This may step on some toes. I pray that it steps on the right ones. I also pray that everyone will honestly evaluate themselves in their current relationship with God and make adjustments to bring Him more into focus at the center. Amen!
Church can bring out a lot of emotion.
For some, its pain. Christians are sinners and even in corporate church, we make mistakes that can leave scars.
For others, its discomfort. Jesus prayed to God that we would be united. He knew how we would fight. If it isn’t politics its church politics. In my life I’ve seen churches split over chosen songs, dress codes, overhead projectors, hand clapping, instruments, and many other seemingly trivial issues. So why bother?
Especially when very few churches get it right? The church isn’t where the Christian goes to be built up… its where the sinner goes to put God first. Think about that for a moment. How many scenarios exist, where the person in the wrong shows up and dictates how the event is going to play out? When the sinner shows up and bows humbly before the loving God… church happens. Everywhere else is, sadly, people vying to be the next pharisee. To me, its an issue with definition. ‘The Church’ isn’t that big building. It’s the loving God that sacrificed His Son for us, so that we might gain, should we choose to do so. Our acceptance of that sacrifice doesn’t come with judgement or condemnation. It comes with us loving back. The Bible says that God is love. Shouldn’t the church be love also? It is. And where it isn’t, it can be. Why bother? Because when it is done right… When God is the focus… the world begins to function just as God (it’s creator) intended it to. The sick are healed, relationships are repaired, bridges are built, and love is shared freely. Lives are strengthened and when we walk out that door, its a new world to face. This may sound silly to some, and to those I claim its because you’ve been unfortunate in your church experience.
For those who don’t understand church, or for those who feel lost in one, or for those who have tried and left running out the back door: I’d like to offer 10 simple rules to measure by. If many of these don’t hold up well, something needs to change, as its not what God intended.
1. Does your church consistently hold its values and beliefs in line with the Bible? Do they do things because a church leader said so, because an established family said so, because their grant said so, or because the Bible said so? (note the words ‘values and beliefs’. Obviously, leadership will need to ‘lead’ in clerical, business, and logistical matters).
2. Are the songs, prayers, and messages building up the members or are they praising God? There is certainly scripture that gives validity to building up the members. But what is the core purpose of worship? “Worship”. Reverence… adoration… thanksgiving. That has to be first and foremost and consistent.
3. Is your church growing? Or trying to grow? The issue isn’t about butts in the seats, its about souls. Does your church’s message care and even yearn to save the lost? Are you fired up and sent out on a mission after church?
4. Is the money going to God? Either in future planning, current budgeting, or missionary spend, is the church making the most of the money? Are they following the Biblical examples to stretch each dollar, grow each cent, or are they effectively burying it until needed?
5. Is the message consistent? One simple example, I’ve seen over and over again: Does your church accept an offering every Sunday, but they don’t have the time to offer communion as well? What an odd priority. With PayPal, credit cards, websites, donation boxes, and even snail mail to the building… collection is the one thing that can happen outside of corporate worship. But when leadership justifies that it can’t… I see a red flag.
6. Is the entire message taught? Jesus is a loving Savior who gave up everything to get to us. But He is also jealous and can be angered. He keeps His promises, both good and bad. (i.e. the floods came when promised just like relief comes when promised). The life of a Christian is a hard life filled with self sacrifice, scrutiny, and persecution. God hates all sin and we are not to judge. Christians are supposed to look different from the world, not following it and /or adjusting our beliefs… etc.
7. Is every member involved? Another common malpractice I’ve seen quite consistently is a tiered version of church, where one group will be the leadership of the church and the other group will be the spectator. Almost divided like classes, an entire group of people will go to church on Sunday, never serving in any capacity and never being asked to. This feels eerily like how the Pharisees practiced their faith. They were the ‘in’ crowd. This isn’t God’s church. He asked the fisherman, the commoner, the family-man. ‘Leave it all behind and follow Me’. (he roughly said). Jesus came to save everyone… so church is FOR everyone.
8. How welcoming is the church? This has to do with each and every member. When a visitor walks in, how many people will they walk past before they are jubilantly greeted? How long will they sit alone before someone joins them? How long will they attend before being invited to a small group, a meal at someone’s home, or an event to get to know them better? We are all some level of shy, awkward, and uncomfortable. The ‘church’ (meaning God’s real and intended church) will bury those feelings behind the genuine excitement over seeing a new face to potentially join the mission with.
9. Is the story current? Is everyone still talking about the good ‘ole days? Are you always hearing about the last pastor or some amazing family that moved on or has passed? Churches doing the will of God will have new stories to tell. New souls, new testimonies, new prayers answered. It’s OK to reminisce on the past… but we can’t live in the past. Just like your car, your stomach, and your wallet… that tank has to be filled again, and again, and again. Jesus didn’t perform one miracle and then go back to heaven. He spent a lifetime serving the Father and then finally gave up His life as well. He gave it all! Not just one thing, 15 years ago.
10. Are children leading? Jesus said we are to be more like children. When the disciples tried to stop the children from coming to Jesus, He corrected them. “let the children come to me”. Why would the church not follow this example? They may not be able to execute perfect exegesis of Revelations but they do know love. And in many cases, they know love in ways that we have long forgotten. Not only do they need to be trained, they need to be mentored and allowed to serve as any other member of the church.
No church is perfect. But there is a clear distinction between those trying to be a perfect church and those trying to serve God perfectly. If you don’t know the difference yet, I sincerely promise, you want the latter. I want to encourage you to stand firm. You will walk in and out of buildings filled with sinners. When you find a place where the sinners are working with God to live a life of thanksgiving to Him… stick around. I didn’t provide this list to shame existing churches or to start an argument over semantics. This is for those searching. I searched for over 20 years. And I’m so thankful that I didn’t give up. It’s far too important to abandon. In some cases the church will be wrong. In some cases you will be wrong. I could easily write about all of the wrong expectations we bring into the church. (and I might in the future :p ). For now… encouragement. Don’t give up.
An often overlooked scripture in the Bible is when Jesus told His disciples to wipe the dust off their sandals and move on when people didn’t receive the message. Many, many Christians need to hear this scripture and stop trying to force God on people that aren’t ready for Him yet. But I also find a broader meaning here. This verse is about freedom. We aren’t tethered to a location until success occurs. We are simply asked to try. Give it all you’ve got. If it doesn’t work, move on. Never quit. There is never a quitting reference in the Bible unless its a tragic story. Move on? Yes! Quit? Never. Jesus never quit. Paul never quit. Martin Luther King never quit. Some of us find ourselves wanting to live life among those great and precious names, but only as long as things are going well. (reread point 6). If you are a threat to Satan (i.e. if you are doing church right) life will not be going well. He will attack. But thank God you will be prepared with God at your side and a loving church at your back.
If you feel compelled to visit church on Easter Sunday… GO! But think about why that is. Think about what you may be missing throughout the year. Consider why so many keep coming back week after week. Talk to some friends that may be stronger in the faith. Talk to someone at the church of your choice if you go. One advanced step you can try in the privacy of your own home is to turn off all distracting devices (TV, radio, PC, etc) and speak to God. You don’t need special words, you don’t need any scriptures. Just chat. Tell Him what is wrong.
God doesn’t want you in church… He wants you in heaven. But the church is such a valuable tool, we often get the message lines crossed. I don’t want to see you in church because there are some bad churches out there. I want to see you accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior!!!!! And that… will put you in search of a good church, serving Him. God bless!