Are You a… (part 2)

Church.Image1In the last post, I observed that many in the local church have lost the sense of what it means to be a member of a church. Partial responsibility rests on leaders who have failed to teach on this in an understandable way. To some degree, we may cast blame toward the culture which helps establish the norms of our lives. Still, some responsibility must rest on an audience that “tunes out” uncomfortable or contrary information…regardless of its source. Today I want to expand on the idea that having the different “classes/types” of people (Examiners, Consumers, Participants, and Partners) in the assembly of saints (the church) is actually helpful.

Perhaps you’re asking, “How can unbelievers amid the church be helpful?”

  • First, we must recognize that Paul observed the presence of unbelievers in the church and even argued that some consideration should be given to their presence (1 Corinthians 14). You don’t include such considerations unless their presence is a reality and somehow consistent with godly design. Part of the “helpfulness” is mission. When missionaries engage new people groups, they first seek to learn culture and then establish bridges between the gospel and the new culture so that the gospel can be communicated contextually. If unbelievers are present among the assembled church, a bridge has been identified that facilitates gospel communication.
  • Second, the presence of unbelievers serves to sharpen and equip believers in their missional skillset. Again, a bridge exists and if it is appropriately used, believers gain valuable insight and even empathy toward those who are far from God.
  • Third, the presence of unbelievers makes for a more natural engagement with a gospel witness. If an unbeliever is at a church service, it is not unusual to ask (or be asked) about spiritual condition. In fact, it is expected.

As for believers, having participants in the church is part of the discipleship process. There will be believers who grow in relationship and growth is a process, not an event. One doesn’t become a Christian and suddenly become a “Paul” or “Peter” type instantly. There must be “room” in the church for spiritual immaturity to grow toward maturity. As church planters, Jodi and I recognized years ago that we should engage new people quickly in the life of the church. Some were spiritually immature and others weren’t disciples, but how much spiritual growth is required to open a door, hand out a worship program, adjust sound levels, or set up chairs? Often, the “thin threads” of relationship were strengthened through service, paving the way for more depth of discipleship to occur. This last statement must be an intentional pursuit. It is wrong to reinforce that “you’re ok” to an immature believer or a lost person by giving them a place of service without challenging them to grow as disciples. How tragic it would be for a man to have confidence in his unchallenged spiritual condition simply because he fulfills a role in church life and assumes that since no one has challenged him to grow, he must be “ok.”

There are more “comfortable” scenarios than worshipping in a mixed-company room with unbelievers, the spiritually immature, and those who are growing in faith. What the church is called to though, is not comfort but a mission of making disciples. This is our ONE JOB.

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Are you a… (part 1)

Church.Image1.jpgI have observed for some time now that many believers, even many of those close to me as part of the church I serve, have misunderstood or are ignoring the fundamental nature of the church. Sure…the discussion of “going to church,” “being” the church, or “joining” the church has caused many tempers to flare…but what is the church?

Theologically (and therefore practically) the church is AT LEAST the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, and the image of Christ. This means that the church was sought and purchased by our gracious Lord (Acts 20:28) and that it functions as the physical instrument for fulfilling the mission/mandate of Christ. As we do that, we manifest in a measurable way how the Kingdom of Christ works.

Stated a little differently, the church is the place where people become like Christ through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as the Word and the Body/community work together to fulfill a specific mission. Therefore, there should be observable change, growth, and glory among the saints.

What I have observed is that many don’t “get” the fundamental nature of the church, so they fail to find and fulfill their role in it. Many of these people have bought into the line that the church is an organization or a service provider…a commodity for consideration and consumption. This view has led to an individualistic perspective on church and sometimes…individualism within the scope of the larger Body itself.

It seems to me (while others may use different designations for the classes I am identifying here) that there are four groups/classes of people participating in a local church setting on any given Sunday:

  • Examiners. These people are not part of the church and are “examining” the claims of Christ as they measure them against what they observe as the outworking of those claims through the local expression of Christianity through the church. Some call these seekers.
  • Consumers. These folks evaluate church based on a narrow definition of individualistic intent and primarily choose participation if there is a real or anticipated benefit to themselves. They may or may not be believers. For these folks, the first and primary concern is “what does this experience do for me?”
  • Participants. These are people who are part of the church (so they must be believers) and choose to serve in elements of church but have not embraced the church’s mission as their own. They are not evil or against the mission; but, they are also not owners. They are at different stages of Christian development and are growing as they serve (which is the distinction between participants and consumers).
  • Partners. These people get it. They are believers who are growing in grace and sanctification in Christ and understand the mission of the church. Further, they embrace it. It is their mission.

In part 2, I will unpack some of the implications of these classifications and examine them for biblical warrant…but based on what you see:

Where would you fit?

Do you know your church’s mission?

Do you see yourself as somewhat responsible for that mission?

If the church failed to fulfill that mission, would you feel as if you personally failed as well?

Thriving in the Middle

EIB pinning

The Army’s EIB (Expert Infantryman Badge) “forced march” is daunting. With full pack and weapon, a soldier set out to complete the twelve-mile journey in less than 3 hours as part of the testing to earn the proficiency badge for the infantryman’s craft.

I was never an infantryman, but this “twelve-mile ruck march” was adopted by several other training courses I participated in as a way to test physical and mental toughness. The physical element test is self-evident…but let’s take a moment to explore the mental test and see how it applies in other areas of our lives.

On my first EIB March, I can say that there was great enthusiasm at the onset and the last few hundred yards also bolstered enthusiasm within. Where the difficulty resides is in the middle. Somewhere after the first six miles or so, the road begins to drone on forever and the pain in your body appears to be more prevalent. It is in this difficult “middle” that the mental test reveals itself. A battle rages in the mind of the soldier to succumb to the throbbing feelings in the back, legs, and feet…or to press forward. Pressing forward is not complicated but it requires mental toughness. Simply stated, to work through the middle requires one to intentionally continue placing one foot in front of the other.

EIB Badge

Step, then step, then step, then step. This is the recipe for overcoming the middle. Some guys create games to focus their minds such as developing a cadence in their head. Some will simply focus on another soldier and the interval between them. Others will work on counting off paces along the way. Whatever mental game is implemented, the task is to put one foot in front of the other and then to repeat.

Life in general is like this too. Church life (my present reality) also bears these characteristics. In recent days, I’ve watched several people I love simply lose focus in the middle. They struggle to attend faithfully. They struggle with their personal devotion time. They struggle with fulfilling obligations made to teams and committees. They, frankly, are in the middle of the march. Some of those, experience teaches, will fall away. Some will think the problem is the “march” they are in and will look for other marches (churches) to join. Others will just focus on the throbbing in their legs and sit on the side of the road waiting on the pick-up truck to carry them back to the rally point where they will tell the many reasons why they needed to stop and try again some other times.

But…and this is huge…some will simply put one foot in front of the other and repeat.

Where is the motivation to continue the march?  Friend, that is the part of the test that demonstrates mental toughness. It is individual and personal. At the same time, there are a few aids that seem to be common with everyone who presses through to the finish line:

  • Don’t forget WHY you started. The Infantryman doesn’t want to march, he wants the proficiency badge and the honor that goes with it.
  • Don’t focus on the pain. Feet and legs throb in the march. I get it. Focus though on the terrain or the interval to the next “soldier” ahead of you. Paul instructs us in this when he says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
  • Eliminate “other marches” from your field of consideration. All marches in life have a middle. They all test mental toughness. If you quit this one, your future ones will be that much harder, even if you change marches.
  • Remember those around you. Yep, you became part of a team when you started. Someone loved you, cared for you, and encouraged you through your difficulties. If nothing else, defer to your sense of loyalty to the group and put one foot in front of the other. Failure to do so will be a thorn in your side eventually and will serve to discourage the “family of marchers” that loved you to the point where you are.

You can finish. One foot in front of the other. Step, EIB Finish 2then step, then step…

Grace and Peace…and finish the march.