The church as a body, not a grocery store

ghislaine_howard_the_washing_of_the_feet

Ghislaine Howard- The Washing of Feet (1953)

I heard it recently on a podcast: We have set up church to be so convenient and easy for folks to get their dose of church on Sunday that we have robbed people of the life-changing joy that comes from taking up your cross and following Jesus as part of the body of Christ.

That’s what the church is, the body of Christ.

A Body Not a Grocery Store

We are a body. We need each other. But church in America feels more like a grocery store, than a body. We go there, get what we need, I mean, want, and go home. A body is dependent on all it’s members doing their part. At a grocery store, the manager, clerks and stockers depend on each other to do their part and all the customers depend on the manager, clerks and stockers to do their part so they can go home. In America, the pastor, worship leader, kids ministry leader and staff are the people we church goers depend on to do their part, so we can get what we want and go home.

Maybe that’s why we have celebrity pastors and famous churches. Because the customers like them. They like the products they have. They like their sales and discounts and service. Good message. Great band. Great kids ministry. Great youth ministry….  We consume what the American grocery-store church has to offer and we don’t depend on each other.

Three or four years ago, my church closed its doors. My pastor retired from pastoring and the elders decided to close the church. It was hard. I tried different churches and just felt discouraged. The churches I visited seemed to put out a lot of effort to make their products pallatable and convenient, but there was no blood flowing between us. We weren’t tied together by the sinews and ligaments of the word of Christ, confession of sin, repentance and faith. The costly gospel of Christ laying down his life for me and bidding me to take up my cross and follow him into resurrection life wasn’t held high. Convenient church was. But God was faithful, as he always is, and he led me to Valley Life Surprise, where I saw Jesus, high and lifted up in the preaching. And so there he bid me to die. Not to take what was convient and tasty and go home. But to take up my cross and follow Jesus in the joy of how he redeems people!

 It Was Me, Not The Church’s Problem

I feel like I should say here that had I not just taken the convenient grocery store message of the churches I visited and gone home, but had intentionally started laying down my life, investing it in others at those churches, I’m sure I would have found the Body there too. I’m super thankful for Valley Life Surprise, but it’s not that they had the best deal for me that has caused me to love my church. It’s that I started following Jesus again in laying down my life for others at Valley Life Surprise and found myself connected to the Body of Christ.

Why I Stopped Listening to Celebrity Pastors

In those years that I didn’t have a church I listened to John Piper a lot. And I’m thankful for his messages, but shortly after I found my church, I stopped listening to Piper. Not because I don’t appreciate his messages, but because I was consuming them, instead of connecting with the body.

In one sermon my pastor said something like, “Tim Keller or Matt Chandler aren’t going to help you when you’re in need because they’re not here. But your community group will, this local church will.” And it struck me. I had fallen into consuming messages and had become a limp part of the body.

When I stopped listening to celebrity pastors, and started listening to my pastor’s sermons during the week, and started meeting with members of the church for lunch; going to community groups with them, sharing burdens, praying, dreaming, writing curriculum, playing with their kids and talking to them about Jesus, muscle and faith started to grow. When I started spending Saturday nights making communion bread, and 4 hours of my Sundays pouring into moms, dads, kids, grandparents, women, children, teens and even more hours throughout the week opening Bibles and my life up to people I would never have connected with apart from the love of the gospel of Christ, I started to thrive.

There is a real church, a real body of believers who are captivated by Jesus, who have put all their hope in him and are obeying him in taking up their cross and following him. We die a little everyday, but we also become more and more alive everyday.  We become more like Jesus because we’re his body. We need each other. We bleed for each other. We feed each other. We comfort each other. We confront each other. We are inconvenienced for each other. We encourage each other. We weep with each other. We laugh with each other. We lay down our lives for each other.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. -Romans 12:1-13

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