Today, I spent some time looking through my journal. I rejoiced as I saw numerous prayer requests answered in the “affirmative” by my Heavenly Father. I also noticed the numerous petitions to which he said, “No” or “Not yet.” Apparently, I asked for many things which would not have been best for God’s glory, God’s kingdom, and God’s best for me. Also, as I read my goals for my personal transformation, I found myself humbled. It appears my 2019-2020 track record was not so sharp. Certain sins I wanted to eviscerate are still too prevalent; thorns in my flesh continue to abound. Then, as I continued reading, I found myself saddened. 2019 and 2020 have been brutal years for my church family. Our church has been (and is) filled with broken people:
- Lacking faith
- Foolishly abandoning God’s inspired wisdom, good laws, and fantastic precepts
- Struggling to shake the old man’s old habits and addictions
- Suffering secret abuse
- Joined to another in marriage but without union or “wedded bliss”
- Continually assaulted and shamed by Satan
- Relentlessly struggling to look holy and measure up to the Joneses
- Wearing themselves out longing to be righteous enough to merit God’s approval
- Experiencing great loneliness, despite the programs, meetings, crowds, and smiles
- Suffering emotional distress who can’t seem to shake the plaguing darkness
- Struggling with physical disease, physical disability, or mental dementia
- Caring for depreciating loved ones
- Hurting for prodigal children who are completely disinterested in Christ
- Trying to minister but consistently undermined by judging, gossip, and slander
- Financially struggling
- Suffering injustice at the hands of others – personal, institutional, and governmental
- Missing joy and loosing hope
Yes, at Horizon Church, this has been a tough two years. God has allowed his friends to experience severe thorns, heavy burdens, cups of suffering, painful crosses, persecutions, tribulations, trials, tests, and troubles.
But then I began to contemplate why we have the tendency to gather like vacationers on a cruise ship — forgetting our troubles, putting on a happy face, and pretending life is gleeful as we wait for the buffet to open and the show to begin?
Why do we have the temptation to do church like people do the country club? They select their golfing establishment, pay their membership tithes, show up regularly, smile big, keep things light and superficial, and enjoy the great service. Then, when their golfing date is over, they leave behind the club and the membership — not thinking much about it until it is time for their next engagement.
Why do we have the tendency to assemble as people do at a masquerade ball? They heed the invitation, dress up well, and put on their masks. Then they keep their true identity somewhat hidden as they pretend life is grand — at least for the enchanted evening.
What’s wrong with us? Why do we not let people in our lives? Why do we not seek to go deep with other people? Why are so many of us disinterested in practicing intimate, authentic Christian community? There could be many reasons.
Faithlessness: Oft times we do not share our true selves with each other because we disbelieve the doctrines of Total Depravity and God’s Gospel. We forget that every single worshiper around us has a fleshly nature that is entirely sinister. We wrongly grade certain sins and consider ours to be lesser or greater than our neighbors. And we forget that all reconciled worshipers — including us — are absolutely perfect saints in the eyes of God. None are better than us. None are worse than us. All Christians are sinful saints — horrid in their old nature — holy in their new. This we forget and disbelieve, and it hinders our relationships.
Pride: We often keep our relational distance because we are determined to safeguard our reputation and look good in the eyes of others. In many ways, we are like walking, talking Facebook profiles — we become experts at hiding our warts while highlighting our good traits. We are those who love to boast of self and long for others to boast of us. This too hinders true community.
Gracelessness: Sadly, quite often Christians become most known for their heralding certain laws, looking down upon others, proclaiming shame, withholding forgiveness, keeping record of wrongs, and being too slow in restoration. Sinfully, we fail to pass along — fast, free, and fervently — the immediate, perfect, and restorative grace of Christ we have received. People pick up on this, and it hinders fellowship.
Idolatry: Christ said, “If you love me, tend my sheep.” The believer’s love for his Savior is best exemplified in his loving, feeding, and tending of Christ’s lambs. But too often, we become disenchanted with Christ and disinterested in loving his flock. Why is this? It is because we have become so interested in our own health, wealth, and happiness that we have little time or desire to enter into the messiness of interpersonal relationships. People do not open up because they sense we are not interested.
Clergy-Laity Misunderstanding: Many believe it to be the minister’s job to provide soul care to members. They wrongly believe preachers, elders, and deacons have more spiritual power than the average member. However, this is contrary to the Word of God. God commands believers to be active in caring for one another. God’s Spirit indwells and gifts each believer to be priests in his church. Elders are called to equip the saints for their ministry. Too often — clergy and laity alike — discount what the Almighty God often does through humble instruments of grace.
Procrastination: Many believe they must get their own family and life-situation figured out before helping others. Have we forgotten the testimony of Scripture whereby God continually used broken and desperate sinners as his ministers and priests? The only people God uses in the ministry are those “with issues.” If one waits until one is “OK”, one will never minister on this side of eternity.
Busyness: Could it be we have focused so much on activities and programs that we have forgotten our primary calling to love God and our neighbors? Has good programatic activity replaced great charity and koinonia? And could the problem start at the top with our leaders? Could our elders, deacons, staff, and congregants have focused so much on policies, strategies, finances, facilities, and programs that we have forsaken the why and the who behind the what?
Improper Vision: Perhaps we have seen and practiced the superficially connected church for so long that it has now become second nature to us. Think about your own experience; have you settled for what most churches in town are doing? For years, have you gathered on the big day, in the big house, with the big crowd, before the big minister, the big choir, the big organ, and the big band, for big worship. And, while your church has grown bigger and bigger, have you lost sight of the relational aspect revealed by Christ and forgotten the large assembly is not sufficient. There is much more Christ intends for his local church.
Damage: Could it be we — or other broken brothers and sisters — have experienced this large and superficial form of Christianity and have found it neither safe nor beneficial to take a chance and open their hearts?
Oh friends, sure, let’s enjoy all the fantastic benefits of “big group worship”. Let’s continue to gather together as one big family on the Lord’s Day. Let’s enjoy God, encourage one another, and engage unbelievers through our hugs, songs, prayers, sermons, and sacraments. And let’s pray that God might increase our tribe and allow us to see thousands worshiping him as one large family.
But friends, let’s not settle for the cruise ship, the country club, or the masquerade ball. Let us not settle for church as usual. Let’s commit ourselves to greater ambition than checking-in online, checking-in at the sanctuary, and writing our checks. Let’s do church the way Christ would have us do church.
None of us are to be spectators.
All of us have been given spiritual gifts that we might minister one to another.
All of us are to love, disciple, and rescue the flock of God.
All of us are to enjoy opening our homes, wallets, and hearts.
All of us are to be engaged in praying for, teaching, exhorting, and counseling one another.
All of us are to be confessing our sins and hearing God’s Gospel pardon. In essence, we are one another’s confessors and priests.
All of us are to be rich in our sharing, serving, spending, and sacrificing.
All of us are to act like family. We are Christian siblings, and our brothers’ business is our business.
All of us are to be encouraging someone every day, and this is to pick up as the final day approaches. (Hebrews 3:13; 10:25)
All of us are to be fellowshipping in private homes and public spaces. All of us are to be benefiting from real, authentic, deep, intimate, community. This is the church of Christ. This is the will of Christ, and it is very, very good. (Acts 2:42-47)