I don’t always comment on the links I share in the “Links to Go,” but I thought the first one today was very helpful. As we look back, we often marvel at the stupidity of the things we’ve done in the past. As the article notes, that should sound a note of caution for us today; one day we’ll quite likely look back harshly on things we think and do today.
Which is something I think we especially need to remember in the church. We look back on the way the church was in the past, be it 10 years ago or a 100 years ago. As we do, we wonder how people could have been so blind, how they could have not seen the obvious truths in Scripture.
Be forewarned: we’ll feel the same way in the future about the church of today. How could we not have seen? How could we have believe that? How could we have done this or not done that?
As the article suggests, realizing this trend should help us to show more grace toward others and toward ourselves.
In these blog posts, I’m looking at power struggles in the church, especially those caused by a lack of regard for a church’s identity and culture (as well as an over-dependence on traditionalism). One thing that causes conflict in the church is a failure to recognize different kinds of knowledge.
On the one hand, we have ministers with theological training. That’s one of the more obvious types of knowledge in a congregation. Some churches value such training above all else; other congregations are wary of training received outside the church itself. Many ministers feel that their training gives them a voice of authority within the church, while many members and church leaders feel that “book learning” is of little value in the real world. That’s an obvious source of conflict.
I personally feel that theological training is important and prepares people to deal with some of the issues a church faces. But only some. We need other kinds of knowledge as well, such as:
- Bible knowledge — Those holding a theological degree often feel like they have this kind of knowledge. If they’ve studied correctly, they’ve received the tools to help them gain Bible knowledge and help others do the same. But they aren’t necessarily the most knowledgeable in their congregation.
- Life experience — This kind of knowledge is priceless. The Bible emphasizes the need to turn to older people for sage advice. It’s a natural tendency in the young to resent the fact that this is one kind of knowledge they can’t have yet; it’s a weakness of the old to assume that living a long time has necessarily given them this wisdom.
- Knowledge of congregational and community history — History does not control us, but it can often provide an important voice in the decision making process.
- Knowledge of contemporary culture — This is one type of knowledge that often decreases with age. It’s one of the reasons churches vitally need input from their younger members.
- People skills — Many elders lack these. Many ministers lack these. Many church members lack these. All of us lack these at times. One of the greatest forms of knowledge is to know how to treat people.
I could go on, but I hope you get the point. There’s a reason no one person is to lead a congregation. We are a body. We grow as a body. We function best as a body. We need many kinds of knowledge to make the church what we should be.
I’ve come to give greater value to a church’s identity and tradition. I guess that’s natural as we get older. Suddenly church isn’t an entity waiting for me to come and change it; it’s a place where I want to go be changed. Where I once thought that I was the one to set a vision and make that vision reality, I’m now more aware that my vision isn’t always God’s vision.
I’m also aware of the contrast between the tenure of the average minister and the roots that many families have within a congregation. Ministers typically come for 2, 5, or maybe 10 years; many families have participated in a congregation for ten times those numbers. If things don’t go well at a church, the minister leaves and heads somewhere else; in many congregations, that’s not a viable option for the members.
When we come to be part of a church, that church has an identity. If we feel it’s our mission to transform that identity, it’s likely that we’ve landed in the wrong place. Change can and will take place as we become more like Christ. But churches will have different ways of living out what it means to be Christ in their context. I now believe that we have to show some respect for how that has been done in the past. We don’t have to be tied to it, nor judged by it, but we do need to honor it.
I’ll flesh this out a bit more in some other posts. But I’d like to hear your thoughts. How do you view church culture and identity?
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
I’ve been trying to focus my “agendas” at church. There are lots that could be mentioned, but here are some I’m trying to focus on:
- Have a church that is more like Jesus
- Help people to get closer to God
- Have a church that values unity over achieving personal goals
That’s a start. What points would you add to this “platform”?
One of our members, Rosario Gibbs, posted this on her Facebook page. I’m sharing it with her permission:
My church served single mothers through a ministry called LOFT. Every year on Christmas, our church would ask families to sponsor a single mother and her children with Christmas gifts. Two years ago, I was walking the aisles of Walmart, buying items off the gift list we got from one of the single moms and her three children, and as I was looking into the shelves, a Walmart employee stops me and asks, in Spanish, if I’d accept an employee discount card that she had. Me, not fully understanding what she meant, asked if she was offering me her discount card for free, and she said “yes, I am done with my shopping and I don’t need this card, so I asked God to show me the right person and I think it’s you, it’s a 25% discount card.” She said she needed to go with me to the cashier cause she needed to sign to get the discount for me. I said “ok, but I’m not done yet,” and she said she’d wait for me at the cashier. When I was done, I met her at the cashier and she made the discount available to my purchase. I gave her a hug and told her about my church’s ministry and who she was blessing with that act of kindness, she said she knew God would point her to the right person. And I left amazed at God’s mysterious ways and grace.
Last week on Wednesday, a 22 year old male tragically passed away, he was the son of a lady that’s been visiting our church for over a month now, with whom I hadn’t spent much time during church. She was obviously devastated and requested visits and prayers. By Thursday, she was dealing with the unfortunate and painful fact that she didn’t have the money to pay for her son’s funeral, she couldn’t even have access to see his dead son, everything was just too much to deal with. Our church stepped in and helped raise the funds for her. On Sunday, amidst her pain, she was at church and we had a special prayer for her. Yesterday, Monday, some members of my church attended the visitation. I was standing in the room, looking at the young life that was lost, and then looking at the face of that mother, so full of sadness and pain, and I obviously couldn’t contain my tears. After a few words, a prayer and a song from one of our ministers, I left feeling terribly sad, praying for her and her family. As I was driving towards my house, I had her face on my mind and I remembered! She was the lady at Walmart that gave me her employee discount card two years ago!! She was her!
I thought of turning back so that I could ask her if she was that lady, but I didn’t do it. Today, we offered a meal for her family and friends after the burial. At the end of the meal, and after her friends and family left, all the present women from church sat with her and her husband and prayed for them again, when we were done I asked her “are you the lady that gave me the discount card at Walmart? She smiled and nodded, and we hugged. I told her again how she blessed that single mom and her kids, and I said “God blesses,” and she said “I have no doubt about it!”
2 Corinthians 9:8 says “….God is able to make every blessing of yours overflow for you, so that in every situation you will always have all you need for any good work.”
Be sure, we serve an awesome God and His hand is all over our lives! And He definitely works in mysterious ways. Thank you God for your grace and love!