Tag Archives: ecclesiology

We’re Asking The Wrong Question When We Go To Church

Reposted from the The Aquila Report

The most important question isn’t, “What am I getting out of this ministry?”

After all, in our, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” culture, it’s hard to not be self-centered in our spiritual lives. We want to make sure that we’re being fed, built-up, and connected when we come to church. And we live in a world that is filled with reviews and evaluations. I loved the shrimp and grits at “John’s Seafood Shack” and gave the place five stars on Yelp! I had an awful customer service experience and I told all my friends on Facebook (I actually did this recently, but don’t ask me about it because I get angry every time I tell the story). It’s easy to treat church like any other consumer experience.

It’s a phrase I’ve said or thought many times. Church is over, I’m sitting at home eating lunch, and I think to myself, I didn’t really get much out of church this morning. The worship leader was wearing a loud, distracting plaid shirt, that looked like an Amish quilt and a neon sign had been thrown into a blender and then reassembled at American Eagle. We also sang that one song that I really don’t like – the one that repeats the chorus over and over and over, like some sort of druid chant. And the sermon…well, it definitely could’ve been better. I mean, it was Bible and Jesus and something about holiness, but the pastor definitely can’t preach like Matt Chandler.

What did I get out of church?

Have you ever asked that question? I suspect you have.

After all, in our, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” culture, it’s hard to not be self-centered in our spiritual lives. We want to make sure that we’re being fed, built-up, and connected when we come to church. And we live in a world that is filled with reviews and evaluations. I loved the shrimp and grits at “John’s Seafood Shack” and gave the place five stars on Yelp! I had an awful customer service experience and I told all my friends on Facebook (I actually did this recently, but don’t ask me about it because I get angry every time I tell the story). It’s easy to treat church like any other consumer experience.

It’s interesting though, that when we look at Scripture, we find very few details regarding the things we should get from church. Rather, we find lots of details about what we shouldbring to church.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul describes what a gathering should look like:

“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

Paul describes church as a bunch of people coming together and giving themselves away. He expected that every one of the Corinthians would come prepared to give something, whether that be a hymn, lesson, revelation, tongue, or interpretation. For Paul, church was not a spectator sport. It was an all hands on deck kind of thing. No slackers allowed. For Paul, the most important question wasn’t, “What can I get out of this gathering?” Rather, the most important question was, “What can I do that will build others up?”

In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul says,

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

It can be tempting to think that ministry is the stuff done by pastors, worship leaders, and small group leaders. We let them do the work while we sit back and watch. But the passage from Ephesians makes it clear that ministry is done by every Christian. Pastors and teachers are called to arm the saints for ministry, and then the saints are to go into the battlefields. The most important question isn’t, “What am I getting out of this ministry?” The most important question is, “What ministry am I doing?”

John Frame puts it this way:

Worshipers should not take a passive attitude toward worship, such as we usually take toward entertainment. As we have seen, worship is a priestly service. It is latreia, “labor, service.” Therefore, we should go to church to do something: to bring praise to God and to minister to one another. This perspective should make us less concerned about what we “get out of” worship and more concerned about what we contribute to God and to our brothers and sisters. (Worship In Spirit and Truth, pg. 80)

Obviously, it’s important that we attend a church which allows us to experience biblical preaching, fellowship, the sacraments, and all the other important parts of church. But if our main question after every service is, “What did I get out of it?”, we’re asking the wrong question.

It’s time to be all in.

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The “Plus One” Approach to Church

by Kevin DeYoung

Originally posted on The Gospel Coalition

Are you just starting out at a new church and don’t know how to get plugged in? Have you been at your church for years and still haven’t found your place? Are you feeling disconnected, unhappy, or bored with your local congregation? Let me suggest you enter the “Plus One” program of church involvement.

I don’t mean to sound like a bad infomercial. Here’s what I mean: In addition to the Sunday morning worship service, pick one thing in the life of your congregation and be very committed to it.

This is far from everything a church member should do. We are talking about minimum requirements and baby steps. This is about how to get plugged in at a new church or how to get back on track after drifting away. This is for people who feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. This is for the folks who should make a little more effort before slipping out the back door.

The idea is simple. First, be faithful in attending the Sunday morning worship service. Don’t miss a Sunday. Sure, you may miss a couple Sundays during the year because of illness. Vacation and business travel may take you away from your local congregation several other Sundays too. But keep these to a minimum. Don’t plan all your cottage getaways over the weekend so that you miss out on your own church (and perhaps church altogether) for most of the summer. Don’t let the kids’ activities crowd out Sunday services. (What did Joshua say? “If soccer be god then serve soccer, but as for me and my household we will serve the Lord.” Something like that.) Don’t let homework or football or too much rain or too much sun keep you from the gathering of God’s people for worship. Commit right now that Sunday morning is immovable. You go to church. Period.

Now, add one more thing.

When you meet people who feel disconnected from church, start with this question: Are you committed to worshiping with us every Sunday unless you are providentially hindered? If they say yes, then move on to “Plus One.” Is there at least one other activity in the life of the church in which you are consistently and wholeheartedly participating? Usually the answer is no. Most people who feel disconnected from church feel that way because they have not made the effort to connect consistently. This doesn’t mean churches don’t have to do more to care for senior saints, singles, those with special needs, or any number of other folks in the church. This doesn’t mean pastors can say (or think), “It’s all your fault.” Sometimes it precisely the pastor’s fault. But I find that most often–not always, but normally–people who want to get involved, find a way to get involved through the existing structures of the church.

That’s why I say, be faithful on Sunday morning, plus one more thing. Personally, I’m partial to the Sunday evening service. I think it’s the easiest, most historic, and one of the most biblical ways to really get to know your church. In most churches, the evening service (if they have one) is smaller, more informal, and contains elements of prayer and sharing that may not be as present on Sunday morning. Plus, the time after the service is usually less rushed and allows for more genuine fellowship.

If Sunday evening is not an option, join a small group. (I reiterate: these are baby steps. I hope people in our church will participate in Sunday evenings and small groups.) If your church doesn’t have formal small groups, you could still invite a group of friends over every other week for prayer and fellowship. If that’s too much right off the bat, find a good Sunday school class and go every week. Or join the choir. Or get involved with the youth group. Or sign up to be a greeter. Or go on the men’s retreat. Or join the outreach committee. Or take the leadership training course. Or come to the prayer meeting each week. Or teach a kids class. Or volunteer with a local ministry your church supports. Or do Meals onWheels. Or join the softball team. Or do the mid-week Bible study. You get the idea.

Large churches have hundreds of Plus One opportunities. Even small church will have plenty to choose from. Make Sunday morning your first priority. Then try one more thing and stick with it for at least six months. Maybe you’ll realize the church is not for you. Maybe you’ll still need help getting plugged in. Maybe you’ll find it’s time to sit down in person with a pastor or elder. But I suspect you will find that you feel more invested, you’ve made new friends, and you’re eager to see Plus One become Plus Two or Three.

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Seven Reasons Churches Are Too Busy

I don’t always agree with Thom Rainer, but I thought he had some good observations in this article:

If local churches were humans, most of them would experience burnout. Many congregations are too busy to be effective. Many have a hodgepodge of seemingly unrelated activities.

I recently met with a pastor whose church is emblematic of the hyper-busy congregation. Morning worship attendance is steady at 350, but Sunday evening worship had declined in a decade from 160 to 40. The pastor suggested the church consider eliminating the Sunday evening service, an act that required a majority vote in a business meeting. Over 300 members came to the business meeting and voted by over 80 percent to continue the activity. Of course, hardly any of those members ever came to Sunday evening service before or after the vote.

If local churches were humans, most of them would experience burnout. Many congregations are too busy to be effective. Many have a hodgepodge of seemingly unrelated activities.

As a consequence, there is no clear plan or process of discipleship in these churches. Members are often confused about what they should do and how active they should be in the disparate ministries and programs. And some members pull back their involvement altogether in a sense of frustration and often guilt.

So how did churches get so busy? How did their calendars fill up so quickly that it left no breathing room for members and staff? There seems to be seven major contributing factors.

  1. Many church leaders fail to ask the “why” questions when starting a new ministry. Why are we starting this ministry? Why should we continue it long-term? Why are we asking people to be involved? When a church has no clear and compelling purpose for a new ministry, it becomes just another activity.
  2. Churches often have no process or plans to eliminate ministries. Thus ministries continue even if they are no longer effective or needed. They become analogous to the clutter we often have in our homes.
  3. Some ministries are started just to please people. Sometimes church leaders take the path of least resistance and allow new ministries to be added just because one or a few church members wanted them. The ministry may not be the best for the church, but church leaders are often reticent to say no.

(Read More)

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Shrinking Job Descriptions in the Church

by Joseph Franks

Originally posted on Daily Devotions:

“We have been focused on golden-tongued speakers, impressive and comfortable buildings, and membership growth, and have forsaken the personal touch. We are better known as preachers and speakers, and lesser known as shepherds and pastors. And our elders are viewed more as members of boards of directors and not as brothers who shepherd.”

Preaching is one of the roles of the pastor, and a good argument can be made that it is the minister’s primary responsibility. However, preaching is not an end in itself, but it is the means to an end. One is careful to deliver a sermon because he is consumed with growing disciples. One is a speaker because he is a shepherd. A man preaches from behind the sacred pulpit because he has been called to pastor those in the sacred pews. Therefore, while the faithful minister loves his Bible, his books, his computer, his pulpit, and his ecclesiastical institution, he loves his people even more. He is a preacher because he is a pastor; he is concerned with the what [preaching] because he is consumed with the Who [God] and the who [people].

Likewise, governing is one of the roles of the elder or presbyter. Administrative oversight is the responsibility of the man called by God and God’s congregation. Institutional health and growth is his concern. It is right for him run a tight ship, for God would have his church do things efficiently, decently, orderly, and gloriously. However, administrative acumen is not an end in itself; it too is a means to an end. One is an elder because he is a shepherd. Therefore, while the faithful elder appreciates his organizational charts, sessional minutes, Book of Church Order, financial updates, and committee reports; he is passionate about the Word, prayer, fellowship, and the ongoing discipleship of those entrusted to his care. He is concerned with the what [ruling] because he is most concerned with the Who [God]and the who [people].

So where in Scripture can one see such a biblical passion for the Who [God] and thewho [people] from the who [pastor/elders]? A beautiful portrait of the preacher and the group of elders is found in Acts 20:

Now from Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.     Acts 20:17–38

Before his friends, Paul expressed his pastoral ministry.

  • He was a servant who labored persistently for the Lord.
  • He was a servant who labored persistently and intimately amongst his brothers and sisters; he was not aloof.
  • He was a servant who was humble.
  • He was a servant who was passionate and emotional; tears from the heart were shed for his friends.
  • He was a servant who preached the whole counsel of God’s Word; nothing was left out; faith, grace, and repentance were heralded.
  • He was a servant who was both a pulpiteer and a small group leader; in public and in houses he taught.
  • He was a servant who discriminated not; it mattered not to him whether one was Jew or Greek.
  • He was a servant who obeyed special revelation; he was faithful to obey whatever God said and go wherever God led.
  • He was a servant who persevered; daily and persistently he did the next right thing despite internal and external trials and tribulations.
  • And as a result, he was a servant with a clean conscience. Paul was able to stand before God and man and declare, “I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink.”

Paul then exhorted the elders of Ephesus. They were to follow his ministry model.

  • The elders were to pay careful attention to their own spiritual health and growth.
  • The elders were then to pay careful attention to the spiritual health and growth of the flock about them.
  • The elders were to never conclude that the flock belonged to them; they were merely called by the Spirit to shepherd the flock of God — his blood-bought church.
  • The elders were to protect the flock from internal and external heresy; twisted teachers were coming.
  • The elders were to give their hearts away. Paul expressed his own passion, “For three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears,” and implied in these words is his call for sympathetic shepherding.
  • The elders were to teach and trust the Word of God which is powerful and effective to build, bless, and sanctify.
  • The elders were not to discriminate; they were to pay no attention to silver, gold, or apparel.
  • The elders were to be generous and hospitable.
  • The elders were to be industrious men of action; they were to work hard.
  • The elders were to shepherd regardless of what they received in return; givers they were and not receivers.

Therefore friends, what sort of pastor and presbyters do you have in your church? And more personally, what manner of ministers and elders are you? Or perhaps two more gracious questions:

  • How should you pray for your pastor and presbyters?
  • How would you like for the Holy Spirit to improve you as a minister and elder?

The characteristics listed above would make a great prayer list and to-do list. Friends, it is fair to say the modern-day church has been guilty of shrinking the job description of our pastors and elders. We have been focused on golden-tongued speakers, impressive and comfortable buildings, and membership growth, and have forsaken the personal touch. We are better known as preachers and speakers, and lesser known as shepherds and pastors. And our elders are viewed more as members of boards of directors and not as brothers who shepherd. Too often and too sadly, we have allowed the what [preaching, administrating] to supersede the Who [God] and the who [people].

So preach on! Excel in administrating and stewarding the visible house of God. Let’s build great, healthy ecclesiastical institutions. This is good worship! However, let not our job descriptions and ministerial expectations be shrunk. We are under-shepherds, and as such we are to be consumed with the Master and his flock.

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