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

3 lessons from a seminary podcast

I did a lot of driving yesterday and today.  The German Shepherd we rescued late last year was scheduled for neutering today in east Mesa, about an hour and 15 minutes of heavy traffic metropolis driving away. Driving on a six lane highway through Phoenix in 112 degree weather is not in my top 100,000 favorite things to do.  But since the dog’s procedure was paid for by the previous owner at this location it was the option I chose.  The first half of today I was Uber-Mom.  Transporting child B to beginner saxophone practice, then child A to the high school summer conditioning program for incoming athletes and then picking up child B and enjoying a 1 hour break before taking child B to summer advanced band practice with his clarinet.  That brought us up to 11 am.  A quick trip to the grocery store, then to pick up child A and B from their various locations rounded out the morning.

For me, lots of driving equals lots of thinking. I talk to God, to myself, solve problems in my head, sometimes create problems in my head, and chew on various ideas and thoughts.  There are a few podcasts I enjoy listening to also.  This morning I listened to the For The Church podcast out of Midwestern Seminary.  It was about lessons learned from the collapse of Mars Hill Church.

I’m a mom of teenage boys, a wife, a nurse… I have no theological education.  I only have an associates degree in nursing.  So why listen to a podcast from a seminary?  I find teachings geared toward pastors and teacher and missionaries have much application to me as a mom and wife. In those roles I feel the call on my life to be a disciple-maker.  And as a woman in the Christ’s global and historic church, I feel the need to listen to the leaders in my time and culture in the church.  I listen to know how to pray.  I listen to get sober eyes.  I listen to identify truth and truth-twisting.  I love the church.  I love the people who, like me, peculiarly love the Savior they’ve never seen.  Listening to this podcast today about the fall of Mars Hill Church I took away a couple applications for myself personally.

1) Don’t get fixed on one preacher.  I should take inventory of my habits in listening to preachers.  Am I at church because that preacher is there or because God’s word is being preached?  Does the church have other men besides the lead preacher/teacher who preaches on occasion?  Am I using “celebrity” preachers/teachers as my main “diet” of God’s word, or am I in the word myself, studying what I have heard taught?

2) Read your Bible! Often!  The way God works in my life when the preacher preaches is something special.  Faith does come by hearing and often that hearing is through the preaching of the word of God. But it’s the word, not the preacher that I need.  If I don’t know how to get to the word myself and how to digest it and apply it to my life I’ll be immature and dependent on a preacher… which is dangerous.

3) Even when things don’t go the way we want in church, it’s still God’s church.  He is working all things for good for those who love him… to conform us to the image of his Son.  Even the falling apart of a huge church like Mars Hill is under his sovereign design for the good of his people and for his glory.   My own experience in loosing a church I loved (which was not due to the same issues as Mars Hill) was hard.  But through it, God has refined my faith and has caused me to see the church world-wide and local in her many branches as a beautiful work of Christ in which I too am a part.  No one preacher or teacher or even denomination should be how I identify with Christ’s church. Paul corrected people in the Corinthian church for saying they followed Apollos, or Cephas, or Paul.  I take the warning.  I don’t follow any pastor or teacher.  I am Christ’s and he is mine.  The pastor functions in his role in the body.  I function in mine.  And we both worship the same Lord.

I’m looking forward to getting to know the people at Valley Life Surprise.  I love the preaching of the word that happens there and the gospel centrality of everything I hear. But I pray Jesus always captivates me… no man.  No preacher.  And I pray I can be even a tiny part in building up His church here in Surprise, AZ.