Church like Christ

puzzle-pieceThe stated goal of the Restoration Movement is to restore Christianity to its earliest form. The more I think about it, the more I think we’ve gone about it wrong.

Restoring the plan of salvation is important, vitally important. But it won’t restore the church.

Eliminating manmade traditions and creeds helps us return to the beliefs of the early church, but it won’t bring us back to what that church was.

Fixing doctrine. Correcting worship practices. Correcting misused vocabulary. Good things in and of themselves, but they won’t get us to our goal.

I’ve come to believe that the most important thing we can do to restore the early church is to restore the goal of the early church: becoming like Christ.

We need churches that are growing to be more Christlike. In biblical terms, we need churches that are Christ in this world, that Christ is formed in them, and they are the body of Christ.

Our focus needs to be less on what and how and more on why. More on Who.

That’s what I want my focus to be: following Christ and helping others do the same.

There’s always another side to the story

US-00010-One_Cent_(1974)_AluminumAlong the lines of yesterday’s post, I need to say that every story has at least two ways of telling it. I hear elders talk about ministers that were lazy or manipulative. I hear ministers talk about elders that made decisions for no good reason. I hear church members say that leadership has chosen to abandon the Bible or chosen to appease complainers. And I know that there is another side to each of those stories.

Few ministers set out to shirk their duties or destroy the church. It’s rare that an eldership decides that a ministry is doing too much good for the Kingdom and must be stopped. The vast majority of those in church leadership want to do what’s right and best for the church.

There are evil people with bad intentions. Even good people can do things for the wrong reasons; I can look back and see times when I was motivated by jealousy or selfishness. But many times, conflict results out of a lack of understanding between the two parties involved, not any desire to cause harm.

If you set up a website asking women to tell how they’ve been mistreated by men, you’d have no trouble filling it with anecdotes of woe. If you asked men to tell of times when women have done wrong by them, you’d get an equally long list. Ask members to complain about ministers, ministers about elders, elders about staff… you’ll have no trouble determining that lots of Christians have grievances.

But don’t forget that there’s always another side to the story. If you hear it, you just might see things differently

Talking about body life in Church Inside Out

CIOChurch body life is a main focus of my new book, Church Inside Out. To give you a flavor, here are a few quotes on the topic

When Christians stay cooped up inside a church building, they grow frustrated. They complain. They argue. They “bite and devour each other,” as Paul told Christians in Galatia (Galatians 5:15).
When churches turn inward, infighting is the natural result. People begin to talk in terms of “us” and “them,” discussing how to get their own way so that “they” don’t take over the church. (pp.24-25)

Inward-focused churches miss out on today’s victories as they reminisce about yesterday’s successes. They fail to prepare for the future because they are too busy replaying yesterday’s mistakes. (p.26)

There’s a certain feeling of entitlement in the inward-focused church, especially among long-time members and affluent members. They feel that they’ve earned the right to have things their way, either through longevity or giving ability. That feeling isn’t bad in and of itself, but when people begin trying to leverage their position to get their way, the church suffers. (p.29)

I’m a member of the churches of Christ. We seek to honor Christ by referring to him when speaking of our church. But we fight a constant battle with the urge to put more emphasis on the church itself than on the owner of the church. We are truly Christ’s church when the world hears us talk about Christ more than we talk about the church. (p.32)

Like the inward-focused church, the members-only church pays little attention to the needs of those that come to visit. It’s assumed that these people should be in church, so the church is already providing a service. Why should it go out of its way to do more? (p.43)

We have made the Lord’s Supper about “me and God,” but the New Testament portrays it as a corporate time. What was the problem in Corinth, according to 1 Corinthians 11? The Christians were not being aware of one another. They were not waiting for one another. Their communion time was a reflection of the divisions within the church.
Christians break bread together. We wait for one another. We do it with an awareness of the gathered body, or we do it wrong. (p.44)

What we need are assemblies that please God, build members up, and attract outsiders. We don’t expect non-believers to perfectly understand everything that goes on; we do hope that what they see will convey a message of love and mutual edification. (p.45)

Tearing down is so much easier than building.
Paul writes the following to the Ephesian church:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)
You can’t build by tearing down. Negative teaching won’t edify a church. Negative teaching won’t attract outsiders. Negative teaching doesn’t glorify God. (pp.61-62)

As people come out of the world and into the church, they will be a little rough around the edges. Just as we don’t expect non-Christians to behave like Christians, we can’t expect new Christians to know all of the things they should and shouldn’t do. We have to leave time for them to grow in faith and understanding. (p.100)

The church needs to develop an atmosphere where members can try new things; that’s the best way for people to discover their gifts. Service efforts are assumed to be spiritual endeavors until proven otherwise. Leadership should expect to be helping members carry out the things God has led them to do. (p.117)

People need to know that there is no shame in moving on from a ministry that is no longer fruitful or no longer needed.
People need to have the opportunity to try something and honestly evaluate the results. If what is tried doesn’t work, the church members must have the freedom to let it go. (p.118)

The process of acculturation in the kingdom of God is typically called discipling. In most churches, we do this through Bible classes and sermons. There’s an emphasis on information and knowledge. Although those things are important, they are rarely enough. People learn by hearing; they also learn by seeing and doing.
The best discipling approaches will offer information, but they will also allow the new disciple to work by the side of a mentor, a discipler. He will see what is done and have a chance to try to practice what he’s seen. (pp.170-71)

We should do our very best with the ministries that we do for the church, be it leading worship or cleaning communion trays. We should be as concerned about justice and truth and love inside the church as we are outside. Just as we seek to improve the lives of non-believers, we should try to make every encounter with other Christians an edifying one. We should make prayer a constant part of our church life, from Bible classes to ministry meetings, from youth activities to congregational work days. And we should be aware of each other’s spiritual needs, just as we watch the progress of non-believers. (p.189)

Remember that the power of God is at work in His church. This power can do much more than we can begin to dream of… so dream big dreams! Dream about glorifying God through your ministry. Dream about building the church through your ministry. Dream about impacting your community and your world through your ministry. (p.194)

Might makes right

The stronger get to dominate the weaker. That’s the way of the world. Power gives permission. Might makes right. Unless the weaker can organize themselves to create a new, equally powerful, base.

In the church, money plays the same role. Those with money feel themselves entitled to get their way. Riches give permission. Money makes right.

Unless… Jesus gets his way.


plastic cutleryWe had a potluck on Sunday. Our bilingual group at church does that once a month. It’s part of who we are. When I get to describe it to people, I try to stress that it’s not something we do after worship; it’s an extension of our worship.

We had a bunch of visitors on Sunday. A few arrived near the end of service (time confusion?), so their main activity on Sunday was our lunch.

One lady that placed membership in “big church” last Sunday came to our potluck and brought her husband. It was his first time at church.

I’m glad these people saw a potluck as part of their first impression of our church.

It was loud.

It was crazy, with kids running everywhere.

Some of the food was great. Some was… well, it was food.

We had store-bought fried chicken and lots of homemade Mexican food. Some of it was so spicy that it needed to come with a warning label. (I’m not complaining!)

It was mildly chaotic, like a big family reunion.

It was church.