We all start out the Christian life the same way: by receiving the grace, forgiveness and love of God demonstrated and accomplished by Jesus in His death and resurrection. From that point where we go in our journey is dependent on so many things, not the least of which is the influence of our church family. In fact, I believe that the local church is the key.
How did Ed and Edith go from new convert to church consumer and critic? How can we prevent from becoming them. And if we are them, what can we do to change?
The simple answer, of course, is to follow Jesus. Be filled with the Spirit. Live the "crucified life". Easy words to say, but how are they done? Not so easy, is my guess, since so many of us don't seem to be able to catch on, including me more often than I'd like to admit. So here are some bulleted points that I hope will provide some answers.
- Bible knowledge is not the main goal for us. No one gets more satisfaction from studying the Word and learning new stuff than me. However, "knowledge puffs up" if it isn't used. Unless that knowledge transforms my heart and my life, it's in vain. Check out James 1. I can study, I can tithe, I can show up every time the doors are open. But if my life isn't becoming more and more like Jesus something's missing. Make the goal of your time in the Word to be when God speaks through it to you about life change. Humble yourself before Him as He reveals the treasures of His will to be lived out in your life.
- Fellowship is more than eating and drinking. It's communion, it's commitment and it's covenental. Joining a church is like getting married. If the Holy Spirit sovereignly places us in the body as he sees fit (see 1 Cor. 12) then only He has the right to remove me from that body. I just don't think He's as fickle as we credit Him for being. The church isn't a social organization; it's an organic body, where each part is dependent on the others. Check out Ephesians 4:11-16.
- That means - and I have seen this as the great hindrance in Ed and Edith making their church relationship all that it should be - without being honest there can be no real communion. By the way, communion and fellowship come from the same word. Ed and Edith likely begin to become dishonest with themselves about why things at church didn't sit well with them. "The church has changed!!" Well, duh. Growing, living organisms change. If they're not changing it's because they're dead. What Ed and Edith need to do is stop being old wineskins and grow along with the church. The ability to be transparent is such a huge stumbling block in US church culture.
- Honesty also means that when Ed and Edith see, experience or hear something that troubles them they go to the source and find out why. They seek to gain understanding rather than pick up their toys and go home. They hold off on their judgment until they get the facts. And the best place to get the facts is from those who are leading. And if you can't trust your leadership why would you be there?
- And honesty means not blaming God for their inability to be committed and open. "I've prayed about it" is Ed and Edith's cop out. It expresses an independence from the body and the leadership God has positioned in the body. Before "praying" and getting "God's will" to leave, talk with His appointed undershepherds and carefully listen to both their vision, rationale and most of all, the biblical values they uphold.
- Burst the bubble. God didn't save any of us to retreat from the world into our holy huddle, but to infiltrate our cultures and communities with the Gospel. We've made church a safe comfortable place for believers to get their weekly fix instead of making church a launch pad for missions. Instead of tickling itching ears, preachers need to be encouraging and if necessary prodding the sheep to see the whiteness of the fields all around them. It's not about being gifted to share Christ. It's about all of us doing our part in obeying the Great Commission.
- The pastor doesn't need to hear how powerful his sermons or the worship service are. If you want to encourage your pastor go out and live what you heard him speak from the Word. Carry your worship from Sunday into Monday and all through the week. Then come back and tell him how God's Word is changing you.
- Unless your churched friends from the church down the road have a legitimate moral or doctrinal issue with their church that they've tried to resolve but can't, don't invite them to your church. Pray for them, yes. But don't welcome them to your church unless there's a scripturally legitimate reason for their leaving. Here's what I've learned: the problems they have there will be brought with them if unresolved. Eventually, if we don't deal with our "baggage" it always gets opened up again. So if you're about to leave your church, think again. Do the biblical Christ-like thing and resolve whatever difficulties you're experiencing. Otherwise you'll take your problems with you and they will resurface wherever you go. Churches need to be confident enough of their purpose and vision to say "No thanks" to church hoppers.
- If you want things to be done like they were done at your old church down the road, stay there. Growing, healthy churches have to change because old methods lose their effectiveness as culture changes. That's a fact of life. Accept it.
- If you've moved from another geographic location, prove yourself a committed Christ follower before you start trying to change anything. Your suggestions might have great merit. They might be great ideas. But before attempting to bring changes, earn the right to be heard.
- "Your" tithe isn't yours. It's His. Learn that everything you possess as a Christian belongs to the One who possesses you. When we learn that it becomes easy to surrender our "rights".
- Realize that we all do battle every day with the old nature. Realize also that if a church is making headway and rescuing the perishing that the enemy of Christ and the church is going to do whatever it takes and use whoever is unaware to create division and disunity. He could and will use me if I allow it. We're in spiritual warfare and the battle is for the souls of men and women. If we're going to get into a fight, let's fight against those things that quench the Spirit of God and cripple the advance of the church.
Maybe you can tell I've pretty much had it up to "here" with how the church in our country has become more institutional that organic. I long for a real step back in time to the simplicity of the apostolic church. My heart breaks at the "I'm OK, you're OK" dishonesty and cover up of our hurts and pains within the church which makes us so dysfunctional as a family. At the same time, the "Can't we all just love each other" blindness to genuine cancers within the body isn't the way to go, either.
If all this makes you mad, guess what? It makes me mad, too. And I don't like it. So, I'm working hard to change it. How about joining me?