I don’t like to criticize churches. I find it to be generally unhelpful and divisive. I think there are times when the truth needs to be spoken in love, but over the years I am coming to an increasing understanding of how much of the way we church is cultural – even (and perhaps, especially) in America. I have become increasingly sensitive to the jealousies and selfish ambitions that fuel our hypocritical hatred of Christians who don’t do exactly with their resources what we think they should do with their resources, increasingly intolerant of gossip, and deeply desirous of the unity that is entirely available to us in the Spirit when we stop yielding so much to our flesh.
I am by no means suggesting that I get everything right all the time. I am by nature a pharisee and an ‘older brother’, so growth for me sometimes looks like doing less even at the risk of being misunderstood, accepting the fact that I am already loved and lovely, and sometimes showing up without a smile on my face – fighting the good fight of faith in front of other people . . .
Nevertheless, working with church plants is something that I am evidently passionate about. ha. I say that because I never really set out with church planting as a goal; but in the past seven years, I have found myself willing to sacrifice for it more than anything else in my life. I find myself willing to spend extra time and extra energy and extra money for the sake of the consistency I know to be needed. I find myself willing to get my hands dirty and endure various kinds of layered discomforts. Church planting is the thing I love with a fierce and chosen commitment, even when I want to walk away.
Lately, I’ve been questioning the way we do things. It seems like certain ideologies churches have – things that have by now become millennial traditions – aren’t necessarily meaningful other than the fact that certain people or groups have determined that This Is How Church Should Be Done. Lately, I’ve been craving the richness and simplicity of gathering together as members of the household of God.
To be honest, I’m not really clear on why we (and by ‘we’ I mean various tribes of American Christians, not just the plant I’m currently at) seem so convinced that the vast majority of unbelievers are more willing to traipse along to Church with us than study the bible in our homes across our dinner tables. That may be true to an extent, but I wonder if we’re being Strategically Deceived. I wonder if we’re being fearful and-or lazy.
I’m still thinking through things, but one of the things I’ve been thinking through is this: I think we do ourselves a disservice when we perpetuate the notion of institutionalized discipleship. We like to remind ourselves that we are the Church, but then we have a tendency to orchestrate our gatherings in a way that becomes cumbersome, production-oriented, and technology-reliant. We’ve made it easy to feel like we’ve done our part just by inviting someone to church.
Sometimes it seems like we’ve given up on the expectation of growth and progress in our lives of faith; of going from glory to glory . . . because after all we’re just sinners saved by grace and we won’t be perfect this side of heaven . . . so rather than expect and exhort each other to be generous without a campaign, to be patient in building relationships, and courageous in our discussions of what God actually says about Himself, we try to make church appealing to the people who we assume wouldn’t ‘normally’ or ‘otherwise’ be interested in the things of God.
And once we get them in the door, we measure the worth of our efforts by their immediate responses or lack-thereof. Sometimes we have a tendency to celebrate growth or conversions in ways that are less about the convert’s new life in Christ and more about the effectiveness of our approach.
What I enjoy about healthy churches is what I enjoy about spending time in any healthy family’s home . . . there’s no pressure for you to respond a certain way, or demonstrate that you’re impressed with what they’ve put together for you. There’s a trust and authenticity that says, this is who we are and you are welcome here. . . without copying or criticizing the other families in the neighborhood. There’s no competing with others just because there are more of them or they have more money and louder applause.
I love church and I love God’s people. As I’ve been learning more about identity and passion and calling (the latter of which don’t always coincide), I’m realizing that I really am passionate about healthy churches and healthy people and courageous, Spirit-led discipleship . . . growing with the growth that is from God. I get frustrated sometimes, and overwhelmed, and impatient. But God is continually transforming me, and I believe that He will finish the Thing He has started in us all.
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Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head (Jesus), from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments grows with a growth that is from God.