10 Essential Things to Tell People about the Church

by Joe McKeever

According to the Spring edition of OnMission magazine, published by the SBC’s North American Mission Board, 90 percent of unchurched 20-29 year olds believe, “I can have a good relationship with God without being involved in a church.”

That sounds new. But it’s as old as Methuselah.

Some of us can remember the so-called “Jesus Movement” of the 1960-1970s when the beaded, bearded, flower children carried signs announcing “Jesus Yes; Church No.”

No one will be surprised that we who have given our lives to serving God through His church believe in the church. We believe in it passionately even though quite a high percentage of us bear scars from our years of service.

Believers in the church’s essential role in God’s plan are not the “establishment.” We were not brain-washed and are not duped or deluded. We are not mouthpieces of some denominational hierarchy somewhere. Neither are we defenders of the status quo. (No one who ever sat under my ministry even once accused me of defending the status quo. Quite the opposite, in fact. Many have wished I could be satisfied to leave well enough alone.)

Most of us have had a love-hate affair with the Lord’s church. We have loved it when it did well, been blessed by it when it was faithful, grieved for it when it got off-track, and sometimes suffered from our proximity to cancerous members.

Our convictions are not shallow or lightly held. They have been through the fires and come through stronger than ever.

Each of us has our burden for the church. Here are mine. Twenty things I wish we could say to every church, and repeat them at regular intervals until they take hold.

1. The church has always been under attack. So, when people criticize it, Christian, don’t panic.

How does that line go? “There is no such things as ‘news.’ There are only old things happening to new people.”

Like all those fake petitions in cyberspace we can’t seem to be rid of, the same “news” about people’s religious views keep recirculating every few years. Someone discovers that Christians get divorced at a high rate–oh, horrors! That early Christians decided some so-called epistles were spurious and discarded them–oh, no, “Banned by the church!” And that people who do not want to have anyone telling them how to live decide they can please God without the church. Ho-hum.

Any day now someone will come out with “revolutionary” evidence that Jesus did not bodily rise from the dead, there was no Virgin Birth, there never was a historical person named Jesus, and/or that His grave has been found in a cemetery in Milwaukee. Yawn.

2. That the church has survived the attacks from its enemies and the failings of its own members for two thousand years and is still going strong stands as a remarkable testimony of God’s plan for her.

God’s people were told to expect attacks from the outside–Paul called these people “savage wolves”–and divisive sneak attacks from the inside in Acts 20:29-30. The one constant of ecclesiastical history has been those two disruptive forces.

Expect it, Christian. And remember this elementary lesson from your high school physics class: A fire under pressure will burn brighter. Since the devil never took physics, he doesn’t understand this, so he keeps persecuting the Lord’s people and attacking the Church and slandering Jesus. What he cannot figure, though, is why all such efforts only spreads the Gospel.

3. The apparent weakness of a particular church is generally deceptive.

God delights in using weak things, ordinary people, and unlikely prospects. He can take a young child’s simple lunch and feed thousands. So, the next time you look at your church service and decide that you are tragically out-of-date in the hymns and technology and that you need a younger pastor because the one you have is too boring, bite your tongue. You are in the kind of church where God delights in showing up and doing something remarkable. Drop to your knees and start asking Him to do one of His patented God-things among your group.

4. The Church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ.

According to Matthew 16:18, it’s Jesus’ church. According to Acts 20:28, it’s God’s. Same difference.

Pastor, I know your name is on the sign out front. Thank you for your faithful work, but it’s not your church.

Deacons, thank you for your years of sacrificial effort and service. But it’s not your church.

Church members with seniority, thank you for hanging in there through good times and bad, but it’s not your church.

Those who have given the most money, thank you for your generosity and sacrifices, but it’s not your church.

And church polity aside, congregation, thank you for coming and working and giving and praying, but it’s not your church.

It’s His Church. And the only question on our lips every time we meet to do His business should be “What would you have us do?”

5. Whatever we do to the church, Jesus takes personally.

Scary thought, isn’t it?

Jesus told Saul of Tarsus that when he touched one of “the least of these my brethren” to harm them, he was “persecuting me.” (Acts 9, 22, 26)

The New Testament calls the church the “Bride of Christ,” the “Body of Christ,” and other names such as the household of faith, the family of God, a holy priesthood, and so forth.

Jesus taught that when we helped even one who believed in Him, He took it personally (Matthew 25:40) Likewise, when we failed to minister to such a one–or even when we brought harm to that one–He took that personally also (Matthew 25:45).

This is consistent with the Old Testament where God put His reputation and Honor upon the Jews. However the outside world treated them, God repaid them in kind. However, the Lord went one step further and told His own people that whatever they did for “the House of the Lord,” they were doing for Him. In Malachi 3:8, God told the Jews that by withholding their tithes and offerings, they were “robbing God.”

Serious, serious stuff.

Just today, a friend quoted Dr. Adrian Rogers who said concerning the Church and the Lord Jesus: “They’re not identical–but they’re inseparable!”

6. God sends pastors, not to make the church members happy, but to make them healthy and holy and Himself happy.

At least one pastor out of ten–I don’t care what denomination–has been ousted from a church because the members were unhappy with him. (That’s just my number; nothing scientific about it, so don’t quote it as authoritative, please.)

“Well,” one church honcho says, “My understanding is that if the people are not pleased with him, it shows the preacher is failing at his job.”

I am not saying that every pastor whose people want him to leave is automatically doing a lousy job. He might be. Or maybe not.

Show me one place in all the Scripture where the pastor (or any other leader) is sent to please the people, and I’ll show you ten where the people rose up in arms against a faithful leader who was serving God well. We’ll start with Moses and go to Jeremiah and on to Paul. You will notice we skipped the best example of all, the Lord Jesus.

May I suggest the best response when someone suggests the pastor ought to leave because some of the members are unhappy with him? Laugh at them. That’s all. Laugh out loud. And then add, “Are you serious? Read your Bible, man.” And then walk away.

7. The best thing your church has to offer Christians is fellowship.

Now, the best thing the church has to offer the world is the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be sure. However, once they are in the kingdom, fellowship with other believers is the greatest need of believers. By that, we mean they need regular, close contact with people like themselves who are also serving Jesus. They need time to visit, to talk, to argue, to pray together, and laugh and work and serve.

In the typical church there is planned fellowship and unplanned fellowship. The planned kind takes place at assigned times in a Sunday School class or on a mission trip. The spontaneous kind involves hallways and parking lots and coffee shops and living rooms.

Your television set brings in some good preachers every Sunday morning. You can sit in front of the set and worship God, study the Word, pray, sing, and even make an offering. I suppose you can even find a way to minister without leaving home. But the one thing you cannot do watching Charles Stanley or David Jeremiah on the screen is to fellowship. For that, you will require other believers. You will need to “forsake not the assembling of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25).

8. The toughest part of belonging to a church is the requirement for submission. That’s why we rarely hear about it.

Submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

To submit means to give in to the other. Two men disagree; one gives in. Two women disagree; one gives in to the other. Only in matters involving life-or-death issues (the inspiration of Scripture, the efficacy of the cross, the Virgin Birth, etc) do we dig in our heels and say with Luther, “God help me; I can do nothing else.”

To give in to another is to practice the command of Philippians 2:3. In humility, consider others as more important than yourselves.

Two motorists met on a one-lane bridge. The first one leaned out and yelled, “I never back up for fools.” The second throws his car into reverse and calls, “I always do.” Which of the two men is the stronger?

Practicing submission could stop 90 percent of church divisions in their tracks.

9. God created the deacons because He needed servants willing to do the dirty work.

Jesus gave us the ultimate picture of servanthood when He stooped and washed the disciples’ feet (John 13). The Jerusalem incident of Acts 6–commonly believed to be the origin of the diaconate, even though they’re never called deacons there–confirms that these godly men are to serve the Lord’s people in the lowliest tasks in order to free up the leaders for the ministry of the Word and prayer.

In the Old West, during cattle drives, there was a division of labor. Someone rode point in front of the herd, others rode the flanks to keep the cattle together, and some poor soul had to ride drag. Usually, this dirty job went to the newest hire or youngest cowboy or the one in trouble with the boss. His task was to see that no animal was left behind.

That’s the deacons. They are not the point people, setting the vision for the congregation; God has His “called” pastors for that. They are the background workers who spend their time and energy to see that everyone is cared for, that the headstrong stray is corraled and brought back, and that stragglers are dealt with.

The Greek word translated deacon, diakonos, literally means “through the dust.” That has to mean something.

At a concert in your favorite public arena, workers wearing t-shirts with “Event Staff” across the back are scurrying around. They are not performing on stage, they are not the highest paid, but the concert would not happen without their faithful labor. That’s you, deacon.

Thank God for you.

10. If you do not like change in your church or your personal life, you will want to avoid Jesus. He’s all about change and growth.

The Lord Jesus said believers were to be like “new wineskins,” a reference to their flexibility, their adaptability to change, their skill at making adjustments to fluid situations. (See Matthew 9:17)

The image of Christians as defenders of the status quo, of resisting every new idea, of reacting against anything foreign–that is anathema to the spirit of Jesus Christ. The seven last words of the church, it has been said, are “We never did it that way before.”

Jesus knows this and understands it. In fact, we could make a case for our having been created this way so we will not too easily trash the best things of our past. The Lord said, “No one, after drinking old wine, wants new. For he says, ‘The old is better.'” (Luke 5:39)

So, we have to work against our innate resistance to change and growth. I once heard Rick Warren say at his church, they are continually introducing new ideas and innovations. The idea–one of them, at any rate–is not to let his people get too comfortable with any one way of doing things.

Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt

Publication date: March 7, 2011

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Showing our faith by works

by  at Deconstructing Neverland blog

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:18 ESV)

When you read or hear this verse, what comes to mind?  Have you ever thought about how your faith is demonstrated through your actions?  What kind of works demonstrate our faith?

In the same breath as the line above, James points to Abraham’s offering up of his son Isaac as a demonstration of faith through works.  Just think about what that entails.  Here you have a dude who has been given a promise from God that all the nations will be blessed through his offspring.  Abraham does his thing to make it happen and Ishmael is the result.  God does His thing to make it happen and Isaac is the result.  So Abraham now pours all of his passion for God’s purpose into the vessel God gave him to bring about the promise.  But he still doesn’t get it.  The promise isn’t in and from Isaac, the promise is in and from God.  So God required Him to get back to where they began their relationship.  Back to the Abram in Ur of the Chaldees.  Back to the Abram that left everything to go to a place he had never seen simply because God said so.  Back the Abram that walked completely by faith and lived in tents as he made his way to the promised land guided only by God’s step-by-step directions.  Abraham’s faith in his son Isaac got in the way of all that so he required that he sacrifice his son.  Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead  in order to fulfill the promise.  He had come back to the place where he trusted fully and completely in God and when He did God provided the ram for a sacrifice instead of Isaac.

We have a similar struggle.  We believe God’s promises and then we go and pour ourselves and our efforts into ways to bring those promises about.  This is not the way God desires for us to trust in Him.  All of the things we set out to do by our own knowledge and strength are useless to bring about God’s promise.  It is only in wholehearted devotion and faith in God that the promises are fulfilled.  Our greatest work is to be willing to sacrifice all of our plans and ideas.

All too often our works tend to focus on what looks impressive to others and makes us feel good about doing good.  We study scripture and books.  We give our money and our time to ministries.  We build programs that people can come and be a part of.  But are these works that come from faith?  I think not.  Works that are rooted in faith to not lead to self gratification and aggrandizement through church systems and programs.

There is a whole lot of “self” being built up in the church.

  • we build bigger buildings with better sound systems to impress humans
  • our fellowship halls are named after humans
  • our bibles in the pew are in memory of humans
  • we put humans in charge of committees
  • we pay humans to minister

Works that come from faith are demonstrated by doing things where there is no return to us.

  • Helping others who cannot help us back.
  • Feed the hungry
  • Serve widows and orphans
  • Take care of immigrants and homeless
  • Turn the other cheek.
  • Give your life for a band of folks who will likely abandon you at your greatest hour of need and pretend like they never knew you.
  • Be the last in line.
  • Forgive the unforgivable.
  • Love the unlovable.

These works take faith because the results cannot be seen with our eyes and touched with our hands.  They lead to a change of heart, deep down inside of those we serve in this way.  If we want to see God’s promise come to fruition we must have works that are rooted in self-denying, God dependent faith.  We’ve given our devotion to things: denominations, institutions, buildings, rituals, liturgies, professional pastors, and Sunday morning “services”.  We trust in the “things” that we’ve built in God’s name but our devotion and trust should be to God and God alone.  That is the very core of our faith and the beginning point of works that are counted as righteousness.  When we can clearly see how much the things we build are for the glory of man, why do we kid ourselves into thinking that they are pleasing to God and are counted as acts of faith?  God will not share His glory with anyone.  So if there is any hint of glorifying man in what we do it is questionable as to whether it is faith that is working or just our own selfish ambition.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? (James 2:21-25 ESV)

Put to the proof

Strong words by AW Tozer that I am not sure I fully accept, but they make us pause.

Millions call themselves by His name, it is true, and pay some token respect to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who or what is above, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However the man may protest, the proof is in the choices he makes day after day throughout his life.

 

 

The Importance of Christendom’s Historic Creeds

Most of us hardly ever read, let alone recite creeds. Here are some challenging thoughts by Richard Samples on Reflections blog:

My favorite part of the Sunday service at my church is collectively reciting the Apostles’ Creed and receiving the Lord’s Supper (communion). In my church’s liturgy (form of public worship), these activities occur weekly. Since many Christians come from non-liturgical churches and are unfamiliar with the creeds of Christendom, allow me to introduce the role that the creeds have played in the Christian faith and why they should be highly valued.

The term creed is derived from the Latin word credo, meaning “I believe.” Creeds are considered authoritative pronouncements that set forth the central articles or tenets of the historic Christian faith. While the most famous of creeds were developed during church history, specific statements in Scripture have also been used as creeds.

For example, in the Old Testament the Israelites used the Shema as a creedal expression of the unity and uniqueness of Yahweh: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). In the New Testament, several passages are used as protocreedal statements during apostolic times. The apostle Paul’s statement in Romans 10:9 about confessing “Jesus as Lord” was certainly used as an early Christian creedal confession. The use of creedal expressions, therefore, stands on a solid biblical base.

In many cases these biblical statements were used as models for the formal creeds developed later. The four formal creeds used in church history include: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Creed of Chalcedon.

The creeds were written with several purposes in mind. First, they corrected various heresies (profound doctrinal deviations from Scripture) that had arisen at that time. For example, the Nicene Creed was written to combat the Arian heresy that denied Christ’s full and unqualified deity. The Creed of Chalcedon countered heresies that challenged the biblical teaching concerning Christ’s human and divine natures in one Person (Nestorianism and Eutychianism). Thus, creeds have a direct apologetics significance by helping to both define and defend the faith.

Second, the creeds affirm essential Christian truth. The Athanasian Creed, for example, affirms the truth of the Trinity, Christ’s incarnation, resurrection, ascension, second coming, and final judgment. Creeds, therefore, have an appropriate and critical use both in Christian instruction as well as in worship services.

Creeds also help us identify what is essential doctrine from peripheral points. For example, the creeds do not discuss disputable areas in eschatology (the study of last things) such as the rapture, the tribulation, or the millennium. Rather, the creeds simply state—as does the Nicene Creed—the central issue (which in eschatology is that “He [Christ] shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end….and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen”).

The creeds draw attention to a common, historical Christian heritage (“mere Christianity”) and, thus, help believers avoid being too narrow in our presentation of the faith. Because the creeds are summary expressions of biblical truth, they are authoritative. However, like any statements written by imperfect men, they are to be subjected to the supreme authority—Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15–17). Unlike the Bible, creeds are not inspired or inerrant; and they were never intended to replace Scripture.

Nevertheless, the creeds do reflect how the early church interpreted Scripture and how they understood in particular the nature of God (the Trinity) and the person and nature of Jesus Christ (his divinity and humanity). Therefore they have remained a crucial guide for the church in affirming doctrinal truth, refuting error, and encouraging doctrinal instruction among the faithful.

For further study on the creeds and their importance, I recommend the following resources:

  • Gerald Bray, Creeds, Councils, and Christ
  • Jaroslav Pelikan, Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition
  • Robert Bowman, Orthodoxy and Heresy
  • Kenneth Samples, Without a Doubt (see chapter 4)

The Why in Community

by Brad House at The Resurgence blog

You should join a community group because ________.

That is very important blank.  How you fill it in will have a profound effect on the health of your community group ministry.  You can do a lot of things right and still be torpedoed by that question.

If you are not convinced the question of why is that important, tell your wife that you’re planning a date night because Mark Driscoll says it’s a good idea. While she may appreciate the insight of Pastor Mark I would venture that she would be more moved if your motivation were her beauty and your desire for her company.

The answers to the why in community are similarly not all equal.

Good Fruit ≠ Purpose

Growth, retention, belonging, and health are important byproducts of community, but they are just that: byproducts. We cannot take good fruit of healthy, gospel-saturated community and make it the purpose.

Apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection, community is not possible.

Our foundational reason for why we have community groups in our church is to image God and proclaim the good news of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross.

      Therefore, if anyone is

 

      in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us
      the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling
      the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us
      the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. –

2 Cor. 5:17-20

The Ministry of Reconciliation

We have been reconciled to God and one another for the purpose of making an appeal to the world to be likewise reconciled.  As image bearers of God we were created for community. What sin has broken, Jesus has reconciled. Apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection, community is not possible. The existence of a loving, gospel-saturated community is a testimony to the truth of the gospel.

In a broken world that intrinsically longs for authentic community, this is a profoundly different motivation. People aren’t interested in church growth. They are desperate for hope. They can find belonging in a pub, but they need a community transformed by the love of Jesus. We have exactly what they need when we root our groups in what Jesus has accomplished.

Our foundational reason for why we have community groups in our church is to image God and proclaim the good news of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross.

The Why Before the How

If you want to inspire people to be a part of community help them see the bigger purpose.  Show your church how to image God in community and help your leaders understand that they are an integral part of the advancement of the gospel.

As for those byproducts, when we get the foundation of community groups rooted in Christ, we can trust there will be fruit that is good and glorifying to God.

So before you ask how to do healthy community groups, make sure you know why.

Forget About Singing, God Wants Us to Worship Him HIS way

This two-blog combination stops me in my tracks. I like writers who make us stop, re-examine our life, our “church” life, and our worship. Read, ponder and enjoy the writing of Jim from Not for Itching Ears blog.

What is worship and how do we as christians go about doing it?  Is it the 30-45 minutes we spend singing at church with others each week?  Is it the 20-35 minutes we spend listening to a sermon at that same gathering?  Is it the money we contribute to our congregations to keep the doors open?  Is worship the time we give to volunteer in the parking ministry or Children’s church?

Let me state as clearly as I can, so that there is no misunderstanding: I think that all the things I just mentioned can unequivocally be considered acts by which people worship God. I just don’t think that doing them necessarily equals worship.  I am not advocating that we stop singing, even though the title of this post might lead to that conclusion.

My friends, I have been giving this a lot of thought lately.  In part, because I have become so disillusioned with the contemporary church model that claims to be all about worship.  I’ve been to 30+ different congregations, all focused on “worship”.  It seems that all we are doing is singing songs and calling that worship.  Worship appears to have become an event that we grade or a product we consume.  Does anyone else find that troubling?

People are always defining worship.  Most start off their definition with some form of the following statement:  “Worship is more than a song….”.  I find this very misleading.  It is as if we are saying that worship is primarily about the song, but it’s also more than that.  Is it?  Does the Bible anywhere define worship as a song one sings?  Wouldn’t it be more accurate to state that the biblical record makes very little mention of worship as a song?  If biblical worship does not even remotely resemble a song we sing, why do we in the contemporary church dedicate so much time, space and money to it?  Why do we spend so much time debating it and fighting over it?  Why are we tearing churches apart because of it?  I suspect it has more to do with what we like and what we want more than our commitment to shape our lives by the bible.

What  troubles me the most about this concept of worship as a song is that it cheapens worship.  It minimizes it.  It makes it an event we can check in and out of, rather than a life we constantly strive to live.

I have written about this in other posts like Does God Care How We Worship?, Worship Leader Make-Over:  Defining the Goal of a Worship Leader, Blasphemy! If You Want the Congregation to Worship More, Try Singing Less, and Does God Give Us Freedom To Worship Him Anyway WE Want to?  and many others.  If this topic interests you, give them a read and then subscribe to this blog so you will be notified of new articles as they are posted.  .

Those of you who read this blog know that I am a full-time musician (a guitar player no less) who loves music. I love singing about our Savior, who He is and what He has done on our behalf. I am glad that God gave us the gift of music and have no problem with it being utilized in worship.  Still, I am troubled by the direction “worship” is taking.  Perhaps you are too.  Feel free to jump into the discussion and share your own take on this topic.

Part 2:

What does God consider worship and how can we offer it to Him? I think that is the best place to start a series on worship.    Earlier we talked about this in “Forget About Singing, God Wants Us to Worship Him HIS Way – Part 1″.    God is the one who is worshipped, so he gets to define how that looks. He does this for us in the Bible. A biblical definition of worship is where God tells us what worship means to Him. One of the places He does that is in Romans 12:1

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.” NIV

The Greek noun in this verse for worship is λατρείαν (Latreian.) It deals mostly with what we do. It relates to our actions, what one does to worship. In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), it is related to observing the ceremonial laws, offering gifts to God or to performing service for Him. In Romans 12:1, it refers to the offering of ones’ life in wholehearted devotion and dedication to the Lord, to live ones life for Him and to serve His purposes. In Israel, the whole burnt offering ascended to God and could never be reclaimed. It belonged to Him. Therefore, the kind of worship God accepts as worship, requires one to set apart their lives, to lay down their life in a once for all manner and live a life of obedience to the King.

From this verse, we can clearly see that worship is not a song we sing. It is a life we lay down. Dare I say, it is a life of obedience? (Did he just use the ‘O word?) Said another way, God says I am worshipping him when I choose to obediently follow His commands of discipleship.   Singing a song is easy! Performing a song is easier still (finding a guy who can mix the sound right, well that is nearly impossible, but I digress) Choosing to say “no” to my flesh takes effort and will. But the worship that God considers worship involves this laying down of our lives, dreams, desires, wants, hopes and plans, to serve him and his plans, wherever they lead us.   How did we get to the point where we call worship a song and sell the CD for $15?   Admittedly that is a lot easier to do, especially with a carmel-macchiato in hand.

I wish I knew how to bring balance back to the church in this matter.   Many new believers have come to interpret the call to worship as simply an invitation to sing. That is what they have seen modeled, so that’s the way it is. I am sure that our own passion for music doesn’t help matters much. It is like a fog rolling in off the coast. It clouds our judgment and makes it hard for us to see the road. We all LOVE music so it is difficult to see that our Sunday morning worship has slowly morphed into and enteraining concert that we like to call a worship service.

May the wounds of the Savior move us and our leaders more than the rhythm of any song!

Love takes time and much more

Excerpted by a guest blogger from The Assembling of the Church blog:

In the church, how can I love without exercising authority, under inappropriately granted and exercised authority?

Better question? But love costs, “For God so loved, that He gave His only Son…” It pays, too, in surprising, freeing ways, “…for the joy that was set before Him.”

Love costs time

Giving other people time is an incredible gift to you both. You are free to invite others over to your home, or out to a restaurant, or to accept their invitations to their homes for dinners and breakfasts and lunches. We often think of episodic things to do. Things like going over after work to help someone repair a stuck window, or helping them clean their sick neighbor’s yard, or comforting a family whose son is in the hospital, or sharing with a husband who is struggling with loving his wife. It doesn’t have to be so dramatic. Simple time shared together apart from some purposeful ministry can be the most selfless gift. Just play cards. Play Scrabble. Parchesi. Sorry (the game, I love it by the way). Just hang out and talk (especially, listen). It is the relationships and encouragements shared over a long period of time that are very important and effective, but not very strenuous. Consistently give others your selfless attention and you will find joy and peace as you discover fascinating people all around you. But loving others costs our time, and their needs come at inconvenient times. Even when unable to be with another, you will spend time in prayer on their behalf. The more we understand ourselves as a servant to Christ and to all, the more we realize we have no time, or possessions or rights of our own, and the more we find that when we are slaves we are the most happily free.

Love costs possessions

Loving others will impact your finances. (II Cor 8:2-5Gal 4:14-15Col 4:12-13Phil 1:7-8). You will always be losing your stuff by giving it away. You become aware that all the things in your life are temporarily in your care and that He expects you to pass them along. Doing so breaks the exhausting and pointless cycle of accumulating and protecting things (often at the expense of time with family and friends). The day comes when you see another struggling without a car, and you look at the two you have and figure out how to make do with one. It all becomes such a wonderful privilege to share, and it starts with little things, and it grows until you are free.

Love costs rights

You lend things without expecting (or requiring) them to be returned. When someone says something bad about you, rather than defend yourself, you can consider how you might have contributed to their thinking, and go and humble yourself as you confess wherever you find fault. Especially with “leaders.” Could you have been more open? Could you have informed the Pastor, and even asked for his permission and advice? In the traditional setting, the Pastor may very well be threatened by your actions. What are you doing to minimize his concerns? Does the pastor feel safe with you, or does he fear you are undermining him and that as you get to know him, you will use the personal knowledge gained to wound him some day? Have you found ways to love him and his family? Of course, this goes for every person in the church, but the Pastor is the one whose position and power will be most threatened.

But, to really check our hearts on the ego and pride thing, does the tightly controlled, formal meeting times of your church put into practice the examples we see in the scriptures when the saints gathered? No. Do you have a right to speak or bring a song when the saints gather? Say it: No. We have NO rights. If it will cause so many to stumble where you gather, among those you love, you will give up your right to the “right” way. But you won’t feel oppressed. You’ll feel privileged.

When we see these traits and actions working out in the lives of others, esteem them very highly. Look up to them and follow them. If you look closely, you are likely to see these traits developing in the Pastor.

If these things are working their way into your life, you can do some good in an imperfect system. That is, until that system asks you to leave, which it will do in many cases. However nicely and kindly you serve others, you are breaking rules by your activities, and your kindness and care will naturally develop alliances among those you serve and these will look like cliques and power grabs to many and threaten the equilibrium. Just be sure the tensions that erupt in division aren’t triggered by your own heart’s pride and desire to lead (and to have the benefits of power and position), I Pet 2:19-23

Love does no harm

For others, you will have to leave because you can’t sit by while the system is so badly broken (and the saints so under developed). You know if you stay doing the “right” things will do more harm than good. On the other hand, real change might take place within the congregation and the pastor in the process. Let’s not be naïve. Then there will be a split, within the church or from the denomination. Families will leave at the least. Pretty much, if the system is broken and you do the right things, the system will hate you and “kill” you. We are not above our Master, but we learn to rejoice in suffering for Him (John 15:17-19Heb 12:2-3I Pet 4:1)

When you leave, and whenever you have opportunity, you will only rehearse to others all the good things, all the good people, all the good times. It is more than enough that God knows any slights or wounds, and of course, you will have forgiven those and prayed (and mean) that God will not lay anything against you to their charge. Perhaps wisely, you will also ask God to forgive you for all that you did poorly and for all that you could have done but didn’t.

So, where are you today? As long as He leads you to remain within the traditional church (and they don’t throw you out), what sorts of things do you find you can do in loving others even within the confines of the clergy/laity structures? Among the saints, what sorts of things get you in trouble and what can you do to avoid or minimize these problems?

Finally, love risks doing good

1. If you have left the traditional church, have you thought much about what defines the local church (say, for example, by locality rather than by incorporation with the US government or by a group of people declaring themselves “independent” of other Christians)? If so, how has that helped you approach this problem differently?

2. Have you thought about the impact that seeing examples of another way for the church to function and for leaders to serve might have on the local church? How are you (or could you) act on that?

3. Have you thought about ways for the disconnected church to build mutual relationships and efforts? How and where is He leading you in these things today? For example, “parachurch” organizations often connect churches for specific tasks where they would otherwise remain at odds with each other. How can this working together and getting to know one another be used to bring about change?