"Summarizing What God Calls Us To Do = Depending On The Cross"
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
A healthy church can be just 50 members or over 50, 000+ members. The healthy church can be a very small group of people who are struggling to keep it afloat. Or they can be exploding with new people. They can be in a dwindling town, such as in a Midwest coal town, or in the heart of the big city. They can have many elements staked against their favor such as being in a town with to many churches, or in a liberally harsh environment such as in a new mission field or in the heart of San Francisco. They could have just withered a moral breach from a key leader or suffered a tragic loss. The healthy church can even see their membership slipping away. And of course the healthy church can be exploding with hundreds and even thousands of people, such as those in Korea. So what is a healthy church?
Our contemporary society today sees a successful church as one with a large campus and big facilities. A church that has lots of programs that dwarf the other churches in its city. If you think this is a sign of a successful church, then you are among most leaders and Christians in America today. Just as I once believed and taught as a church growth consultant. However, this is not what Scripture tells us what a healthy church is. In fact a healthy church can be just a few families, they may never see growth and may actually be in decline. And a diseased church can have that large and nice campus, they can have several thousand people with programs we all would envy. Because the health of the church is not in the numbers or in the building or in the programs, it is who they are in the Lord, and what they are doing with His call.
A healthy church is one who is poured out to our Lord. Who practices the love of our Lord through worship, teaching, learning, loving, caring, praying, and outreach. A church that chooses to be a bag of marbles, all with different colors and sizes all working together. Each marble seizing its call and exercising its gift for the game. Have you ever tried to play marbles with just one? Not very fun is it? To play your best you need more than one, each with a purpose and direction. In spite of that a lot of churches chose to be the lone marble. That church really cannot be used to play any marble games, because not that there are too few, the marbles just do not get along. Yet the more marbles you have working together the better you can play. And the more is two or more gathered in His name. A people working together for a common purpose with vision and strength, all striving to give God the glory.
We must not care how big we are, but how we are. We cannot have the gathering of more people as our only goal and purpose. Because this is not what God has called us to. Yes Matthew 28 calls us as a mandate to make disciples and to teach. But if we interpret it as only bringing people into the church, then we are short sited. Yes we need to invite people, but it is what we do with the people that God has given us that is the primary role and purpose of the church. We have to be a better 'how', if we truly want to receive the Lord's blessing and be all that we are called to be.
Place this stethoscope from Scripture to your churches heart:
The first church was, "devoted to the apostles' teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer; and everyone was filled with awe."
What is the stethoscope hearing from your church? What is your church devoted too? What and where is your awe, your wonderment? This will be the question if answered honestly, be the measuring rod to the health of your church. Because this passage in Acts gives us the purpose, vision and call of the church. Not just a certain church down the street, but your church, and all churches, as we all are one body together. The healthy church looks like Acts 2! The healthy church can be your church, perhaps it already is, or it may need reformed. So catch that 'AWE', that passion and devotion to our Lord and the reason for our being!
Restating the Simple Problem
The problem is not so much how we do things, it's how we are! The problem is not what we do in our worship services; it is how we treat the people that go to our services. The problem is not how we are dressing for services but how we love and care at our services. The problem is not how good our programs and location are, it is how we are. The problem is not so much who we are; the problem is how we are. Too often we confuse the WHO with the HOW! The problem is not so much as being a Christian in of itself; but, the problem is how we treat others as Christians.
So we need to change the HOW, to change how we are, how we behave, how we treat each other, how we love, and how we care. How we pray. How we do the 'practice' of the church, the love of our Lord through worship, teaching, learning, loving, praying, and outreach. So that the big 'how' is that we model Christ as a chosen reality, that Jesus Christ really is in our lives!
The church is a human institution, filled with our fallen nature. So we should expect a few flaws of unsatisfactory reactions by people. After all, you cannot please everyone. And there is no institution better; after all, who is going to marry you and bury you? Who is going to hold your baby up in baptism or dedication? These important stages of life are centered upon the church, all the richness of the traditions, and all the hope we have to look to. Would you rather go to the courthouse? Well, if we do not reform and turn our failing churches around, people will rather go to the courthouse! And then where does that leave the church and its relevance in culture?
Embracing the Opportunity, and be the Church that Christ Called
"Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it." (James 4:8-11)
Most churches that are failing did not wake up one day and just decide 'hey lets fail'. They did not have started off with me first intentions and ignore our Lord's call. They probably did not chose a purposeful direction to be critical and condescending to each other and especially non-Christians. They did not write their mission statements with a 'how to' do the disdainful disposition, or hold seminars on modeling attitudes of puffed up pride!' There was a process that led up to the point of decline and apathy from a starting point of new birth and excitement. There was a point where the first love became clouded, and other dispositions took over the role of the church. As the divorcing couple did not go into their wedding with the vision and plan for the divorce. They did not say in their vows, "say in 5 years lets become so miserable, we will divorce and live frustrated and disillusioned lives." Here too was a process that went from love and excitement of there newly weed bliss, to bitterness, criticalness, condescendment, defensiveness and withdraw, and then the decision to end their relationship. It has been my observations that the causes of marriage failure are the same as with church failure. Because relationships have the same perimeters for what works and what destroys. And the church is a community of relationships, with each other, to the world and most importantly with our Lord.
The process first begins with the love and excitement for the ministry and the new birth for the new Christian or the new church start for the seasoned Christian. It can just being in a healthy church, or being in a non-healthy church and never have experienced anything else. But at some point the committed Christian who has received the election of our Lord, has traded that first love in for a lemon of sin. Some how that love and passion slowly dwindles away, as other things creep there way in the place of that excitement. And these 'things' are the diseases of apathy, gossip, pride, legalism, slander and the list can go on and on. These form the relationship killers of bitterness, criticalness, condescendment, defensiveness and withdraw. These are the sins that take away from each other, it is in fact stealing from God Himself. These were not the precepts that the church was founded upon, these diseases were not in the vision of her planters, just as the divorce court was not on the wedding planner with the couple getting married. Yet, it happened, and it keeps happening.
We may have started to "come near to God", and we received "he will come near to you," but we decided to engaged in the process that let go of what we had. We have let the "double-minded" mindset take over the plan and purpose that God has given us. We must recapture the call of that first love will all of the excitement and vigor for our Lord. We must humble our pride before it is too late.
One of the central themes of humbleness is if we do not do it, God will. God asks us to 'humble ourselves' for the essential reason that if we do not, He will and when that happens it may just be too late! If we do not start to reform our churches to be as they were designed and destined to, then it will too be too late. The doors will close. Just as it has already happened in most parts of Europe. The church once fluoresced there, but apathy and disease took over and now her pews sit empty in the mist of a confused and decadent culture. We cannot just visualize what a healthy church can and should look like, we must act on it to make it happen.
We have spent a lot of time on all the negative aspects of the Church, and the problems associated with the miss treatment from Christians. We have seen how we rationalize our behaviors to make us feel good, so we do not have to listen to the call of our Lord. And how we miss interpret the truths of Scripture for our own gain, ignoring the true mission of the Church.
We have also seen some aspects of good character that we can do personally and collectively as a Church to be the Church that Christ calls us to be. We have seen and read the Scriptures, seen the results of what happens when we do and do not follow our Lord, when we do not humble ourselves. So the choice is up to us, we are given choices in life, options to follow. We can see for ourselves the church that is worshipping the Lord, caring and loving each other, steeped in prayer, and reaching its neighborhood and world for Christ. And we can see the church that is full of strife and conflict. The church that has given up its call to be in Christ and substituted it with their own inclinations and agenda. The results of not following Christ are causing people to leave the church bitter and disillusioned. Because to many Christians have transferred their election of grace into advertisements of hostility, thus they forgot the main thing. So the disillusioned world has confused the strife of Christians for the care of the Lord, thus see an uncaring God by seeing His uncaring people and leaders.
I was at a youth pastors conference a few years ago and heard a story that relay caused me to shutter and think. A story of a teen who tried to join a youth group, who was small and awkward, and seemingly unlovable. None of the other youth would have anything to do with him. The youth pastor invited him to a fun youth trip to an amusement park, a supposed fun and community building event. The other kids shunned him, the youth pastor himself did not recall if he spent any time with the new kid. Instead spent all of his time with the popular kids. No one would pair up with this new kid, or reach out to him, because they conceded him undesirable and loveless, so he roamed an amusement park all by himself. A skinny loaner who no one wanted to befriend, his name was Brian Warner.
A shy reclusive timed youth that no one wanted to show and model the love and care of Christ. They were to busy in their cliques, to busy pretending to be a Christian and, singing the songs and discussing the spiritual things but not implementing them, because it was inconvenient: It got in the way of their own agenda. So Brian left disillusioned. This was perhaps his one last hope for receiving care and love. There was no Christ like outreach from the people who are called to be the best at it. Since love and care was not presented, Brian received not.
So he grew up and changed his name. He took the first name of a famous actress who committed suicide, and a serial killer for a last name. His name became Marilyn Mansion. He is the favorite of the two teens who killed all those youth in Columbine, and the various other school shootings. Who so many youth listen too and find life totally hopeless and un-meaningful or kill themselves!
What if the youth group did reach out to Brian. Would he be a great Christian singer attracting the youth that feel hopeless, attracting the two teens in Columbine to live for Christ, instead of killing for Satan. We may not know until the Day of Judgment of what could have happened, but we do know what did happen, and we do know what we should have done as Christians. Because we know what Christ calls us too. We just all too often chose not too. How different our world would be if just one person in a youth group in Florida reached out to an seemingly awkward and unlovable kid….!? How different and better would our world be if you and your church did as we are called to do? Be truly loving and caring, presenting those Christ like characteristics?
Just how different our world would be if our churches as a collective were doing as we are called, if we just would get off the pews, and get in Christ!
© 1998, 2001, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, http://www.churchleadership.org/