I’m pretty sure I love Jesus more than ever before but His kids are driving me crazy. I can’t keep binge watching Gilmore Girls and eating popcorn to escape so I thought I might have an honest conversation with you today.
Last week’s post about house cats and the church unleashed something in me and I seem to be spontaneously confessing about all things church related these days. This week’s confession …choosing a church.
Let’s start at the beginning …
God rescued us from drowning in our own sin and brought us safely into His own family–complete with all rights and privileges. In choosing to accept this life-altering gift of grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, we became a part of the larger family of God, a.k.a. the Body of Believers …the Church.
With that most important “choice” made, the quest often begins to find others believers with whom we can share life with and grow in our Father’s grace and love. We want a place to learn His words by heart and be encouraged in this new-found family of faith. We want to know how to live that out in this world and share the Good News.
Finding a place where the Body of Christ gathers together is a good thing. Being a faithful follower of Jesus and a committed family member in a local place is a very good thing. But what happens when there are hundreds of places in one geographic location with a “Church” sign on the front lawn?
So many choices? What on earth is a believer to do?
The mere fact that we “choose” a church in America is something to think long and hard about. It’s beginning to rank right up there with shopping at the mall or weighing out that perfect restaurant for Sunday brunch.
Deciding factors might be, but aren’t limited to … the style of the building …traditional, contemporary or blended worship music … exciting children’s ministry … energetic, innovative youth department …availability of Bible studies …small groups …care groups …cell groups …missional community groups …sewing circles …mom’s groups …senior saints and more.
In the process, there seems to be a common denominator…me.
Are we searching for something we believe God wants the church to look like or are we looking for something we want in a church? Does our choice subconsciously boil down to what we want and feel comfortable with or what looks most like God’s intent for the gathered body of believers?
Are we modeling our choice by what’s modeled in the Bible or what we see in mainline American churches? Is there a difference? Are there similarities?
Has our preference preceded our practice?
When it comes to children’s ministry have we forgotten that the responsibility of spiritual training lies first and foremost within the home? Have we subtly given that responsibility over to paid church staff so we can take our hat off the intentional hook? Have our actions communicated to our children that only the professionally trained really know the heart and word of God well enough to be their teachers?
What about the degree to which we are loved and cared for? Jesus said, love each other deeply …bear each other’s burdens. If you feel your burdens aren’t being carried, have you considered someone else isn’t capable of carrying your burdens because you have overlooked carrying their’s along the way? Are the spiritual gifts within the body being used and valued so that the burden is light for all? Is this question more about us individually?
When my mom died 2 years ago, I only remember one meal brought to our house. Many emotions surfaced of rejection and abandonment. (Pastor’s wives get their feelings hurt as well.) While the lesson was painful, the Holy Spirit used that season to teach me that no one here on this earth can ever comfort those deepest hurts like Jesus can. No one person or group of people will ever be able to fill that deep wound in my soul except the Healer. The minute I expect my friends, family or church to fill a need that only God Himself can fill, I’ve set myself up for hurt and disappointment. It’s as someone once said — expectations can kill relationships.
So the question remains … Is the church everything or is God everything? Are we looking for what we want or what God wants?
Have we turned choosing a church into shopping for the latest and greatest updated model that serves us? or one that loves God and loves and serves others?
In areas where the Church is undergoing persecution, do you think they’re thinking about how much they’re going to get out of the worship experience or how much the worship experience is going to get into them?
And for all the American patriotism that is promoted in the churches today, (another confession for another day) … we might look at that famous presidential quote in a different light and ask not “what can the Church do for me?” but, “what can I do for the Church?”
Is our motive Me? or Him? Us? or Them? Get? or Give? Immediate? or Eternal? Buildings? or God’s Kingdom? Here? or in the world to come?
The Holy Spirit lives within every follower of Jesus Christ. As He takes up residence in us, He brings a gift with him — one specifically designed for us to use to benefit the rest of the Body of Christ. Each unique gift is needed so that the entire body will be built up, healthy and whole. (See Romans 12 for more.)
If you’re living In the me-centered church scenario, feelings get hurt because you didn’t get what you thought you needed. As you nurse those wounds, the temptation might be to take up your spiritual gifts and go home. When that happens, heavy losses are sustained throughout the body.
What if …
Our church choice decision was made by asking God these simple questions?
“Where do You want me to go?”
“What church gathering needs the spiritual gifts you’ve blessed me with? ”
“How can I bless the Body of Christ with these gifts?”
Before we enter the front door of the church building, what if we asked…
“Father, show me who You want me to encourage today.”
“Give me eyes to see people the way you see them.”
“Help me to be a safe place for others to share their heart–struggles and all — and give me patience to really listen as they share and not be in a rush to get out the back door.”
If we all walked in with that attitude, wouldn’t it be said of every church, “They all had everything in common and not one lacked anything!?” Contentment comes when we realize as St. Francis of Assisi, it’s “In giving of ourselves that we receive… in dying that we’re born to eternal life. O Master grant that I may never seek, So much to be consoled as to console, To be understood as to understand, And to love as to love with all my soul.”
The secret is doing this together. No solo flights allowed. Walking it out together plows the hard stuff and produces a fertile field where love is harvested by all. Imagine the showers of blessings from God above where all end up soaking in love.
And the fruit? Others find their way home as they begin their own journey with Jesus Christ and the church is added to daily.
“The body of Christ must recapture its vision as the only collective in the world that exists for its non-members. We are a community that exists for the exiled, the reviled, the profiled, and the longing-to-be-reconciled.”
Keep growing my friend. You are deeply loved!
Photo taken at Green Mountain on the Madison County Nature Trail, Huntsville, Alabama