ChurchETHOS

A Gathering Church

Posted in body of Christ, christian thought, fellowship by Nathan Creitz on May 6, 2009

img_2299What should Christians be doing when we gather together?

There are all sorts of people who want to know the answer to that question:
– Non-Christians who are wondering if there’s anything to this following Jesus business.
– Ex-Christians who are leaving the church because their time with other Christians seemed like a waste.
– Christians who are sitting in seats looking at the back of people’s heads wondering if there’s more to the Christian life.
– Pastors who are scratching their heads wondering what happened to all the people.

I’m sure there are others demanding answers and I understand where each of these groups is coming from. There are also other questions that we should be asking: How often should Christians get together? Where should we meet together? How long should we be meeting together? Who should lead our times together? Should anyone be leading anything?

The operative word in all of these questions is “should”. (You thought it was going to be “together” didn’t you?) We all know something is wrong. We all know there’s something missing. Something needs to change! What is it? What is it that should be? Doesn’t the Bible talk about Christian fellowship, brotherly love, you know, all those “one anothers”? We are missing the mark in our interdependence and interconnectedness with one another and something should be done about it.

So, what should Christians be doing when we get together?

We should be Loving one another

If there is someone in your church fellowship that you refuse to talk to then YOU have a problem. I don’t care what he or she did, if you know there is a wedge between the two of you then you are being disobedient to God if you aren’t attempting to reconcile with them.

If something comes between me and my wife I don’t give her the silent treatment indefinitely…we work it out. There are too many people who refuse to worship with other Christians because they’ve got a problem with someone else in the body. That is a big problem.

Colossians 3:14 says, “Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.” The “above all” refers to the short list of things we should be putting on as Christians: hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, etc. Those are the sorts of things we express to one another because of our love. Love wraps all those other gifts into a beautiful package that can be given away daily to our church family.

We should be Praying for one another

Praying for one another sounds easy doesn’t it? I think most Christians know that when we get together somebody needs to pray. I hate when I’m asked to pray simply because I’m ordained. Like I have some special connection with God that no one else has. We think the Model Prayer in Matthew 6 goes something like this:

Our Father who art in heaven,
bless Tom’s half-sister Ethel.
And for my toenail
that’s now ingrown
it hurts as it has all day.
Give us today our daily desires
and be with all people
as all people have need of prayers from us.
For yours is the ability
and the responsibility
to take care of us forever. Amen.

Okay, I kind of feel bad for being sarcastic about the way we sometimes spend our prayer time in our church gatherings…I’m over it.

We have to stop spending all of our prayer time praying for those twice removed from us. God’s desire is that we pray for His kingdom and glory. That’s priority one! Praise him, exalt him, ask him to use you to advance his kingdom, etc. A close second to that is praying for one another. Open up! Share what God is doing in your life. What spiritual challenges are you facing? Where are you being tempted? Finally, after you’ve spent 98% of the time praying for God’s glory and for one another, now if it’s important to ask for prayer for Tom’s half-sister Ethel, then I guess you are free to do so.

Praying for Ethel is safe because it doesn’t expose our inner turmoil. We might actually have to admit that we don’t have everything together. That’s hard, but we aren’t truly praying for one another if we’re only praying through a laundry list of people and problems who aren’t sitting in the room at the moment.

Be an adult and share!

We should be Caring for one another

To care for one another means we have to know one another on a deep enough level to know each other’s needs. A Christian should always be asking this question: What needs am I uniquely positioned by God to meet today?

picture-13Maybe you are meant to meet the needs of your spouse or children, your neighbor, your friend, your pastor, or your student. Maybe you have the ability to meet a financial need. Maybe you have the blessing of time that you can give to someone. Maybe you are able to listen or teach or advise or encourage or give joy or build or share or volunteer or sing or cook or hold a hand or repair or provide a shoulder. Find a need. Meet a need.

We should be Trusting one another

My friend Mark recently gave me a point to ponder. He asked, “Have you ever thought about how Jesus got the disciples to trust one another?” We had been talking about how at least two of the disciples had political views of hatred towards the Romans and then there was Matthew who had sold out his fellow Jews to work for the Romans – collecting taxes no less.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a whole lot of glimpses at the interpersonal relationships of the disciples other than the arguments they got into and the times Jesus had to correct their foolishness. Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it? Regardless of our political or cultural or generational outlook, we need to learn how to trust one another. It takes time, it takes vulnerability, it takes effort, it takes Colossians 3:12-17, it takes a lot but it’s worth everything we put into it.

We should be Challenging one another

I’ll give you another sentence from Colossians 3: “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” (v. 15) I also love Hebrews 10:24-25, which 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…”

picture-3So, our meetings are characterized by encouragement, concern for one another, prompting each other to love and good works, and consistency according to the writer of Hebrews. The first verse from Paul to the Christians in Colossae says we are to teach and admonish one another, which is how the “Word of Christ” becomes richly indwelt among us. This includes a sermon that a pastor might give to everyone but it also includes a timely word, rebuke, encouragement, or advice between two or three friends.

Conclusion: A Vision for the Church

So how long and how often should we gather together? Where should we be meeting? When? The answer is, wherever and whenever and as long and as often as it takes to truly and deeply connect with each other as described above.

If you think you can accomplish all of the above in only one hour a week, or if you think you should be getting all of the above in only one hour a week, then you don’t understand what it means to follow Jesus. However, that doesn’t mean an hour or two with a large gathering of people isn’t important – far from it.

Imagine groups of three or four or ten or eleven or however many Christians coming together throughout the week praying and caring and trusting one another deeply, consistently, faithfully. They call each other when they are having a crisis. They can’t wait to share good news with their small group of fellow believers. They connect with each other often because they love each other. They’ve become family.

Now, when all these interconnected groups of loving, caring, praying people gather together with other small groups of loving, caring, praying people there is really a cause for celebration. They don’t just show up for a Sunday song and sermon, they are expecting God to challenge them and move them and change them. The “Sunday service” is valuable because people who are sharing the experience of fellowship are coming together to lift up their voices and worship God…together.

There are too many people throwing away the one hour Sunday service because it is meaningless and lifeless to them. They never realized they were supposed to live a life of discipleship beyond 12PM on Sunday. The answer isn’t to give up on that one hour, the answer is to give a few more hours and commit yourself to fellowship with other believers.

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A Going Church

Posted in body of Christ, christian habits, discipleship, missiology by Nathan Creitz on April 28, 2009
image courtesy of txd

image courtesy of txd

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?!

Misplaced Priorities

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!

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Naming Your Small Group Ministry

Posted in community, discipleship by Nathan Creitz on April 16, 2009

I hate trying to figure out titles for church related ministries. It’s not always necessary. Titles tend to confine a person or organization into a narrowed definition. On the other hand, “small group ministry” as a title is merely descriptive and doesn’t tell you anything about the goals and purpose of the groups.

Description or Purpose?

In my previous church we used the term “community groups” to indicate that we were hoping to foster community by being intentional about meeting together with a small group of people. Not bad. There are “fellowship groups”, “life groups”, “home groups” and “Bible-study groups”. These titles tend to intentionally or unintentionally, for better or worse, confine your group to focus on fellowship or on life or on homes or on the Bible.

Some of those titles are descriptive, others have to do with the purpose of the group. A home group simply indicates that the group meets in a home. A life group indicates that the group wants to learn how to live life together as followers of Jesus. You get the idea. Each title gives a description or a purpose to the group. There is nothing wrong with any of these terms. The problem is choosing one.

Jesus’ Small Group Ministry

So, I’ve been asking myself a question: What do we call the “small group” of people that Jesus led? We usually call them the Disciples. Well, that small group has gotten to be pretty large as all of us who follow Christ are disciples. That’s good to remember when we encourage small group leaders to foster growth in their groups. “The Disciples” is a good term because it tells us who they are and the purpose for which they are together is presumably for discipleship.

The Disciples were also called The Twelve. Twelve is a descriptive term that merely reflects that this close-knit group was, in fact, small. It wouldn’t do to call our small groups “The Twelve”. Like, “I’m going to go hang out with the Twelve tonight.” Especially if your group actually consists of nine members. A descriptive term merely describes reality. That’s why “small group” is a basic term that is functional and helpful even though people will say, “But ‘small group’ isn’t in the Bible” or “That sounds so formal.” Fine, it’s got its pros and cons but it doesn’t hurt anything to refer to gatherings of a small group of people as small groups.

My Favorite Names for Groups

Anyway, all of this reflection has led me to rank these names for small groups in order of personal preference:

1. Discipleship Groups (81% satisfaction) – It’s descriptive, it indicates the purpose of the group but it also reminds us of who we are: disciples. I’m basing this group name on my reflection of the question “What do we call the small group that Jesus led?” I think this is my new favorite name for small groups.

2. Life Groups (74% satisfaction) – I think Life Groups is a pretty good name. A healthy small groups ministry will be encouraging people to not only believe but to live the Truth. It’s important for us to put our faith in action. If Christians were living the life they were supposed to our country and our world would be a different place. A small group is a warm and loving environment where faithful followers of Jesus are incubated to maturity.

3. Absolutely No Name (58% satisfaction) – There would be some benefit to going completely organic and going out of our way not to give these gatherings a name. The problem here is that if we are too loose and eschew any sense of order and structure then that’s exactly what we will get. No definitions, no values, no set times, no stated purpose, etc. = perish. The Laws of Entropy apply even to our church and our small groups. As many people have noted before me; structure is like the fireplace and the Spirit is the fire. No one is trying to suggest that the success of any group has to do exclusively with what it’s called or with it’s vision statement. Still, there is some value to intentionally going with no names…it just doesn’t go in the bulletin very well. I tend towards less structure but I value a sense of guidance and organization here and there.

What does your church use to describe or give purpose to your small groups? What are the limitations to giving groups of people some sort of name? What are the benefits?

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The Case for Community

Posted in christian habits, community, discipleship by Nathan Creitz on January 23, 2009

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?

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Tithing Ethos: The Habit of Giving in the Church

Posted in body of Christ, christian habits, church reform by Nathan Creitz on November 12, 2008

20-dollar-bill-new-front-back

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?

Seasons GREEDings

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.

Legalistically Tender

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.

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What is the purpose of the Church?

Posted in body of Christ, cultural relevance by Nathan Creitz on October 23, 2008

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.

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What is ChurchETHOS?

Posted in christian thought, cultural relevance by Nathan Creitz on October 21, 2008

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?