Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

The Church: frustrating but filled with hope

Any regular church-goer will tell you that the Church isn’t perfect.

Most of us have criticisms of some kind or other.  Maybe it’s the pastor, or another church member, or the music, or the local church’s doctrinal position.

Sadly, conflict is a common feature of evangelical churches today.  It is a serious enough issue that there are courses on conflict resolution and peacemaking.

The devil loves church fights.  Many victims of these battles stop attending church – any church.  Many churches collapse entirely.

Some believers may think that things were better in the early church.  But a careful reading of the apostles’ letters in the New Testament makes clear that there were nasty struggles even then.

But the scriptures do present a picture of the church as it should be.

On the positive side, Paul tells us how much we need each other.  He uses the wonderful picture of the body in 1 Corinthians 12 to show how we can’t function well unless we cooperate and depend upon others with different spiritual gifts.

Frequently in his letters, Paul says we should value others more than ourselves.  He urges us to seek the good of others rather than ourselves.

How many of us think of the good of others above all?  It is not the first thought that springs to my mind.  But what a difference that would make in our churches.

While there is much to lament when we look at our strife-ridden churches, I see hope.  We can look at the negative side and give up on church life.  Or, we can learn what God wants us to learn and grow closer to him.

Sometimes suffering highlights our need for more of God.  I have read about a church where a bitter dispute decimated the congregation.  They reacted by turning to the Lord in fervent prayer and their church was revived.

Above all, we must remember that Christ wants us to live and worship and work together as his people.  God is working in us to make us more like Jesus.  God can even use conflict for our good and for the good of the kingdom of heaven.

For us to have hope in these difficult times, we must become willing learners at the feet of Jesus.

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A magnetic church

Our six-year-old grandson loves to play with a magnetic building toy at our house.  He builds fantastic shapes with the plastic pieces, each tipped with magnets.

For me, this is a picture of what churches can be – each different, each original, and each a magnet to others.

Jesus gave the simple formula for building a magnetic church in Luke 10:27:

“He answered: ‘Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”

But, being human, we try to one-up Jesus by making church more user-friendly and appealing to popular culture.  It is certainly important that people not be put off by strangeness when they join us for worship.  But everything we do should take a back seat to Jesus’ two commands – in fact, they are essential pillars of a Christ-like church.

I confess to falling into the trap of techniques in my own approach to church life.  My passion is prayer and I have devoured books on prayer, trying to figure out a way of getting everyone on my own prayer bandwagon.

The first few chapters of the Book of Acts tell us what a loving church is like.  It was so attractive that thousands became believers and joined the church in a matter of weeks after Christ’s ascension.  It was a magnetic church.

Their secret was the love of God – the Holy Spirit – living within them and prompting them to love each other.

Our own church is now considering how to build loving and life-changing relationships within families and between older and younger generations.  That is an important step.

Recently, I meditated on Paul’s admonitions in Romans 12:9-18.  What a list of godly goals!  It begins with loving each other which covers everything that follows.  The rest gives us different facets of a loving believer – and a loving church.

I was humbled by what I read, realizing there were many areas where I needed to grow.

I was touched this morning by a tribute given by a young man in the Sunday service.  He told us about an older man in our congregation who befriended him as a teenager and spent time with him, getting to know him, encouraging him and giving wise counsel.

That is love in action.

A disappearing generation

Like many congregations, our church is grappling with the problem of the “disappearing generation”.

Our pastor shared with us last Sunday some figures about teenagers and twenty-somethings who simply stop attending church – any church.  In effect, they feel that Christianity is no longer relevant to their lives.  I don’t have the figures at hand, but we were all startled by how serious the issue is.

This is a concern because many have attended Sunday School and youth groups and heard countless sermons and yet feel that God is irrelevant.

This hits home with evangelicals, in particular, because the story of the charismatic and evangelical wing of Christianity has been steady – and, in some cases, spectacular – growth in the United States and, to a lesser extent, Canada until recent years.  More recent figures suggest that the evangelical Christian church in the U.S. has levelled off and even started declining.

Why?

Scholars and church leaders have various explanations.  I don’t know them all.

One question occurs to me: Why is evangelical Christianity growing by leaps and bounds in Africa, Asia and South America and not in North America and Europe?

One possible answer is that the church in Canada and the U.S. isn’t much different than the world around us. But, it is radically different in Africa, Asia and South America.

In the comforable communities in which we live, we can easily get along without God.  We don’t need him if we have a decent job, a house, a car and a little extra income.  If we have a health problem, we have medicare in Canada.  If we’re hurting inside, we have access to psychiatrists or tranquilizers.

We Christians have unconsciously bought into this.  So, it’s not surprising that our children have, too.

If Jesus were here, what would he say?

He’d probably begin by telling us to love God and love others.  But that involves sacrifice as I mentioned in my previous post.

He’d likely go on to say that we should value our brothers and sisters higher than ourselves.  He’d call on us to be united in love, handling differences with mutual kindness and compassion.

He’d also point out that God is able to do all things – more, in fact, than we can ask or imagine.  He is a god of the supernatural, something many Westerners have stopped believing.

He is a god, as well, of justice and mercy.  So, Christ would tell us to reach out to people who need help.

You can think of other things Jesus would say.

The point is that if we lived the way Jesus told us to live, we would be different.  And our children would see the difference.  And, I believe that many would be inspired to follow the Christ we model in our lives.

This is a cautionary story for me.  I ask myself: What am I modelling?