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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belief On My Terms

We’re entering a season of the church calendar when we reflect on the final days of Jesus leading up to his death and resurrection. In light of this time of the year, I’ve been reading a little in the Gospel of Matthew. And while reading the portion prior to Jesus’ death, I was struck by the audacity of the crowds. I was struck with conviction in my own heart too.

Imagine you’ve followed this man around, a philosophy and theology teacher who seemingly came out of nowhere. You’re pretty certain he’s something special, but you just can’t put your finger on it. You also know you’re looking for a rebellion to start to remove the oppressive Roman government from ruling over you. Maybe this Jesus guy is that guy.

But all of a sudden he starts talking a little crazy. He’s saying things about tearing down the temple where everyone worships, including you and your family. The major religious teachers you respect and follow on Twitter are saying he’s blasphemous. He calls himself the Son of God, which might mean he’s actually God somehow? You’re not really sure what to do, or think, or say.

You just want to follow God.

Then everyone around you gets riled up. Let’s kill this crazy man. He’s making bold claims, but he’s not delivering on a political revolution. So you get swept up in the frenzy. You’re sold, this man is a blasphemer. He’s distracting people from God. He might be the Adversary himself!

Everyone gathers around Pilate, who is going to give you a choice of who you want to be freed from prison on behalf of your annual festival. And this happens (Matthew 27):

15 At the festival the governor’s custom was to release to the crowd a prisoner they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Who is it you want me to release for you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”

You listen. You consider the options. The religious authorities speak up.

20 The chief priests and the elders, however, persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to execute Jesus. 21 The governor asked them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”

“Barabbas!” they answered.

This is your preference as well. It’s the first of three preferences you will get to make this day. Pilate speaks up again.

22 Pilate asked them, “What should I do then with Jesus, who is called Christ?”

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

23 Then he said, “Why? What has he done wrong?”

But they kept shouting all the more, “Crucify him!”

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that a riot was starting instead, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves!”

25 All the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas to them and, after having Jesus flogged, handed him over to be crucified.

Another preference. Let’s crucify Jesus. You’re fired up, you’re certain this is what God would like. Let the one who deceives be judged and condemned.

A little while later you finally see Jesus led to Golgatha, the mount where criminals are crucified. And you look up and see Jesus and two others hanging there. You join in the festivities, mocking Jesus, who is getting what he seemingly deserves.

38 Then two criminals were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 Those who passed by were yelling insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him and said, 42 “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God rescue him now—if he takes pleasure in him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way even the criminals who were crucified with him taunted him.

Everyone was taunting and mocking Jesus. You and I would have done the same if we were there. How do I know that? Because we still taunt and mock Jesus with our words and actions. If you’ve mocked another human, an image of God, then you’ve mocked God. If you’ve cursed yourself, an image of God, then you’ve cursed God.

Some of us are bold enough to have even mocked and cursed God in the midst of prayer–whether we believe in God or not.

And we’ve wanted our preferences all along the way.

Our first preference as part of the crowd was for Barabbas to be freed. Our second preference was for Jesus to be crucified. Our final preference was for God to save himself instead of us.

We are so foolish.

Our preferences are twisted and corrupt because we are sinful. Our default is sin.

And we are so deceived by sin that we think we can dictate how God should show up in our lives and in our world to save it. We think highly of our own plans and our own wisdom, a wisdom that is mere foolishness to God.

I don’t even know what to do with this. I’m still processing what it means to be so foolish. I’m still processing my own preferences, even for what following God is supposed to look like. I’m processing my own preferences for what makes a good life.

But I’m praying for wisdom. I need eyes to see the mystery of God’s work in this world.

I don’t want to be foolish enough to claim Jesus as my savior but my own self as lord.

I don’t want belief on my own terms.

Please pray for me.

– Matt Welborn