The Connecting Church

A friend of ours, Ira Orr, gave me a copy of Randy Frazee’s book shortly after it’s release a number of years ago.  Ira was one of the pastors at the church in which Randy was the senior pastor.  Frazee’s book gives a number of insights into what it means to be a church that connects with one another and finds viable, healthy ways to connect with those who are not believers in Jesus Christ.

Here are some excerpts:

One of the underlying problems of the Johnsons and most people who live in the average American suburb (or international equivalent) is that they have too many worlds to manage.  There are too many sets of relationships that do not connect with each other but all require time to maintain.  Bob and Karen simply do not have enough time and energy to invest in each world of relationships in order to extract a sense of belonging and meaning for their lives.

Just think of the many disconnected worlds the Johnsons have to maintain: their own family, two places of work, church, a small group, the children’s sports teams, the children’s schools, extended family out of town, and neighbors.  If we were to delve further into the Johnson’s lifestyle, we would discover many other worlds as well—old friends from high school and college, the last place they lived, and other relationship circles at church (for example, the women’s Bible study group and the Mission Committee of which they are both members.) Pp. 33-34

If a true and workable solution is to emerge, it must involve a radical restructuring of our lifestyle.  At the core of this restructuring is a new operating principle for living: In order to extract a deeper sense of belonging, we must consolidate our worlds into one. Pp. 34-35

“To be ‘baptized into Jesus Christ’ signaled for Pauline converts an extraordinary thoroughgoing resocialization, in which the sect was intended to become virtually the primary group for its members, supplanting all other loyalties.”  The experience of authentic community is one of the purposes God intends to be fulfilled by the church. P. 36­

The church of the twenty-first century must do more than add worlds to an already overbooked society; it must design new structures that help people simplify their lives and develop more meaning, depth, purpose, and community. P. 37­

Consider the list of characteristics of individualism over against its counterpart:

  • Think of Myself over Think of Others (If I don’t, who will?)
  • Lawsuits over Reconciliation
  • Individual Rights over Community Responsibilities
  • Career Advancement over Company Loyalty
  • Cynicism over Trust (If you don’t know anybody, how can you trust them?)
  • Relative Truth over Absolute Truth (truth is defined by and for each individual)

Pp. 42- 43 

The Johnsons were not born into a culture of community but into a culture of individualism.   P. 43

The “hard to swallow” premise is that today’s church is not a community but rather a collection of individuals. P. 45

Princeton’s Robert Wuthnow has found that small groups mainly “provide occasions for individuals to focus on themselves in the presence of others.  The social contract binding members together asserts only the weakest of obligations.  Come if you have time.  Talk if you feel like it.  Respect everyone’s opinion.  Never criticize.  Leave quietly if you become dissatisfied.”

In Overcoming Loneliness in Everyday Life, two Boston psychiatrists, Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz, suggest that because of their episodic nature, groups “fail to replicate the sense of belonging we have lost.  Attending weekly meetings, dropping in and out as one pleases, shopping around for a more satisfactory or appealing group—all of these factors work against the growth of true community.” Pp. 46-47

Wuthnow brings to the surface the fact that most small group members do not enter the group with a common set of beliefs and purposes.  Rather, everyone carries his or her own individual set of beliefs and purposes. P. 47

This is an important point to emphasize, because many people assume that the churched Christian has a firm handle on the biblical theology that fuels the Christian life.  An extensive Barna Research Group study shows that “Americans’ Bible knowledge is in the ballpark, but often off base.”  P. 51 

Let’s go back to the insights of E.D. Hirsch, tweak them a bit, and apply them to the church: “Can a group of Christians who do not share a common set of beliefs, practices, and virtues really be considered a Christian community, or are they rather a group of individuals who happen to gather on Christian soil?” P. 52­

“What we are dealing with here is what created Western Civilization as a civilization.  If all you had was what churches give out today, you would never produce Western Civilization. “Now, one of the chief ingredients of individualism’s value system is to reject the notion of sharing something, particularly beliefs, in common with others.  This rejection presents the greatest obstacle in overcoming the plague of individualism.  The current view of many in our culture is that seeking communal adherence leads to abuse of power or to lording someone’s beliefs and practices over community members.  There are many experiences to lay on the table to validate this charge.  However, the solution cannot be to abandon the principles of community for the principles of individualism; the solution is to provide boundaries and promote healthy principles of community.    P. 53

In the American Christian small group, we love to use the word accountability.  But if we are precise in our definitions, we really don’t have accountability; we only have disclosure.  A group member is often willing to disclose personal struggles and decisions, but there usually is no invitation to challenge the choices or to hold the person accountable to an objective standard. P. 57

While there are several ways to list and label these spiritual practices, consider the following ten:

  • Worship: worshiping God for who he is and what he has done for us (see Psalm 95:1-7)
  • Prayer: praying to God to know him, to lay our requests before him, and to find direction for our daily life (see Psalm 66:16-20)
  • Bible Study: reading the Bible to know God, to hold to the truth, and to find direction for our daily life (see Hebrews 4:12)
  • Single-Mindedness: focusing on God and his priorities for our life (see Matthew 6:33)
  • Biblical Community: fellowshipping with other Christians to fulfill God’s purposes in our life, in others’ lives, and in the world (see Acts 2:42-47)
  • Spiritual Gifts: using the gifts God has given us to fulfill God’s purposes (see 1 Corinthians 12:1-31)
  • Giving Away Our Time: giving away our time to fulfill God’s purposes (see Colossians 3:17)
  • Giving Away Our Money: giving away our money to fulfill God’s purposes (see 2 Corinthians 8:7)
  • Giving Away Our Faith: giving away our faith to fulfill God’s purposes (see Ephesians 6:19-20)
  • Giving Away Our Life: giving away our life to fulfill God’s purposes (see Romans 12:1-2)

Pp. 78-79 

SEVEN FUNCTIONS OF BIBLICAL COMMUNITY

A Covenant

S  Spiritual Formation

E  Evangelism

R  Reproduction

V  Volunteerism

I   International Missions

C  Care

E  Extending Compassion

Pp. 82-83

The late Francis Schaeffer gave us the gift of these rich words: “Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful—the Christian community is the final apologetic.”  P. 85

Bob Buford has convinced me that whatever we measure is really our mission. P. 88 

The discussion in the Community Group provides a “breakout” from the worship service and an outlet to share what they have learned in their personal study.  It is our firm belief that drilling down three times with three different types of educational experiences on one topic produces better results than three disconnected educational experiences on three different topics. P. 99

While a centralized structure is cleaner and easier to operate, in the end it more resembles the way a business is run than a dynamic community, which the church is called to be.  The decentralized model stretches the gifts of the body, produces more ownership among a broader group of people, and accomplishes more in the end than could be done with a handful of committee members.   P. 100 

FIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF COMMUNITY AROUND A COMMON PLACE

Spontaneity – Spontaneity is defined a “acting or taking place without any outside force or cause.”

Availability – Closely akin to spontaneity is the characteristic of availability.

Frequency – Another characteristic of community that promotes the value of a common place is frequency.  Simply put, people who are satisfied with the experience of community  are those who spend a great deal of time together.

Common Meals

Geography

Pp. 119-132 

One of consumerism’s driving principles is rights over responsibility.  In this system, the pursuit and protection of one’s rights always wins out over one’s responsibility to his or her neighbor.  It’s not something people deliberately choose because they are more depraved than previous generations; it is a natural consequence of individualism.   Pp. 178-179 

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The Practices of a Healthy Church

Another good book that I have perused recently, one which I read some time back, is MacNair’s and Meek’s The Practices of a Healthy Church. Drawing upon Scripture and on personal experiences, they wrote the book to help churches and their leaders to evaluate and consider just how healthy their particular healthy church really is.

The excerpts below provide the gist of the material, which may also provide you with some things to consider or even spur you on to getting a copy for yourself.

-D. Thomas Owsley

________________

Assess your church’s health, using these questions from the text:

1.   Are we open to change in order better to conform to God’s will for us as a church?

2.   Are many of our members evidencing spiritual growth?

3.   Do we as a congregation eagerly anticipate God’s blessing on our church, including His adding to our numbers?

4.   Do members sense that their elders both care for and lead them?

5.   Do members sense that their own spiritual gifts are engaged and deemed worthwhile?

6.   Is the importance we attach to Scripture evident in all our meetings and ministries?

7.   In our corporate worship, do we sense the presence and power of the living God?

8.   How is the community different because of our church’s presence in it?

9.   Have we specified a vision and plans to achieve it that realistically reflect our gifts and situation?

10. Are disagreements within our church relatively minor?

p. 16

 

The definition of church as the presence of Christ on earth also indicates what a good church is.  A good church is one which accurately represents Christ to the world, one which is a healthy spiritual organism, fully embodying this mystical union.  Moving closer and closer to Christlikeness, “growing up into the Head, that is, Christ,” is what the Bible says the church is supposed to be doing. p. 24

This means that the church needs to overcome a natural perception, in order to be to the neighborhood the earthly presence of Christ.  Unless we relate personally to people, our very presence will antagonize them. p. 27-28

One church I served as a consultant typified a maintenance mentality.  Ostensibly, they wanted to hire a youth director, thinking that an influx of young people would enable this congregation of people over sixty-five years old to maintain their existence (note the word maintain!).  At bottom, they really wanted to stay the same, avoid change, and preserve the status quo.  But they knew they were dying, and that threatened their commitment to maintenance.

Had they hired such a youth director, that person would have quickly discovered real opposition to his or her use of the facilities—the church wanted to preserve them, too!  They didn’t want the building worn out.  Can you imagine a church not wanting to use its building?  Strange as it sounds, it can be a strong temptation.  You know as well as I do that a building should be used, not just on Sunday, but as much as possible.  The more a church’s facilities are used, the more that church can serve the Lord. p. 30

The mission of the church is to fulfill God’s will on earth.  God’s will for the church consists of the Great Commission, which Jesus gave shortly before He ascended to heaven…. p. 31

To disciple is to seek to influence someone else to accept Christian beliefs, namely the truth of the Word of God.  Every time the Word influences the world, society, culture, families, or individuals, because a church or church member has communicated it, we should refer to it as discipling. p. 32

Some years ago, after conducting a workshop on church health, I spoke with a minister who came forward.  He was weeping quietly. He told me that during his time in seminary, he had grasped the vital significance of the Reformed faith.  In a homiletics class, he had raised the question of its role in his prospective ministry, especially in his preaching and teaching.  He told the professor about the old and rather lifeless church that had recently called him as pastor.  “What should characterize my preaching in order to lead the church into vitality?” he asked the professor.

“Preach the Reformed faith,” the professor told him.  “When people hear it, it will revolutionize them.”

This pastor did just that.  For the next ten years he made the Reformed faith the hallmark of his preaching and teaching.  He taught and preached it as the revolutionary power that his church needed.

However, no move toward spiritual vitality ever occurred.  Now he bitterly expressed his sad realization to me: “I wish someone had told me ten years ago to make the Bible the hallmark of my ministry!”  p. 55-56

 

What we must avoid is an improper use of our system of beliefs. We use a theological system improperly if we consciously or unconsciously expect it to bring spiritual life.  Scripture, and only Scripture, brings spiritual life.  p. 57                                                                                                              

We should strive in our worship services, and especially in the preaching of the Word, to make the Bible a living expression of Jesus Christ.  Our teaching must enable members to know their way around the Bible.  It must challenge them to obey what the Bible says.  It must equip them to ferret out and apply objective implications, and discourage them from making selective, subjective applications.  But above all, hearers should walk away not simply having been chastised or commanded, not merely with more Bible content, but having met Christ afresh, having appropriated His forgiveness, provision, and power. p. 72

 

Healthy Practice #2: The church must engage in regular vibrant worship to God as the ultimate motivation for personal and corporate growth. p. 79

 

The greatest benefit of light fellowship is that it creates the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to develop deeper, spiritual bonds within the body.  The word fellowship, a translation of the Greek word koinonia, carries with it at least four concepts: deep, fulfilling relationships (I John 1:3), a unified body of people (I Cor. 1:9), communication (Gal. 6:6), and communion (I Cor. 10:16). p. 85

Perhaps we can best express the essence of worship by saying that it is a deep-seated longing, a thirsting for God that is satisfied as He reveals Himself to us.  Worship thus contains two basic elements: the soul’s thirst for God and God’s self-revelation. p. 89

Listeners are offered reasoned support, but not authoritative support for what God calls us to do and be.  Absent is any sense that God’s revelation is being declared.  Logic should confirm and commend the declaration of God’s Word, but it should never replace it.  God the Spirit indwells and works through His authoritative revelation.  To replace proclamation entirely with persuasion or logic deprives hearers of the possibility of God’s power in their lives.

Criticism can also inhibit preaching.  If a pastor feels threatened by possible criticism from a segment of his congregation, his ministry of the Word will be hampered, and the presence and power of the living Lord will in that measure be restricted.  I observed this in one church in which I sensed a certain degree of fear under the surface of the worship.  As I discussed this with the pastor later, I learned that a third of his session espoused theonomy, an interpretation of the Old Testament with which he disagreed.  Whenever he entered the pulpit, he feared their criticism: “They’re going to tell what I did wrong.”  He was exhibiting fear and restraint in conducting the service, and in that measure the powerful and active ministry of the Lord was obscured. pp. 98-99

Throughout human history, God has used worship, an encounter with Himself, to motivate action as well as to glorify His name.  The prophet Isaiah’s experience (Isaiah 6:1-8) is paradigmatic.  He had a vision of the Lord “seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  He saw God surrounded by angels who demonstrated and spoke of God’s holiness, shaking the temple and filling it with smoke. p. 100

The elder encourages believing church members to be what God intends them to be: priests (I Peter 2:5), who utilize their gifts for the common good (I Cor. 12:7), so that Christ’s body is “joined and held together by every supporting ligament” (Eph. 4:16)—a people who “always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10).  Paul expresses the elder’s God-given passion to catalyze the church’s growth in godliness: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.  To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:28-29). p. 130

Throughout these discussions, I’ve maintained that healthy, biblical leadership enhances rather than represses members’ involvement. p. 171

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Outgrowing the Ingrown Church

(Interacting with Dr. Miller’s poignant book).

Outgrowing the Ingrown Church was written a number of years ago by C. John Miller (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House; 1986).  I’ve read it at least three times in order to give my own life a swift kick in the rump. This book is a call to assess and reassess the pastor’s and elders’ work in the local church. It’s also a call to the local congregation to assess and reassess where it is at, where it is going and what God says about it.  It’s a call to humble repentance as well as a call to dynamic, vibrant faith for all parties involved in the church.

Miller said, Growth that is not inspired by faith in Christ’s power to transform lives is dangerous (p. 18). … So congregations and their leaders today are perilously close to losing the elementary principles of faith that motivate qualitative and quantitative church growth. I am thinking of regular and thorough meditation on the promises of God, ongoing repentance based on the intense study of Scripture, continual personal and corporate prayer, daring gospel communication and discipling, mobilizing every member’s gifts for Christ’s mission to the world, and each congregation working to plant daughter churches (p. 19).

Pastor Miller’s story, out of which this book came, is one of a man who was also a seminary pastor, faithfully involved in a local church.  The church had been complacent, stagnant and ingrown.  After a period of discomfort and personal restlessness, Miller began to seek ways to revitalize the church and to fulfill God’s call and vision for the church.  In his times of prayer and study he learns,

I had rightly discerned that this promise of Christ’s fullness had a past reference to Pentecost and a future reference to the transformed world; but I had missed the emphasis in the Gospel of John on the present application of this promise to those who “are believing” or “keep believing.” I had missed the fact that God wishes to use such promises to awaken us daily from our dryness to claim the Spirit’s refreshing life (p. 24).

Pastor Arzurdia brings this same message out in his wonderful book on preaching. So much of the life of the church, and of my own ministry tends to fall back upon self-effort. How we ought to recall and fall upon those great and  precious promises for a life filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Miller pushes  further: So let me call you and your congregation, not simply to survival for another week, but to radical commitment: to believe Christ’s promises and to do His will at all costs. That will is revealed in His command to the church to go with the gospel to the nations and make disciples… (p. 25).

Such a commitment cannot only come from the leaders or pastor. It must be held by others, especially those in leadership positions.

In his chapter, THE INGROWN CHURCH: God’s Call to Faith and Repentance, the author gives more than an apt description of so many churches.  He says that ingrown churches are gripped by several, if not all, of these following characteristics:

1. Tunnel Vision

Members of the ingrown church body are characterized by tunnel vision that limits potential ministries of the church to those that can be accomplished by the visible, human resources at hand. These possibilities are often further limited by recollections of past negative experiences and perceptions of present obstacles. At bottom, this is unbelief based on a secularized ignorance of the Spirit’s power – His ability to supply us with God’s goals for the church and the supernatural means to reach them (p. 29).

2. Shared Sense of Group Superiority

He (C. Curry Mavis) observes that many smaller congregations and their leadership have become egocentric because of “their fear of extinction.” In his view, “struggling churches are likely to exaggerate points of superiority they actually possess as means of compensation for their limitations.” What they do is build an attitude of superiority over others by elevating a positive feature in the church life of tradition and then comparing this feature with groups which lack this quality (p. 30)

3. Extreme Sensitivity to Negative Human Opinion  Whatever form the opposition takes, we will discover that an ingrown church has given in for so long to intimidation that its fears have obscured vital contact with the promises of God. As a result, fear casts out love for “a world that is falling apart,” a world that desperately needs a community of love (p. 31).

4. Niceness in Tone  Indeed, each Christian should diligently seek to be all of that. But what is often wanted in the local church is unrelieved blandness: a “nice pastor” preaching “nice sermons” about a “nice Jesus” delivered in a “nice tone” of voice. What is twisted about all this is that “niceness” is being substituted for Christ’s holy love, a heroic quality that might not in some circumstances prove to be nice at all. What we really want is to be comfortable and undisturbed. “Nice” is just another way of being safe (p. 32).

5. Christian Soap Opera in Style.  The niceness of the inward-looking church does not go deep enough to hinder the soap-opera style in which many a congregational life is lived. Soap operas are basically a series of endlessly repeated conversations, and gossip (for that is what it is) is often the only kind of “body life” an ingrown church knows (p. 33).

6. Confused Leadership Role.

7. A Misdirected Purpose. It is clear from the foregoing that the controlling purpose in the ingrown church has to do with survival – not with growth through the conversion of the lost….The unity is essentially that of the comfortable, private club determined to protect its institutional values and privileges (pp. 35-36).

Miller, a few pages later, characterizes the problem when he said that we can learn from the Pharisees.  This truth brings us face to face with what appears to be a critical problem: If this awesome authority and invincible, inward power are Christ’s gifts to the church of God, why is so little evidence of all this to be found in the local congregation? …R.C. Sproul compares many local churches to the company of Pharisees active during Jesus’ time on earth. He writes, It was the Pharisees who developed the doctrine of “salvation by separation.”  …To be sure, this is a familiar issue when we are dealing with the ingrown church, with its false separation…. Why is it so prevalent when the authority and the power of Christ are so sovereignly compelling? What is the church missing today?  The answer is to be found largely in our lack of trust.  The passive church member is a person weak in faith. (p. 57).  How accurate a portrayal and evaluation he has made.

So what does he propose as an answer? The first thing he recommends is to evaluate where the church is and measure it against where it ought to be. This requires knowledge of what God has to tell us about the vision, mission, purpose and direction for His Church. From that point we can gain a rather substantial view of where the church is currently at and where it ought to go.

Pastor Miller also suggests several things that is required of a local church, and makes worthwhile recommendations for change. The first is that the local church is to be a missionary church. The living, transcendent God came to claim Israel as His special possession, an act that prefigured the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost to make the church the new people of God, he writes. Peter squelches the idea that the church has a right to exist for its own egocentric interests and comforts. It exists for God, and He is His infinite majesty lives in it as a troubling, transforming, barrier-breaking presence (p. 43). It certainly has no right to live for itself. Yet this is where so many churches find themselves.

In this regard Miller lays out Four Steps to Renewal:

1 Develop an openness to God’s vision for the local church (p. 72).

2. Work to develop an honesty about your sins and weaknesses that lead to change (p. 73).

3. Personalize your relationship with Christ (p. 75)

4. Commit yourself to express God’s glory in every part of your life and service (p. 77).

Secondly, the local church must be a welcoming church. What does the commissioned church do that is different from what is done in the stagnated, passive congregation? he asks. The answer is essentially that the commissioned church is hospitable. It aggressively and joyfully seeks out the unchurched, laboring to welcome them into the church as members of the body of Christ. Its leaders self-consciously reject a “Christian clubhouse” atmosphere and devote themselves to developing in the congregation an open face to the community and the world beyond. The local leaders model a welcoming lifestyle and seek to mobilize others to do the same (p. 81). 

But why do so few Christians today open their hearts and homes to the non-Christian community? The reason is that they are fearful of being hurt by involvement with others. They do not want the trouble and the risk, the exhaustion that hospitality brings, the struggles with sloth that it requires, and all the rest of the suffering that it entails (p. 87).

This statement was highlighted during a pastoral visit I made years ago. The couple have been members of the particular church to which I had just arrived, for many years. One of their complaints was the lack of hospitality that was going on among one another, especially among the elders. The husband protested that in all the years (if I recall it was around twenty years) he had been at the church he had only been invited to three other homes!  While that was certainly a sad commentary on the state of affairs, it was not right for him to be so critical without examining his own heart and behaviors.  So I asked, “Have you practiced hospitality?”  “No!” was his abrupt and quick reply. And why not? The first answer was that it was too much trouble, but probing further, it became clear that  they were fearful of being rejected for not providing adequate or acceptable hospitality. Truly sad.

The third area Miller sees as important for a local church to become is a praying church. There can be no doubt that this is so crucial for a church. So much of the life of the church hinges upon prayer. Miller then brings out something quite interesting when he poses for us just what kind of prayer time do we have?  He titles this section, Two Kinds of Prayer Meetings: Maintenance or Frontline? This prayer meeting in Pennsylvania, he tells us, was intended to function as a frontline battle station. The earlier meeting in California was largely designed to maintain the existing life and ministry of our congregation.  Believers came to the earlier meeting to be edified by a Bible study …and to pray for the internal needs of the church. Expectancy seemed to be at a low ebb among the attenders, evidenced by the fact that none of us bothered to keep a record of prayers offered and answered. I also do not think that Christians came to this prayer meeting expecting to meet God in a life-changing encounter (p. 98).

Miller tells us, By contrast,(to the maintenance-type church) people came to the frontline prayer meetings to be changed. They discovered what Augustine has emphasized, that man’s chief need is to fellowship with God, to find fulfillment in Him, and to experience the abiding presence of Jesus (Pss. 27:4; 36:7-9; John 14:18-23; 15:1-10) (p. 98). Herein is what we need at church – life changing times of prayer!

 

Conclusion

If there is one thing I would critique, it would be the fact that his focus is a slight bit unbalanced. It seems plain to me that the Bible indeed urges churches to fulfill the mandate to disciple  people. But it is equally plain to me that the primary purpose is to have a passion for, and a love and desire to honor, worship and glorify God. In short, we are to have passion and compassion for God as well as for others. In loving God fully, we then would faithfully respond by loving others: other believers in His church, and loving others outside of the church.

The reason for going out to make disciples, as John puts it in his gospel, is to seek after those who will become worshipers of God. This emphasis would be more balanced, because it would be more biblical. This emphasis would more fully address the malady and sin of an introverted church.

Having said that, in my opinion, the author has done a splendid job helping us define and describe the conditions and symptoms of an ingrown church. He has offered many worthwhile remedies, and urged us toward biblical repentance and the need to think and act biblically. His concern for being outwardly focused is not only commendable, but biblical. As members in the kingdom of God, we are to serve others. His passion for making disciples through evangelism and missions is something we all need to catch. For this reason I highly commend this book.

 

 

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How the Church is to Love

God is quite clear about how the local church is to relate with one another:  through Christ-like love.  In the New Testament letter of 1 Corinthians, the Spirit writes through Paul about the various conflicts the early church was having.  Richard Ganz, in his book, tells us that there were at least twenty conflicts that nearly destroyed the church.

In the middle of explaining what those conflicts are and the appropriate, godly way to address them, Paul tells the Corinthian church that the heart of Christ’s Body is indeed true love.  So, he proceeds to explain how critical love is for believers in Jesus Christ, individually and collectively.  The facts or indicatives about love and the commands or imperatives are not merely for the individual.  This chapter speaks to the entire church, and therefore 1 Corinthians 13 tells us (the local church) how to think and behave in union with Christ and one another.

With that in mind, consider the application of 1 Corinthians to you and your church:

Remember, all of these qualities find their source and perfect expression in God through Jesus Christ. If we are truly in Christ, we too should express these qualities more and more.

1.   1 Cor. 13:1

* Does my speech comes from a heart of love (otherwise I am just an irritating noise maker)?

*How can we speak lovingly with one another?

 

2.  1 Cor. 13:2

*How often do I use God’s gifts He has given me in loving service to others?

*How can we all use our gifts more fully and with sacrificial love?

 

3.  1 Cor. 13:3

*Do I often serve others sacrificially? If so, is it from a heart filled with love for them?

*In what specific ways can we serve each other sacrificially with hearts filled with genuine love?

 

4.  1 Cor. 13:4

Love is unselfish as seen in the fact that love is patient (restraint when you have a right to act; long-suffering). The idea is that I  restrain my words and actions when wronged or provoked even when I have the right to act, unless there is a sin I need to address through gentle rebuke in another person (Matt. 18; Gal. 6:1)

*Am I impatient with people or do I suffer long?

*How can we suffer long with each other?

 

5. 1 Cor. 13:4

Love is kind. It has the desire to bestow good on another. It proceeds from a tender heart with good will that contributes to the happiness and blessing of others. God is kind even to evil ones (Lk. 6).

*In what ways do I show good will  to others in my family, who are my friends, who are of the church that contributes to their happiness?

*How can we as members of Christ’s church be kind to one another?

 

6.  1 Cor. 13:4

Love is not envious. Love does not feel uneasiness at the sight of superior excellence, reputation or happiness enjoyed by others. Love does not have a sense of hatred for others that desires to depreciate them. Love is not proudly selfish taking offense that another person has obtained what one strongly desires to have.

*When am I envious? How am I going to repent and put on Christ by rejoicing with those who rejoice?

*What shall we as God’s people do to help others in their sin of envy?

 

7.  1 Cor. 13:4

Love does not brag. It is not ostentatious, nor has an anxious display of oneself for the purpose of building self up often at the expense of putting others down. It does not seek to be the focus of attention.

*Do I campaign for the center of attention? How often? How and when will I repent?

*How will we gently confront others who seek to be the center of attention in our church, and call them to repentance?

 

8.  1 Cor. 13:4

Love is not arrogant; which means love is not all puffed up, swollen with proud vanity.

*In what ways do I show my own arrogance? How strongly does my arrogance show?

*What should we as God’s people do to address the sin of unloving arrogance that is obviously displayed?

 

9.   1 Cor. 13:5

Love does not act unbecomingly, unseemly. That means love is not rude, and does not unnecessarily embarrass others.

*Am I rude? Are we rude? When and how? What shall I do to repent of it and exercise faith? What do we need to do to stop being rude?

*How can we stop our rudeness among others? How can we correct others when they are rude and encourage them to show true consideration?

 

10. 1 Cor. 13:5

Love does not seek its own benefit. It seeks the benefit of others.

*When do I behave and show actions that are genuinely for the advantage and benefit of others?

*How can our church seek to benefit each other?

 

11.  1 Cor. 13:5

Loves is not provoked. It isn’t easily angered. It doesn’t have a trigger temper that either stems from bitterness or leads to bitterness.

*Do I have a trigger temper? When and how? How shall I cease from such an unloving way?

*How can we guard each other from trigger tempers? What shall we do when others ‘explode’ in the church? What shall we think and do about those whose trigger temper has left collateral damage among others?

 

12. 1 Cor. 13:5

Love does not take into account a wrong suffered. That means love is unwilling to bring to mind a specific wrong and put it into a mental registry of wrongs committed for which there will be a plan for retaliation.

*Do I do this? How, when and with whom? How can I put that off and put on love?

*What can we do in our church to protect one another from bitterness, or allowing others to keep a mental registry in order to seek retaliation? Especially since Jesus Christ took the registry of our sins and the sins of our fellow believers upon His record and paid for them with His own sacrificial life and death?

 

13.  1 Cor. 13:6

Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness or evil, but finds great delight in truth.

*Do I rejoice at the demise of others? Am I happy when others engage in sin or evil? Do I seek to engage in unrighteousness or evil?

*How can we celebrate good things in our church? How can we encourage and foster attitudes and an environment that does good and righteousness? How will we delight in truth?

 

14.  1 Cor. 13:7

Love bears all things. That means it covers over so as to protect.

*Do I protect other’s reputation, welfare or life?

*How do we or shall we protect other’s reputation, welfare or life?

 

15. 1 Cor. 13:7

Love believes all things. This does not mean that we are to be gullible, easily fooled or conned. It means that we put the best construction on things or see things from a positive light unless there is sufficient evidence to believe otherwise. When love has no such evidence it believes the best about others.

*Is it my habit to be gullible or easily fooled by others? Or am I the type of person to always see things negatively?

*How can we foster an environment within our church that puts things in the best possible light? And what should we do when there is evidence to the contrary?

 

16. 1 Cor. 13:7

Love hopes all things. Meaning, we do not hope in our environment, circumstances, nor in people, but rather have hope in Jesus Christ who works all things together for our good.

*Am I hopeful? Do I manifest or exude hope among others? Or am I a Puddleglum?

*How can we display hope with one another at church in such a way that we are realistically hopeful?

 

17. 1 Cor. 13:7

Love endures all things; it perseveres.

*Do I easily give up? Am I a chronic quitter? Or do I persevere?

*What are some ways that we can encourage one another to persevere in our Christian walk? Who among us right now needs the most encouragement to persevere? What are we going to do about it?

 

Some examples for how to pray for love to increase in your life and in the life of your church:

Dear Father, I pray that I would become more and more like Christ, filled with a heart of genuine love for You and others. I pray that I would have love in my speech, at the center of all I know,  and that love would be the source of my faith. By grace give me patience. Make me demonstrably kind. Keep me from bragging. Eradicate my pride and replace it with Christ. Keep me from being rude and self-seeking. Remove from me my hot temper. Purge my mind of my registry of sins I am keeping against others, and help me not to dwell on those sins. Empower me so that I am repulsed at unrighteousness, but delighted with good things. May I always rejoice in truth. Lord,  may I always have a heart to protect others, to always put  things and others in a positive light (unless of course there is evidence to the contrary). By your Spirit help me to persevere always in this life until the end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Dear Father, I pray that each one of us in our church would become more and more like Christ, filled with hearts of genuine love for You and one another. May each one of us have love in our speech, be at the center of all we know, and that love would be the source of our faith. By grace give us patience. Make us demonstrably kind. Keep us from bragging. Eradicate our pride and replace it with Christ. Keep each of us from being rude and self-seeking. Remove from us any hot tempers. Purge our minds of any registries of sins we might be keeping against others. Please help us not to dwell on those sins. Empower every one of us so that we would be repulsed at unrighteousness, but delight in good things. May we always rejoice in truth. Lord, may we always have a heart to protect others, and to always put  things and others in a positive light (unless of course there is evidence to the contrary). By your Spirit help each one to persevere always in this life until the end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Challenging the Church Monster

This book by Douglas J. Bixby exposes those spiritual terrorists in the church that often wreak havoc and attack church servants and leadership.  Here are some excerpts for you:

 

Jesus Christ is the great unifier, and yet it is only in the midst of diversity that our unity in Christ means anything.   P. 23

Congregations fear change, and when systems are not in place to guard against excessive change, people take it upon themselves to ensure it does not happen at all.  This is why very little trust develops within these systems and why very little gets accomplished despite all the time and energy people put into their churches.  Lay leaders and pastors are left frustrated, because they end up bearing a lot of responsibility without being given any real authority.  Momentum rarely develops, and individual leaders rarely feel like they are having an impact.  Most feel they are simply spinning their wheels. P. 29

In The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California, writes, “I’ve always loved Elton Trueblood’s name for the church: ‘The Company of the Committed.’  It would be wonderful if every church was known for the commitment of its members.  Unfortunately, churches are often held together by committees rather than commitment.” P. 35 

In his book The Once and Future Church, Loren Mead, founder of the Alban Institute, talks about how the church needs to change to be prepared to do ministry in our changing world.  Speaking about local congregations, Mead writes, “It is harder and harder to maintain the congregational structure and systems that have served so many generations so well.”

However, Mead continues, “In this climate, many respond by trying harder and harder to do the old thing better.  They try to turn the clock back to the familiar dream of the Christendom Paradigm, working to resurrect an antiquarian institution.”

Churches need to find new ways to function in an age where time is valued almost as much as money.  Most people today are not so emotionally sick that we need to be afraid of them, but most people are so busy that we do need to fear misusing their time and energy. P. 51

Canon reveals how certain people can ruin the Rules of Order for everyone else in a group.  He writes, “One of the worst mistakes a member can make is to challenge the Chair simply because a rule is not being followed with technical precision, that is, when the error does not in fact affect the substance or the fairness of the business at hand.  This mistake is most often made by a member who is well schooled in parliamentary procedure and wishes to demonstrate this skill to the assembly.”    Pp. 85-86

Robert Webber, president of the Institute for Worship Studies, writes in his book, Planning Blended Worship,   “Good worship creates community, evangelical warmth, hospitality to outsiders, inclusion of cultural diversity, leadership roles for men and women, intergenerational involvement, personal and community formation, healing, reconciliation, and other aspects of pastoral care.  Because worship is itself an act of witness, it is the door to church growth, to missions and evangelism, and to issues of social justice.  Worship now stands at the center of the Church’s life and mission in the world.     p. 107

Bixby. Challenging the Church Monster. Wipf & Stock Publishers; 2007.

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Are you called to ministry?

“Those who are truly sent by God…are marked by the fact that they are faithful to the message of the Gospel, exalting the Lord Jesus Christ, proclaiming to men the good news of salvation through Him, and bidding men to turn from their sins and come to Christ as Savior and Lord. They back all of their proclamations by the authority of the Bible, the Word of God, and they call Christians to lives of holiness while they themselves are living examples of holiness.
“Unless a man is divinely sent to preach the Word, his ministry will be ineffective to produce faith and life in those to whom he ministers. God must do the sending. I always tell young men who ask me about entering the ministry that they should never become ministers if they can possibly help it. If a man could be satisfied as president of the United States, as president of a bank or a college, as a pitcher for a big-league ball team, or in another position of honor or distinction, he has not been called to the ministry. God has not sent him. When God sends a man there is a yearning, churning, burning inside him. Like Paul he must cry…’Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel’ (1 Cor. 9:16). This must be the heart feeling of everyone who has been sent with the Gospel.”

Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Covenants: Romans 9:1-11:36, Eerdmans, 1963.

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Abusing Pastors

These are excerpts from Clergy Killers, a very insightful book by G. Lloyd Rediger:

A clinical, or psychological perspective on clergy killers indicates that they are likely to have personality disorders (antisocial, borderline, paranoid, narcissistic). They may be previous or present victims of abuse. They may have inadequate socialization, arrested adolescence, and violent role models in their history. They may have developed a perverse, voyeuristic, and vindictive taste for the suffering of their victims. In more ordinary terminology, clergy killers have learned the power of throwing tantrums to get their way. They know how to distract, confuse, and seduce. They can wound or kill by direct attacks, by inciting others to inflict the wounds, or by inducing victims to self-destruct. pp. 10-11

One of the characteristics of evil is its eagerness to exploit human weakness and institutional naivete. p. 12

In the Winter 1996 issue of Leadership magazine, the results of their national survey of Protestant clergy indicated that approximately 23 percent of pastors say they have been fired at least once, and 43 percent said a “faction” (typically less than ten people) forced them out. p. 13

A general sense of entitlement is growing in the church, as well as in society. Church members feel entitled to comfort and privilege. If a pastor does not please them, they feel free to criticize and punish. The business mentality that pervades the church says if the CEO (pastor) does not produce, he should be fired. Related to this is the paradigm shift in ethics and morality. p. 20

Entitlement thinking pervades our culture. This is a perversion of the “rugged individualism” that drove early explorers, settlers, and entrepreneurs. As a dynamic middle class emerged through opportunity, hard work, and creativity, many citizens began to think of the earned benefits as rights rather than as the consequences of behavior. Hard work, responsibility, and discipline became optional. now when entitlement expectations are not met, citizens feel cheated. They assume someone or something other than themselves is to blame. And when they decide who is to blame, they assume the right to punish. Or if the presumed villain is too powerful to be punished, citizens have the right to become vengeful or turn their anger inward and become depressed and dysfunctional. Because the church often reflects society rather than leading it, this entitlement thinking contaminates parish attitudes. It is also a breeding ground for conflict and abuse. pp. 21-21

The pastoral role now includes an unfocused and expanded range of duties. The congregation expects the pastor to be in charge of nearly everything (except activities that the powerbrokers want to control). Being “in charge” here means not only seeing that the activities get done, but also that everyone interested in them is happy with them. From doing the bulletin, to repairing the furnace, to increasing the pledges and enhancing the congregation’s image in the community, the pastor must see that everything is taken care of or expect to be blamed when people are disappointed. Because pastors now feel so dependent on the approval of the congregation, it is easier for them to imagine that they are indeed responsible for everything in the congregation. The clinical name for this delusion is codependence, or collusion. p. 23

Yes, conflict in the church is normal. But incivility and abuse are not. p. 47

We live as a culture of adolescents – irresponsible and intentionally immature. We no longer value the wisdom of age and experience. In fact, ageism is causing us to disregard the wisdom of experience, to be insensitive to the aging process, and to warehouse and abuse our elders. When youthfulness is worshiped, the socialization, support, and insight traditionally provided by elders is lost. Aging people, who could be productive and stabilizing, are often regarded as “out of it” and a burden to be endured until they die. What a loss! p. 50

In Mark 5:1-20 (and other places), Jesus demonstrates the three steps in exorcism. First, He named the demon(s). This naming process is powerful, because in Scripture, being able to name someone or something gives power over what is named. We cannot exorcise evil if we are unable to name it an be honest about its source and power. Second, Jesus commands the demons to leave. We can only do this with God’s help, of course, but there is no cleansing unless we get rid of the evil presence and its machinations. Finally, Jesus replaces the demon with a positive message and mission. He instruct the healed man to return home and witness to his health and its source. This third step is important, for evil returns to fill the spiritual vacuum unless something positive is put in its place. p. 66

Elected or appropriately designated leaders must call for the implementation of the official grievance process, and require all parishioners to use denominational and congregational polity for handling conflict. p. 85

The abused or mentally disordered adult may focus blame and therefore malevolent behavior on the pastor or other moral leader, for such a person is unconsciously seeking someone to blame for the devastating emotional pain suffered. Because the abuse was undeserved, inflicted, and damaging, this person rightly sees it as a moral issue since morality is about good and bad behavior. By implication, the pastor, who is an identified moral leader should have prevented or stopped the abuse, even though the pastor was not there during the abuse. The nonrational connections of childhood come into play here and persist in an unconscious way into adulthood. This is how a pastor is sometimes targeted for abuse and even destruction by an abused or mentally disordered person. p. 126

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