Here I sit on Saturday night, having had an amazing week of watching God at work. I haven’t posted since Monday because even for me this has been a busy week…and that is saying something. This week has been filled, in retrospect, with life and activities that highlight what I think it means to be the Church in a biblical, book of Acts, early-church sense.
Many American evangelical Christians have a significant misconception about what it means to be a part of a church, and a bigger misconception about how to function effectively as a follower of Christ in a community of other Christ-followers. I’m not even talking about the typical Baptist church roster that has hundreds of members who haven’t attended for years,(1) or about the nominal Christians who come to a worship service every few months (the CEO’s…“Christmas and Easter only”) and feel like they have enough fuel in the tank to make God happy.
I think that a lot of Christians believe that being part of a church means attending a worship service moderately regularly (say more often than not), putting something in the plate every week, having a Jesus fish on the back of their car, and maybe saying grace at dinner.
That is not what I see among the members of a biblical church though. What I see is this:
42They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
The church in its incarnation that honors Christ and lives up to His desires is a church that is WAY more than once a week interaction. It is certainly more than gathering to listen to a band play (and maybe sing along) and then listening to a speech. It is people sharing life, serving one another with their gifts (oh, like 1 Peter 4:10 tells us to!) and holding one another to their desire to follow Christ as Hebrews 10:24-25 mentions. It wasn’t and isn’t coming together once a week and then ignoring one another for the other six days. It wasn’t hiding behind “respecting people’s privacy” as a guise for “don’t want to have to explain why my life the rest of the week has no connection to what goes on Sundays.”
I got to experience that first hand this week in a big way, so this is front-and-center for me. In my life this week, here is a sampling of some of the ways that my family in Christ has made me a better Christ-follower-some good and some bad:
- We ordained a deacon on Sunday in worship service. Randy is the first deacon our church has had since 1999, and that is a big deal! (We ordained the first deaconess in the history of our church last year) I love it when people grow in their commitment to serve the Lord, and it was a great start to our VBS.
- Speaking of VBS, we had ours all week. We do an evening VBS, and watching the dozens of people serve kids and teach them about Christ was awesome. Every servant there sacrificed a lot of time and effort to serve others, which is very honoring to the Lord I think. I did very little other than encourage and cheer them on! I got to be hit by pies by the class who collected the most canned goods for our food pantry, which was a lot of fun. We collected 710 food items , which we use to provide for our neighbors who are in a bind and hungry. You know, that whole James 2:15-16 thing. 🙂
- I had a difficult interaction with someone involving misconceptions about who God is, His character, and what biblical Christianity believes about eternal life and sin. Enough said, but as I struggled emotionally it was the counsel of my friends and their helping me live out my faith in an authentic, non-Pharisee kind of way that made all the difference in the outcome. Thank God for good friends who counseled me to heed James 1:19 and be quick to hear and slow to speak.
- I got to allow my wife’s gifts to shine by helping a family bring a new baby into the world as their doula. This Christian family does not attend our church…and that matters not one iota! Laura is helping them honor the Lord with the birth of their first child, and that is cool. It was a family affair, because the kids had to chip in to make it successful too.
- I got to teach theology to summer school students all week. We talked about Christology (Jesus, His divinity and humanity, His life, death, and resurrection) and began our study on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). We are called to love God with our minds, and it is a lot of fun for me to be there with these students as they grapple with the difficult issues of theology.
- I got to see several members of our church go visit the sick and the homebound, which is always great and fulfills what real religion is.
- I got to meet with my elders and pray for my church family, then talk about how we can be more effective and take steps in that direction.
- I finished the week up with an exhausting day moving. We had about 12 or 13 people give up their Saturday to help a family in our church move. We actually had 2 moves going on at once, because my Grandma moved into town this week too! It was great to have 5 guys from our church family show up to help unpack her moving truck, then keep going and get two HUGE loads moved for Pete and Christie. All the time we were having a lot of fun, even when we were totally wiped out physically.
- I got to have a difficult conversation with a Christian who was upset at me about my handling of my premarital mentorship requirements. That wasn’t fun (I hate confrontation), but it made me aware that I need to make some informal procedures a bit more formal and challenged me to think through why I do what I do for couples who want me to officiate their wedding. It also made me articulate those ideas, which will bear fruit soon in some writing. We weren’t 100% on the same page when the conversation ended, but I was glad for the biblical confrontation and the chance to grow in my pastoral duties. Pray that the outcome is good, because it is still up in the air and my heart is always to open doors for people to find more room for God in their life rather than shut them. I am hopeful that this will be an area where we can have liberty, though there is still a lot of room for hurt feelings.
With all of that, I am not “looking forward to church” tomorrow. I have been experiencing “church” all week! Of course I am looking forward to having Bible study, singing, praying, building relationships, taking the Lord’s Supper together, and sharing my study of Luke 8:4-21 tomorrow. Sunday morning is the highlight of my week!(2) It is even more meaningful because of the significant and important “church” I have experienced all week.
The church still works today like it did in Acts in some significant ways. The authentic church still gets involved in each other’s lives and moves beyond superficiality to real life transformation. It gets into the messy area of “family” and all that entails. And that, as much as anything else, makes me love Christ’s church with my whole heart.
(1) I have seen SBC-affiliated pastors shocked when I tell them that a couple of times a year our elders go through our membership roster and ask how each member’s life, worship, service and attendance are, then start following up with those who are disconnected. (we aren’t the Gestapo looking for malcontents, but shepherds inquiring about the health of our family) We call, write, and if we can’t reconnect with someone who hasn’t attended in six months or more we remove them from our roster and relieve them of the responsibilities we ask of our members. Many Baptist churches have three times as many members as they have attendees on a Sunday!
(2) For the record, Sunday mornings were the highlight of my week LONG before I was a pastor. Being around others who follow Christ has been a priority in my life since I became a Christian in 1998.