Thursday, November 6, 2008

What about the church?

Several years ago Chris and I attended a meeting for youth pastors. The speaker said one line that has stuck with me for years... "Your goal as a youth pastor is not for your students to keep their pants up until they graduate; your goal is to help your students learn to love the church. If they love the church then when they graduate and get out on their own, they will have ownership in the church and want to make it part of their adult life".

I've often thought -What does it mean to love the church? Do I love the church?
At times in my life going to church was simply a choice I made because it was the "right" thing to do. Other times I couldn't wait to go to church because there was something significant going on in my life and I really wanted to share my latest cool news or get prayer for my current struggle.

The past few weeks on facebook, the subject of church has come up with various people. It seems as though going to church has not been life giving at all. What they are experiencing is very real and very discouraging.

Chris & I are getting ready to plant a new church in Madison, WI in 2009. We have a team of people selling homes, quitting good jobs & leaving family and security to help us on this quest. We are hoping to have a church that can draw in those who are currently disconnected from a faith community.

So, I thought it would be interesting to see if we could generate some discussion through this blog on the subject of church. What are you looking for/hoping for from your church experience? How has your recent season of church been life giving or life draining? If you had advice to pass on to our church planting team, what would it be?

Let the comments flow...

5 comments:

Jen said...

Ok, I am gonna be gut-level honest about my church experience over the past 10 years. I have mostly felt rejected by the church and sadly, often the fellowship from the church left me relationally disconnected. It has been shallow and only offered when convenient or if I was cool enough at the moment to be worthy of relationship. This was not my experience in the 80s and early 90s and thankfully not my complete experience in my current church. Ok, just to put some structure around things I am going to put my top 10 most important aspects of a healthy church and my top 10 destructive/even false church characteristics. Here goes:

Healthy Church Top 10:
1) Loves Jesus: This comes through in the way the worship leaders speak and lead, the way the preacher preaches, the things peoples talk about. When the conversations is about what Jesus is currently doing in lives, how great and awesome Jesus is and the songs sung are the very words of Scripture. I feel I am in a healthy church. Doesn't matter the style of services. I found a healthy Catholic church with liturgy that so loved Jesus that the liturgy was infused with presence of God and I have found it in Baptist churches like the one I go to now and on YWAM bases in Dallas TX where people walked out the word of God and showed great love and trust in Jesus.

2) Love people. Love, meaning getting involved in messy lives. Giving grace, long suffering, celebrating joys, causing people to grow, discipling, etc. all kinds of people (black ones, yellow ones, dirty ones, clean ones, mean ones, simple ones, weak ones, cool ones, little ones, old ones). The ability to do this shows love for God. I'm amazed at the example of self-sacrifice in loving others shown in Keith and Melody Green's life in the book "No Compromise". If they shared the gospel, they took their new disciple to live with them or found them a suitable church where they knew they would be personally shepherded. Amazing!

3) Fruitful: Churches that are growing and producing very healthy growth by its people loving their neighbors, community and world.

4) Praying: This should probably go before growing. This shows that a church relies on God and realizes that it is He that is the vine and they are the branches. Without him, nothing happens. This should be one of the most vibrant parts of a good church, a praying church - faithful in prayer. Prayer being a huge foundation. Jesus got up early every morning and often withdrew to lonely places to go spend time with the Father.

5) Prepared: A healthy church has studied, clung to God's word. They are ready in season and out for the things God is doing and the condition of the world they are being lights to. Paul discussed poetry to the Romans to present the gospel, Jesus parables to Isreal. The healthy church is creative, relevent but MOSTLY biblically sound. Underlined 100 times over.

6) Beautiful. The Healthy church is full of beauty. Beauty that is joyful, full of dignity, weighty - rich in character, wisdom and understanding of every area of life, completely gentle/tender, righteous, humble, attractive to those thirsty for truth. Even in the presentation of the gospel, everything is done in absolute excellence with great skill.

7) Hospitable: A healthy church feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, houses the homeless, supports the grieving, it is a rich home for every event taking place in life and it comes in with support and hospitality. I was going to skip lunch although very hungry one time because I needed prayer (I thought) more than food. I went to Mosaic in Little Rock, AR for prayer. They gave me a barbecue sandwich, a coke and an hour of prayer. I think I was as equally ministered to by the sandwich as the prayer. I felt God's amazing provision for every area of my life.

8) Soldiers: The people of God are disciplined and do not belong to themselves. They serve the King of Kings and Lord of All. They are good soldiers and are always on active duty (knowing that God gives rest to those he loves). They are NOT LAZY and put God first not when they have a free 10 minutes for him.

9) Generational: Healthy churches are full of children, couples, and elderly (all ages). The older ones train the younger ones in righteousness. The young ones invigorate the old ones and bless them.

10)Faithful: Healthy churches maintain their first love even in droughts, in loss, in tribulation. They keep their vows to their Lover and Savior. They do not change with every shift of doctrine.

Warning signs of false churches or unhealthy churches:

1) Pride: Talk of their ministries, their programs, their talents, their works. This literally makes me sick to my stomach. Every good and perfect gift comes from God -we are to glorify Him in all we do.

2) Discriminating: Love only people who are gifted, cute, good, seem righteous and reject those who have failed but are repentant. Love only the beautiful, shun the needy.

3) Commercialized: This could be a church that has split away from an older generation so it can have it's favorite music or style, having to buy too much to study scripture instead of using the bible as a primary text, talking about what is for sale too much from the pulpit. This is sickening.

4)Shallow: A message that clearly lacks preparation, depth, and any careful study. A microwaved version of a sermon. It may taste ok for a minute but it will leave the body really lacking nutrition and ultimately it will severly weaken the church.

5) Fake: Beautiful bldgs, songs, and plastic grins with hollow hearts, characters and lives. The Ugly that oozes through a facade.

6) Prayerless: Great work might be done through effort alone but it will not last. Unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain, lets take time to wait upon the Lord.

7) Gossiping: A church that is not discreet in the way of dealing with sin or righteous in it, that loves to aire wickedness and slander it's members will destroy itself. Whatever things are pure, honest, lovely of good report think on these things. Love believes the best. I am for church discipline but it should be done by the wise with much grace and prayer for restoration not for humiliating or condemning. Condemn sin, not people unless the person after correction loves the sin more.

8)Unfriendly: Not hospitable, not loving to guests. This church does not really know Jesus yet or been affected by His grace or Life.

9) Self-centered: Happy with status quo. Uninvolved in missions, their community or don't care about neighbors or even other churches. Only goes to church if they feel like it. Doesn't see the importance of remaining faithful to God and getting His heart for the world...just wants personal needs met.

10)Undisciplined: No understanding/love for scripture or how to study. Doesn't want to make the effort or commitment to go deep in the things of God. Like being spoon fed, fat but not exercising what they are learning or making applications, not serving others.

It's long but it is a great question. You and Chris are always in my prayers and God equips those He calls and chooses. I have seen the fruits in both of your lives of hospitality, depth of love and character, discipline, faithfulness and beauty. I am so thankful to know you. You are like the faithful talked about in Psalm 101. I rejoice that ya'll are called. I see God's goodness in it. Hope my list helps... although I am sure it is nothing new. Love, Jen

Tina said...

FIONA SAID

Hi Tina! I found your blog... are you scared? :)
Can I just say I go the best darn church in all the world... what makes my church the best is this, its the best because every time I go I walk away with things I need to work on. Every sunday (and I mean EVERY sunday) I get an awesome life giving word. My leaders are visionaries and are all pushing us towards excellence. They don't pussy foot around, they keep the biblical teaching true and don't water it down in order to make ppl happy. They tell it too you like it is, and I like the challenge of living up to that standard.
My church started with one guys family in a small town in NZ, now, its in London, Belgium, Tonga, All over NZ and in AFrica. I love it! You can do such massive things when you follow where God leads.
check it out www.equipperschurch.co.nz I suppose it helps thats its full of Polynesian and Maori ppl, they keep it real and follow God with all their hearts, plus they write their own music and can move and groove like no ones business!!!!

Dave T. said...

Tina, great blog. We are also moving to Madison to plant a church. You can find out more about our journey at www.tilmafamily.com

We would love to connect with you and find out what type of church you're planting, etc.

Dave and Rebecca Tilma

Hannah said...

as above, the caring for orphans and foster kids, in the states and internationally.

also, strong small groups. i am just beginning to get involved in my husband's church in ecuador, and immediately i can see they foster a strong sense of community by getting meeting together multiple times a week (small groups, discipleship groups, etc.). i don't mean we should create cultish environment, :) but when the new testament describes the believers as having everything in common, that indicates a pretty strong sense of unity.

Hannah said...

ps- i loved jen's descriptions.