The Family

The Family
Justice, Logan, Jacy Klaire, Joy, Josie Kate, Luke, Megan, Judah, Kerry, Jaxon

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Bi-vocational Southern Baptist Preacher/Optometrist/Missionary's Thoughts on Church

LONG BLOG POST AHEAD

A few months ago someone asked my opinion on church and the church in America.  BAD idea!  I had plenty of time to think and pray on this issue while in Haiti and this is my boiled down, able to post without being to offensive version of my answer.  As an eye doctor, I must advise frequent breaks for blinking to avoid low blink rate computer reading induced dry eye syndrome.  So grab a cup of coffee and bottle of Systane Balance over the counter tear drops and lets do this!

 “Church”

The church is the Bride of Christ for which He will gloriously return to redeem and carry across the threshold of eternity.  The church was established by Christ with specific intentions.  The church through the centuries has been the most powerful, most abused, and most misunderstood entity in history.  The true church is not a denomination, congregation, hierarchy, or structure.  The true church is composed of those souls who have forsaken themselves and their pursuits in order to follow Christ as forgiven and redeemed.  The purpose of the church is much debated.  The means to achieve the purpose of the church is even more debated.  I will lay out what I believe is a crude and simplified purpose and calling of the church.

The church’s purpose is the same as our individual purpose; to glorify God.  The end-all is God’s glory.  The church gives glory to God only when she is following the calling of God for the church.  The calling of the church can be extracted from scriptures in great depth but a simple breakdown includes three essential characteristics.

1-      Engaging-  The church is to engage the world around them in love.  There is a move today that calls for the church to “engage the culture”.  That movement pushes for the church to be more like the culture in order to engage the culture.  I disagree.  The church does not need to engage the culture, it needs to engage the individuals in the culture.  The church has to be purposefully reaching out in love to meet the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs of the world.  The engagement follows the great commission model to include the society in which we live but also all cultures throughout the world as God gives specific opportunities. The main focus of the church is not the members of the church but the members of society that can be impacted by the church.  We are to intentionally and diligently live in such a way personally and corporately that is a clear and accurate portrayal of Christ’s heart towards the world. 
2-      Evangelizing-  The church is to evangelize the culture through GENUINE relationships that are established by engaging our society and the people in our circle of influence.  We don’t evangelize with programs, and we don’t engage in order to evangelize.  We engage because we love and Christ called us to engage and love.  We don’t feed the hungry to make them a Christian, we feed them because they are hungry and WE ARE Christians.  If we learn to engage and love all of God’s children, we will have a longing to meet their needs.  We do not have to drum up false compassion or serve out of guilt.  It becomes our identity and what fulfills us.  As we meet needs, we share Jesus in a deliberate way out of love for the individual and a desire for them to fulfill their destiny of bringing God glory with their lives. 
3-      Assimilating-  After we have relationships and people accept Christ and begin attending church, we have to effectively assimilate them into the church body.  The traditional weekly services are established for this purpose.  The goal of assimilation should be three fold:
                                                              i.      Real Worship: Leading the people to understand that they are made to worship God.  Worship through exalting God with singing is one part, but also teaching worship through giving, worship through serving, and worship through surrendering.
                                                            ii.      Real Prayer:  The church does not pray today.  We have to help people to see the power and necessity of personal and corporate prayer.  That is not most effectively done by having a meeting where everyone shares what is wrong with them and then we make superficial requests to God for our needs.  Genuine prayer is entering into a broken state before God where He has total control to lead the time and speak to us as we learn to submit to Him.  A Christian that does not pray is useless to the Kingdom and will never discover the freedom that comes from intimacy with God.
                                                          iii.      Real Fellowship-  People need relationships.  Christian’s need Christian relationships that are genuine and transparent.  The church’s job is to create an atmosphere where the development of genuinely caring relationships are easily fostered and maintained.  Our lives are designed to flourish in community.  The goal of the church is to bring together individuals that can “do” life together and effectively engage, evangelize, and assimilate others.

The church today is so focused on “Programs” that they have lost the focus of the church.  There are countless ways to accomplish the above goals but the goals have to be clear to everyone and committed to by leadership if the church is going to break the mold of the typical American church of the last 75 years. 

I believe the church today has gone astray from the original intent of Christ and the model set forth by the New Testament church and 2000 years of church history.  In my evaluation, there are three main issues plaguing the modern church.  Of course there are a myriad of problems that are visible in individual congregations or denominations, but on a broader picture I believe there are three root issues that have led the church as a whole in Western society towards ineffectiveness.  They are listed in no relevant order.

1-  An insatiable desire to be entertained- In our society, entertainment is the premier idol.  We are entertained all day and seek it in every area of our lives.  From the ubiquity of television- you can get showers with built in TV’s, to the portability of phones and tablets, we are constantly able to entertain ourselves.  We watch TV while we eat at restaurants, we play video games on our cell phone while we wait in line, we have every sport on the planet we can watch, we worship country music stars and Hollywood celebrities.  As a culture we are overly addicted to being entertained. 

So then we go to church.  What do we expect when we get there?  We want to be entertained.  We want pretty songs by the choir and soloists.  We want eloquent messages by the pastor that in some way entertain us.  Even in churches where the pastor preaches “hell fire and brimstone” it is the same thing.  The people want to hear that and are entertained by the enthusiasm of the preacher. It is just a more traditional form of entertainment. 

So what is the real problem?  Empty lives.  We all have voids in our lives that hurt when we are forced to face them.  Entertainment allows us to escape those encounters with the voidThe void can be a relationship, a past hurt that was not dealt with, a longing, unrealistic expectations, or many other problems.  The issue is the pain that comes from facing the problem.  In a culture where pain and hardship are avoided at all cost, entertainment finds a welcome home.  We can watch Zombies eat each other’s brains and juiced up super jocks outrun each other, and by so doing, our void is filled. 

The bigger issue is that Christ wants to fill that void.  Christ is there to meet those needs, provide the healing, and fulfill the longings.  But as a church we have allowed the desire for entertainment to become the substitute for the real joy that comes from Christ filling the void.  I truly believe that Leonard Ravenhill was right when he said the entertainment is the devil’s substitute for joy.

It is argued that due to the overwhelming desire and need to be entertained, that churches must change and conform to meet the culture and provide that or we become irrelevant.  Hence, most churches have concerts to start and polished orator to follow with multimedia and donuts thrown in for good measure.  I totally disagree.  I don’t believe that the joy that comes from an encounter with Christ is surpassed by superb entertainment.  I believe the soul’s desire for Christ’s joy can be appeased and temporarily cajoled by an enjoyable “religious” entertainment.   It’s not that the world is so accustomed to extreme encounters that they are bored by encounters with God.  It is that the extreme encounters we are accustomed to get us close enough to the real thing that we settle instead of pressing on to the real pinnacle of joy which is a true encounter with God that fills the void.  That can only be found in a church that is seeking God and His presence above all else.  The greetings, the music, the preaching, the ministries, and the programs all have to be focused to this end.

2- Us against Them-  Through the cultural forces behind ideas such as “separation of church and state” as we know it today, liberalism vs. conservatism, and the “politically correct” agenda, the church has allowed the culture to dictate our relationship to our society instead of it being based on the Bible.  The church as a whole isolated itself and formed a barrier of identity that is contrary to the foundations of our heritage.  We have become insecure in our true identity as the offensive force of history.  We have settled into a defensive stance of defending ourselves against them.  Our churches have not remained the equipping stations they were for centuries and have become fortified retreats that we occasionally sneak out of to do an outreach so that we can claim a little victory. 

The church was established to be a refuge for THEM.  A place where lost souls can find rest.  A place where the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed.  A place where believers find an easy place to use their gifts to minister to people in need. 

Through this shift, we have allowed ourselves to turn inward in a defensive posture and only focus on caring for our own.  It is definitely true that we need to care for our church members, but if we are creating a place of ministry, the ones with the gifts of service and hospitality, and giving, and teaching will be serving with joy and the needs of our own will be met as a divine by-product but not as the prime product.  We have to turn away from focusing all of our resources on keeping ourselves safe and comfortable and be willing to see those outside as our calling not our enemy.

3-  Acceptance of Debt-  A controversial issue in today’s church but I don’t just argue debt is wrong because the Bible says so.  I believe there are good arguments in that vein but there are other issues as well.  Debt puts dependence on man that should only be on God.

When a church has debt it inevitably becomes a source of contention in nearly every situation.  In churches where they are growing and expanding and running out of room, the congregation and leadership are eager to commit to pledges and commitments to pay off the debt in order to get that expansion done NOW.  After all, we want everything now.  The problem comes once the expansion is done and the excitement of that new building wears off and yet the debt and interest is still there to be paid every month.  The staff and the ministry leaders constantly see that debt as money taking away from the ministries that really need to be done if they are going to meet the demands of the growing congregation that now has room in the new facility.  Much attention is placed on getting the money necessary to pay the bills.  You have to cater to the individuals that are giving so the bills can be paid.  The ones giving feel they have a certain amount of leverage because they are paying for the debt.  It creates a carnal and worldly atmosphere that is tainted by an unholy attention to money and finances.  Instead of relying on God to provide money through giving for ministry and paying of those serving the church full time, we have to rely on givers and man to meet our hard costs or face foreclosure.  It is a weight that hinders church freedom and growth.  It hinders the pastor’s ability to truly help people who aren’t givers to be set free from greed because they only see the sermons on giving as pleas to meet the debt obligations.  Therefore, many in the congregations stay in bondage to debt and greed and selfishness because they have an easy psychological wall they can build up to fend off any conviction.  We cloak the need in spiritual terms of depending on God, and stepping out in Faith but the truth is the whole thing has a secular financial foundation and not one based on Biblical truth and sound spiritual wisdom.

Conclusions:
If the American Church is going to fulfill its destiny and be all that God has planned for her, we must recognize our condition and be willing to make changes.  If not, God’s plan to evangelize the world will take place, but He will use someone else. “Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.” 2 Samuel 11:1

Are we going to be like David and allow someone else to go secure the victory that was designed for us?  We all know what happened next to David.  Do we not see the church in America falling into the same type of sin?  Let’s suit up for battle as pastors and lead our churches out to war instead of hanging out on the palace rooftop tempted by what is not ours to possess!

www.Byne.org - Byne Memorial Baptist Church- Albany Ga

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