I think a question church leaders need to be asking is, “What aspects of Jesus’ relationship with His twelve closest disciples were meant to be universal to all of Jesus’ disciples?”
We know that some things are probably going to be a bit different two thousand years later in our modern society. Most of us aren’t going to be asked to abandon our businesses, leave our families for months and even years on end to travel the dusty countryside and not know from one night to the next if we are going to be sleeping in a random person’s home or sleeping outside with a rock for a pillow.
On the other hand, in many of our churches today, the most that people are asked to commit to by church leaders is to attend a large gathering for one hour a week and tithe so that we can pay the light bill.
Radical discipleship for us today doesn’t really look like either of the above scenarios. We often consider the relationship that Peter, James and John had with Jesus, but we forget about Lazarus, Mary, Martha, Bartimaeus, Susanna and Joanna. These were men and women whose lives were transformed by their encounter with Jesus but it didn’t compel them to be with Jesus every minute of the day. More importantly, it didn’t compel Jesus to ask them to have the same relationship with Him that the Twelve had. In other words, they weren’t invited to spend the next 2 or 3 years wandering around with Jesus.
Of course, church leaders today aren’t promoting that sort of commitment anyway. Today, it is more common to bend to the lowest common denominator. A weekly service, a challenge to give to the church and to the needy, a 15 minute quiet time, and be a good father, mother, husband, wife, and don’t cheat on your taxes. We don’t do too good a job asking people to go deeper in their commitment because we don’t really know what that means.
So what was it about Jesus’ relationship with His twelve closest followers that we are meant to continue today? When Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17, He asks the Father that He protect them (from stumbling?) “so that they may be one as We are one.” Then, for all disciples, He prays the same thing: “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 sent Me.” (17:21) A relationship with God and with each other takes time. It takes sacrifice. It takes love. Certainly, in my marriage, I don’t leave it at one hour a week. Relationships take effort and we are asking way too little if all we are asking is a couple of hours a week.
But relationships aren’t scripted either. That’s why we can’t say that a disciple is more committed if she shows up at the church building 10 hours a week rather than 3 hours a week. We need to help people “practice the presence of God” and show a willingness to get together with other believers. Invite a couple over for dinner. Meet someone for coffee. Volunteer together at the homeless shelter. Gather for Bible study and prayer at someone’s home. Be consistent. Be available. Do it because you love your family and want to know how to pray for them.
The universal call to discipleship may not look exactly like the Twelve, but it is every bit as radical and transformational. It affects how we work, how we play, and how we live. For some, it may involve more time than we are currently giving, but for others it may simply be the quality of time spent that needs to change. The most important thing is that we are in relationship with God and with the Body and Jesus prayed that we would all be One. Oneness won’t happen with the back of someone’s head, it happens face to face.
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.
I have a passion for the life of the local church. The purpose of ChurchETHOS is to redeem the prophetic and influential role of the church in American society. Ethos basically means the habits or character of a group or individual. It can also mean the sort of reputation one person or group has with another person or group. So, ChurchETHOS explores how we can restore habits and customs that conform to the Way, Truth, and Life of Jesus and develop a good relationship with those outside the church.
So here are a few of my top concerns for the local church:
1. Members are just going through the motions.
Many Christians spend only about one hour per week involved with their church. They go to a church building. They know when to stand or sit. They know when to sing or listen. Most importantly, they know when the “hour of power” is supposed to be over. And may it never be that the pastor ever forget.
2. Prayer is not effective.
Not that the prayer of a righteous person isn’t effective, or that God isn’t listening. Instead, most of our churches are infected with lazy Christians who have no vibrant relationship with God and think that prayer is just rubbing the lamp and the genie-god comes out and does everything we want it to do.
3. The local church isn’t led by the Spirit of God.
It’s not just the people in the church that concern me, it’s the leadership. Elders often think they are the decision makers and they lack the close connection with God necessary for the health of the church. Acts 14 gives a good example of the elders being led by the Spirit to act.
4. Preaching is talking.
Often the preaching elder doesn’t know how to exhort or rebuke or encourage. He doesn’t spend time discovering what God is saying to the Body through His word. Preaching becomes a series of talking points that lack persuasion or correction. Preaching isn’t prophetic anymore.
5. The American Dream is more important than the Kingdom of God.
For most people, life with Christ is crowded out by regular life. Working hard to be successful, to make money, to become more powerful, these are the reasons most members have for why they can’t invest more in God’s kingdom. They can’t imagine how their wants
needs could possibly be provided for without working 60+ hours a week. Since prayer isn’t effective, surely God can’t be relied upon to fulfill His promises.
6. Serving and hospitality are no longer values.
Since the American Dream is such a powerful force, there’s little time left to help someone in need. We have our excuses: “Based on how they dress, if I give them money they’ll probably just spend it on alcohol or cigarettes.” “I can barely afford cable TV and the payments on my flat screen, much less give to the church.”
7. Making disciples is for the paid professionals
In fact, everything that needs to get done around the church is up to the pastor to do it. At the heart of this is the fact that members are no longer following Jesus. They don’t care about what He said. They don’t care about what He did. They don’t care that they are supposed to be following His example. Primarily what Jesus wants us to do is to love God, love people and make disciple-making disciples. There aren’t even a whole lot of paid professionals (pastors) that are fulfilling that commission.
These are just a few of the concerns I have for the church. What concerns you? What are your ideas for how to solve these problems?
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.
Recently I was asked to answer a couple of questions about the purpose of the Church and its role in society…a topic that is in keeping with the subject of ChurchETHOS. Therefore, I decided to post my answers here. I got a little crafty and used Ephesians 4:11-13 to answer my question. There, we can find God raising up leaders for the Church to accomplish three things. Certainly there are other purposes but it was intriguing to find that these three purposes answer the following three questions.
Q. What is the main purpose(s) of the church, and therefore, what should be our measures of church/Kingdom success?
The main purpose of the Church is to make disciples. When Paul tells the Ephesians (4:11-13) that God gave some to the Church as apostles, some as prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, it was for about three reasons. First of all, it was to train saints in the work of ministry. This training harkens back to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. We are told to “Go and make disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” We make disciples and teach them to be obedient to the commands of God. What are those commands? Love God, love people, make disciples, and teach them to obey my commands. It becomes a cycle much like the cycle that Paul initiates and encourages in 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) Paul is investing in Timothy who is investing in “faithful men” who will “teach others also”. This cycle is what has kept the Church in existence for 2,000 years.
How would you explain the current decaying of our culture and society in light of our current state of so many examples of successful churches?
This second question also leads us to the second purpose of the Church that Paul charges the leaders to accomplish. Therefore, I am still answering Question 1 while at the same time answering Question 2. Hope that’s not confusing. The second purpose of the church leaders is “to build up the body of Christ”. In other words, the Church is designed to grow. All organisms do it. We don’t have to be taught how to grow, but we do have to be taught how to stay healthy. The Church could be making a bigger difference in the world, but we aren’t healthy. As you mention in your question there are many examples of successful churches, but by what standard? Are they making disciples? Are the leaders encouraging growth that is both numerical AND in maturity? Meanwhile, the majority of churches are floundering. The world sees examples of perversion in the Church broadcast by the media and they don’t know what to think about the Church. Most of society has rejected Christ because of people who call themselves Christians but “deny Him by their lifestyle” as Billy Graham famously said. The leaders are given to the Church to build up the body of Christ.
What do you think the church can and should do in order to truly make a greater impact in our society and culture? To what extent is this possible?
Again, let me use the third purpose in Ephesians 4 to answer the third question. The leaders are given to the Church to do what? To make disciples, to build up the body, and finally, to reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son. What must be done by the church to have a greater impact in society? We have to stand unified against injustice and evil but also unified in our love for God and people. Most of the world only knows what we stand against (abortion, homosexuality, Catholics, Baptists, etc.) but rarely does a community or a city know what a church stands FOR. Most churches in a city or town are AGAINST each other because of competition or differing theologies or different races, etc. We aren’t really doing a good job of showing our unity with each other, much less show the world that we are unified. In order to make a greater impact in our society we have to be unified in our support of other believers and we also need to be unified in our love for our neighbor, especially those in need. Let’s let the world know that we love them. Let’s let the world know that we are unified against evil and are seeking and praying for the good of the city in which we live. All three purposes (make disciples, grow, and be unified) are necessary to make an impact in our culture. If we are the body of Christ but look anemic and unhealthy, no one will care about what we have to offer the world. If people’s lives are not being transformed through discipleship, the Church will cease to exist.
Ethos is a term from classical Greek that Aristotle used to identify the character or quality of an orator. When a person got up to speak but had spent no time establishing a connection with the audience, the audience was less likely to hear him out.
The word ethos also means the fundamental character, habits, or values of a community or person. Together, these meanings have to do with how we live and whether or not the culture around us will take us seriously. ChurchETHOS seeks to apply the term ethos to the way the Church behaves. What are it’s fundamental habits and character? What does a church do or not do? What habits do we need to form? What habits do we need to break? Ultimately, do these habits, that is, our ethos, help to transform culture? What are we saying? How are we acting? Is anyone listening and looking?
These are the questions ChurchETHOS will attempt to address. They are my thoughts on what it means to be a part of the family of God. The global Church is fractured into thousands of shards because of false doctrines and bad habits. It is important to think critically but lovingly about the doctrines and habits of the Church in order to have right belief (orthodoxy) and right practice (orthopraxy). Understanding the Body of Christ from a Biblical perspective under the guidance of the Spirit of God will help us to develop an ethos that will be faithful to God’s will and relevant to the culture around us. Jesus told His disciples that “[the world] will know that you are my followers because of your love for one another.” As one person put it: the Church is the best apologetic for the gospel the world will ever see. So what is the truth about the way we live?