Dec 12, 2006

who needs church? - part 3

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (1 Corinthians 14:26)
So what is "church," anyway?

That's the question a lot of us seem to wrestle with these days. We see evidence in the New Testament that the early church met in homes, so we reason that maybe the organizational church these days that most resembles a corporation is "off base" and we don't need it. We wonder why our small group can't be considered as valid as the traditional gatherings that happen on a weekend since they seem more "biblical" in their set-up than sitting down, hearing a message, singing some songs, dropping in some money somewhere, and shaking someone's hand on the way out.

Unfortunately, that's how some of us would describe what happens in a church service.

Unfortunate, indeed.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 3:10)

But perhaps the real question beneath that one has to do with why we're even wrestling with all of this in the first place.
For many of us we find great comfort in the early church's structure (or lack thereof) because we've been hurt too many times in environments where we didn't get to choose the people around us or make the rules of the room. We see the large group as a relational risk and clique of sorts, where you have to act a certain way or you're not considered "cool." Maybe we don't use this language, but honestly... sometimes don't we turn the weekend gathering into a behavior management classroom that resembles elementary school - administrated by teachers and monitored by peers?

I remember my school days with some measure of awkwardness. I wasn't the cool kid, nor was I wasn't the dorky kid. I was kind of in the middle, actually, because I would drift between those extremes and never could settle into one. Perhaps that's why when I walked into the doors of a building that didn't resemble any church I was familiar with and experienced an acceptance from people and God I'd never tasted before it completely blew me away when I found it it was a "church." All I'd known of such religious experiences prior to that point were hypocritical, stuffy, and not at all anything I'd want to be a part of.

And yet on that day (and without even knowing it), a teenager named Tony Myles wearing a baseball hat and ripped jeans fell in love with the Church through the church.
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:12)
As many do, I initially struggled with the behavior management issue. I'd look around and ask, "What are the rules for this room? Who do I need to be when I'm with these people? What do I need to hide in order to not be ridiculed?" After I figured that out, then I became one of the self-appointed gatekeepers, keeping an eye on those who fit and gossipping about those who didn't. In an odd way, I was like the disciples who were in the presence of the One and couldn't stop asking, "Yeah, but how do I get to be the one who sits closest to you in the kingdom to come?"

Perhaps the next step for many is what it was for me... I became a good church consumer. Just as we treat a restaurant who gives us bad service, I would critique the band's music, the preacher's sermons, the organizational administration, and everything else. "If they don't get their act together," I'd reason, "then I'll find someone down the street who will serve me better."

I'm sure you can't identify with any of that.

When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. (1 Corinthians 11:20-21)
When did the church become something that we were to consume instead of a community we were to love? Why do we allow it so often to be about managing our actions instead of transforming our hearts? What gives us the right to have faults and warts but expect a movement of "people and God "to never get it wrong as they stumble forward together?

I don't mean to discount the disappointment we can experience, but to use the restaurant metaphor again we shouldn't expect an eating establishment to never burn the food. Granted, if they keep burning the food we need to speak up about it and let them know something is wrong. If they don't or won't fix it, then it's time to consider moving to another place to eat. Interestingly, though, even after a few bad experiences around town we are more inclined to keep going to restaurants than we are to keep searching for a healthy church when a few others have let us down.

I am moved by this thought I recently read:
Are we so busy deconstructing the church that we forget it was established by Jesus himself, who promised that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”
Yet our attendance still is unpredictable, our offerings are often flippant contributions (and only when the sun is shining "just right"), we ignore the other church buildings in town instead of validate their existence, and seldom make any personal sacrifice unless we know what we're getting out of it. So much of this rises and falls on leaders, which - by the way - you can be simply by choosing to serve instead of be served.

Last night on David Letterman I watched as Barbara Walters shared about her upcoming special regarding the ten most fascinating people of the year. She spoke about how Joel Osteen will be one of them, not to mention how they will be adding Osteen's thoughts to a show on heaven they filmed and showed last year in order to edit out comments Ted Haggard made (in light of his recent issues). Walters added that "you can't have someone commenting on heaven" if they themselves are not walking the walk. Interesting.

Letterman didn't know who Osteen was, so Walters shared (my closest paraphrase), "You may have seen him on TV. He's the smiling preacher, has a megachurch of thousands, tells us that God wants us to be rich and wealthy and prosperous, a best selling book..."

To which Letterman interrupted, "...and, what, about two months away from a sex scandal?"

Unfortunately, we deserve that cynicism.
Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:7)
This past week I received a gift from the current and founding pastor at the church I will soon be going to serve as its next lead pastor.

He surprised me with two boxes, each containing several business cards that I assumed had my name and title on them. I slowly pulled one out, staring only at the back for the longest time. Somehow I couldn't just flip it over... this was becoming some kind of a sacramental moment for me in more ways than one. My wife watched me from across the room as I labored for the breath and strength to turn it over.

Then suddenly... I started to turn it over... and there was my name...and there was my position... and suddenly this became the heaviest business card I've ever held. The weight of responsibility c0ntained in this assembling of letters absolutely blew me away and was held up strictly by the power of Christ alone. I'm no longer allowed to deconstruct from the sidelines... I"ve accepted the task of reconstructing from within.

It's a responsibility to be the kind of Christ follower who actually follows Christ and not my version of Christianity. A charge to help wake up a sleeping world, guide people forward to their next step with Jesus, and prepare others for service by serving them myself. Understanding that in all my imperfections I am accepting the task to talk about a perfect God that a fallen world has trouble comprehending.

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Who needs the church? I do. I absolutely do.

Not because I want a paycheck or a platform to feel good about myself, but because some time ago I tasted what it was all about and I would be lying to myself everyday if I let the bumps and bruises to be bigger than God himself. Even though the years in between then and now have included wounds from the very same people that have scarred me in places deep within, it doesn't discount the reality that in a broken world we will at times experience a broken version of the church.
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

What is the church?
It what happens in a service... or a small group... or on Monday when I'm heading to the grocery store... or on Tuesday when I decide how I'm going to treat the people I work with... or on Wednesday when meet in my basement with a group of guys at 5:45am... or on Thursday when I decide to help the neighbor kid whose dad recently moved out with his yard work... or on Friday when I play video games with some inner city kids... or on Saturday when I flip through the TV stations in the privacy of my own home... or on Sunday when I pull in for another service somewhere and ask myself if I'm here to serve or be served.
So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 11:26)
Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. (Romans 16:5)

The Church is when we use our buildings and love our people.. not the other way around. It is when we gather together to remember that through celebrating the baptism of others the Story of God includes and transcends our own. It is when we take part in eating some diced or pressed bread and consuming some grapes in liquid form that we are the Body of Christ, receiving his sacrifice and recognize the call to do the same. It's when we sit under someone else's teaching and allow them to challenge our own, whether or not they wear black rimmed glasses or contacts, have on a suit or sandals, or begin their words with "Um" or "Listen up." It's when we do more than sing songs but actually allow our lives to become a song.
Can someone be a Christian without the church? If we look for a loophole, I suppose so.

But what kind of Christian would that person be?

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. (Acts 9:31)


Tanner Ridge said...

All I can say is WOW! I'm like speachless. That was a stinkin amazing post Tony!

I see in this the culmination of a two year journey with a beautiful summation and ending.

Way to lay down your thoughts on the church and what it is so beautifully.

May all those that have been questioning where they are at with their christian brothers and sisters find meaning here and a path to where they can connect again.

Congratulations on the card and Connections Church is truly blessed to have you as their lead pastor.

I think this is my favorite post of yours. (tear) :)

irreverend fox said...

roll up your sleeves and start pushing...the ground here is very hard, the pay is a joke and you're not going to find much support from the religious community... oh, my name is Gary Fox, welcome to Medina county.

tell Daron that he needs to take us both out to lunch so we can meet... wait...I still owe him, don't remind him ok?

Tony Myles said...

Tanner - thanks, bro.

Gary - thanks for the snapshot from your end. I think church life is a lot like marriage... you can either pursue the upside and know the bumps will be there or allow the downside to dominate and assume the good parts will be hard to come by. Personally, my wife and I have never referred to each other as the old ball and chain and have experienced a very cool marriage through Christ. I'd hope if I thought of the church the same way - as a blessing and not a hurdle - then maybe I'd have a better shot at seeing it through Jesus' eyes.

As for the religious community, that's a good insight... I suppose we should expect as much support from religious leaders as Jesus received, so no surprise there. The pay isn't my motivation, so that's no biggie either.

As far as the ground being hard, that would probaly scare me if I was using my toolbox to till it. Since I'm rather convinced Jesus is the Gardener and we're his tools of workmanship (Eph 2:10), I imagine the more you and I can partner together with him the softer that ground will become. :)

I'd love to grab lunch... my move is the 30th, and I start "work" on the 7th. Let's connect that week if it works for you.

BarBarA said...

Tony, great post. You know I've been going back and forth and back and forth on this subject. I had coffee with my pastor yesterday morning (surprised he recognized me its been so long since I warmed chair). Anyhow, I do agree with what you are saying. This is the conclusion I came to and pretty much what my coffee meeting was all about. I am going back to serve, not to be served. To love, not to be loved. To get out of my comfort zone, not to feel good. To worship with others. To actually touch people - like hugs and handshakes. It scares the crap out of me. I much rather stay home on Sat. nights and read God's Word and pretend that I am ok on my own.

Thanks for being part of what helped steer me back in this direction. I'm gonna have to link to this post, probably tomorrow.

Tony Myles said...

Wow... amen, Barbara. I think the kingdom of heaven just got a little warmer and the devil just wet his pants.

james berry said...

amazing... this perspective needs to be taught in every seminary. well said!!