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.

Potluck!

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.

A letter to the UCC elders

I don’t like open letters, but I’m about to write one. Largely because I want to publicly thank and applaud the elders of the church I attend: University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas

*****

Dear elders,

I know this is a bit impersonal, and I hope to speak with each of you personally. For now, let me publicly thank you for the statement you issued on Sunday about the participation of women in our Sunday assembly. It was a milestone on a long road, one that many of us had grown weary of. I’m sure that you especially have longed to reach a resting point in this discussion.

You’ve had my prayers, as always. I’ve prayed even harder as I’ve realized how especially difficult this process had begun. To be honest, I despaired of a solution that wouldn’t tear our congregation apart. You showed great wisdom, Spirit-filled discernment, in reaching a compromise.

No, I didn’t agree with every word in that statement. But I heartily agree with the expression of love and unity found in those pages.

We members have not behaved well. Many reacted without knowing the facts. Assumptions were made, conclusions drawn. You were attacked for moving too fast and for moving too slow. You were criticized for being too backwards and too progressive. Your motives were questioned.

Some chose to leave rather than work through the messiness that is church life; I pray they’ll be better prepared for disagreements that will come up in their new church home.

We’ve given lip service to Bible study while actually following our feelings and preferences. We’ve hard a hard time differentiating between “thus saith the Lord” and our own druthers. That’s hard to admit, but it’s true.

You’ve been publicly attacked and privately criticized. Too little grace has been extended your way.

Through it all, you’ve behaved like gentlemen. More than that, you’ve behaved like Spirit-led Christian shepherds. I’m proud to be part of your flock.

Thank you for your service.

 

Grace and peace,
Tim Archer

Assemblies that build us up, please God, and attract outsiders

Church AuditoriumI’ve been proposing several things about our church assemblies:

  • The main focus of our assemblies shouldn’t be worship. In the same way, God shouldn’t be the exclusive focus of our worship assembly. If we are people whose very lives are worship, then worship will naturally occur when we come together. If we are people who put loving God at the center of our lives, then we will seek to please God when we gather. But if we make focusing on God our exclusive goal, then we will fail at making the assemblies what they were meant to be.
  • Church services are primarily for the edification of the body. By doing so, we will please God. And as a body of worshipers, we will naturally worship when we are together. But what is done during the times we are together is done primarily for believers.
  • Our assemblies should be intelligible to outsiders. We don’t tailor the service for them. Instead, we invite them to come and see who we are and what we do. The assembly is not primarily about evangelism. It’s not about selling the church, either. As outsiders see us love and edify one another, they should want to know about the God that makes all that possible. Our hope is that what outsiders see in our assemblies will make them open to hearing the gospel message.

So, in short, we seek to build one another up in a way that is pleasing to God and makes sense to 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.