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.
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,