Spiritual Contributors, not Spiritual Consumers

Often I hear about people “church shopping.” This makes a lot of sense on one hand because when someone moves to a new community they should probably check out a few churches to see where they might fit best or where the doctrine/beliefs match their own. Sometimes this might also happen to someone who has experienced severe conflict in a church which makes them uncomfortable to return and continue there. But the language “shopping” with church really is not the best approach to finding a church home. It implies that the individual is a consumer looking for a church that will “meet my needs.”

I’m glad people want to find a church home. But looking for a church that meets my needs is an unbiblical statement. The church becomes a product to consume. “We loved the children’s programming but the sermons are really boring.”

God has called us to be spiritual contributors. The church does not exist for us. We are the church, and we exist for the world. I am here to serve God and to love people. I exist to make a difference. God created me to be a blessing to others.

So ask yourself: Am I more of a consumer or contributor? If you are a Christ-follower, hopefully you are a valuable part of a life-giving church.Do you drop your kids off in the nursery (without ever serving there), drink some free coffee, enjoy the service, then pick up your kids and go home? If so, you’re a consumer.

On the other hand, do you use your gifts to make a difference? Do you invite people to your church? Do you pray faithfully for church leaders? Do you give consistently of your finances? Do you serve passionately? Then you’re more of a contributor.

I’m not trying to be mean or make you feel guilty. I simply want you to be honest with yourself. If you are using your life to be a blessing to others today, then later you will relish sharing the stories that God allows you to tell. If you’re more focused on yourself than serving others, you’re going to end up with many blank pages–lost blessings that you can find only by contributing what God created you to give to the world.

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Church: Comfort and Challenge

An ideal local church should both be comforting AND challenging at the same time. To do that entails 3 things:

1. Remind me who I am.  We are set apart from the ways of the world, yet are to engage the world with loving sacrifice. We are the light of the world, salt of the earth, and city on a hill. We are holy, yet broken. We are broken, yet holy;  broken yet able to carry the presence and power of Christ.

2. Show me what I can become. People are encouraged to identify and live out of their SHAPE (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, experience) and to engage in spiritual habits that grow them deeper. Roots for growth and strength. Branches by which to serve: an invitation to live out our calling empowered by the Spirit.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25

I think of my experience at the church I served in St. Louis as an intern and how the church let me explore my gifts. They were patient with me and let me try different things. We have to allow people to try and even fail, all the while encouraging them.

3. Hold me accountable.  Accountability involves the art of encouragement and admonishment.

Encouragement is an indispensable part of accountability. We think mostly of “tough love” admonishment, but without encouragement who can with stand just admonishment? We need fellow Christ followers who are absolutely convinced that we are great and can do great things. We need people who applaud us when we succeed and pull us up when we fail.

Holding someone accountable is not easy; it takes discernment.

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.  1 Thessalonians 5:14-15

Look at those verbs: warn, encourage, help, and be patient.  That is the grammar of accountability and ultimately a healthy church.

 

The Church Was Not Meant to Become a Consumer Culture

We live in a consumer culture. Each day we are treated as a customer, and this leads us to believe we are entitled to have all of our “needs” met.

In the Church this plays out when people think it exists to “serve me and my needs. The community should not tell me what to do–that is up to me.” But in reality, the Church community exists to shape and guide my soul. The community has a right to expect certain behavior from me, and can provide the encouragement and accountability I need.

Transformation into Christlikeness has been the aim and responsibility of the Church from its beginning.

The soul-shaping role of the Church is not just for our own spiritual nurture. It is meant to propel us out into mission.

Discouraging Conflict During Change is Unhealthy for a Church

When a church discourages conflict, it fails to make the kinds of changes necessary for ongoing health and relevance.

By conflict, I’m not talking about personalized or politicized confrontations!  Rather, healthy conflict is an honest debate–sometimes heated–over competing values.  Healthy conflict focuses on how best to accomplish our mission and what is in the best interest of the greater good.  It requires kingdom thinking.

We often forget how much healthy conflict Jesus encouraged.  He constantly challenged the religious elitism of his day.  He challenged racism and sexism.  He raised issues with his disciples on a regular basis.  Jesus never minimized or avoided conflict.

Fellowship: We Need it to Prosper Spiritually (and Relationally)

First of all, what is fellowship? It’s not just about “fellowship” dinners in a “Fellowship” hall.  Fellowship is spending time together in a caring atmosphere. So we “fellowship” on Sunday morning when we shake hands, look our brother or sister in Christ in the eye, and earnestly say, “How are you?” We “fellowship” when we notice “Mr. So and So” is missing and we call him up after services to see if he is OK. We “fellowship” when we send a card, make a call, or visit someone on their birthday, because their sick, or just to say hi. Fellowship is how we prove to the world that we are one, united.

Ardant du Picq, a 19th century French colonel and military theorist, once said, “Four brave men who do not know each other will not dare to attack a lion. Four less brave, but knowing each other well, sure of their reliability and consequently of mutual aid, will attack resolutely.” We cannot fight off the difficulties of this world without the aid of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

How are you “aiding” your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? How many brothers and sisters in Christ can you say you know well enough to care for? Are you making yourself known to them? How’s your “fellowship?”

If the Church is Going to Grow, You Can’t Know Everyone

I’ve written on this in the past but after reading Michael Fletcher’s “Overcoming Barriers to Church Growth” I discovered one more area in which our church hasn’t changed.  And according to Fletcher, if we’re going to break through the 200 ceiling, we’ll need to change our church culture’s understanding on this important issue.

Here’s how he puts it:

Small churches, without realizing it, intuitively resist growth at some point since continued growth threatens the closeness they so enjoy.  After a certain number of relationships, a person just doesn’t have room for more.  Folks cannot remember everyone’s name but somehow feel they should.  Not knowing everyone, and the underlying guilt that says we should, produces an awkwardness that actually pushes others away.  Small churches fear that growing might destroy the family they have become (55).

For a church to break through the 100/200 barrier…The people must accept the fact that they will not be able to know everyone in the church.  This does not mean they must give up a sense of family, but it does mean that they will have to learn to experience it in other ways.  Properly done, this barrier can be broken without destroying the great fellowship members have been enjoying.  New circles of fellowship must be developed, and even multiplied, to prompt continued growth (57).

What do you think?  Is Fletcher right or wrong?  Why is it important for a local church to strive for continued growth?

We are not alive to experience God or enjoy a comfortable life.

What Jesus began through His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, He now continues through what the Holy Spirit birthed at Pentecost: the Church.  From then until Jesus returns to take over the Earth, every member of the Church is empowered to tell the full message of their new life in Christ.

We are not alive in this world to experience God or enjoy the blessings of a comfortable life.  If that were God’s purpose, He’d have brought us into His presence in heaven the moment we were forgiven and adopted into His family.

Our purpose until we die is to reveal a new attitude toward suffering and a new agenda in prayer that flows out of our new purpose in life that makes sense only if we claim our new hope of resurrection.

When the first Christ-followers faced opposition, they prayed, not for protection from suffering but for boldness in testifying.  They were so devoted to their new purpose, so confident in their new hope, so dependent on their new power, and so willing to suffer in their new mission that they became a holy community, set apart to live their passion to know God and to invite others into that relationship.

Today people love to join entertaining churches.  In the early church, no one dared join their fellowship without embracing what it means to radically follow Jesus.