Can You Love Jesus but Not Love His Church?

Good Question.

If you asked most Christians if they loved The Church they would probably answer in the affirmative. But many would have some mental qualifications.

I love The Church but not all of the people in it.

I love The Church, just not MY church.

I love The Church, it’s Christians I can’t stand.

I love the Church but I don’t need it.

According to a Barna survey, 10% of self-identifying evangelical Christians don’t attend church anywhere. They say that they love Jesus, they just don’t love His church. And the percentage is growing – slowly, but growing.

There are inconsistencies here. As Mark Galli, the Editor in Chief of Christianity Today pointed out in a recent article, can people really say that they love Jesus if they “refuse to participate in the community he promises to be present in?” Seems rather inconsistent.

The problem goes even deeper. Can people say that they love Jesus if they consciously choose not to do what He said to do? Hebrews 10:24-25 can’t be any clearer about our responsibility in regard to church attendance. Neither can John 14:15 be any clearer about the standard we are to use to judge our love for Jesus.

You can’t say that you love Jesus if you don’t do what Jesus said to do and you’re not doing what Jesus said to do if you don’t attend church. Pretty simple really.

The real issue here is not attending church verses not attending church. The real issue is an issue of the heart. Will we or won’t we bend our hearts to His will?

There are numerous reasons for the Christian to attend church. Among the most obvious are, Obedience, Worship, Fellowship, Instruction, Ministry, Exercising your Spiritual Gift, and Encouragement. Things that you can’t accomplish or experience on the same level as a Long Ranger Christian.

But the most important reason to attend church is because you love Jesus. Christians who say that they love Jesus but don’t love His church are demonstrating theological inconsistency at the highest level.

You can’t separate Jesus and His Church. To love one is to love the other. To be faithful to one is to be faithful to the other.

It’s no stretch to say, You love Jesus best when you love His church.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Are Christians to Blame?

Not since the 1960s have we seen chaos in our country on the level that we’re seeing it today. It seems like each morning brings more news of violence.

The burning question people are asking is: Who’s to Blame? We want to know who’s right and who’s wrong. Who’s responsible for the turmoil and chaos?

The truth is – there’s enough blame to go around.

Some have even suggested that Christians are responsible. Before you throw that one out, prayerfully and carefully read this article by Pastor Tony Evans. It should make you, if you profess to be a Christian, a little uncomfortable.

America’s current violence can be traced to Christians’ failures

The horrific shootings over the past few days, in Louisiana, Minnesota and now my hometown of Dallas, have shaken all of us. Tragically, this is even more true for the families of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and now Dallas police officers.

The events are shocking and revolting. Our prayers go out to the families and friends affected most closely by these events, and to those fighting for their lives at this very moment in Dallas. But we must do more than pray.

In 2 Chronicles 15:3-6, it says that society was falling apart, and God troubled them with every kind of distress because they continued to reject the knowledge of God. These recent spates of violence – like all our worldly problems — have happened because Christians have failed to advance God’s kingdom, to spread the faith and to do so in a loving, unified way.

Gone must be the days of only pointing fingers at others to fix what they may never fix. Our nation’s ills are not merely the result of corruption or racism, although these are evil. Our troubles can also be traced directly to ineffective Christians.

One of the real tragedies today is that the Church as a whole has not furthered God’s light, equity, love and principles in our land in order to be a positive influence and impact for good in the midst of darkness, fear and hate.

Far too often, we have limited the definition of the Church. While not in all cases, in many cases, “Church” has become an informational, inspirational weekly gathering rather than the group of people that God has ordained from heaven to operate on his behalf on Earth in order to bring heaven’s viewpoint into history. There needs to be a recalibrating of many of our churches to the unified purpose of the Kingdom of God.

The Church and only the Church has been given the keys to the kingdom, so we have unique access to God that nobody else has. It’s about time more churches start using those keys to unlock doors, so that we get greater heavenly intervention in our earthly catastrophe. This is not to negate or downplay the great work countless churches have done throughout time in our land. I applaud and am grateful for all of it. What we have been ineffective at, though, is a unity that increases our impact on a larger collective level. When we unite as so many churches did during the civil rights movement, we can bring hope and healing where we as a nation need it most.

Thus, I believe that the call of the Church is to come together as one on three levels.
One is to pray and call what the Bible calls a “solemn assembly,” which means a sacred gathering with prayer and fasting to invite God’s manifest presence to reemerge in the culture.

Secondly, the Church must move people from membership to discipleship. Just being members of the Church is not good enough anymore. We need visible, verbal followers of Jesus Christ who are public with their witness and trained how to do that. If the Church doesn’t train people to do that, then they have failed.

And third, churches need to come together in their communities and do good works, such as adopting schools across the nation, that are visible so that people see the benefit of the Church in their community. The presence of God’s people in public is desperately needed right now for the good of the Church and the good of society, which we are called to serve.

Unless the Church steps forward collectively to fulfill its God-given role of influencing the conscience of our culture, our country will keep spiraling downward into the depths of fear and hate.

We must do better. We must unite. We must stand together and commit to one another that we will usher in a wave of change, justice, life, safety, rightness, equity and dignity for all. And above all, we must not let fear or hatred divide us. Peace, unity, love and nonviolence should be our rallying cry and the catalyst for change in our nation. Through this, we can seek to transform the remnants of tragedy into the foundation of a stronger, more equitable future.

It’s time for the Church of Jesus Christ to stand up and show our nation a better way.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What Kind of a Church Are We?

Churches across America are trying to reinvent themselves. They are trying new things in an effort to attract a culture that has no desire for church – or God for that matter. New songs, new styles, new ideas. We’re trying some of the same things at my church. There’s nothing sacred about the new, but neither is there anything sacred about the old (I’m referring to the container not the content – new packaging not new message). There may, however, be something about new methods and ideas that our culture relates to in a way that they don’t relate to old methods and ideas.

Occasionally I use this space to share an interesting article I’ve read that I hope will stimulate your thinking – and ministry. Following is an article written by Dr. Robert Moss, pastor at Lutheran Church of the Master in Lakewood, CO. He addresses this issue in a way that is healthy and thought provoking. The title alone should arouse your curiosity.

Read it for the big idea – don’t pick at the little details (IE reporting to your bishop if you don’t come from a church tradition that has bishops). I’ll add a few comments at the end.

Why We Will Never Be a Welcoming Church Again
We’ve decided to quit being a welcoming church.

No kidding. We’re giving it up.

It won’t be easy, but we’re committed to it. We’ll have to do it in stages, easing our folks into it step by step. We’ll have to deal with the fear of something new, the challenge of venturing into the unknown. But we’ll do it. It will take motivation, leadership and constant reminders.

But most importantly, it will take total commitment in embracing a new focus.

Like so many churches, we’ve sunk an amazing amount of time and energy into becoming a welcoming church.

We changed worship styles, we trained greeters and ushers, we wore name tags, we percolated coffee, we went to workshops on hospitality, we put our friendliest people in the most prominent places on Sunday mornings. But we’ve realized we’ve been misplacing our emphasis. So we’re no longer going to do it.

Here’s what we’re doing instead.

We are becoming an Inviting Church.

That’s different. You see, “welcoming” from a missional perspective is passive. It denotes waiting for visitors and guests to drop by. When they do, we attempt to treat them very well and do everything possible to make them comfortable.

We’ll be willing to change who we are. We’ll follow particular formats that have proven to be more welcoming to new people. We’ll do whatever it takes to have them come back the next Sunday, even if they shouldn’t.

Welcoming is about us, not about them.

“Inviting,” however, is different. That means we leave the comfort of our congregational home-court advantage. The main activity doesn’t happen in our worship space when people drop in, but in the neighborhood when we go out. It isn’t so much welcoming them into our place, but going out into their place and meeting them there.

Even that warrants a significant caveat. This is not just another gimmick to get people into the church.

The foundation of this isn’t an attempt to bolster declining membership rolls and make a better parochial report to the bishop.

No, it goes much deeper than that. It starts with who God has called us to be as church. It involves discovering our gifts and purpose. And it mandates joining God at work in the world.

This isn’t about getting the world into God’s church; it’s about getting the church into God’s world.

If you’ve read any postings on this blog before, you know that God’s mission is what we are to be about.

Everything comes from that — including the identity of the church. We exist as church only because God has a mission. Our purpose, our very identity, is called forth out of God’s loving care and redemptive activity in creation.

We are steeped in God’s mission. We are drenched through baptism into this essential character of God. God is at work in the world, and creates, calls and equips the church specifically for that work.

Each congregation has a purpose within God’s mission.

Each congregation has particular gifts. Each congregation reveals the life-giving reign of God in unique ways.

No congregation is everything to everyone. But every congregation is something to someone.

Who can know God through your worship style?

Who can experience forgiveness and grace through your congregational community?

Who needs the gifts you have to offer?

Who can offer gifts you need?

Knowing those things, when in conversation over the backyard fence about their pain in losing a loved one, it would be natural then to invite that neighbor to your congregation’s grief support group that has made such a difference for many others.

When in the employee lunch room chatting about the pressures of our jobs, it would fit to invite that co-worker to your congregation’s spiritual direction group for professionals.

When sharing the struggles of parenthood with a friend while waiting for your kids to come out of school, it would make sense to invite their whole family to your cross-generational faith development, where you have gained so much guidance from other parents.

While paying for a car repair, your long-time mechanic lets slip that she has lost her faith, it would easily flow for you to invite her to join you (and all the other doubters who will gather this Sunday) in worship.

Welcoming involves hoping whoever happens to find you will join.

Inviting involves sharing God’s specific gifts — made real in your congregation — in the world.

Back to me. The point he makes is that we can’t sit back and wait for the world to come to us – we have to go to the world and bring them to Christ and His church.

So what do you think – should we be a Welcoming church or an Inviting church? What would happen if we were BOTH? What would happen if we began by going out into our world and inviting people to come with us to see Jesus in and through us as a church? And then we genuinely welcomed them and they felt it through our love, our care, our music, our style, our worship?

Here’s my suggestion – let’s be intentional about bringing people to church. We have what they need – not in the sense of specific programs but in the sense that the gospel is the answer to whatever they are facing in life.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Powerful Lessons from an Atheist Pastor

I follow a number of blogs written by Christian writers and leaders. Occasionally I find something that challenges my own life and is worth passing on. The following article is powerful and should be read, not just by pastors, but by every follower of Christ. It was written by Brandon Hatmaker, a pastor from Austin, Texas, for www.churchleaders.com. It’s long but well worth the read – and the conviction.

I recently heard about a pastor who renounced his faith. Apparently, he’s decided that God does not exist and that what he’s taught for so many years is not true. This saddens me.

This saddens me. But it doesn’t surprise me.

In fact, if you were to go back and listen to his sermons, you can hear the doubt in his seemingly rhetorical questions. You can feel him lob out ideas and thoughts that mirrored his internal struggle. I don’t know how long he lived on this island of doubt, but he obviously reached his personal tipping point.

His concerns are shared with countless others who are critics of faith and the church. Their claims:

  • There is a lack of power in most churches.
  • There is a lack of radical transformation in most believers.
  • There is a lack of unity in both.
  • There is a lack of Kingdom mindedness.
  • There is a lack of love, peace, gentleness, kindness, and mercy.
  • There is too much ignorance and apathy on issues of justice.

I certainly don’t want to cast stones at the church just for the sake of casting stones. She’s the Bride of Christ. There is always hope for the church. And I’m committed to fight for her. But if we were to take an honest look, we’d find that these accusations are more often true than false.

In fact, many of us, if not most of us, have seen them at different points and in different forms in our own life.

There are those both inside and outside the church who simply look at the evidences (or lack thereof) and deduce that what we believe… must not be true.

But what if these things aren’t evidences of a lack of truth? What if they don’t disprove God (which btw, I don’t believe they do)? What if, instead, they were evidences that we are somehow missing the point or that our strategies simply aren’t working that well?

What if we’re unknowingly serving a church structure and/or a Christian culture that no longer values, teaches, or holds to the example Jesus gave us? What if the lack of these kinds of fruit is the result of a misguided approach to tilling, planting, feeding, pruning, and harvesting?

I’m certain the problem isn’t with God or with truth. The problem is with us. And since God is sovereign, I think He’s definitely up to something. I just hope we don’t miss it.

How long are we going to put up with an empty faith? How long will we tolerate a seemingly powerless church? How many bible studies and worship services must we personally attend while staying the same day-after-day-after-day? How long? (Note: I’m a huge fan of worship and bible study… I just believe it should change us and how we view God).

We need to take this more seriously or eventually our powerless faith will turn to doubt. At bare minimum, we’ll fall prey to self-condemnation, insecurity, and spiritual anxiety (ring a bell or two?). If we do not seek and find the real Jesus, filled with grace, truth, and power… it’s only a matter of time. We can no longer ride the fence. We can no longer settle and expect not to suffer the consequences. Our post-modern world and post-Christian culture is not set up to hold our spiritual hand anymore. We won’t hold the line just because someone else tells us we’re supposed to.

And neither will our “neighbors.”

The good news is that Jesus didn’t call us to a powerless faith. He called us to an incredibly full faith, which results in peace, joy, and purpose. And He gave us some direct insight as to how that happens. He redefined what it meant to be a disciple in Matthew 5 where He outlines what selflessness looks like. He literally challenged us to stop thinking about things that served us and to start thinking about ways to serve others. He even promised some pretty awesome provision for each step along the way.

It’s time we owned this, people. Someone else cannot make the decision for us. Church leaders, we need to take an honest look at what we value about the church, our selves, and other people. We are called to be and make disciples with the hope of building the Kingdom, not just make converts with the hope of building our churches and padding our stats. Jesus never gave us the keys to the church; He gave us the keys to the Kingdom (Mt.16). We need to daily submit ourselves to this vision. We need to repent and change the way we view success. We need to care more about what God says, than we do what our peers or those who consume what we provide say. We cannot live and/or lead as if this is not a huge problem, temptation, and risk.

Christians, we were called to love God and our neighbor, not love our own agenda and serve our own appetites. Let’s stop blaming our pastors and/or our church, and let’s start living it ourselves. Many of our church leaders would rather do this anyway, but they’re afraid we won’t let them. We need to live a faith that serves something besides us. We need to fight individualism and consumerism. They serve as direct barriers to the Kingdom. We need to constantly be asking God, “What do you want me to give up next?” both personally and collectively.

This is the tension we must live in. And Jesus calls us to head into it with both guns blazing.

God invites us to test His ways. He challenges us to taste and see. Try something different than serving yourself. Open up your definition of church to mean a way of life, not just a location or a timeslot on Sunday. Expand your understanding of discipleship. Seek to be Good News to someone in need. Give yourself permission to model grace and goodness. Don’t reduce it to form or function. Prayerfully offer your heart and soul. Let this be your sacrifice.

And if you don’t know where to start, start with the poor. Start with those who have absolutely nothing to offer you back. This exemplifies the genius of Jesus’ teaching. Bottom line, Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He challenged us to serve the least.

Wherever this leads us, I believe that it will be in that place, that we’ll experience God’s presence and provision. We’ll begin to understand and cherish the paradox. It’s there where we’ll finally find the Jesus we read about in scripture. We’ll see Him at work (in us). We’ll wonder how we ever had any fellowship with Him anywhere else. And then, my friends… we’ll feel the power, the confidence, and the affirmation that we’ve been searching for.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Christians Are Hard to Live With

Dealing with Christians is not easy. In fact it can be – well difficult, to say the least. Let’s admit it Christians are some of the hardest people to live with. I’m not sure why that is. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. In fact it’s been that way since Paul wrote to the church in Philippi about two ladies who couldn’t seem to get along (Philippians 4:2). One of the ironies is that we often treat those outside the church better than we treat each other in the church.

There are several problems with this. The first is that in the church we are family. The language of scripture is replete with family images. God is our Father (Matthew 6:9, Romans 8:15); we are born as sons of God (1 John 5:1); we are adopted into the family of God (Galatians 4:5); we are given a son’s inheritance (Galatians 4:6); we are part of the household of faith (Ephesians 2:19).

But it goes deeper than simply language. God expects us to take care of everyone else in the (His) family. Paul told Timothy to treat the older people in the church as he would treat his father and mother; the younger people as his brothers and sisters (1 Timothy 5:1). He’s talking about maintaining relationships in the family; relationships that are sometimes messy and require work. But without relationships there is no family.

Another problem with the way we act in the church is that it is contrary to the way Christ acts. Think for a moment about that person in your church you just can’t stand. They irritate you; you don’t enjoy being around them; if they never came to church again you wouldn’t miss them. You just wish that they weren’t part of the family. But they are. And you don’t get to choose who’s in the family and who’s out. Christ does, and He’s not irritated by them, in fact He enjoys it when they’re around because He chose them to be part of His family. He revels in their love; He is blessed by their praise; He is exalted in their worship. Now ask yourself – which one of you is out of sync with Christ?

A third problem is that God set the hallmark of our witness to the world as our love for each other (John 13:34-35, 1 John 4:7-11). When we fail to treat others in the church as Christ treats them, we put a roadblock up for any witness that we might have. And believe me, we are being watched and no matter how much we have convinced ourselves that everything is alright in the church, people outside know better. Until they see a healthy, functioning, loving family in the church they won’t want to be part of it.

We need to recognize that struggling to get along with others in the family of God is part of human nature – but it is a sinful part.

Changing Dirty Diapers and Sweeping the Floor

I’ve been teaching a class at our church called The Church in the World Today. It’s a course on the local church. We’re asking, and trying to answer, questions like; What is the purpose of the church? As a local church are we doing what we’re suppose to be doing? How effective are we as a group of believers? The class is designed not only to teach what the Bible says about the church but to examine how true to the Word and how effective we are as a church. You might say that it’s an internal review.

Sunday we discussed the issue of serving and I want to share one thought with you from that class that I think is worth passing on. One of the purposes of the church (by the way, I’m not talking about the building. The church is us – believers) is to serve. Robert Saucy in his book, The Church in God’s Program, wrote, the ministry of the New Testament church is in reality the ministry of Christ. The church ministers because of what Christ has done for it; but, in another sense, it ministers as the continuation of Christ’s ministry. Think about that for a moment. The point that he makes is that the way Christ ministers today is through believers. We have the awesome and unique privilege of continuing the ministry that Christ began. Not that we can do it in the redemptive sense that He did, nor can we do it as well as He did. But we can do Christ’s ministry.

I don’t know what that does for you, but I’m in awe that Christ would even allow me to do His ministry. He didn’t ask the angels to do it. He allows me to do it. He has entrusted the single most important job in the world to the foolish, the weak and the insignificant (to borrow from the Apostle Paul). Only God would do that.

Beyond that, it makes me realize the importance of what I do every time I serve. Sometimes we look at serving as a chore or as something we wish we didn’t have to do. But when we serve we are doing what Christ would do if He was here. That gives our service meaning and significance. It doesn’t matter if it’s teaching a Sunday School class, cooking a meal for a sick neighbor, changing dirty diapers in the nursery or sweeping the floor. Our service for Christ is His service for others. That makes whatever I do for Christ important.

Christ is ministering today to people from all different backgrounds, walks of life, ethnic groups and social-economic classes. He is doing it through Christ-followers. That is the only way He is doing it. How well did He minister today? Only you and I can answer that question.

Even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve . . . (Mark 10:45).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve