Tag Archives: body life

Embracing our ministries

One growing conviction that I have is that people need to embrace their role in the spectrum of how people approach God. That is, some people have a real talent for spotting hurting people and establishing a connection with them. Others have a gift for explaining theology in ways ordinary people can understand. There are people who have the ability to feel and convey a sense of urgency regarding our need to reconcile with God; others have the patience for working with new Christians.

We all need to grow in these different areas, yet I feel that each of us will always have one or two areas in which we excel. We need to embrace that.

What does that mean?

  • We seek to identify the ministry that God has gifted with us, looking to use it to help people draw closer to God.
  • We observe the body we are a part of, affirming and enabling others as they exercise their ministries. We don’t call them to do ours, nor deride ourselves for not having their ministry. We embrace our ministry and help others do the same.
  • We work in a concerted way with other Christians to make our ministries glorify God by helping the Kingdom grow in three directions: inward, outward, upward.

We have different areas of service, but those ministries are to mesh together in a coordinated way. It’s not about what I do, nor what you do. It’s about what the body does. And one of the main things the body does is help people get closer to God. We do that through bringing in outsiders, discipling new Christians, and enabling the ministries of all believers.


The most important skill needed for evangelism is the ability to listen. The most important skill needed for church leadership is the ability to listen. The most important skill needed for body life in the church is the ability to listen.

We focus way too much on what we’re going to say. We need to focus more on picking up on what others say.

The spate of celebrity suicides reminds us that there are hurting people that need someone to listen to them. So much violence, like the shootings at schools, could be avoided if people would listen to those who feel they have no voice. So many abuse victims could be protected if the people around them would listen.

How many problems in the church reflect a lack of listening? How many people fall through the cracks because we don’t hear what they need to say? How many young people are frustrated by their perception that the older generation doesn’t care about their situation? How many older people feel that their wisdom and experience is being cast aside in favor of the young?

People around us are dealing with much pain. They are dealing with much fear. They have guilt and regrets from the past. They have uncertainty about the future.

Listen. Truly listen to the people around you. Spend less time talking, more time listening. You may be surprised at the changes you’ll see.

What kind of knowledge does a church need?

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.

If we are members of the University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, we should be hurting today

Everyone in our congregation should be concerned right now. Everyone. The same probably goes for your congregation.

I don’t really care what your thoughts are on immigration policy, at least not today. Today is a day to think as a Christian, not a Republican or a Democrat.

The Hispanic community in Abilene is upset. Nervous. Both those who are here legally and those who aren’t. They are uncertain about what the coming days bring for them and their loved ones. They know they are in for a time of distrust and suspicion, no matter their status. They are hurting right now.

This is true for Hispanic members of the church. They are scared. They are nervous. They are hurting.

We should be too.

But I agree with Trump’s immigration policy! (you say)

OK. That’s not the point of this post. This post is about weeping with those who weep. This is about compassion.

We can feel compassion even when we feel that someone is suffering because of something they’ve done wrong or that their family has done wrong. We can hurt for the alcoholic, whether or not we think they are to blame for their condition. We can hurt for families going through divorce, no matter what we see as the cause of their situation.

We don’t have to be pro-enforcement or anti-enforcement to hurt with those who hurt and weep with those who weep.

On Sunday, we had a baby blessing at our church. The father is Hispanic, the mother Anglo. Mom admitted that she would have preferred to do the blessing in the chapel where our bilingual group meets, but agreed to do it in the main auditorium because she had been told it would be encouraging to the main congregation. Everyone wanted to see that our congregation has young families that are growing.

When we have baptisms, we often do them during worship time, even though that’s very disruptive for the bilingual group. Why do we do that? So the whole congregation can rejoice together upon seeing a new birth. (Over the last few years, a disproportionate number of the baptisms at church have come from the bilingual group)

We want to rejoice with our Hispanic brothers. We want their joys and their triumphs to be the joys and triumphs of the whole congregation.

Therefore the whole congregation needs to be hurting today. We need to weep with those who weep. We need to feel the pain of the children who don’t understand legal and illegal; all they know is that Mexicans are being rounded up and sent away… and their parents are Mexicans. Kids don’t understand the difference. Their peers will still taunt them and bully them about being taken away by immigration. You may think that their parents are at fault, but you can still hurt for the children.

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t claim the joy and not claim the hurt. We can’t share the laughter if we aren’t willing to share the tears.

I don’t really care right now what you think about immigration policy. I do very much care what you think about Hispanics today, both those inside the church and out. How we react to them today, how we treat them during these hard times, how we talk about what’s going on… all of that will affect the church’s outreach for decades to come. And will affect our brothers and sisters today.

Weep with those who weep. Hurt with those who hurt.

Talk to school teachers. Hear their stories about the confusion kids are feeling right now. Think about the Hispanics you know who are working in restaurants, doing construction, laboring on farms. Whether or not they are here legally, they are going to face increased scrutiny, increased suspicion, increased discrimination. Feel for them. Embrace their pain as your own.

All of UCC Abilene needs to be upset and hurting today. All of us need to be nervous about what’s coming in the days ahead. Today, I don’t care about your politics; I care about your compassion.

If we are members of the University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, we should be hurting today. (Those of you in other churches should consider your church’s situation)

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.

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)