Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
—1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV
In part 1 of this two-parter, I outlined how a secular meeting carried in it all the hallmarks of real community, the kind that should power the Church. However, I don't believe that we understand how vital community is to the believer, therefore we tend to wander like lone rangers thinking "Christ is all I need," but forgetting that it is in the Body of Christ that He chooses to express Himself before He returns.
What would the Church in America look like if we took 1 Thessalonians 5:11 to heart and made it bedrock to our interactions within the Christian community?
I guarantee that not a single person reading this wakes up in the morning thinking, "How can I build up other believers?" I'm not sure even our pastors think that way. I don't think that way.
But what if we did?
We talk about service, but service is nothing more than putting aside my need to meet the need of someone else. The Bible that we read and study so that we can be equipped for every good work stays mere words unless we let the Holy Spirit change our minds about those good works within community. If I'm not reading the Scriptures with a heart inclined toward service, then the word remains unfruitful in me. I may say that I want to be like Jesus, who came to serve and give Himself as a ransom, but that aspiration means nothing unless I die to self and take on His mantle of service to others.
Last year was a bad one for the Christian blogosphere. I can't ever remember so many horrible arguments paraded in public like I did some of the blog posts from 2005. Yet how slim were the words of encouragement! We had our proportions reversed and it showed in vitriolic commentary as foes arose where none were before.
This lack of up-building comes from daily repeating the world's mantra that I am all that is. Me. Myself. I. As much as we Americans like to think of ourselves as generous people (and we are to some extent), we still wear our self-centeredness on our sleeves. We've even made the Jesus who died for the sins of the world into a personal savior. Not his. Not hers. But mine.
I now understand that some Christians are requesting that their personal information be left out of church directories in order to protect their private lives! Listen, when we became Christians, we gave up all rights to a private life. People of the world dead in their sins have a private life, but the Christian doesn't. The Christian has a public, communal life. That community is key to everything the believer does and is! You can't build a temple to the Lord out of one stone, but with a quarry of them you can.
When each of us fixates so much on his or her own thing, is it any wonder that so many people have been burned by the Church? Worse yet, some people make spiritual excuses for that hurt. Earlier this year, I read a comment on another blog that excused hurting fellow believers by claiming that it's God's will for the hurt to happen. I thought, Then by all means, let's treat each other more savagely so that grace may abound! Let's be even MORE self-centered.
Benjamin Franklin, when confronted with the enormity of the independence he and his colleagues proposed, proclaimed, "We must hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately." How sad that so many of us in the Church in this country have chosen to hang separately. We let our brothers and sisters fend off the Enemy's attacks alone. Families fall to the ground and so few take it to heart, instead shaking heads and saying, "Thank God that wasn't us."
But time, and what comes with it, is fickle. One day, it might be us. What then? When we weren't there for others, how can we expect anyone to be there for us?
I get so many letters from people in dire straits who turned to their churches for help and got a door slammed in their faces. I could blog for the next year by doing nothing more than posting those e-mails from the very first day I started writing about these topics on this blog. Isn't that sad?
What will it take for us, when we're confronted with a need, for our first words to be, "How can I help?" Isn't that the character of Jesus Christ right there? Whenever He was confronted with a person's need, He didn't say, "Oh, I'll pray for you next time I draw away to a mountain top." No! He did something about that need right then and there. He met the needs of His community, the ones who lived in His region of Palestine so long ago.
We need each other, folks. The Church that God blesses is the one that works like an athlete's finely-tuned body, not like a bunch of organs held together by sheer force of will and a set of gritted teeth. My hope for the Church would be the same one that Paul desires: that we encourage each other and build each other up. If I'm in pain, you're there for me. When you need money, I offer to help. Even if my contribution looks more like the widow's mite than the enormity of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I still give it, even if that means I have to give up something I crave like crazy to make it possible.
Paul wrote this to the Corinthians:
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
—1 Corinthians 14:12 ESV
If we ever want to see the Spirit take our churches to the next level, building each other up, whether spiritually or by meeting the physical needs of the brethren, is the catalyst for empowerment. If we watch each other's backs and truly hang together, I know we'll be better for it in ways we can only dream of.
That's my hope for what the Church in America 2006 (and beyond) will be.
9 thoughts on “My Hope for What the Church Will Be, Part 2”
I recently received a letter from a woman in Arkansas who has a series of needs and has been burned in the past when asking the church for assistance.
If you live in Arkansas or know of a good church there, please drop me a line and let me know so I can pass that on to her. Maybe we’ll get one close to her home.
If anyone knows of any parachurch Christian organizations in Arkansas who help people in need, let me know, too. You can e-mail me at the address in the sidebar.
I agree completely that REAL COMMUNITY is one of the most vital part of “church” and Christian discipleship and growth. Are you familar with the House Church Movement and “the Open Church” concept put forth by Jim Rutz and others? http://www.house3house.tv … and http://www.openchurch.com … http://www.housechurch.org … http://www.ntrf.org
– those are excellent websites on “restoring early New Testament churches IN THE HOME. blessings and all the best,
in Yeshua Messiah. Len
I am familiar with the house church movement, but even it has glaring holes that are not being addressed, especially when it comes to involvement outside the homes. Larger churches have a presence in the local community that house churches never seem to achieve. That gives the larger church more power to make changes in the lives of entire towns, villages, and cities. House churches tend to be highly insular, which is great for the house church, but not so good for those around it.
I’m also not convinced that the Lord intended the Church to stay in the form we see in Acts. Obviously, the temple was destroyed in 70AD, so what did that mean to the model of meeting in the temple AND in people’s homes? Goodbye. Something had to replace it.
This is not to say that I’m not sympathetic to the house church model. I considered starting a house church. However, I see more possibilities for the existing church model than for house churches.
Anyway, thanks for the input. When I come back from hiatus, I may write on the topic of house churches.
Too true, too true. We have more resources at hand than any other church body in history, blessed (or cursed) with incredible wealth, freedom, and mobility, and yet are stymied by a self-centeredness that borders on psychotic.
Even in giving we are self-centered. How many people say it makes them “feel good” to give to others, or to help others. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about being in fellowship, but do we make it our purpose?
Or do we “do good” in order to “get good”? I argue up and down with Mormons about this one, but it applies to Christians as well. We do not “do good” in order to get rewarded, or to be saved. If we do, then our motives are anything but Christ-like.
Being there for others is not something we put on like a hat. It is the natural result of the Spirit being in charge of our lives. If there is no fellowship, if there are no good works, if there is no compassion for others, if there is no joy in sacrifice, then the Spirit is not there. And that’s what we need to work on.
Amen! Great post! I have begun to think of others needs more often, but rarely is it the first thought. The first thought usually is, “Coffee, please!” 🙂 I think too many times we are too busy doing “church” and running “programs” that we don’t have time for true biblical fellowship and service. (I almost used the word “ministry”, but that has been diluded by the belief that “ministry” is what I do at a building I call “church”.)
One slight concern about this post. Being a pastor whose office is in a “church” building I am regularly asked by people for financial help. None of those people attend our church, nor do any of these people attend any other church. They only turn to the church when they have a financial need. This is the epitomy of selfishness – only taking, never giving. It is a sin to turn away a brother in need, but to me that is taken in the context of someone you know is a brother because you are a part of the same local congregation. If these people sending you emails are being turned away by their own local congregation that is tragic. But if these people are not meeting needs as well as asking for help than they have the bigger problem.
Please don’t understand this comment to mean that I think we should only help Christians. We should serve all people! But people making a living off of begging money from churches is not what the Bible calls us to facilitate.
I was a part of the Vineyard for many years and the Vineyard has always obsessed with small groups. They set down a pattern in small groups that you must have worship time, prayer time, Bible study time, fellowship time, and so on. But I never found that a single meeting had enough time to do all that well. Instead, everything was rushed to force it all in. It never satisfied as a result.
We need to rethink how we live out our faith. From our meetings to our devotional lives, I think everything is open to examination. Not for deconstruction, mind you, but for an honest assessment of how our culture has molded our models, rather than the Lord.
To the issue of giving to “ingrates”…
Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one came back to thank Him. I don’t see where the Lord turned selfish people away. In truth, we are all selfish people when it comes to a need we have that is going unmet.
On the other hand, we forget that as believers our first responsibility in giving to others is to give to other believers. (Man, I wish we understood this!) I would make that clear to anyone seeking help. Set the standard in this regard and let people know that you give first to anyone who is a part of your local worshiping body. That puts the onus on the askers to become a part of the local worshiping body. Then they have to deal with the ramifications of their wanting to take the money and run. If we set an example that they can receive so long as they also give back, then the real scam artists will turn tail.
I believe the Lord is honored by doing things this way. This becomes a partnership approach, with each side contributing. Kind of like the “Teach a man to fish” idea, but with a community emphasis.
Another great post Dan,
Myself, I’ve had a really hard time being very connected to any church I’ve been in. I’ve done small groups and such and have even been the youth pastor at a church, but still never really felt a part of the community.
In the church my wife and I first joined when we moved here we had a pretty nice sunday school class/small group, but the whole church was one of those churches that if you hadn’t been there for 3 generations, you might be welcomed but were never really part of the family.
The next church was a plant that we joined about 6 months in because they met at the school we taught at. We were exceedingly involved in that church, small group, my wife was the praise band keyboardist, I was on the leadership team and eventually was the youth pastor. But honestly, I never really felt that I was part of the community.
Now we have joined a new church, about 6 months into its existence (a year ago). I thought I had a bond with the pastor, but never got into that much more of the church, though we do our “Christian duties” i.e. my wife does children’s ministry and I run the sound. But though the pastor was instrumental in getting me to confront and admit my sins, and really seemed to be there for me at first, six months later, I get no support, rarely answers to email, and a quick hi as I’m passed on the sundays that I can drag myself and my family there.
I’ll be the first to admit my own problem here. I tend toward insularity myself. Being as I was overworked at school, I tended to not pick up too many duties at church. We have a 16 month old and therefore some small groups are out for us and others just have difficult times to attend.
But I really have tried to reach out, honestly, I’ve begged the pastor for help, but am told simply to go to couseling. I’ve offered to help in a variety of ministries but it seems that the info I give the ministry leaders is lost. And to be honest, about 30% of the church are friends and family of the pastor and his wife, and we feel that we are never really going to be a part of that now. (Ever read that great article “Inner Ring” by C.S. Lewis).
In other words, I am aware of my own awful failings, but wish that if we were a real community that someone would reach out, give us a call, stop by, or maybe even just seem to give a crap, even when I’m in one of my dark moods. Ironically, my church of course bills it self as relational and real.
So now we are left to wonder if we seek some other place or tough it out here and hope that if we get through our struggles we can be more of a part of it all and really join the community. But our question now is is the community there and will we ever really be a part of it.
You didn’t leave an e-mail address, so I have to post this publicly. (Although this comment is to you, it is apropos to everyone.)
We’re the generation. Us. We have to set the tone for everyone else. We can hope that others will follow suit, but when it comes down to it, we have to be the trendsetters.
I know that sounds like a horrible cliché, but it’s true. If we want something, we have to offer it first.
If you want real community, then you need to be the seed for it. Be real community to others. Gather round the rest of the disenfranchised and do it. If the church at large ignores you, then they’ll be the ones on the outside looking in when God blesses you for it. But you be the start of the change. Someone has to; might as well be you and your family. Seventy percent of your church body is not related to the pastor. Some of them will be desiring the same thing you desire. Go before the Lord and ask Him to help you make it happen.
I know this sounds cynical, but ignore the hype when a church bills itself as being this or that. Proof comes in the action. Still, your church may have been exactly what it says it is at some time in the distant past, but forgot its roots. That happens a lot. A year ago, they may have been cutting edge, but they got complacent and let things slip.
My advice to you is to be what you want others to be. If you’re over 35, you’re the leader now. All of us over that age have to step out and do what we’re talking about. We can’t sit back and grouse about others not doing it. If we don’t lead, no one will.
And one thing about pastors. Your pastor was there for you at one time in your deepest need. That means something. He may very well be in a position now of wanting you to take the next step. That may mean less input from him. One thing I learned a long time ago is that we can’t bombard our pastors with all the things that bother us. They’re human. They can’t handle it all. The best way to get a pastor on your side is to ask him what his needs are and then meet them. Even if you feel he’s not meeting yours, meet his. God honors that. I can promise that no decent pastor will ignore someone who is making his own life easier rather than harder.
To not finding a small group that has people with small children, start one. Have everyone chip into a pool to pay a responsible teen (or two) to watch the kids. That’s what both small groups I’m a part of do. Makes things a lot easier.
I pray this helps.
Thought my email was there Dan, but I certainly don’t mind a public response as well.
I agree with a lot of your stuff, and honestly, 8 months ago, I would have done all of the above. For the past 7 years (excluding the past 6 mos) I have been a leader, and have been that guy that led the charge in more ways than one. I firmly agree that the time is now and that we should pick up the hammer and commence to work in our own generation. (Though I don’t quite meet your age requirements) That was my role for a long time and I did it well until I fell.
I think my own personal issues and the tension within my family though has rightfully (hopefully just for the moment) excluded me from leading. I am in no real shape to lead, though I hope that I will be again at some point.
About my pastor, you are right, he wants me to take the next step which is counseling. I suppose I have unloaded a lot on him, but it took me months to even do that, so I have been reticent to go further.
All of this just illustrates why community is so important too, so that when someone like me who was a leader falls short, that there are others there ready to not only pick that person up, but to hop into some of their old roles. Of course, the real hope would be that a real sense of community and sharing would keep some failures from happening.
Maybe in a few months (or years) I’ll be back to that state Dan and able to actually lead in the way we are talking about it. I hope that God alows it to be true.