October 30, 2011

Church isn't about you.

Consumer driven. Seeker sensitive.  Terms which, along with a myriad of others, describe much of the American evangelical landscape. The stereo typical poster child for this type of church is the booming mega church in the suburbs. But in all reality, even many small rural churches operate in such a way as to suggest that church is about the consumer. The consumer, of course, is not called by such a “worldly” name when it comes time for board meetings, talks among leadership, etc. Instead the more acceptable titles such as attendee or even member are in place. This makes our dialogue far more impressive and “Christian” sounding. We talk about needing to “meet people’s needs” or to “speak to them where they’re at.” Perhaps we even try to “help” the believers gathered. But are these things the point of church? Is church where I come to get my weekly “feeding” from the pastor? Is it where I come to have my emotions moved by the music? Do I attend church because I like the people there, or feel comfortable? I have not even begun to touch the many reasons people attend church or participate in a local body; neither have I hit on many of the reasons churches function in the way they do. I have attempted to throw out a wide sampling of rather common statements, because I imagine there will be one, or perhaps several things in there that either you personally identify with or have come into contact with in your church experience. My purpose in doing this, really, is to call them all into question. Is church a place where I go to be entertained? Is it where I go to be built up or encouraged? Is it where I go for spiritual food? Or is none of these the correct answer? I will address two people groups, the first being “lay people”, or attendees, or as I would think most accurate, consumers. The second group would be those of influence or leadership in the church who actually decides what a service looks like, how the budget is structured, where priorities are, what goals are, etc.
My question for the first group is really quite simple. Where does the Gospel figure into your attitude toward church?  If this seems an odd question, perhaps a bit of rephrasing would be of benefit. When I evaluate my reasons for going to church, how does my perception of Jesus’ life, work, and words affect that? Let’s break this down it logical order. First, for any of this to make sense you must be a believer in Jesus Christ. That is, not merely a believer that He existed and was a good guy. But rather, that He is who He said He was and is. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father (God) except through Him (John 14:6). This is accomplished because Jesus, through His perfect life and divine being was the only sacrifice acceptable to God for the punishment of our sins. Jesus went to the cross and bore the wrath of God for us (1 Peter 2:24), and being raised to life on the third day, has given to those who believe the right to be reconciled to God and called children of God (John 1:12, Romans 5:10). So Jesus has reconciled us to God. Why has God done this? According to Ephesians 1:12,14 it is “to the praise of His glory.” God does this to bring Himself glory. We, who were enemies with God, have been saved by Him to bring Him glory-that is amazing! So how are we to live in light of this? Well first, we are to stop obeying the sinful desires that we used to be in bondage to; rather, we ought to present ourselves as slaves of God’s righteousness (Romans 6:12,13). We also are to walk in the good works that God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). But perhaps our greatest callings are wrapped up in two things that we often refer to as great-the great commandment and the great commission.
“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” Matthew 22:37
Jesus here is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5. This command, along with the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, sums up all of God’s law! How is this possible? Because if we are constantly giving our all to loving our God and treating others properly, then we will have given sin no foothold.
Jesus’ giving of the great commission is but a few chapters later, and here Jesus says,
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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 things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18b-20
So we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Furthermore, we are to make disciples of all the nations teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands and baptize them in the name of our Trinitarian God. You might call this our purpose and our mission. Our purpose is to love God, and our mission is to make disciples. Everything we do ought to be run through these filters. Does it help me love God? Does this demonstrate a love for God? Does this make disciples? Am I in a position to teach others about, or point them to, Jesus?
Now to bring this back around to my attitude about church. If I am to be loving God and others, and making disciples…how in the world can I follow this thought process and end up in a place where I am looking for a church to meet my needs or find a place where I am moved or uplifted? When did the focus shift to me? So God chooses to save me for His glory, gives me a mission to reach others that is rooted in a love for Him and for those in need of reaching, and somehow church is about me? How does that work? It doesn’t. Why would you look for a church that makes you comfortable? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26 that all things in relation to our dealings with the body of Christ, including it’s corporate meeting,  are to “be done for edification.” Not the glory of me. Not the comfort of me. The good of others. Paul in this spot is coming off of three chapters of teaching the Corinthian church about spiritual gifts and reminding them that they are all part of one body, and that each of them has a responsibility and an obligation to use their spiritual gifts for others good and God’s glory. It really is selfish robbery of me to walk into church week after week, “be fed”, and leave without doing anything to build up and edify the other parts body. If your right hand decided to call in sick to work one day it would be a very inconvenient day for you. If it quit working entirely you would be at a place where you might be better off to have it amputated and have a prosthetic put on in it’s place, rather than continuing to nourish it by allowing it to still be attached. Are you a lively hand, or a dead one? Do I go to church in order to meet with others and praise God, with the intention of using my gifts to aid the body, or simply to get my weekly feeding or emotional high so that I can leave?
Secondly, to those who put a service together…this part will be shorter. But are people challenged to use their gifts? Is there opportunity in the church for the exercise of people’s gifts, or is there an “in” crowd who gets called upon for all the work?
Furthermore, is the service structured and oriented in such a way as to point the people to God, or does it focus on them? To be sure, our response to God needs to be addressed, but our response will not be right or proper if there is not due attention given to the character and nature of our Lord.

All of this is said in realization that church is more than a weekly service. There are many places to exercise one’s gifting outside the walls of the church. Not all search for comfort is evil; it might even be okay to have an espresso machine on the back wall. This rambling post is merely meant to pose a question. Where is our focus? Do we come to church to be entertained, to feel comfortable, to be moved, to be fed? We shouldn’t. We should be gathering to join with other believers in focusing on our God. To worship him for who He is. In this our hope ought to be that He is glorified, and that others are edified. Church isn’t a place where I go to get satisfied by God-being the church is something we do because we are satisfied in God!

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com