“Who’s Jason Vance?” you may ask. Nobody famous. And that’s the whole point. He’s the young church-planting pastor of my local church.
A few years ago my small church closed. My pastor retired, went into a teaching ministry role and moved to Oregon. That sent me and my two sons into about three years of having no local church. I tried. Every Sunday I set out to services at a different church, hoping to find the one that fit for us. As the weeks went on, and nothing seemed to be a good fit, John Piper, Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, Ray Ortlund and other famous pastors’ fed me with good teaching online without requiring me to leave my house. And I found it harder and harder to even want to find a local church.
But when trouble came, I couldn’t lean on online preachers. I needed a local group of Christians I could get to know and who would get to know me so we could bear one another’s burdens. I eventually found a good church where I now serve as a kids ministry leader, and am part of a small group of people I would never have formed friendships with if it were not for this local church. But I noticed something in the first months at my church: I was comparing my pastor’s preaching and my church’s liturgy to what I had been listening and watching online for the past three years.
I’m not sure exactly when it hit me, but somewhere between my pastor preaching and prayers with a neighbor I was convicted that if I wanted to love my church and be part of what God is doing through her, I had to stop comparing her to famous churches and pastors or some ideal version of church I had in my head.
I am not saying it’s wrong to be a famous pastor or large church or even to listen to online sermons or teachings from well-known Christian leaders. But I am saying I think there’s a correlation between the obsession we Americans have with independence, fame, wealth and size and our disconnection from the unknown local pastor, church and Jesus’ call to love one another as he has loved us. Actually, its not even just us Americans. The early church in Corinth had the same problem. And Paul chastised them.
“…for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” 1 Corinthians 3:3-5
In sharing all this with my pastor the other day he said something that really summed up the whole reason I stopped listening to Matt Chandler and started listening to my pastor, Jason Vance. He said something like, “You can’t face conflict and use the gospel with an idea.” That’s all you have when you only listen to Christian leaders online or in books- an idea. But in the local church you have people that are going to fail you, and you’re going to fail them. In the local church you’ll have to use the gospel face to face.
I see loved ones and friends who prefer a church they can walk in and out of without connecting with anyone; or a podcast-ed sermon from a famous pastor; or even time alone with their Bible in silence over investing themselves in the lives of the broken people in their local church. I was once one of them. For many, past church hurt keeps them from connecting and submitting to a local church. For others, it’s the problems we see in the culture in local churches that turn us off. The thing is, the very reason many of us have shrunk back from the local church is the reason we need to press into her.
The place where sin has caused damage is the place where we need to call each other out in love, seeking wholeness and restoration (Galatians 6:1). The place where we’re offended with one another is where we’re called to forgive (Ephesians 4:32). The place where we don’t agree is where we’re called to voice our concerns, pray and submit to leaders. The place where the burdens are great is the place we’re supposed help each other carry the load (Galatians 6;2). The place where it hurts is where Jesus has called us to take up our cross and follow him. We won’t have to bear a cross if we insulate our lives from one another.
As someone once pointed out, all those “one anothers” we read in the Bible are the local church. You can’t “one another” with a podcast or a book.
- We are members of one another (Romans 12:5)
- We are to love one another and outdo showing honor to one another (Romans 12:10)
- We’re to live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
- We’re to stop judging one another and making each other stumble (Romans 14:13)
- We’re to teach one another (Colossians 3:16)
- We’re to comfort one another (2 Corinthians 13:11)
- We’re to serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
- We’re to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- We’re to forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- We’re to sing to one another (Ephesians 5:19)
- We’re to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
- We’re to encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- We’re to think up ways to stir one another up to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)
- We’re to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16)
It’s too easy to be in agreement with the ideas of Christianity and not actually live them out. When you hear a compelling message from Matt Chandler online you can, “Amen!” all you want, but unless you’re having to forgive and be forgiven in a face-to-face relationship with broken people like you, you’re just an idea-lover. Jesus wants us to be people-lovers like him. He laid down his life, not for an idea, but for hypocrites, and humbled sinners, rich and poor, healthy and disabled, religious and rebellious. Jesus laid his life down for the church. And we’re to lay down our lives for one another.