Pastor's Blog

For the past three months I’ve been looking at the same idea, each week from a slightly different angle:  the church as a loving body being crucial to reaching others for Christ.

When people come to Christ, they are not just coming to Christ.  They are changing their view of the world.  They don’t change the whole thing at once, but an initial conversion is a radical change in one’s overall understanding.*

*(Or should be.  I have contended elsewhere and often that the message of Jesus has been diluted into a mere self-absorbed concern over one’s eternal destiny, so I will not use any precious space on that here.)

That change in world view is difficult to maintain in isolation and the biblical pattern has always been that one becomes a part of a people – a group – that instructs, encourages, rebukes, and reinforces that new outlook on the world.

When you come to Christ, it is inevitable that you are coming to His people as well.

The trend in evangelicalism ever since I have been a pastor is to take leadership and administrative cues from American business.  Structure and organize the church like a business.  Develop a mission statement.  Develop five-year plans.  Be streamlined, sleek, and efficient.

Maybe God leads some pastors to organize that way – and may the Spirit bless their efforts.  I’ve never quite fit with that approach and have resisted it for several reasons, chief among them being that the downside of corporate America is its tendency to use people as means to an end.  The focus is the creation of a product or service at a profit – which is fine – but people are tools, machines to that end.

God’s end is people, souls, character, and love cultivated among souls.

Though I don’t know if anyone has ever written a book about it, my own approach has been to try to lead, when we were small, as a family; now that we are larger, I think a better way to see it is as a small town (or a village).

Towns are only organized to the extent that they need to be.  Certain parts of the infrastructure – the roads, the sewers, maybe a park used for common enjoyment of all, and some security issues – are managed centrally with a little more precision, but on the whole, a small town is decentralized.  Homes organize as they wish.  Circles of friends connect as they wish.  Maybe every now and then a whole neighborhood closes off a street and has a block party.

The mayor and the town council aren’t micromanaging your life.  They’re trying to create a general atmosphere in which you are able to live and pursue your interests.  Or maybe you and a few friends do something together that you enjoy.

YOU take the leadership and decide what you want to pursue.  The mayor and the town council are there to manage potential scheduling conflicts or other conflicts of interest and maintain peace and order.

Small towns are greatly decentralized.
The personality and character of the town are determined, not as much by the mayor and town council as by the citizens and what they like to do.  They do it and engage those that share the interest.  That might not include the entire town -- and that’s perfectly all right!

If you want a picture of how I think the church should work, the “small town” might be helpful to you.  At least for where we are now.

I recently observed a conversation between Christians about a particular sin that is prominent in American culture.  The first Christian stated that it was a sin.  Several other Christians responded that this was an expression of hate, a lack of love and compassion, and that the good news should be shared and – and this was the statement that got my attention – “the message of right and wrong isn’t the good news.”

That’s not the first time I’ve heard an evangelical say that Christianity is not about morality.  And that always leaves me dumbstruck. 

How is the gospel not about right and wrong?  “Right and wrong” is the only backdrop against which the good news can be rightly understood.

‘Right’ is life lived in line with God’s heart and God’s truth – what God wants.  Sin is our insistence that what God wants is irrelevant.  I make the rules.  When we blindly trust and follow our own hearts in this way, we go wrong and do wrong.

Until we see that we have gone wrong, why should we feel a need to be rescued or a need for a rescuer? 

Put another way, if we can’t see our illness, why would we ever go to the doctor?  But our situation is worse.  Not only do we not recognize our illness – we often think our illness is actually ‘health’ and our blindness is ‘sight’!  Worse still, everybody around us agrees with our diagnosis of ourselves as healthy (not ill) and seeing just fine (not blind).

Except for that Christian over there who has it all turned around backwards.

Oh…no…wait.  There are two…no, two hundred Christians.

No, wait.  A whole sub-culture of Christians who are living with a totally different view of the world, a totally different approach to things…

And they love one another!

Can you see how this is supposed to work in theory?
Can you see how the church, living as a loving body, an alternate society, is intended to be a powerful evangelistic tool?
And how devastating is it to the cause of the message of Jesus when the church DOESN'T see this?

When you believe in Jesus, you’re not a Lone Ranger riding into the sunset to figure out Christianity on your own.  You become part of a group – an alternate society that wants to live life (not just “do religion”) God’s way.

The idea that Christianity is not merely a religion I find significant.  It’s popular to say “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.”  But the two are not mutually exclusive.  Christianity is both.  It is a religion. 

A religion is just a conscious practice of life, including certain ritual behaviors, that reminds me there is a higher aspect of life in the universe, something beyond life based on the creaturely senses.  That higher and extraordinary aspect informs, directs, and guides the way you live “ordinary” life.

That means that everything in my ordinary life has some connection to that higher extraordinary aspect.  It’s not just “church things” that are touched by God’s hand and it’s not only in church that my faith matters. 

When we talk about “the great commission” to evangelize, we usually start with Matthew 28.19:  Go into all the world…

But before that, Jesus says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  Jesus isn’t just on the throne in the church.  He has authority everywhere and over everything in the world.  When I go to my son’s ballgame or my daughter’s band concert – when I go anywhere to anything in the world, Jesus’ authority is there.  I’m not just there for the event; I’m His representative, His ambassador, as it were.

Every connection I make with people holds the possibility of significance for the kingdom.  And how I represent that kingdom, God’s people, becomes significant.

We are living in a time where many individuals and churches that have used the magic words method have made Christ stink in the world.  That has put an extra obstacle in the way of winning those offended by religious hypocrisy.

The first thing I want them to know is that I’m an ordinary human being.  I’m normal.  I’m not part of some creepy cult that refuses to interact with the world.

The second thing I want to do is demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in my interactions.  I want to be kind.  I want to be patient and willing to listen.  I want to express my differences and disagreements graciously and wisely.  I want to ask thought-provoking questions.  I don’t want to gossip or slander or speak ill of others.  I don’t want to be arrogant or haughty or condescending or rude.  I don’t want to be pushy or obnoxious.

I want to be to them the way I would want others to be with me.
And when we part, I want them to leave thinking, “I like him (or her)”.
If possible, I want the door open for another opportunity to build that friendship, to be able to share in the things in life out there that we have in common.

I want to just be a good and decent human being in their presence.

This may seem unimportant.  But in truth, I don’t think that most people think of these kinds of things.  They don’t think about their character or who they are or how they talk or behave.  They just expect to be accepted for “who they are”.

That’s very American.  It’s also why Americans are often deemed obnoxious.

I believe when you’re different in the ways I suggest, people notice.
And the worse society gets, the more starkly good people will stand out.
Ask any employer or schoolteacher.

And what makes you different?  Your ordinary life is directed by something – Someone – extraordinary.  And you’re not alone.  You’re part of a body of people that all live the same way.

At least that's the theory...and the hope.

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