My new book, The Crucified Life, should be published within the next month or so. As such, I've been putting the final touches on it and am happy to share one of the chapters recently completed. Not to be confused with my book, The Crucified Church, this chapter really deals with how we view church, how we choose a church to attend, and how commitment to Galatians 2:20 impacts the makeup of a healthy church. Here's the chapter for your review....
Chapter Seven: Crucified Churches
It’s tempting to just produce this chapter by reproducing my book, The Crucified Church. However, since it’s part of my Crucified Trilogy, I’m going to assume many of you have read it and, take a different approach to the topic here. How do most people “pick a church” to attend? Typically, whether they consider themselves to be fully-devoted Christ followers or not, there are several criteria used to make the final decision:
· Location. Is it within 20 minutes (by car) and is it in a “nice neighborhood?”
· Relationships. Do any of our friends attend there? How about family (if we like our family)? Coworkers? Do we have any existing relational connection to people in this church?
· Property. Is the building attractive and well maintained? Is it clean inside and does it smell clean. Are the walls painted and is the carpet clean? Are there nice, newer, clean toys in the nursery or children’s church area? How about the restrooms? Are they clean and well stocked with everything from toilet paper to cologne or perfume?
· Staff. Are they friendly and knowledgeable? Do they greet you when you come in and answer your questions effectively? Is the Lead Pastor friendly? Did he greet you when you arrived and shake your hand before you left. Did he smile appropriately?
· Message. Was the sermon entertaining? Informative? Engaging? Did the Kids Church presentation capture the children’s attention?
· Programs. Does the church offer programs you desire? Men’s? Women’s? Children’s? Teens? Small Groups?
· Reputation. Does the church have a good reputation in town? Are they friendly and respected? Do they pitch-in to help at community events? Are they considered "too radical" or "old school?"
· Timing/Scheduling Convenience. What time are services on Sunday? Is this too early? Is it too late such that it conflicts with other activities, sporting events, etc.? Are other programs during the week conveniently scheduled to avoid conflicts with children’s sports, civic events, school programs, or our work schedules?
Now this isn’t a bad list per se. I’m not going to suggest that these things shouldn’t be considered or that they’re not important. Rather, I’d ask you to consider what’s NOT on the list and ask yourself, are these missing things important? In fact, are the missing elements even MORE important than the criteria most use?
Before I suggest some of those missing criteria items, I must point out that in the early first or even second century church, most of these items wouldn’t be considered. In fact, in many foreign countries, these items wouldn’t be relevant today. In some African nations for instance, if you are blessed to hear the gospel and be saved you may not have a church to attend. And, should you be exceedingly blessed to have a church within a 20 kilometer walking distance, you may sit on the ground under a large tree versus having a building to evaluate or a children’s program to compare to the one you visited last week.
Nonetheless, in our somewhat extravagant Western culture, there are other things to consider beyond what I itemized above. Here's a partial list of MISSING criteria:
( ) Calling. Is God calling you to serve at this church? Is there a ministry or need He wants you specifically to fill?
( ) Mission. Is this church fully committed to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment of Matthew 28 and 24? What are they doing to reach the lost, make disciples, serve and help people find their ministries, build loving godly agape love attachments within the congregation in fellowship, etc. Do they actively participate in overseas missions as well as local outreach/evangelism? Does the pastor evangelize and lead people to Christ? How about other leaders and long-time members? Are people being saved and baptized regularly—at least monthly or quarterly?
( ) Doctrine. By this, I don’t mean the pastors' “pet dogma” or a denominational distinctive that makes this group of churches “better than those churches.” The issue is, is the gospel preached often? Are the 10-12 primary teachings of evangelicalism clearly and regularly taught? Is the church obviously focused on the plain (clear), and main (emphasized), truths of scripture? Is the whole counsel of scripture, Old and New Testament, taught?
( ) Worship. Do worship leaders love the Lord? Do they encounter him and inspire/lead others to do so also? Apart from instrumentation, style, genre of music, décor, lighting, etc.; does the worship team express love for Jesus and ask you to do the same? Do you encounter the Holy Spirit in worship at this church?
( ) Discipleship. Of course, the church should offer Bible Studies or even advanced doctrinal training, but in addition, are they actively helping people live-out what they’re learning through mentorship or placement in ministry assignments where they can “practice what they (have heard) preached?”
( ) Partnership. Does this church actively and intentionally partner with other churches whether or not they belong to a denomination/network? Is the pastor in regular fellowship and accountability with other pastors and leaders? Does the church see itself as part of the kingdom of God with responsibilities to support and work with others?
( ) Giving. No, I don’t mean whether or not they teach members to tithe. The question is whether or not the CHURCH tithes to missional efforts beyond it’s own, local or tangible ministries? Do they give to other efforts or missions agencies? Do they financially support relief efforts after hurricanes, earthquakes or other natural disasters? Are they generous in caring for those in need both at home and abroad?
( ) Etc.
I think a church with leaders who model sacrifice is a healthy church. I think a church full of members who would give-up some if not many of the items in the first list I posted above such that they could help support items in the SECOND list is a healthy church. I think if God calls people to serve and they make THAT their priority, that pleases God.
This kind of church will structure it’s ministry to prioritize the Great Commission and reach lost souls. This might mean a different style of music or some service projects outside the comfort zone of some regular members/long-time Christians. Still, a truly Crucified Church will do these things and its people will sacrificially support them.
But none of this is possible unless mature Christians start with the right criteria to find and join this kind of church. None of this can work corporately unless sacrifice is a way of life individually (Galatians 2;20). In short, unless WE become believers living a Crucified Life, the Crucified Church cannot exist and the purposes of God will not be completed through her.
I believe the church is the “Bride of Christ.” As such, I do believe she will make herself ready by making what I’ve described here, “the norm (Revelation 19:7-8).” It may take persecution and the loss of our consumer-driven approach to how we “do church.” Still, I believe it will happen…
So why not choose to make it happen willfully? Why not do so today?
To that end,
P.S. To learn more about books reference in this blog, visit www.rissingerresourcegroup.com and click the "Resources" tab.