Preferences

What’s your idea of a perfect church?

What type of classes should be offered? What outreach ministries should be taking place? What should the church’s logo look like? What type of teaching and preaching should be utilized? What type of music should be sung? What should the youth ministry be like? Should there be formal theological training? What missions organizations should we support? What type of expectations for members should there be? What type of structure should we have?

If you’re like me, you probably have your answers to all of those questions.

And if you’re like me, 100% of your preferences aren’t being met in the church you are a part of.

So what do you do?

Preferences are by no means wrong to have. It’s ingrained in us. It’s the culture we live in.

But when the proliferation of personal preferences become the primary pursuit of my life in the church, I’m woefully missing the mark.

Over the years I’ve been in Vernon, God has been stripping me slowly but surely of my preoccupation with how I think the church should do certain things.

Last Fall, in preparation for leading our students and children through the book of Philippians, I studied said book. And it began to blow me away. Unity through humility and love. Concern for others rather than concern for one’s self, even one’s preferences.

Outside of Scripture, countless books have formed my heart and mind to remember what I’m supposed to be doing. J-Curve taught me that life is about giving up my rights in humility and love. Everywhere You Look is one I finished last month that teaches the Kingdom of God is going to come as we are hospitable and gospel-centered in our neighborhoods.

But lately two things have been on my mind.

Romans 12 and the book Uncomfortable.

Romans 12 is chock full of examples from the church in Rome as to how to apply the life and teachings of Jesus to our lives together.

One of the translations I use and study with is the NASB, and this was how Romans 12:10 was translated:

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 

That has been swirling through my mind a lot. I actually have dedicated it to memory because I need to be reflecting on its truths.

What if that was the type of preference I was concerned with?

Putting others first, devoting my life to them in love.

When anxiety racks my mind, or frustrations mount, is it about preferences of how the church runs or the fear that some in my church family don’t feel loved?

What keeps you up at night?

What gets you animated?

Preferences or love?

Man, y’all this has been a tough lesson to learn for me.

I want my conversations to be about loving others well. The people I don’t understand. The people I disagree with at times. The people who are guests. The people who live near me.

I want my conversations and motivations to be about love for God and others.

The reality is, there is no such thing as a perfect church. From an organizational standpoint that is.

The people that make up our churches however are just that.

Perfect.

Saints.

Holy.

Beloved children of God the Father, purchased for Him by Christ the Son, held together through the power of the Spirit.

Shouldn’t that impact every conversation we have? Even the hard ones?

I sit and imagine a people that literally outdo one another in showing honor (the NIV version of Romans 12:10b) to each other.

In the book Uncomfortable, Brett McCracken doubles down on the fact that the modern church goer has the consumerist mentality. This is something the Bible never condones. Is it a normal thought process? Yes. Is it something I need to fight against in my life? Absolutely.

This is a super long series of quotes. You really just need to go read the book yourself. I’ve got it in my office.

‘How it fits me’ is the wrong criteria for finding the right church. Rather, church should be about collectively spurring one another to be fit into the likeness of Christ. This can happen in almost any sort of church as long as it’s fixed on Jesus, anchored in the gospel, and committed to the authority of Scripture. . . What if we learned to love churches even when they challenge us and stretch us out of our comfort zones? . . . Commitment even amidst discomfort, faithfulness even amidst disappointment: this is what being the people of God has always been about. . . A healthy relationship with the local church is like a healthy marriage: it only works when grounded in selfless commitment and a non consumerist covenant. 

What if we didn’t think about ourselves and our preferences at all when coming to a church?

What if instead we thought about how we could truly love others, not just our crew, but anyone in the pew.

What if going to a church that is not in your comfort zone in some areas was the way to learn humility and gentleness and love?

Brothers and sisters, I used to be a church basher. An over the top, anal, negative, cynical, apathetic, mocking, vocal critic of any church I went to or was involved in. Even a church I was once on staff at.

Then it hit me.

That’s the Bride of Christ.

It’s messy. It’s broken.

But it’s not a business. It’s not first and foremost an organization. It’s a people. A people to be loved.

Again, preferences aren’t bad. Changes aren’t bad. Changes need to be made to continue growing the Kingdom.

But I 100% believe that those changes are in our hearts first before it’s in the church.

Am I discipling?

When’s the last time you went through Scripture with another believer?

Am I witnessing?

When’s the last time you told someone about Jesus?

Am I having people over in my home?

When’s the last time you had someone outside of your sphere of friends over for dinner?

You see, even the seeker movement was based in the misconception that what happens at church during the week is how people come to join the people of God. Not so fast. That’s not true. Biblically or historically.

People will join the Kingdom of God through seeing a community that are devoted to one another in love every single day of the week. Praying for each other. Serving each other. Building relationships with each other. Disagreeing in love with each other. That’s the compelling community.

To build a church around primarily reaching new people is wrong, just as building a church around traditions that never change is wrong. The Gospels show us that when Jesus drew a crowd, He sent them away with tough teachings on laying down one’s lives.

I’m not concerned about how many new students come to youth group.

I’m concerned with how many of my current students go to them.

Every day I have to ask myself if I’m more concerned with my preferences than prayerfully submitting to the Spirit. Even at a place where I don’t agree with 100% of what happens.

Church, let us love one another.

Church, let us be more concerned with that than anything else.

Church, let us remember that we are the Bride. The Bride that Christ died for. The Bride that He loves (and He loves it a little better than we do). When I have berated the church, God is not cheering me on. When I try to humbly serve, that’s when I’m modeling His heart.

It’s time to ditch the consumerist outlook on church, what we can get out of it.

It’s time instead to commit to fighting in the trenches for the Kingdom of God.

Preferences don’t keep people away from Jesus.

Prayerless people do.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing Our Community

Keep trying to take the drugs, alcohol, and other substances out of Vernon, but it’s still never going to change.

This is the sentiment I’ve heard from many about the place I call home. The place where I serve as a youth pastor. In the wake of a humongous drug bust, families are reeling, angry, broken-hearted, and confused. I’ve seen some become particularly jaded and cynical to the reality of change in this community.

There are times in youth ministry where I can feel the temptation to fall into the same mindset. Last Spring, I would drive home from youth group every Wednesday night thinking that nothing was ever going to change. It was like banging my head against a brick wall over and over again. I would share the love of God and the good news of His Son, but my students would appear to not really care as they simply waited through the lesson to get to the open gym at the end. Honestly, this perception was inaccurate. I would come to find out this week at camp that our students are listening more than we think. What’s even more simultaneously encouraging and challenging is that they are watching us way more than we think.

Since my wedding day (three weeks ago), I have been giving the greatness and glory of God a ton of thought. Some of this is because of my Bible study I did through the book of Jonah, and partly because of the book Not God Enough by J.D. Greear. I’ve felt the desire to pray daily for a greater glimpse of God’s glory, greatness, and grace. Each day I’ve had him answer this prayer through the stories I hear of His faithfulness, my time in His Word, or other things. I prayed this prayer as we headed off to camp.

My eyes well with tears as I think about what God did this week. He worked in every student that we brought. We had salvations, rededications, calls to ministry, calls to mission, and the building of many relationships. God is not done y’all. I get really discouraged way too often because I look all around me and I feel alone. I feel alone in what I believe the Bible says, and what I believe this life is supposed to be about. But here this week I have a great testimony of God’s faithfulness to look back on.

Here’s the deal you guys.

I can’t change Vernon.

I can teach and preach and plead and beg and disciple and pray and hope all I want, but I can’t change Vernon.

However, God can.

God can change the place I call home.

And he can do it through His church.

The heart-breaking thing for me is that His church isn’t sold on the mission. Instead we chase the world. Instead we get busy. Instead we are unfaithful to our promises.

I asked the family group I had this week to raise their hand if an older believer committed to mentor and disciple them and yet forgot about them within a month of their commitment and blamed getting busy.

Y’all. Every single one of them raised their hands.

Shame on us. Shame on us for making our lives about other things instead of the gospel. No one is too busy to disciple, it is simply a matter of passion and priority.

I was reading the other day about the book of Leviticus. And the book of Leviticus really emphasizes the gulf between us and a holy God. The author of the study I was going through said this about mankind:

“They live selfishly: seeking and hoarding more and more, shutting his or her ears to the needs of the poor, the hungry, the suffering, the lost.”

People say our community can’t change.

I am prone to believe them when I see that I’m living like the quote above.

Well, when’s the last time you shared your faith with a non-believer?

When was the last time you shared what God has done with someone in your circle?

When was the last time you committed to disciple, encourage, and support a younger believer?

When was the last time you opened up your home to share about what God has been doing in your family?

Guys, God can change our community. In fact, God is already changing our community. In fact, God doesn’t need us to help him change our community. But one of the most beautiful aspects of the gospel is that we have been gifted with the opportunity to join God in what he is doing.

Don’t let another year go by with church attendance without gospel commitment.

Share. Disciple. Pray. Give. Invest. Encourage. Support. Worship.

The sentiment of men and women like that at the beginning of this blog post is partly right. We can keep trying to take all of the drugs out of this place and this place simply won’t change. Change isn’t going to come through merely the removal of illegal substances. In actuality that doesn’t do very much.

Instead, change comes through discipleship.

Pick one person this year. I plead with you. That’s it. One person to be faithful to in walking them through their faith.

My students are watching us. My students are watching the generations above them in our community to see if they truly are disciples of Jesus. My students are watching to see if you just sit in the pew or if you get in the game.

I don’t care how old you are, God isn’t done with you yet.

I love you all. Whoever you are reading this, regardless of what town or city or country you live in, God is at work in your community. Join him.

I’ll be honest guys, the temptation to deaden my passion, quiet my voice, and fade into the back is high at times. I’m 24. I’m not all-wise, and I am prone to mistakes. The pressure to shut up and play the game of going through the motions is heavy at times. But I just can’t stop talking about how good and great God is and how we have a high calling to join Him in what He is doing. I know that I can learn to do so with more kindness at times, but I can’t stop. It’s who God has wired me to be.

In conclusion, please hear me out.

I don’t know it all. I’m not perfect. I don’t do discipleship perfectly. I’m not always faithful. That’s why I need men in my life too.

All I do know is Jesus is my Lord and Savior, God is great and good, and He is changing our community, and we can join Him in that work.

I love you all.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Uncomfortable

There are aspects of church life that make me feel a little uncomfortable. The meet and greet times, talking about giving, waiting for somebody to pray to conclude small group, or in my case just about any time I speak to the youth. These feelings of discomfort are not bad, in fact I’d contend that feeling uncomfortable is a gift that pushes us forward into growth.

If I’m in a church where I feel comfortable at all times, I know that I’ll grow complacent.

Yet there are many of us (me included in college) who pick the church we’re going to attend based solely off of our preferences and those things that will make us comfortable. These preferences include the style of dress that is most prevalent, the style of worship, the style of teaching, the style of small groups, the style of leadership, and the general vibes of the church.

These are not explicitly wrong, but I think we’ve got church completely backwards when we make it all about us. There is most definitely wiggle room in this for wanting to be in a community that propels us forward into spiritual growth and there are situations where the church we attend may not be doing this for us. That being said, to pick a church because of how it makes us feel is something I can’t quite grasp.

In a blog from 2017, I wrote extensively about how I believe that if there’s something we wish was different in our church, we should seek to be the change in that department instead of bailing. (https://nathanpatrickroach.blog/2017/02/07/love-the-church/)

There’s no explicit verse in the Bible that says “be committed to a congregation, even when it’s uncomfortable.” There is one passage out of Hebrews that speaks about commitment to a faith community however:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:23-25

There is way more to this passage than simply a call to committing to a church, but it does emphasize this calling.

I know many whose commitment to church is loose, who go to church occasionally for the worship service but aren’t in a deep small group anywhere. I know many who have put off church altogether choosing instead to simply love Jesus alone. I know many who are anti-church membership for the sake of not wanting to submit to something. I know many who are not engaged in a church community because they claim to have a community of faith made up of family and friends.

Thankfully, I know many who are committed to their church community, laughing together, weeping together, going through hills and valleys together. This is a beautiful picture for me to see in others. The purpose of the church (besides glorifying and praising God through every facet of its programming) is to stir one another up into good words and love. The church is to encourage the follower of Christ to go all-in with the Lord through devotion to Him and service to others.

This is where being uncomfortable comes in.

It is in each of these moments of being uncomfortable that my potential for spiritual growth is the greatest. When I sing songs that are not in my comfort zone, I’m reminded that worship isn’t about me, but is about God. When the style of preaching (as long as it isn’t heretical) is not up my alley, I’m again reminded that preaching is simply re-announcing God’s Word and isn’t about my stylistic preferences. If the pastor is faithful to God’s Word, then the conviction that accompanies God’s Word via the Spirit of God is for sure uncomfortable but very necessary in my spiritual growth. When my brother in Christ believes differently than me about a certain topic that is breached in a small group, then I’m led to wrestle with my faith and beliefs as a result of this discomfort. When my brother in Christ calls me out for sin in my life, this is a blessing albeit an uncomfortable one. When my small group serves the community in a way that is foreign to me, my eyes become opened to the needs of areas of my community that I may not be aware of otherwise.

Since we’re in a culture that bought the lie of life’s about me, we have brought this into our thinking about church. We make church about being comfortable and entertained (despite the fact of almost every New Testament statement about discipleship and faith tells us that it’s about laying our lives down and suffering), and this leads to lots of church hopping.

Find a church that is close to your neighborhood and go all in. Regardless of stylistic preferences. If it’s heresy, that’s one thing. Yet church vibes, preaching style, worship style, etc. are not explicitly valid enough reasons to leave a church. Become willing to be uncomfortable.

Discomfort leads to growth. Every time.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Mr. Resolution

This year I will run a half-marathon. This year I will eat healthier. This year I will read the Bible twice. This year I will find financially stable and healthy practices of spending. This year I will write a letter to relatives I don’t live near at least once a month. This year I will become a solid basketball player.

These are just some of the resolutions I’ve made in the past at the start of a new year. As of the most recent years, they’ve become more and more spiritually focused. I’ll be acutely aware of my failings in certain aspects of my walk with Christ and I’ll make bold declarations of commitment to different spiritual disciplines. I’m going to read the Bible multiple times in a year, or memorize a lot of Scripture, or pray this much each day or wake up super early to spend tons of time in my room with the Lord. All of these aren’t inherently bad things, but they never last a month, much less a week. More often than not it’s because I’m trying to change my life in my own strength. More often than not it’s because I want to reverse or change something I don’t like about my past year and I think if I just try harder and be more committed that good will come of it.

Is this inherently wrong?

No.

Does it produce greater godliness in my life?

No.

So this year I don’t want to make any promises to the Lord and myself that I can’t keep. This year I don’t want to make any resolutions that shift all glory for the completion of such a resolution on my shoulders. I want to fall more in love with the Lord this year and let that be what drives me to greater obedience and commitment to the Lord.

resolution

2016 has had some huge highs and deep lows. I graduated college, started my first job in vocational Christian ministry, and fell in love with a wonderful godly woman named Jamie. Yet I wrestled with fear and doubt when life was hard. I had my first holiday season away from home. My grandfather passed away. Familial difficulties arose. My car broke down shortly after moving out to Phoenix. Yet one consistent aspect of my life has been God’s faithfulness to me. In the middle of me questioning His goodness, in the middle of me doubting His care, He was faithful and constant in His care and provision for me. That makes me desire a deeper commitment to Him. But that won’t come through me simply resolving to be better in discipline.

Let’s say I committed to reading the Bible through this year. I could successfully do that and still miss out on growing in my relationship with Him if it became simply a checklist requirement for the day. I don’t want that. I would much rather resolve to do that which deepens my love for Him. Daily Bible reading is certainly an avenue for that, but that won’t come from obligatory self-condemnation when I miss a day. It is a subtle and insidious lie that can so easily happen. I can resolve to better walk in spiritual disciplines and make the glory go to me.

Here’s the bottom line. The Christian life, the church, our faith are not about us, they’re about him – his plan, his kingdom, his glory. – Paul David Tripp

Peter was a flop of a disciple at times. That’s why he’s my favorite, he’s relateable to my sometimes inconsistent heart. One minute he was proclaiming that he loved Jesus more than anything and the next he was denying that he even knew Him. If anyone felt the pressure to resolve to be a better follower of Christ, I bet it was him. Yet after Christ’s resurrection, Jesus wasn’t concerned with Peter’s desire to commit to be better. He was concerned with Peter’s love for Him.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” – John 21:15

Jesus did implore Peter to do the work of Christ in the world by shepherding and caring for the people of God. But this was preceded by the question of whether or not Peter loved Him.

If your resolve to obey God last year did not help you to be faithful, it will not make you successful this year. Jesus asks for your love. If you truly love Him, your service for Him in the new year will be of the quality that He desires. – Henry Blackaby

I resolved to be as perfect as I could last year in faith and trust. Yet I came up short many a time. I’ve learned that not only is there grace for that, but that God is first calling me into a loving relationship with Him, and that out of this love I will grow in myself a desire to walk out His ways in the world this coming year.

So as we launch into 2017, fall more in love with Jesus. Jesus knows that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments out of that love for Him.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. – John 14:15

That’s my hope and prayer for this upcoming year. I want to fall more in love with Christ. I want to trust Him in the chaos. I want to believe Him in the midst of doubt. I want to worship Him in light of all that He is and all that He’s done. There’s a lot of uncertainty ahead but I know that my God is faithful.

I want to fall more in love with Jesus.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll eat some more vegetables along the way.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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