Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Attributes of a Serious Church: Purposeful and Holy

My family has started attending a new Church on Sunday morning. So far, this assembly of believers and their Pastor seem like a good fit for my family. For the first time in a long time, we are hopeful about joining a serious community of committed believers.

As I sat in Church last Sunday, I realized I had been looking for a serious Church. The Church I was sitting in felt serious, but since I have never actually defined and articulated the attributes of a serious Church, I couldn’t be sure. Feeling serious and being serious may not be synonymous. I need a set of benchmarks to know if my feelings are an accurate reflection of a truly serious Church.

Here are the first two items of my initial list of what I consider to be the attributes of a serious Church. I will continue the list in later posts. Perhaps I will add or subtract from the list later after I have had more time to reflect. I always appreciate comments at my site, but I am particularly interested in criticism of this list. Thanks in advance for your comments.

Purposeful: Do the leaders of a Church have clearly defined goals? Do the activities and methods of a Church produce results that achieve the clearly defined goals?

My experience with Church has been that most Churches do what they do because they have always done it that way. The only results that gets measured are the number of people attending Sunday morning services and other activities. Some additions to the service and other new activities get created to increase head count, but it is rare for a Church to eliminate methods or problems that may be keeping people away.

“Bring a Friend” to Church sounds like a good idea to most Church leaders, but do these special Sundays ever increase the number of long term commitments to Christ? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Many believers are frustrated by these special Sundays. I can almost guarantee when I visit a small Church that there is a “Bring a Friend” event planned in the near future. Perhaps these Churches are small because of the way they conduct evangelism. I will have more to say on this topic in some other attributes on my list.

Holy: Does a Church care just as much about driving sin out of the Church as they care about getting new people in the Church?

There will always be sin in the people inside and the people outside of the Church. Imperfect people are tasked by Christ with spreading the Gospel to an unbelieving world. Getting people to hear the good news and assisting those in need are essential to living the Gospel, but increasing the crowd should be a result of a serious Church, not the only or even primary goal of a serious Church.

People who have been reborn with Christ should feel a desire to be more holy and less sinful. Help in becoming more holy comes from the prompting of the Holy Spirit, a Pastor who accurately and faithfully teaches the word of God, and other believers who are also making the effort to drive sin from their lives. Satisfied people are not serious believers. Becoming more holy only happens when a person makes a commitment to battle their own demons and appropriately confront the demons in others.

Iron really does sharpen iron. “Nice” and “friendly” have never sharpened anything. Churches are packed with nice and friendly people who are satisfied living in sin and tolerating sin. These Churches are not serious.



Buz said...

A long time ago (and in the not too distant past, as well) there was a profession known as a "mid-wife". It was the mid-wife's job to come when a baby was due and deliver it. If the mid-wife was good, she would also check-up on the mother's health now and then during pregnancy. It was NOT the mid-wife's job to continually be pregnant and have children.

The local church is to be a mid-wife of sorts. When believers have made a positive impression on a non-Christian, and that person is ready to enter into life, it is the local church's job to be there to lend assistance ... to birth the new Christian. It is also the local church's job to make sure that Christians have a healthy relationship to God and to each other. It is not the job of the local church to be doing constant evangelism, in order to bring non-Christians to Jesus.

The problem is that we Christians are shirking our responsibility and expecting the local church to, in effect, be constantly pregnant.

I strongly believe that the primary job of the local church is to provide fellowship, not just social interaction, while that is important, but the type of encouragement, one believer to another that spurs us on to live a better Christian life.

The one thing that the bible does tell us to do as a group is NOT to sing hymns (although the early church did do that), not to have sermons (although they did that, too), but to assemble together to encourage each other (Heb 10:24-5) and to spur each other on.

I know the pastor may say it better when he gets up and tells us to live holy lives ... but we expect him to do that, it's his job. It hits a lot closer to home when your friend, sitting next to you over a cup of coffee says, "I know that you have had trouble having daily devotions, I have been praying for you. Why don't we get together at lunch and start with 10 minutes of prayer and some scripture." He is not just telling you to do it, he is taking a personal interest in your life, and going out of his way to help you carry your load.

We can pray and worship on our own. We can read the bible all alone. We can watch preachers on TV who are probably a lot better teachers than anyone we would ever meet face to face. The one thing we can't do on our own is have fellowship with others.

Many years ago I saw an object lesson that has stuck with me ever since. The teacher had a rope strung from two points and hanging from it was a ball on a string. She gave that ball a push, perpendicular to the string, and it swung for a while and ran out of energy and stopped. Then she hung a second ball on a string from that same rope. Again she gave the first ball a push. As it swung, the second ball started swinging, also. After a while, the first ball had stopped, but the second ball was swinging almost as hard as the first one had when it started. Pretty soon, the second ball swinging started the first ball up again. Then as the second one was slowing down, the first was back in full swing. The two balls kept transferring the energy back and forth.

We are like that. I can have goals and energy and have the convictions to live a holy life. In doing that, I may inspire you. Sooner or later, I may hit a bump or get depressed from daily troubles and lag behind on my determination to live that holy life. But, if you have caught some of my zeal, and you are charging ahead, and you see me faltering, your prayers and encouragement can help me to renew that determination (Ecc 4:12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.)

I don't know if you remember Dean C. from Team Building, but these past two summers, when I spen a lot of time in the hospital in Detroit, he came to visit a few times. He didn't sing me any hymns (although he has a great voice), and we didn't do any bible studies, he was just there to lift me up when I was dragging.


David M. Smith said...

Thank you for this comment Buz. You have a lot of insight and you used some very appropriate analogies. I wish you would have kept writing your own blog.

Teambuilding was before my time, but I do remember Dean from some of the later discussion groups. Real friends are invaluable.

I completely agree with you about fellowship and encouragement through fellowship. However, I think most Churches have overemphasized relationships with each other. It seems to me that believers have become very needy. It is one thing to get encouragement during particularly bad times, but it is another thing to constantly need encouragement.

A lot of Church people need relationships and encouragement like addicts need drugs. Perhaps it is the marine and not the Christian in me talking now, but I would love to hear a Pastor encourage the assembly to spend more time alone in order to get closer to God and become less dependant on the encouragement of other believers.

Buz said...

I should have kept going in my comment, but it was already getting way too long (so I thought, anyway).

One of the important things about encouraging each other is accountibility.

That is why I said at the outset, "not just social interaction". No, we don't need another support group where everyone sits around and chats and feels good about themselves.

We need the type of relationships where I tell you that I have a problem with drinking or pornography and you not only pat me on the head and tell me that you will pray for me, but that you really DO pray and keep a weekly or even daily tab on me. If I feel like I am going to go on a bender this week-end, I call you for help and you sit with me, if necessary, to keep me from slipping.

That is true, encouraging fellowship. It is you telling me to be holy ... not just the preacher. And it is also you walking with me on that path at times, to help me not to slip.

I think that is a large problem with the church today ... especially in big churches. We are mostly anonymous. I can sit in the pew on Sunday, and on Monday I can cheat, steal, beat my wife, or otherwise live like everyone else, and unless my sins hit the evening news (like molesting an entire class of second graders) no one in the church even knows about it ... or for that, even cares.

Jesus one commandment was that we love one-another. Paul tells us that Jesus loves the church like a man should love his wife. Implicit in that love is caring enough to hold us accountable. In that same way, we should be accountable to each other.

(Not that I should get up in front of the entire church and rattle off the littney of sins I have committed this week, but I should have a close Christian brother with whom I share my weaknesses, so that they can pray for me, and ask me where I am winning and losing those battles. If I know I will have to tell another Christian that I watched the Playboy channel, I would be a lot less likely to cross that line.)

There, does that have a more military ring for you?