like to get caught up on the previous three, you view them here:

To conclude this mini-series, we are going to look at the your commitment to a church.  Hopefully, having applied some of the helpful ideas from previous posts, you have found a church that fits just right, but then what?

It’s no secret that our culture has a devolving problem with commitment. With common societal mantras like, “the grass is always greener” and “I just want to keep my options open,” is there really any point making a stated commitment to this new church?

Even though the 1st century church looked and operated much differently than churches today, there are plenty of descriptive lessons to be learned from how these initial Christian communities functioned.  For Christians in the 1st century, church was no mere club, nor one option among many various groups to which one could belong; it was, for them, what came to define their very heritage and identity.  Before life in Christ, and life with other Christians, people were divided by race, gender, class, national identity, etc.; but the leaders of the new Christian movement (Paul especially) were adamant that:

“you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. For there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heir according to promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29 NASB).

Imagine what a shocking statement this would have been to a culture whose identity was shaped by the very things the Bible says are no longer an issue.  It would be similar to making a claim today that there is neither rich nor poor, neither black nor white, neither republican nor democrat, neither male nor female (still!), and on and on; the point being, that in Christ your identity is completely formed such that there is no room in your self for anything but Jesus.

So your commitment to a church is far more than joining another social club, or, as we have discussed in previous posts, having all of your personal needs met.  When you commit, you are making your identity in Christ known to your brothers and sisters, claiming God as your Father and your church as your family.  What’s more, you do get to reap the benefits of the Christian community that is called to:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NASB)

Once you have found a church family that works, make that commitment and stick to it: take their membership class, contribute to the community from your gifting, and commit to ending your “church shopping,” helping others in your new-found community you discover what a blessing there is to be found in belonging to God’s family.

 

Church Shopping

Church Shopping 101 – How To Evaluate if a Church is Right For You

We all know the importance of first impressions in Church shopping.  It’s no secret that the first thing you notice about a given situation, person, or place, will have a lasting impact on your opinion. But, relying solely on your first impression in the process of investigating a church can have some negative effects.  Evaluating a church based on what you see first, or based on your subjective preferences, may cause you to pass over a quality church, or settle into a church that looks good on the surface but may only be that: good on the surface and nothing more. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you visit your potential new church home:

1)  Don’t judge a book by its cover % beauty is only skin-deep (let’s face it, clichés exist for a reason: they contain some truth).  I’m convinced I would not be married to my amazing wife had she evaluated me on my looks alone. In the same way, I’m convinced I would not be a member of my current church had I done likewise.  Either push past the flash in order to get to the substance or, on the other hand, look past the cracks in order to find the beauty that might be underneath.

2)  Put first things first.  The Church exists to glorify God through His Son Jesus by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  Whatever else is present in worship is secondary to that main principle.  The Church is about God.  Is this principle obvious to you as a visitor during praise, during the sermon, and even during announcements or times of fellowship?  You may consider keeping a tally during your visits to gauge how much Jesus is talked about compared to other things.  Even if you aren’t church shopping at the moment, try this in your own church – you may be surprised.

3)  Talk to people.  I know this isn’t the most comfortable thing to do, but these are your brothers and sister in Christ, and, if you choose to become a member of this church, they will be your immediate church family.  Ask questions about the church; get to know people (even just a little bit).  You’ll find out quite a lot about what the church values based on the conversations you have with its members.

4)  What you’re won with, you’re won to.  Because the Church is about God, if He is the reason you decide to become a member of a church (because He is the key focus of that church’s efforts) then you will seldom be disappointed.  If, however, you’re won by the great music, there will come a day when that music will change, or fail to live up to your expectations, and you will be tempted to leave.  If you’re won by an amazing children’s program, there will come a day when that program will let you down or your children will grow up and you will again be tempted to leave.  The church is not a concert venue, nor is it a daycare, nor is it a coffee shop, nor anything but a community dedicated to worshiping the God of the universe by its internal acts of praise and external efforts of outreach.  This does not mean that good music, good child care, and good coffee are bad things… Let me say that again so I don’t infuriate tons of people – It’s okay for a church to have great music, great programs, great everything!  But put principle 2 to practice here: does that good music talk more of God than other things?  Does the children’s program teach children about God?  Even the refreshments at a church provide an opportunity to talk about Jesus.  This may require you to sacrifice some of your stylistic preferences, but is that really such a sacrifice considering Jesus’s command to His followers in Matthew 16:24 – “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”?

5)  Give it a second, third, fourth chance.  Everyone has a bad day once-in-a-while,  and even the most put-together churches can be off every now and then, so in order to evaluate whether or not this really is the right fit for you, go back a few more times.  Because you didn’t judge the book by its cover, it would be irrational not to finish reading it to the end.

I hope some of these tools help you to evaluate the Church you are looking at attending. Put them into practice and let us know how it goes by commenting below.