Last night, Maine became the 31st out of 31 states to vote down same-sex marriage. On the other hand, six states have legislated (forced?) same-sex marriage on its constituents through the judicial branch or the legislative branch. Maine’s repeal brings the total number of states that have legalized same-sex marriage back down to five.
I also find it interesting that there wasn’t as much hype about this from grassroots organizations and churches as there was in California last year. It appears that this was a quiet victory for conservatism with not much need for controversial activism. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t happy with some of the behavior by church leaders in California but here in Maine it seems that the churches in Maine were more civil and fair.
It’s also important to note that this is the first New England state that has had an opportunity to vote on same-sex marriage and it was turned down. Four of the six New England states allow same-sex marriage but only because of judges and politicians, never by a state-wide vote.
So, here are some questions for ChurchETHOS readers:
Are Americans living in the Dark Ages or the Enlightenment on this issue? Is same-sex marriage a civil right or not? Has the church responded appropriately to this social issue? How has the church conducted itself in Maine (respect, fairness, intolerance, etc.)? How SHOULD the church wrestle with the issue of same-sex marriage (personally, publicly, politically, pastorally, etc.)?
Please be respectful in your comments whether you are in favor of or oppose same-sex marriages. I will delete your comment if I find it offensive to people on either side of this issue. Therefore, if you want your voice to be heard find a way to do it with respect and grace.
Here are some news stories:
Spiritual discipline doesn’t sound very exciting. Many Christians shy away from the disciplines because it sounds like work at best and legalism at worst. However, spiritual discipline is simply a name for the spiritual habits that a true follower of Jesus forms as he or she becomes more like Him. We want to follow Jesus and we know that He meditated on Scripture, spent time in prayer, and shared the Gospel with others, just to name a few. There are other disciplines that we can glean from the Bible that are important to consider as well.
But for the most part, these disciplines go neglected by the majority of church attenders. Does that make their Christianity suspect? No, it probably means that no one helped them to see the positive aspect of a disciplined life of faith. When we form regular habits, we need accountability. It’s the same thing when we form spiritual habits.
As a child I learned that I needed to brush my teeth, make my bed, not eat dirt, etc. No one would think my parents unfair or cruel for making me obey. Those were habits that my parents helped me form when I was a child. The disciplines are habits and we need help forming them in our lives. Not too many people have the inherent motivation to form a strong habit for themselves. As a child we had our parents help in showing us the habits that needed to be formed and the habits that needed to be broken. In our spiritual habits, we have the Body of Christ to help us but it takes initiative and responsibility on our part to come alongside immature believers and help them move toward spiritual maturity.
Pastors play a large role in equipping the saints and part of the equipping process should be the formation and spiritual growth of new believers. In order to be effective at fostering a Biblical understanding of the disciplines, the church leaders should first of all teach about them in a positive way. Secondly, leaders should model the disciplines and coach others in the process. Third, we should encourage accountability and fellowship in the Body so that there is a consistent venue for people to talk about their progress or lack thereof in a safe and open setting. Finally, we need to talk about the perils of not engaging in the disciplines. Dallas Willard talks about the cost of NONdiscipleship (rather than Bonhoeffer’s ‘Cost of Discipleship’). When we reject the foundational habits and activities of the Bible, we forsake the abundant life that Jesus has promised us.
So, we need to talk about spiritual disciplines, model them, hold people accountable to do them, and contrast the difference between a disciplined and an undisciplined spiritual life so that people can understand that these are not legalistic endeavors, but that they are helpful and fulfilling as we diligently follow our Master.
Most Christians in America are overwhelmed.
The typical Christian in America works 50+ hours per week and sleeps about 50 hours per week. That leaves about 68 hours to spend on everything else: family, friends, hobbies, exercise, cooking, eating, housework, watching TV, playing video games, homework, lectures, and – oh yeah – God.
Our culture is on the move. A typical church attending Christian doesn’t want to spend more than an hour on Sunday spending time with other believers. In fact, many Christians have the perception that they go to church instead of recognizing that they are the church. As a result, church has become a place rather than a people, an hour rather than an identity, and an obligation rather than a privilege. The Christian begins to view their responsibility to church as the minimum set of requirements necessary to be considered a “regular”.
There are a lot of ways we can simplify our lives so that we can spend more time with other members of the church. I want to explore that in more detail in a forthcoming post entitled A Gathering Church. Meanwhile, how are we to perceive our role in the world?
#Should there be a secular vs. sacred dichotomy in our minds?
#Should we feel guilty if 95% of our time is spent in the world and only 5% is spent in “sacred” activities?
#How can we move from “regular attender” to become a faithful follower of Jesus (regardless of how much or how little time we spend in a church building)?
#How can we be the church when we aren’t with the church?
I’m Glad You Asked
Too many Christians are not asking those questions. If you are one of the few who is genuinely asking questions like these then you are on the path of a disciple. You are learning what it takes to truly follow Jesus. Keep asking those questions and others like them. Now let me see if I can provide some thoughts on the matter.
A church that merely packs out a church building for an hour each Sunday with regular attenders may look successful but is in fact disobedient to Christ. If the leadership of a church isn’t calling its members to costly discipleship then it is ignoring one of the most central teachings of Christ. We aren’t called make converts or church attenders, we are called to make disciples. But where do we look for new recruits (so to speak)?
A Church on the Move
In the Matthean Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus tells his followers, “As you are going, make disciples…” Every pastor has pointed out this nuance that “Go” is not the command because it is a participle and it means “as you are going”. In other words, this isn’t new stuff but it is a very important point: “Make disciples” is the command. Jesus commands his church to be on the move. It’s hard to escape from the busy pace of the American lifestyle, so let’s take advantage of the fact that much of our day is spent with unbelievers.
We are on the move because we are Americans and we are the church because we are Christians. So, as we go about our daily activities, let’s keep in mind that we are ambassadors for the kingdom of God. It’s kind of silly to think that we would try and be ambassadors only when we are in the walls of a church building during “holy hour”. America doesn’t send out ambassadors to America, they send ambassadors to places and people that need to hear the message we have to communicate. In the kingdom of God, our role in the world is to go to the people that need to hear God’s message of love and truth. We are going anyway (job, gym, restaurant, store, etc), so why not fulfill Christ’s commands “as you are going”?
Following Jesus 9 to 5
I once waded through every single verse in the gospel of Mark to determine where Jesus spent his time. Jesus spent most of his time on the seashore and in the marketplace with business people. Coming in as second to spending time with business people, Jesus spent his time with his disciples. Then, Jesus spent time in homes, and finally he spent time in the temple complex. So, in order of importance Jesus spent most of his time in the marketplace, then with his disciples, then in homes, and finally in the temple complex. Jesus made disciples as he was going.
We are called to be the church, not just when we are with other believers, but significantly we are called to be the church when we are not with other believers. It’s easy being the church with like-minded friends, but discipleship wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for Jesus’ original Twelve was it? We don’t just choose to be disciples when it’s easy for us. Peter and John said they considered it a privilege to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41) Suffering was one of the core values of the early church. We will never experience the kind of suffering of the first disciples, so can we not have enough boldness to share with a co-worker or a friend about our relationship with Jesus?
We freely talk about our spouse, our children, our pets, our hobbies, and our interests, but not about our God?!
The reason God never comes up in conversation is because we have misplaced priorities. Our job is something that is of absolute necessity so that we can pay the bills and eat meals. We forget that we are a child of the King. He is the source of our needs and He has placed us in our jobs and in our circles of friends to share God’s love with others. That is why we are employed: not to make money but to make disciples. Rather than view the workplace as a mission field for making disciples, too many Christians just try to get through the day so they can collect their paycheck and go home, never thinking about what “as you are going, make disciples…” might mean for their lives.
The church needs to develop the habit of calling its members to follow Jesus. Our leaders are often not willing to challenge the church to go beyond regular attendance at worship gatherings. Success for a church is not in filling a building on a weekly basis. Success is determined by how many lives are being transformed. It’s about quality not quantity, depth not width. Followers of Jesus recognize that church gatherings are pointless if the church is never going. But when the church is a going church, the church gatherings are that much better!
Related Post: My Top Concerns for the Local Church
Today I thought I would check through the stats of ChurchETHOS to determine what is of most interest to my readers and who is sending me the most visitors. Listing my top 10 posts for the past month will not only give a good indication of what has been interesting to you, but it will also give a good indication of what this blog is about. Hopefully, listing my top referrers will also give my reader a sense of other people who like my content and I hope you will visit their pages and subscribe to their feeds.
In fact, if you haven’t done so already, please subscribe to my feed now so you don’t miss any of the action!
Top 10 Posts from the past month
1. One God, Two Gods, Three Gods, No God is a post I wrote to show the dangers of believing that all religions are equally true and valid. In fact, all religions cannot be true because they make competing and contradictory truth claims. There cannot be one God while at the same time there are two or more gods, while at the same time there are no gods.
2. My Top Concerns for the Local Church is my most recent post and is probably the best representation this past month of what ChurchETHOS is all about. In this post I explore the most difficult and pervasive problems of the church.
3. Why I Chose the HCSB Over the ESV is both an apologetic for the use of the Holman Christian Standard version of the Bible but it also expresses my frustration with the obvious bias towards the ESV for the following main reasons: 1. The ESV has a theological slant towards the Reformed tradition and 2. Paul and Apollos (I mean Piper and Driscoll) use the ESV.
4. HCSB vs. ESV Update reflects the new data that puts the HCSB as the second most popular version of the Bible up from 6th most popular when I wrote “Why I Chose the HCSB Over the ESV”. In fact, the rise in sales is due to it’s readability (like the NIV), it’s accuracy (like the NASB and ESV), and from the attention it has received from blogs and viral marketing from HCSB users who recognize it’s readability and accuracy.
5. The Trinity Lives in a Shack? This is my reaction to the fictional book by William Paul Young called “The Shack”. This book explores the Trinity from an unorthodox and harmful perspective. I felt like this was worthy to talk about on my blog because it reveals the habit of some Christians to derive their theology from fiction (or even nonfiction) rather than from the Bible.
6. Did Jesus Claim to be God? This is a theological and exegetical post based primarily on John’s view of the deity of Christ. The implications? Since Jesus claimed to be God, He can’t be respected as merely a great prophet or teacher. He either is the Son of God, or He is a liar and everything He has said must be distrusted. (Or he’s a lunatic but that doesn’t really fit with everything else He did does it?)
7. Tithing Ethos: The Habit of Giving in the Church is a post exploring the theological truths of stewardship. Tithing today is more of a minimum standard and we need to increase our understanding of what God requires of ALL of the resources, time, money, etc. that He has entrusted to us.
8. About – Well, I’m happy that some of you want to know about the author of ChurchETHOS. Please feel free to comment and introduce yourselves. I really want this blog to be more of a dialogue that is not only helpful to me in sounding out my own thoughts on the church, God, culture, etc. but also helpful to you and is a place where you can explore these topics as well.
9. The Case for Community is a theology of fellowship. This post explores from Biblical perspective how Christians are meant to live together. I would say this and “My Top Concerns for the Local Church” above are best representative of what ChurchETHOS is about.
10. What is ChurchETHOS? – Okay, maybe this post is MOST representative of what my blog is about simply because that’s the purpose of the post.
** Bonus Post from the Archives – My Top Ten Christian Books isn’t in the top ten for the past month but it is historically a pretty popular post that you might be interested in if you enjoy this blog.
Top Referrers to ChurchETHOS
I want to give some link love to those people who have sent visitors my way. As I mentioned above, I think this will also give you a sense of the people who enjoy ChurchETHOS. Thanks for sending people my way!
1. Tim Challies from challies.com
2. Matt Privett from themattrix.com
3. Tim Fenton from theefaulted.blogspot.com
4. Joseph McBee from josephmcbee.wordpress.com
5. Bobby Grow from theologyofbobby.wordpress.com
** Honorable Mention – Breezy Neon from breezyneon.wordpress.com
Note: These wonderful people are being mentioned here because they have either linked to me on their sidebar or in a conversation from one of their posts. If I do a recap post like this in the future I would love to share with you some of the limelight. Simply post to my blog or to a specific post and I will also do my best to send some visitors your way.
Recently I was asked by my pastor to start a new small group. Our group has grown to about 16 people and that gets to be too intimidating for some people to share. This has led me to reflect on the question “Why community?” This has certainly been a question I have visited before, as small groups were the building blocks of my previous church. But I thought I would take things I’ve learned in the past and merge those with what God is teaching me at present and give a concise but thorough Case for Community.
Biblical Foundations for Community
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus encourages His disciples to make disciples. Paul echoes that commission when he writes to Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2). As we are making disciples helpful to be reminded of Jesus’ prayer for us as disciples and disciple-makers in John 17:21 “May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You send Me.”
In thinking about this prayer, Francis Schaeffer writes, “we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.” Gilbert Bilezikian says, “According to that prayer, the most convincing proof of the truth of the gospel is the perceptible oneness of his followers.” Without love and unity the world will disbelieve. On the other hand, it is our love and our unity that enables the world to understand and receive the Truth. Jesus’ prayer is the one we should be praying for ourselves and for those we are discipling that we would be one. Colossians 3:14 reminds us that “Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.”
“May They All Be One”
So, the goal of our discipleship should be unity – unity with God, and unity with each other. But how do we get there? Ephesians 4 gives a great answer. Verses 12 and 13 tell us that the leadership of the church is a gift from God “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” Step one, train the saints to do the ministry! Does it even seem feasible for one man to do all the hospital visits, to people he hardly knows, on time he hardly has? Instead, the members of the church should be mobilized to care for the sick, reach out to the lost, feed the hungry, and care for the spiritual needs of their neighbors and friends. The leaders are mobilizers and it should be all of the body serving one another and those outside the faith.
Step two is spiritual maturity. Notice that this step follows service and ministry. We don’t wait until we are seminary trained to begin our ministry. It is precisely that service that we perform with and for one another that develops our maturity. We don’t grow in isolation. We need community! It’s within the community that our faith is formed. Our relationship with God is personal but it’s not private.
I have discovered that I have no problem reading my Bible and praying daily when I know a friend who is in need, or when I have a stimulating discussion about God’s Word, or hear a challenge to the faith that I’ve never heard before. These interactions with others is what fuels my relationship with God. It is my connection to people that reinforces my connection with God. If I hadn’t had that discussion I might not be interested to see what God has to say on the topic. If my friend weren’t in need, maybe I would be spending less time in prayer. You get the idea. Close, spiritual, open, and honest friendships within the family of faith are vital to my personal walk with God.
The Cost of Community
It’s hard to be unified with someone you only see once a week. Especially if you are staring at the back of his head from the pew behind him. In fact, it’s quite easy to have a disagreement with such a person and never resolve the issue because there’s no reason to resolve it. You can just stop talking. But, if you are serving together in ministry, if you are helping him and he is helping you grow stronger in faith, then you are unified. It is this unity that is so essential to the mission of the church. Without this unity that is brought on by serving together and growing together, the world is hopelessly lost. The world needs us to be the family they never had. They need us to love one another.
But we need one another too. We were created for community but that doesn’t mean it comes easy (or even naturally). Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” We need to be together regularly if we are to show one another the care that is necessary to promote love and ministry. Do we want to be followers of Jesus? Do we want to make disciples, as He commanded us? Then we will regularly meet together because of our love and our concern for one another. I know I won’t grow in my relationship with God in isolation, but that means my brother or sister won’t either.
To be a disciple is to be in community. In order to make disciples, we need to encourage them to be in community. To change the world we need to invest in community. As the church, we are the final apologetic and it’s because of community. Jesus is only going to make one more appearance and that will be to call His Church home. Until then, we have a definite commission, and a definite course of action: As disciples, we are called to live in community with one another. This is achieved as we get together regularly and care for one another and serve together and grow together and show the world that we are disciples because of our love for one another. We need this! They need this! No longer can we simply come to a building once a week and expect that to be enough. In fact, we can’t merely come to a small group Bible study for a couple of hours per week and expect that to be enough. We are a family and a family is a huge time commitment. So let’s be disciples and not just complacent Christians. It’s messy and scary and you might just have to open up and share your life with someone, but don’t all the good things in life cost something?
I’ve been preaching for years but I am just now taking a seminary class on the subject and it has transformed the way I approach the preparation to preach. My professor is Haddon Robinson (one of the top ten most influential preachers according to Christianity Today. He wrote Biblical Preaching which is “Still the preaching primer of choice!” according to Preaching Magazine) so you can imagine the intimidation I felt yesterday when I preached in front of a class of my peers with Dr. Robinson and his little yellow notebook sitting directly to my right.
Does preaching have purpose? I’ve written elsewhere that I believe preaching is Biblical and necessary for the strengthening of the church but in this post I want to describe my personal experience with what happens when a pastor faithfully preaches the Word of God.
Praying the Text
What I want to describe here is something I have experienced many times, not just in preparing a sermon, but also in personal Bible study. However, as I prepared to preach Romans 3:21-26, I remember spending a lot of time in prayer and reflection. These times of prayer change me every time I preach. It helps me to move from thinking “I hope I do well” and “I want a good grade” and “Maybe I will win some kind of preaching class award” to praying “Lord, may I find your Truth from this text” and “Who cares if I get a good grade, if only you will change me through this process”.
Preaching is a Discipline
Prayer helps to reduce my own pride in preaching. Preaching is a discipline that encourages me to pray for humility, to pray for the people that will hear the message, to pray for transformation in my life and theirs. Preparing to preach is a process of thinking Christianly. This isn’t a time to search the internet for someone else’s sermons. It isn’t a last minute scrambling to throw something together because you “have to”. Preaching is a unique exercise in loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is introspective and revealing. I experienced a transformation in my own heart as I wrestled with the main idea of the text.
Preaching is a Process
As I submitted my study to the rigorous discipline of Dr. Robinson’s “stages” of sermon preparation, I was amazed at how articulate I became. I couldn’t just throw something together. I had to wrestle with the text. I had to argue with it. I had to be frustrated by it. I had to ask my wife for help. I had to come up with a way to articulate. When I finally wrote down the words that became my “homiletical idea” it was a word from the Lord. It hit me hard. I literally fell to my knees and wept when God gave it to me. What struck me were the words in Romans 3:26 which says “He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time so that He would BE righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.” After struggling for hours over how to articulate the main idea I wrote, God would not BE a good God, if He had not sent His Son to die. I didn’t get that sentence from John Piper or Mark Driscoll or from someone else’s blog. I received it as a reward from God as I wrestled with Him and His Word. Feel free to disagree with my homiletical idea…feel free to disregard it as common knowledge. But it was so clear to me that this was the word I was to preach for that particular time and place that I was overcome with emotions of gratitude and praise to God for His providence – not just of providing the words for a sermon but of providing us with His Son.
Where We Go Wrong
If I hadn’t waited for that word from the Lord I would’ve settle for something else. I would’ve preached a message that hadn’t gripped my heart. I think preachers often sell themselves short. Many preachers don’t preach a word from the Lord; they preach a plagiarized copy or a watered down version of what God has to say in His Word. If we don’t grapple with the main idea of a text and let it shape us and let it guide our prayer for the congregation and for the world and let it tackle us with its simplicity and its power then we will never be preachers, we will only be talkers. Preaching is discipline. Preaching is a selfless, pastoral act given to the church of God. Preaching is humility. Preaching is a process. If our preaching is anything less then it is disqualified.
What Happens After the Sermon?
What happens after the sermon leaves our mouths? That is not my concern. I don’t need to hear “Good job, pastor!” or get a pat on my back. I don’t need to hear someone talk about how it changed their life. I don’t need an email from someone on the mission field saying I preached a sermon that inspired them to move to Africa. If I prepare to preach with discipline and humility I will know that whatever happens after I preach has nothing to do with me. If I am diligent in my preparation then I will know that God’s Word changed me, that God’s Word presented me with the main idea, that God’s Word shaped how I crafted the sermon, that the Spirit presided over the process and the delivery, and that the Spirit of God was at work in the people’s hearts and minds. Charles Spurgeon entered his pulpit every time praying, “I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit.” A preacher is a servant with a mouth, nothing more.
So these are reflections of my experience in preparing to preach yesterday. What are your thoughts on the purpose of preaching?
Some argue that tithing is not a New Testament Church concept. Others believe that if you are a true Christian you will set aside 10% (or more) of your income each paycheck to give to your local church. Most, on the other hand, feel caught somewhere in between. Regardless of your position on the matter, there is a study that shows a disturbing trend among American Christians concerning our giving. The study specifically deals with tithes in and through the church and I’m sure there is lots of giving that is done through other means (at least I hope so). Nevertheless, the information is troubling and we need to take a serious look at the habit of giving in the church.
But should we make the church a clearing house for all of our charitable giving? Is tithing, or giving of any kind in the church, mandated by Jesus and/or the apostles? What if your budget doesn’t include room for a tithe one month? Does God forgive you that debt? Or should you pay Him back later?
To begin with, let’s look at all the reasons Christians don’t tithe regardless of whether they believe it is encouraged by Jesus or the apostles. According to this study, there are five primary reasons for the fact that “the wealthiest national body of Christian believers at any time in all of church history end up spending most of their money on themselves.”
Basically, Christians in America don’t give because of:
€. Institutionalized Mass Consumerism.
(Translation: Greed, Worldliness, Selfishness, Independence, Christmas)
£. A lack of pastoral teaching on giving.
(Translation: Lack of communication / Pastor is scared of sheep)
$. A confusion about purpose, meaning, and expectations of giving.
(Translation: Lack of communication)
¥. A lack of trust in the elders or the institution of the church to spend the money wisely.
(Translation: If they spend it, it will be wasted…If I spend it, I will be able to buy 367 Starbucks coffees this year.)
¢. The privatization of the topic to the point that no one is held accountable in their finances.
(Translation: Lack of communication / Laziness / Embarrassment for our own greed)
It seems that greed and a failure to communicate are the two biggest reasons people don’t give. The study also confirmed that the 80/20 rule is still at work in our churches. In this case, 20% of the members are giving 86.4% of the total donations to the church. The average giving from all Christian church members comes out to about 2.9% of their total income being given to the church. What do we do with the rest? With Christmas just around the corner I’ll let you figure that out for yourself. Ho! Ho! Ho!
Help Me Spend My Money, Pastor!
One really interesting part of the research was what could be accomplished if people did tithe a full ten percent. In fact, if only the “committed” Christians (as defined in the research) would give 10% of their income there would be an extra $46 billion dollars a year for kingdom work in the American church alone. Again, regardless of whether or not you think people should tithe or that the church will actually be faithful to spend that money wisely…just think what that kind of money could do. A few examples given in the research reveals what that much more money could provide: food, clothing and shelter for ALL 6.5 million current refugees in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East or enough resources to sponsor 20 million needy children worldwide. Is that what the church would spend the money on? Who knows? But it illustrates what could be done if American Christians were more generous.
But none of that addresses whether or not we should tithe from a Biblical standpoint. Is tithing an unnecessary habit for those of us who do our best to tithe whether or not we think we’ve got the money to spend? Or is tithing a necessary habit for those who have given nothing to the church for years and just expect all pastors to have big inheritances that allow them to preach and teach for free?
Yes and No!
I refuse to answer those questions legalistically. I think the possibilities of what could be done if more people gave more to the church is a compelling argument for giving through the church. But should it be ten percent? I’m actually going to come right out and say a big fat “No” on that one. Should we give? Absolutely! But how much? That’s between you and God…but I would suggest that you talk about it with someone else too. The Bible doesn’t clearly mandate a tithe today but I think there are some people who know God is challenging them to increase their giving but they refuse God because of their selfishness. Take, for example, the story of the Rich Young Ruler who came to Jesus and said he had kept all of the commandments of God. Jesus perceived his heart and told him to go and sell everything he had and give it to the poor. Certainly we don’t believe THAT’s what we need to be doing is it? Probably not, but the point is that Jesus knew the man’s heart and knew his greed and corruption. Some people are very generous people and don’t have a problem here…but others need to take a deep look at their spending habits.
How Much Does It Cost?
Maybe instead of thinking we have to tithe ten percent to the church we should consider that everything we have belongs to God and is a blessing from God. Maybe we should take a look at our monthly expenditures and make two columns: “Spent on Me” and “Spent on Others” and see which one is smaller. Maybe we should ask the question, “Does my spending reflect my love for God and love for others or does it just reflect my love for myself?” Maybe we should become more transparent in our churches about our finances: pastors faithfully teaching, members faithfully responding, Christians holding one another accountable, etc. Maybe we need to first ask “What does the Bible say about money in general?” and then decide prayerfully about how much money, time, resources, and talents we should give to the church. Maybe we should be asking, “How much does it cost to follow Jesus?”
In the end, I believe the Bible tells us to give sacrificially. Sometimes we do that through the church. Other times we see a need and give to it. The Bible teaches a lot about money and giving so we don’t have to be stuck in a debate about tithing (notice I decided not to quote Bible verses for or against in this post. Study it for yourself!). Let’s simply give to the causes and to the people that mean the most in our lives and not just store up treasures for ourselves. No need for rules here, like what percentage is Biblical or do we tithe on gross or net income, etc. But when God’s love sweeps us away and we have a passion for the world and for the family of God we can’t help but give generously and sacrificially to others.
Before I publish the second part of my book review on Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today by John Stott, I wanted to address a habit that I’ve seen percolating in the Church today. Stott suggests that for a preacher to be relevant, we must understand the Word and the world. We need to be “bridge-builders” with one foot in the ancient world and one foot in modern culture. Seminary teaches a lot about how to understand the context and culture in which the Bible was written. We learn Hebrew and Greek so that we can understand the historical, grammatical, and lexical data of the text.
But how do we get a better understanding of modern culture? How do we connect with people and share with them the truth of God’s love?
I think the answer is obvious but too many people think they know the answer and that the answer is to watch more movies, wear cool glasses and hats, sip frothy lattes, and immerse themselves in CNN and the New York Times. I love what Ed Stetzer had to say today. He said, “Seems like everyone wants to be missional but when they say “missional” they really mean “edgy,” “innovative,” or “contemporary.” We want to connect with the culture but we are going about it in the wrong way.
Before I give THE answer to the question, “How can we better understand and connect with culture?”, let me first point out the pitfalls that many of my Christian brothers and sisters are falling into:
Watch What They Are Watching
Watch more movies, that’s the answer! Right? TV and movies can provide a glimpse into the thinking of the culture. Movies like Religulous show us how Christianity is perceived and points out some of our own faults as well. Movies like Napolean Dynamite generate a cult following that has glamorized the life of the nerd. TV shows like Friends and Sex in the City have influenced culture and have changed the way we think about sex and relationships. Pop culture influences general culture but that’s not all there is to it.
Let me be clear: Watching more movies will not make Christianity more relevant to the world. Today, a guy named Nick quoted John Piper who encourages us to “turn off the television”. We are wasting our time watching hours and hours of TV and we are justifying it by saying we are trying to understand our culture. I’m not suggesting that movies don’t provide some insight and that we should throw away our TVs. My wife and I have Netflix and watch about one movie per week (which is probably a lot by some standards). I watch a couple of news videos online about five days a week (that way I don’t have to watch the stories that are of no interest to me) and we might watch one or two shows a week on TV. Our TV is probably used a grand total of 4 hours per week. We don’t even have cable.
I’m not asking for a pat on the back. I said all of that to say that I like what Erwin McManus says about being a connoisseur of information rather than a consumer. In an age of information and sensory overload we have to limit our intake to a few choice servings so that we don’t get so saturated with information that we can’t make sense of it all. My wife and I try to spend time with friends, play games, go for walks, etc. rather than just let the TV do all of our entertainment. That way, we don’t have to make excuses for the amount of time that we waste on TV by saying “we’re trying to understand the culture better.” I’ll never understand culture better if I just let culture happen on the screen in front of me.
Understand What They Are Thinking
Another way people try to get a pulse on the culture is by studying philosophy and world-views. This is of definite interest to me as a thinking Christian and enjoy reading and discussing this stuff all the time. I like to study other religions and compare and contrast that with the Bible as an exercise in discipline. I try to engage my mind and the minds of others as I read both Christian thinkers and secular philosophers. But this isn’t the answer either.
Is it helpful to understand postmodernism and how it differs from modernism? Is it helpful to study the various generations (millenials, boomers, busters, etc.) and how they act and think? Is it helpful to compare world-views and study various religions? Should we have an understanding of politics and global interconnectivity? Yes is the answer to all of those questions. These are helpful things to know but they are not necessary for understanding culture. A follower of Jesus can relevantly reach out to the culture without ever hearing the term “postmodern” much less study it and be an expert on it. A person can engage culture and never think through the characteristics of a postmodern world-view.
Condemn What They Are Doing
One other way people try and engage culture is by yelling at them. I don’t see Jesus holding any signs by the side of the road cursing people for their sin. Yet, there are people who don’t care to watch the “devil’s box” or try and understand what the culture is thinking. They would rather “engage” culture by simply bashing a 50 pound King James Bible over their heads and condemn them all to hell. Many of these “Christians” seem to have little concern about what people need. They prefer to keep the world at arms length and believe they are holy and blameless and are doing God’s work by shouting at people about their doom. Is there ever a time when we should confront someone on an issue that we know is displeasing to God? Yes, but I believe the best way to do that is in the context of a relationship, which brings us to THE way to understand and connect with culture:
Share Your Life With Them
If you are a thinking Christian and you are concerned about the ethos of the Church (that is, the habits and the way of life of God’s family and the character and reputation that we have with those outside the Church) then you have probably already intuitively guessed the right way to understand the culture around us. It’s simple: Share your life with them! That’s right, you have to know people. The best way to understand culture is to build relationships with your neighbors and co-workers. Go to parties, participate in school activities. Don’t do it with some ulterior motive to win them to Christ. Simply get to know them. Enjoy the relationship. Don’t try and perform or convert. Be yourself. Listen to their hopes and fears and dreams and convictions. Share with them your hopes and fears and dreams and convictions. Be a friend. Laugh and cry with them.
Colossians 4:5 says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” Stop wasting your time “brushing up” on culture through stuffy books and pointless movies. Plant your foot firmly in the Word of God and the other foot firmly in the world in which you live. Live out your convictions and your faith but don’t push people away. Think Christianly about your relationships. Relationships take time and people want to know that you care about them and not just about getting another convert for Jesus.
It’s interesting that In Luke 10 Jesus says we should love our neighbor as ourselves. When asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. A person from a different culture and a different world-view helps a man who is in need. He sacrifices his time, money, and maybe even reputation by helping this man. When the religious leaders pass by on the other side, it is the Good Samaritan who stops and helps. Jesus spent a lot of time with “tax collectors and sinners” and he was rejected by religious leaders as a result. He did it, not to understand them or to be like them, but to love them and to develop a relationship with them. Shouldn’t we do the same? Let’s determine how we should act and what habits we should form by what Jesus said and did. How did he become relevant to culture?
Jesus was relevant because he was relational. Share your life with others. Love God and Love People. This is the WAY we should LIVE.
Related Post: What is ChurchETHOS?
Subscribe to this blog!
Join the conversation!
I am a seminary student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Each day brings new insights so I thought I would try and reflect upon my day and the big ideas I’ve learned. It’s hard to find space to ponder and meditate when I’ve got so much to read, so many papers to write, so many lectures to attend, and so many tests to take. But I think the most valuable times in seminary are the times we can reflect on the big ideas, talk them over with friends, and put them into practice. These posts will be an attempt to engage with you who are reading so that we can process these ideas conversationally.
How do we go about forming an ecclesiology? What are the essential ingredients of church life that should be universal to all followers of Jesus living in community? Are there Scriptural norms that should inform the way we live life together and the beliefs that we believe together?
The Pre-Constantinian Model
Today I was speaking with a couple of friends about a book we have been reading called Journey to Jesus by Robert Webber. I really enjoyed the book but just like most books about ecclesiology, the author seems to get stuck on one system or one paradigm that seems best to him. A lot of it is great stuff but I find it hard to believe that this is the best or only way. This particular author wants to renew the ancient traditions and rites of the pre-Constantinian church. I like studying the ancient church but I think this is a bit short-sighted. Even the second and third century church was a product of its culture. Some of that culture is similar but much of it has changed in our Post-Constantinian Christendom of today.
Another friend of mine believes we need to focus on today’s culture to the exclusion (almost) of the ancient way of life of the church. He would argue that in our postmodern culture, preaching and singing are antiquated and no longer connect. Organized religion is out and there is no need for elders and hierarchy. He would say that every believer has access to the Bible today so there is no need for one person to teach, let’s learn communally. Again, I find this to be limited and, though I think it’s important to understand the modern culture, I don’t want to reject all of the ancient practices and habits of the church.
New Testament Models
Then there are those who believe we should be going back to the New Testament church. This sounds great, but what do they mean? The Corinthian Church? The Church in Ephesus, Jerusalem, or Laodicea? Do we model the leadership of our churches around Paul’s tent-making, bivocational ministry or his full-time missionary journeys? I love discovering principles in the New Testament that informs the way we structure (or unstructure) church life today but is it right to do the house church thing or the large church thing…or both separately, or both together?
Yet another friend has rejected all of these concepts and is trying to be like Jesus before the church was established. He believes the church should grow and develop organically as we try and live like Jesus. So, he spends time in his neighborhood making disciples and gathering them together in intense and intentional community. As leaders emerge he empowers them to serve God and make disciples in their own neighborhood. If it grows into a large church, fine. But if not, he will always be discipling men and women to become true followers of Christ.
Wonderful ideas! One person is concerned with embracing our modern culture and making church relevant to them. Another person wants to revisit the ancient church and reestablish its rites and routines. Another person studies the New Testament for insight. A fourth person tries to live like Jesus lived with His followers. Why can’t all of these be viable options? What do they have in common? I think everyone would say our Greatest Commission is to make disciples. Is it best to do that in a large church or a house church, a postmodern church or a traditional church? No matter what way a person decides, I think there is room for all of them, even all of them together as one church, perhaps. I know a girl that never went to church until she found a small group of believers who met in a house and ate meals together and shared life. I know a guy who hated the intense scrutiny of such an intimate setting and needed (at first) the anonymity of the large crowd and the option to go deeper as the Lord led. Could one local church incorporate all of these ideas in their ecclesiology?
An Integrated Ecclesiology
As for me, where do I land on the issue? I’m not sure. I was the pastor for four years of a new church that focused on intentional, relational discipleship. Could I one day pastor a large church that has programs and policies and procedures? Maybe, if I can still invest in a few people one-on-one and encourage church planting rather than simply making our church as large as possible (numerically). Could I one day pastor a small house church where we don’t preach sermons or sing songs of praise together but spend most of our time in table fellowship? Maybe, if at various times we can gather together with a larger body of believers to celebrate what God is doing corporately. Whether in small or large churches I think the essentials remain the same.
So here are the essentials in my opinion: Love God, Love People, Make Disciples, and teach them to do the same. If there are ways that the ancient or New Testament churches have found to do that successfully that still work today, then let’s integrate that into what we are doing. If there are new ways in modern culture that demand a shift in thinking about how we do those essential things today, then let’s do that too. But let’s not get swept away by methodology and “tactics”. Let’s meditate on how we can love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and how we can love our neighbor as ourselves. Let’s pray for opportunities to make disciples and teach them to obey all that our Lord has commanded. What has He commanded? To Love God, Love People and to make disciples and to teach them to obey. It’s a beautiful circle that is clear and unchanging regardless of culture. These are the things we are to do as a church. It’s simple. It’s hard, but it’s simple. Love God, Love People, Make Disciples, and repeat.
I think Paul had this in mind when he told Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” Here we find four “generations” of disciples. Paul taught Timothy to love God, love people, make disciples and teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded. Timothy then entrusted that to reliable men who would then go on to teach others. These commands that we have been taught to entrust to others is why we have a church today. The church has stood the test of time because of the “ecclesiology” that Jesus instigated at the very beginning. Sure there are other commands and other aspects of church life: sacrifice, hospitality, preaching, fellowship, service, etc. But everything that we do should be out of love for God and people and from our desire to help others to do the same.
Related Post: An Unnatural Life
Subscribe to this blog!
Join the conversation!