My own Church

Ever since I graduated from New England Bible College, I have been asked a few variations of the question, “When are you going to get your own Church?” Even one non-believer echoed that saying, “If you ever get your own Church, that’s the one I’ll go to.”

I cannot help but be baffled at statements such as these. My own Church? What does that even mean?

Whose Church is it Anyway?

There are some inherent issues if the local Church “belongs” to anyone. And although no-one would outright say, “I own this place” many of us fall into the trap of believing that because we have vested interest in the property of the Church, it is in some sense ours. If I paid for half of the construction process, if I have been given an office space, if I’m allowed to store anything within the walls of the building, this place all of a sudden belongs to me. Likewise, the thought behind what people have been asking is, “When you are the pastor of the Church- you’re the boss, you’re in control, the buck stops with you.”

Now, the Pastor and Elders of any Church must have a degree of ownership: they are to shepherd the flock that is among them (1 Peter 5.1-2) and they will give an account for their faithfulness just like everyone else. However, everyone in the Church needs this mindset: “I have vested interest in this place because I have chosen to put energy and resources into it and the family that gathers here, but I am not the final authority of the Church–this Church is not mine.

But it is mine

As true as that is, we also need to come to terms with the idea that the Church we gather with is ours. I already have a Church of my own. It is a beautiful congregation (not merely a building we meet in) that I get to pour my life into (and that gets to pour into me!) and it, like every other congregation, is a work in progress.

This may seem to contradict what I said above, but if we understand our place in the body of Christ then we know that we do not own the people, building, resources, etc, but we (as a body) have stewardship over what we have been given and we are charged by Christ to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6.2). This means loving the people here and guarding them from the attacks of the evil one- regardless of whether I am the lead pastor, youth director, or fellow minister of the gospel (that is, member of the Church).

Ultimately, she’s is Christ’s

The key to more fully understanding my place in the Body of Christ is remembering that this Church is simply a small part of the Bride of Christ. So before this church is mine or anyone else’s, she is Christ’s. Christ laid down His life for her and will one day bring her home to be with Him.

This should motivate my belief, and thus action, in the areas mentioned above. If the Church–if my church– belongs to Jesus the Christ, then I must “have this mind… which is mine in Christ” (Phil. 2.5). This will motivate me to put my church before myself in all things and desire her holiness above all things.

Is this your attitude in regards to your church? Do you have a church that you can have this relationship with?

Articles on Modesty

Every summer modesty seems to be a big issue in and around the Christian Church. Where ever you fall in this conversation, I would encourage you to watch and read some of the following articles. I have posted two that I agree with and one that I have issues with along with some side thoughts. Enjoy, and remember your responsibility in the Church

Modest Swim Suits:

This is the article that many in the blogo-sphere have been reacting to lately: http://www.qideas.org/video/the-evolution-of-the-swimsuit.aspx.

In it, we are given a technical explanation of why Ms. Rey has designed her swim suits to be the way they are. Her big idea is: Let’s protect the guys around us from falling into temptation. I enjoyed the video and think there is a lot in it we can learn from.

One Response:

From the same web site, one can find this article: http://qideas.org/blog/modesty-i-dont-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means.aspx (Christianity Today also had some, um, “insight” : http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/june/dont-blame-bikini-blame-bikini-culture.html)

All I can say about these two links is that even though they have some decent thoughts regarding biblical texts about modesty, they focus way too much on “feel good emotions”. They both talk about how bikinis (and bikinis are not the main thing we should be talking about) allow women to enjoy the world the way we were meant to enjoy it. How else can women feel the sun and the ocean splash against them as they should! As one person said, the same argument can be made for frequenting a nude beach… but that is beside the point.

The point is that we are meant to enjoy the world he has created, but we are called to holiness and encouraging others in their pursuit of holiness, which means that we care about the thoughts and actions of others.

What I wish I had written:

No woman is obligated to dress modestly, but I am deeply thankful when they do because I see it has a gesture of Christian love, like someone turning down a cold beer for a Pepsi, all because they know that their friend is struggling with alcoholism. Modesty is best understood not as a compulsory act motivated by hate or blame, but a conscious decision based on strength and love.

This comes from the best response I have found: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/july/why-i-tell-my-daughters-to-dress-modestly.html?paging=off.

Yes, he is a man. Yes, I am a man. But that does not negate our ability to comment on this situation. The reason I love this man’s response to the situation is that he comes at it from a more solidly biblical view of taking care of our fellow believers (he quotes much of Romans 14 in the process).

Personally, I find conversations with bikini clad (or super short-short wearing, or cleavage-exposing, etc…) women very difficult and try to avoid them at all costs. For this reason, I am glad to be married to a woman who is pleased to care enough about God and me that she takes modesty and appropriateness seriously–asking me constantly if it’s OK to wear what she is wearing. The Church needs mature women like that who are willing not only to care about God in that way, but to encourage younger women to do the same– for the sake of their brothers everywhere.

Being a blessing

Two elderly couples are sitting at two different tables at the same restaurant. Both couples are professing Christians who are involved in their respective local Churches. Both frequent this restaurant quite often.

One couple (the ones I happen to be sitting with) is jovial: laughing with the waitstaff, smiling, and sharing concerns about the Church while expressing their desire to remain faithful there. The other–seated a table away– not so jovial. I don’t know the exact nature of their conversation, but I do know the response the waitress gives: “I am sorry… for that I do apologize.” This apology, as marked by the look on her face, was not for something she had done but for something they had complained about. Something meaningless and unimportant; it is just food, after all.

And how do I know them to be believers? As they leave they excitedly greet our dinner companions and it’s explained that this couple was there when our host came to Christ.

I wish this was an anomaly, but it isn’t. I have been in multiple situations where I have witnessed professing believers (once right after an Easter morning service) enter the community and trash Christ’s name through their attitudes–meanwhile wearing their “Church” clothes.

Our gracious host

Christmas is coming. This is a time where the Church remembers in a special way that Christ didn’t count equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing and became a man for the sake of dying a humble yet terrible death on our behalf. We sometimes miss the part about humility–and us having the same mind.

Our host that night didn’t. True, our waitress was also slightly emotional, but for a different reason; our host handed her this letter to the editor he had once written:

I am writing relative to a hard-working group of people in our society today. My wife and I enjoy dining out frequently, and we notice the hard-working waiters and waitresses who serve the public in our local restaurants. We watch them try to be pleasant, courteous and efficient as they work. We see them try to give service as they serve food, clear tables, carry heavy trays and deal with unhappy costumers. They work hard for the minimum wage (which is lower than the state minimum). We also feel there are many people who do not leave the proper gratuity (at least 15 percent) that is expected today.

We know there are days and weeks set aside to honor nurses, teachers, secretaries and other service people. This is a fine thing to do. They deserve it. We also think of those faithful wait-people who deserve to be honored for a job well done.

Passing on humility

Christ came to call us to be part of His Kingdom through His death and resurrection. What does that resurrection do for us? Well, for starters, it affects our attitudes so that we are no longer walking in the ways of the flesh but in the Spirit with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5.22-23). But these attitudes are worthless if left unexpressed. Our responses must be kind and good, gentle and loving, and spoken with patience and self-control. If they are not, is Christ glorified? If we recognize our failures, is He glorified in our apologies to the victims of our words? Many of us who are in Christ would do well to check our hearts and invite more of the Spirit’s control whenever we interact with unbelievers.

Maybe then we can do as this gentleman did–recognize the good that others are doing and respond with love and admiration to them.

Where do you gather? (pt. 5)

So how bad is it really at the church down the road? Do they sing too much? Do they preach too much? Is there not enough community? Do they not have the right programs for your kids? Are they just plain mean? Consider what Tim Chester writes:

I wonder how many churches people pass as they drive half an hour to church each Sunday. Some will be dead and ready for burial. But many will be good churches. They may not be as good as the church people attend. But they may be faithful and engaged in their locality. Why do people do this?

It reflects a consumer mentality. We shop for churches like we shop for groceries. If we don’t like the product then we take our business elsewhere. We end up at the big convenience store with the large parking lot and the local shops in Main Street that the old and the poor have to use wither and decline.

A particular instance of the consumer mentality, but a very common one is this: If church doesn’t have a big children’s programme then we find another church. Who’s going to say we shouldn’t put our children’s spiritual needs first? Me! A lot of Christians have made an idol of their families. So it becomes an excuse not to do mission or community. Look at what Jesus has to say about biological families. It is all negative! Really, it is. ‘Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matthew 10:37). That’s what Jesus said. Get over it. And think about what moving church for children teaches our children. That the world revolves around them. That church is there to entertain them. That relationships with peers matter more than relationships with  people who (are) unlike them. At best you will teach you children to be church-attenders. You will have missed a big opportunity to teach them to be radical disciples and missionaries.

So how far is too far?

This is the tricky part in discussing distances in the church. Is there limit as to how far I’m allowed to drive to church? Or better yet, should we limit it?

On a personal note, I have consistently told Emmalie that as we progress in life and ministry, I don’t want to live more than 15-20 minutes away from the church where we gather and serve (with right around 5-10 minutes being my preferred distance). This is mainly because I want to limit my excuses as to why I travel so far! So when I’m at work and people ask what church I am a part of, instead of saying, “Well, we attend a church about an hour from here,” I can say, “Yeah, we’re the Baptist Church right across town.” People know where I worship. They can connect with the location.

So maybe asking “how far is too far” is the wrong question. Maybe we should be examining our hearts daily as to why we do the things we do. Maybe as we strive to never forsake gathering together we should be more focused on what Christ is doing in our area than on what other churches are doing “right.”  Maybe we should remember that we are to serve the church as living sacrifices using every gift for building up of the church instead of passively consuming every resource that comes at us.

We are to always seek God’s glory and wisdom over our comfort and happiness.

So ends this five part series on how you choose your church. Click the links below if you missed the previous parts:

Where do you gather? (p. 1)

Where do you gather? (p. 2)

Where do you gather? (p. 3)

Where do you gather? (p. 4)

Where do you gather? (pt. 4)

This post is the most difficult of the four in this series thus far (see them here: #1, #2, #3) and is the reason I began writing on “where” we gather. A growing problem in the Western Church’s consumerism is the idea of commuting to one’s church (I know the church is more than just a building, but for the sake of this post I will use the term “church” to refer to that place where the family gathers–typically on Sunday mornings–and to the family that one wishes to be a part of).

What’s wrong with that church?

I haven’t forgotten that question asked by Rev. Blundell my Freshman year in college. We were sitting in Spiritual Life class discussing the idea of driving an hour or so to church on Sunday’s when he gave the following example:

Say you are in the process of leading a friend to Jesus (or he is a new believer and you are mentoring him). You have invited him to church and he agrees to come with you. You leave Sunday morning and as you make the hour long commute to your church, you begin to pass other churches preparing for their worship services. Your friend, becoming more confused as you keep driving, asks you, “What’s wrong with that church that we just passed? Why don’t you attend this church? Or that one? What about this one?”

What do you say to your friend who isn’t sure why you just drove an hour to Church, outside of the community in which you live, and passed by at least a couple dozen church buildings on the way? How do you answer his continual questions?

Yes, some churches have legitimate doctrinal errors that could potentially be dangerous to be a part of. Yes, other “church buildings” you may pass could actually be Unitarian Universalist or Kingdom Halls– neither of which being truly in the Church. But what about the other ones that you pass by?

I don’t like the [insert pet-peave here] at that church

Think back to the first post in this series. How did you answer the questions there? What is it about the church (family) that meets five, ten, or fifteen minutes down the road from you that disgusts you so much? Or have you even visited them? Is it their music? Do they only sing hymns? Have they completely switched to modern songs which are the bane of your existence? How about the sermon? What is it about the pastor’s message each week that drives you away? Or maybe think about the one you drive 45-60 minutes to get to. What’s so special about that community in that city? What is it that they are doing “right?”

One couple I knew got married and shortly after moving to another city, continued to commute an hour to their church each Sunday and throughout the week for any thing else they were involved in. They loved the people of that church (with good reason, as there is much to be loved there), but they lived an hour away and couldn’t  realistically build great community with people from so far away.

Begging the question

Here are the things that I tend to wonder about these situations:

  1. How big of a role did the church play in your decision to move to another city (or across town)?
  2. If the city you live in now (whether moved to, or lived in for a long time) is good enough to live, work, and rest in, then why is it not good enough to worship in?
  3. Are the differences and difficulties you face in your local church really big and important enough to make you want to drive longer to attend a different church?
I don’t intend these to be condemning, nor do I think there is a set distance which one is allowed to travel to church. But I do think we tend to offer very many excuses to “get out of a church” when we should be more focused on how to serve where we are. So instead of loving the community we live in, we flee to a farther community because they have the coolest toys.
To be concluded…

Where do you gather? (pt. 3)

In the previous post, I asked about our spiritual gifts and whether we know what they are or not. Today I’d like to revisit the questions from the first post regarding why we worship where we worship.

But first, a story

I don’t know when exactly they began to attend our church, but they’ve been a part of this fellowship for quite a while. Faced with a new state, town, and situation, meanwhile figuring life and ministry out, this family began to search the area for a church they could call home. After looking into two or three, they settled on our church, FBC of South Portland.

Having two young kids, one would think that the top priority for them would be to find a church family that had a thriving children’s ministry. I don’t know what the state of the children’s ministry was when they arrived (I think it was doing pretty well, though), but I do know that wasn’t the biggest driving force behind their decision. Yes, they wanted their children fed but, knowing the primary responsibility for leading their children fell on them, they chose this church based off of the gifts they had and the needs of the church.

Now you might think this arrogant: “Really? They wanted to attend a place where THEY could use THEIR gifts? What about being fed? What about letting the Church minister to you? Isn’t that a better and more humble way to choose a church family?”

The Sin of Consumerism

In a few short years the slogan, “Have it your way” has gone from describing personalized burgers to defining the life of the average American. If you don’t like the way something works, by all means complain about it and make sure it’s done differently. But this is hardly the proper attitude of Christians within the Church. It is easy to hop from church to church seeking to be fed and find the one ministry that has it “right;” but that is far from one’s purpose in the Church. We are not meant to be consumers.

Yes, we must be fed the Word of God. Yes, we must fellowship with other believers. Yes, our children need ministering to (even though that is primarily the job of their parents). But beyond all of that is our need to serve others within the Church. I cannot remember where I heard it said, but it’s true that “If Christian maturity were based off of the amount of resources consumed, the American Church would be the most mature in the world.” The sad fact is that our output (love, generosity, graciousness, servitude) is minuscule compared with the many sermons, books, devotionals, songs, etc., that we take in.

We exist not to sit here consuming resources but to share our gifts, be generous with God’s stuff, and to worship as a body.

You won’t get it your way

If we follow the example of the couple above and repent of our sin of consumerism, we will hardly get our way. Instead, we will be conformed to the way of the cross: the way that sacrifices our false desires while making way for true love and service for others. So we won’t (or shouldn’t) be so concerned about our church having the “right” music, “right” programs, “right” sermons, and “right” ministries. Instead, we’ll be concerned with following God where He’s going. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37.4) is a call to seeking the things above so that that the things above can influence our lives below, starting with our choice of church family.

For more on this, see James Emery White

Where do you gather? (pt. 2)

The previous post on this topic ended with these questions:

  1. Why do you attend the Church that you attend?
  2. How far do you have to travel to get to your church’s building?
  3. How is your commitment to that Church family (do you fellowship with others besides being in the building for an hour and a half on Sunday?)?

Today I would like to explore a truer reason to be committed to your local Church family: that of service to the body.

He gave gifts to men

Being forgetful, fallen creatures, we tend to neglect the things that God has reaffirmed time and again in Scripture. One of these is the Holy Spirit. This “thing” is actually a person– the third member of the triune God-head and many of us probably forget Him at one point or another (see Chan’s book on this).

One of His many functions is to give the individual members of Christ’s Church gifts that are to be used for building up the body and glorifying God. Ephesians 4.11-16 says,

And he (Jesus) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and from by the waves and carried about by every wind and doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the whole body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Emphasis mine)

Clearly the Elders, pastors, and teachers of the Church exist in order to train others in godliness; that is an important part of their function. But this doesn’t just mean godly teaching once a week. No, these leaders are meant to aid others in the Church in finding their Spiritual gifts and being able to minister to the community as a whole. This requires us to be actively involved in our Church families pursuing righteousness and lives of service in light of what Jesus has done for us at the cross, grave, resurrection, ascension, and at Pentecost when He gave gifts to men.

What about you?

So what are your gifts? How can you be used in the Church? Maybe you have tried to be used, but can’t seem to find a good fit. Can you talk with your elders about where you fit? Do your leaders even know you enough to help you in this area? Could you make it a point to allow them to get to know you better?

Christ gave His all so that we could invest in His Church for His Kingdom and His glory. How will this work in your life?

For more on Spiritual Gifts, see Romans 12.1-8; 1 Corintians 12-14; Ephesians 4.1-16. Pray the Spirit’s guidance.