I recently read an article that my pastor posted about how the church does not exist to serve. It is a fairly well written article, and there are several good points about it. I want to note before proceeding that this piece is not to attack the article and its valid points, but to provide perspective from the other side. The article referenced can be found here.
First, merely for perspective, a bit about me: I accepted Christ in 1988, and was then and am now an enthusiastic Christian with a desire to serve, grow, and minister. I spent a year in a small Baptist Bible College until my funds ran out, and have spent the remaining years desperately trying to find a church where I belong in the sense that they need me as much as I need them. I have not found that church, and that is, in all candor, why this page exists. I am long past the bitterness and have moved on to accept that God's will for my life does not include a role in active ministry.
But that is enough about me. Now let's move on to the article.The first point the author presents is as follows:
A church is a place to gather weekly for worship, but it’s up to me whether I will experience the presence of God. (John 4:24)
This point is spot on, but it does a very slight disservice in ignoring the role of the ministers who present the service. If you're not connecting with the majority of your congregation, you're doing it wrong.
Now I admit if I'm the standalone guy who is not getting it while the others are, we have a problem. But if your church is not growing spiritually, it may be time to head home and look in the mirror. I have seen churches of all style and no substance, and it's pretty tough to grow when the soil isn't deep enough for you to spread our your roots.
The second point is one where I begin to take issue:
2. A church is a family I can belong to, but it’s up to me to develop friendships. (Proverbs 18:24)
This seems good, and it is, again, more true than not, but it isn't the whole picture. Building friendships is a two way street, and it is equally the responsibility of the members of the church to work on friendship building with people who come in their doors. That is a major weakness of evangelism; so much effort is spent in bringing people to the cross that little effort is spent on them once they get there.
Now, I will say that if someone isn't taking advantage of the opportunities the church provides, then they are not holding up their end of the bargain. I have, however, in my lifetime, observed one truth about people: there are some people who are very hard to love in a Christian way. I gather from a lifetime of reactions that I am one of them, but I have certainly never tried to be. It is our job to reach out, to love them in spite of the obstacles, and to love them through whatever traits they have. These things are temporary; their souls are eternal.
I have long said that if a church was not ready to accept an alcoholic who came in the door just hours removed from their last drink, they are not truly evangelical. People come broken, and while it is not our job to "fix" them, it IS our job to provide a place where they can be healed, and to direct them in all sincerity to the One who CAN heal.
Matthew 28:19 urges us:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
As I once told a friend, we're doing a great job of going, not so much of making disciples. Mentoring and discipleship are as important as evangelism, perhaps more so.
Let me say before moving on that I recognize that this is easier said than done. But we are called to do difficult, even impossible, things through Christ.
3. A church is place where gifted teachers will explain the Bible and how I can apply it to my life, but it’s up to me to align my life with God’s truth. (James 1:22)
This is where the disciple making part of the church comes in.
I came to Christ in jail because of a serious misstep I made when I was barely 18. What I found when I was inside the jail was an amazing support group of sincere Christians, and that followed me outside the jail while I was still in the Pacific Northwest.
About six months after I was released, I was driving through a bad neighborhood. As I drove by, I briefly caught a glimpse of one of the men who had regularly attended our fellowship. He didn't look good. You could see at a glance he had fallen back into his old lifestyle, his old habits.
This image has haunted me since that day. As a more mature Christian, I'd like to think I would put the brakes on, hop out of the car, and go speak with him, and invite him over to visit. I can't say in all honesty that I would, but I would like to think I would.
To put the entire burden on me to align my life with God's truth is to put aside a great deal of the Gospel. The truth is, I am fallen, you are fallen, and we often need the assistance of others (including and especially the Holy Spirit) to make that connection. Proverbs 27:17 tells us:
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
Galatians 6:2 further elaborates on this point:
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Yes, ultimately I, and only I, am responsible for the steps I take to draw closer to God. But as Paul compares us to "babes in Christ", I would say that process is better achieved through the assistance and encouragement of those around me. It's a process that must be relearned, and it is up to each of us to help teach us.
The article uses the example of a money course, and asks if they've made the changes where he had encouraged them. And yet, even the author of the course he is clearly referencing will tell you the relearning process is exceedingly difficult.
Looking at the political landscape, I can't help but realize we are about twenty years removed from the height of the "Promisekeepers" movement. And it looks very compellingly like a lot of the promises made in that heightened state have not been kept. I remember standing in a chorus of men's voices filling Soldier Field in Chicago, and I can't help but wonder how many of those men have left their wives, have abandoned those covenants, and forgotten what they stood for. And while it would be wrong to blame it on the church, there is good cause to wonder if the fellowship they have experienced since has nurtured and encouraged them to keep those vows.