|Book: Creating a Secure Church: BOOK TWO|
Part 1 : Objectives & Obstacles
Part 2 : Secure in Relationships
Part 3 : Secure in Ministry
Part 4 : When Things go Wrong
Part 5 : Concluding Thoughts
Chapter 2: History & Ministry
… his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. [Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints]
2.1 Church, not so good
As much as we'd all like to lay claim to upholding the Scriptures, the reality is that the Bible is a book which needs interpretation, and very often we interpret it through the filter of our own experiences in life. We act out church according to what we have heard (from other distorted beings!) and what we have experienced ourselves. Some of our past experience of church life will have turned us off church, some of it will have influenced us, so that we are now in a particular mould as far as church ‘experience' is concerned.
I'm no different, and so what I write comes through what I hope is careful study of God's word, and then through my observation of 'church' for the past forty years. In Chapter 1, I shared something of my own personal history as far as good aspects of ‘church' is concerned. By God's grace I've seen a lot, some good, some bad.
The Not-So-Good Face of Church
Over the years I've been an observer of a whole range of things that I believe must grieve the Lord's heart.
On one occasion, in one church during an 'interregnum', I saw in-fighting between the people, for the next pastor, that would gain the admiration of hardened politicians. It should not be so.
I've watched at a Bible week when a leader was obviously going against the flow and received the cold shoulder of the other leaders. It should not be so.
I've been put out of a small denomination because they misunderstood the moving of God, thought the worst, and refused to talk. It should not be so.
I've been part of a leadership break-up, partly my own fault. It should not be so.
I've watched people shopping from church to church until they run out of local churches to try. It should not be so.
I've watched people give up on church and stop going anywhere. It should not be so.
I've also watched people go off and start their own group because they could not take leadership. It should not be so.
I've watched heavy authority in a variety of places tell people to go if they don't like it. It should not be so.
I've watched leaders being put out by their congregations and I watched members being put out of churches because they found the leadership oppressive. It should not be so.
The Frailty of Church
It should not be so, but it so often is. Why? Because we're still human beings and, as Book One went to some lengths to explain, we often get it wrong. So, as we asked in Book One, what happens when it goes wrong in church life? How do you cope? How can we actually avoid it going wrong in church life? What can we do to minimise these things?
My hope is simply that this book will in some way contribute to ‘minimising' some of these things. Because we are these frail human beings, it will still 'go wrong'! Leaders will still fall to temptation and be put out of ministry, Christian people will still refuse to be disciples and so go off in high dudgeon, we will still get our priorities wrong, we will still make a mess of ‘church' – but we'll still be loved by God, and with His grace, even our failures can be transformed into triumphs, because that's what He's like!
2.2 The Fundamental Heart of Church
The fact that we have so many different expressions of the Christian church (denominations, streams, individual churches etc.) indicates that the Bible gives plenty of leeway for different styles of church life.
For some who may have stumbled across this site on the Internet and came to see what was here in this book, it may be necessary to clarify just what is 'church'. The Church is the gathering of individual believers with the Spirit of Jesus within them. The Greek word used for church means “a called out people” and was used of the townspeople who were called out by a town crier.
Similarly, the Bible teaching is that we who are Christians, have been “called out” of the world by God and into His kingdom. Church, therefore, is people, not structures or institutions, people who now have the Spirit of Jesus in them.
If Christians are people with the Spirit of Jesus within them, and church is simply the gathering or corporate expression of Christians together, any expression of church life ought to be an expression of Jesus.
Therefore we would hope that this expression of Christ is clearly seen in us but if the fundamental nature or character of Christ is missing from the local expression of church, then perhaps we've missed the point all together!
If you've read Book One, then you'll know that when it comes to creating a secure church I am suggesting that acceptance, love, care and compassion make up this fundamental characteristic of the church.
Let's consider what John's Gospel tells us about Jesus: he came “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
Vines Expository Dictionary defines this “grace” (Gk. charis ) as “friendly disposition from which the kindly act proceeds”, i.e. God's love that we see expressed in Jesus comes with a friendly (as opposed to hostile) disposition, which brings constant kind acts.
In Book One we saw how Jesus expressed that grace – that friendly disposition from which kindly acts proceed – which was expressed to a whole variety of people.
So, when Jesus is being expressed in our church life, we would expect that expression to be full of friendliness towards one another and full of kindly acts. I'm sure we know it with our heads, but is it the genuine expression of church life – all the time? We'll examine that in the rest of this book. Just think about it, the church is to be a place or people where Jesus continues to be like this to us – through one another.
Wow, that sounds a good place to be! Accepting, loving, caring etc. in the ways that we have already suggested above. Can such a church exist? The assumption of Book One is that it can if the individuals know who they are in Christ, but that book only focused on the God-relationship side of being a Christian. This one extends our thinking to consider the corporate dimension, how this loving, accepting and caring outlook can be taken into all of the relationships that exist within the church. That's what much of this book is about.
The dictionary definition of truth is “the reality behind the appearance, nothing pretend, nothing false, nothing unreal”. Now Jesus is full of that and if the church is his body (see 1 Cor 12:27 & Eph 1:22 ,23 & Eph 4:15 ,16) then the church should be the same.
Wow, that sounds dangerous! The church being a place or people where there is “nothing pretend, nothing false, nothing unreal”? Can such a church really exist? Thus one of our primary goals, and this is the heart of this book, should be working to create such an environment where people are not pretending, are not false but are able to be real, so that they can then let Jesus minister to them and change them, and reach out and bless the world.
Reassessing this Nature of the Church
Perhaps in the light of this, we would do well to extend our definition of what I called the “fundamental nature of the church” from simply “acceptance, love, caring and compassion” to “acceptance, love, caring, compassion AND truth”, and the truth aspect is as it's defined above, for these are the fundamental characteristics of Jesus that we noted – grace and truth.
So what are the things that dictate the type of church we are? It would be great to think that every church is conforming to Christ as shown in Scripture, but that's not how it is sometimes. Sometimes it's not, simply because we've never thought about it, or if we have we've never really grasped it. Sometimes it's because we get sidetracked by our personal history or by a specialist ministry. That's what the remainder of this chapter is all about.
2.3 Our Church History
What are the things from the past that shape the nature of our church, how it came to be, how it actually is in reality today? Remember we are looking at these things because they can hinder us being or becoming a secure church.
I've said here the things that shape ‘our' church because I believe it is easier to think about these things practically when we consider the local church, the expression of it to which we belong. The following are some of those factors that come from our history, our past. They are just some examples of the sort of things that get in the way.
Denomination or Group
Being part of a denomination, group or stream should not be the issue here but so often it can be. If denominational or group loyalty and practice has become very strong, it often becomes easy to forget this ‘fundamental nature of Jesus' that I'm talking about that should be there to help create real security. Instead we may replace it with an artificial security that is an emotional feeling based upon a building, a form of service, our denomination or group, or even ‘our history'.
Whether it be denominational, or free, or new churches, the danger is always lurking, that we conform to a particular way of thinking, that lacks the crucial characteristics of the person of Jesus Christ. Why should it be like that? Because it is so easy to focus on “other issues”, things that are important to our group that are other than these characteristics we've been considering.
Having been part of a large denominational church in the past, I am aware that it is only natural to feel secure because we're part of a large institution, it's only natural to feel secure when we're part of a large organisation, but the church was never meant to be an institution or organisation and such feelings of security are actually expressions of false security that we referred to in Book One.
Consideration: Dare we face why we are like we are? Have we made the values and name of our church group, the things from which we gain our sense of security? Are we afraid of new things so that the Holy Spirit is not allowed to touch our hallowed ways? Indeed if other Christians met me, would they be able to identify the group or denomination I come from by the language I use, or the particular practices we hold onto that may not be so godly and righteous as we think? We may be living in a fools' paradise.
A church that is going through a crisis easily loses focus. The crisis may be one of pastor versus deacons, leaders versus the rest, disagreement over a building project, upset because of lack of communication, the list is endless. In such situations the ‘issue' becomes all-important and the enemy has a habit of helping us forget what we're about. In such a situation people try to create an artificial security for themselves that is based on the paper-thin belief that “We're right!” or “They're wrong!”
In such situations there is almost a security in what I can only describe as a crusading spirit, where we take up arms to ‘fight for justice' or ‘fight for right'. In fact we are very often destroying what is good and right in the name of justice. In a confrontational conflict, words like “love, acceptance, respect and caring” take a back seat, and truth may be far from us.
Consider by way of illustration, the scene in the first chapter, where Pastor John suddenly finds himself confronted by his other leaders with a demand that he resigns. What are the indicators in that situation that say that here is an insecure church?
It was a church that focused on ministry and programmes and little on
open, personal relationships.
The church was too busy and people didn't have time to get close. As a
result there was a measure of unreality that was felt by many but
recognised by few.
In their growing frustration at seeing a number of ongoing, unreal areas of
church life (as they saw it) and being powerless to do anything about it (as
they felt it), the other leaders began to discuss their frustrations behind
Pastor John's back. It all happened so gradually that none of them noticed
it. Indeed they each quietly justified it by “we are right”.
Accepting that perhaps Pastor John had become stale, services had
become lifeless and communication was zero at the top, the other leaders
exhibited their insecurity by bringing about the Conference Room Coup
with no room for talking. The lines had been drawn long back, without any
awareness on Pastor John's part. He had learned long ago to look positively
on all aspects of church life, and this had now meant he missed the growing
wave of grievance right before him.
The result was that the Pastor, who desperately needed care and
consideration himself, was suddenly alone, feeling very needy, and was
wondering whatever had happened. It would take him months if not years
to understand the dynamics behind the coup.
After such a crisis, the church is not the same. Where there is a split, leadership loss, general upheaval or whatever, if we use the Scriptural analogy of the church being Jesus' body, it's like the body has been through a major accident or trauma. Many people are in a state of shock, because such a thing is completely contrary to the working of the Holy Spirit and He is severely grieved (Eph 4:30). How important it is, therefore, that we seek to do all we can to avoid such things happening.
Consideration: When next there seems a conflict of ideas or of principles, dare we stand back and lay down our stronghold and seek to view everything through a filter of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22,23)? As soon as we sense a loss of these fruit, can we lay down our arms and call a cease to the potential conflict?
The Latest Project
Churches are good at projects and when there is a project on the agenda then mundane issues such as the very environment of church life get forgotten. The focus is placed on the goal of the project and everything and everyone can become subservient to it. Concern for individuals can often be the price paid to achieve ‘great things'. It's only years later, as we view the scattered bodies who are the casualties, might we wonder about what we achieved.
Consideration: Is it possible to be a project church AND have the environment I've referred to? Yes, but I suspect there are various checks and controls we need to have to do it:
Is the project the brain-child of one person, or has it been owned by the
Has it been owned by the whole church by a vision being caught instead of
being imposed, so that people who aren't so clear on it aren't made to feel
Does the project mean the people of the church feel excited by faith instead
of being under pressure to give or to work?
Have we become so caught up in our project that we have lost sight of the
environmental factors referred to in this chapter?
Because different leaders have different gifts, it can mean that different churches take on different ministry emphases. This is not to criticise the ministry, merely to point up the potential problems. It is so easy to get so caught up in one aspect of Christ's work or ministry, that we loose sight of the very nature of Christ that should be revealed through it all.
When I first wrote this book, this chapter contained various examples of different ministry gifts which can easily forget this central focus that we have been writing about in this chapter, simply because of the enthusiasm or zeal for a particular ministry. However I do not wish to be negative and so all I would wish to ask here is, are we ensuring that the central ‘love nature of Jesus' is central to all that we are and do, as we be the people He's made us to be.
When we watch what Jesus did, he seems to have two areas of focus:
Taking the first one as read, we could perhaps then sum up Jesus' ministry with the slogan “People Matter Most”. Book One showed us how Jesus accepted, cared for and felt for people, how he was utterly real with people. If we adopted that slogan, I wonder how it might change our church life?
2.5 And so?
In this chapter we have considered some of the factors that may have caused us to become the church we are.
So, remember, the primary thing we are looking at is this: “Is my church a church that majors on, and creates, an environment of love, acceptance, care and compassion, seeking to be honest and real in all we are and do?”
Let's remind ourselves of the areas we've considered and ask ourselves some pertinent questions:
About our History:
How can we check every expression of ministry to ensure that it truly
expresses the love and acceptance of Jesus for people?
In what ways can we look at each ministry to see that it is truly expressing
the grace and love of Jesus in the way it relates to people?
These questions cannot be tackled quickly, for they require much thought and consideration. Remember, they are not for undermining the good we already have, but are for helping us ensure the nature and character of Christ can be seen in all we do.
To counter any tendency we may have, after reading some of these things, rather than leap into action, perhaps we would do better to ask, "What can I do to promote relationships in my church? How can I draw closer to people here? How can I more fully express the acceptance, love, care and compassion of Jesus to others here?"