Church


In recent months, I have heard of and/or counseled with friends (fellow pastors) who have faced discouragement, firings, or left the ministry altogether because of struggles with discord in their church, personal burn-out, or any variety of other issues. As I look back over these months, I think of how stressful and difficult it is to be a local church leader in our day and age.

In a time when it is more fashionable to let church commitment be a matter of convenience rather than conviction; when members are looking for all manner of reasons to excuse their lax attitudes; when society at large has all but turned her back on the church (making decisions to make church a preference rather than a persistence all the easier), it is no wonder that those who are called to spend their lives and their livelihood in God’s service are feeling crushed to the point of abandonment.

In such a time as this, it is more important than ever for us to rally together to lift up our leaders in prayer. Pray for lay leaders who volunteer their time to prepare and guide Bible study lessons on a weekly basis. Pray for others who fill important places of leadership within the local congregation. Pray for staff members who have given their lives to a calling (whether they serve in volunteer, part-time, or career-level capacity). Pray for all the spiritual leaders that you can think of for protection from the battles they face. Particularly pray for your pastor (and other local pastors) who feel the pull away from their calling often.

Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”  —Jesus, Matthew 9:38

About four years ago, I received a book from a fellow pastor as a gift. The book was called I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference. It didn’t take long to read or to process. It was Thom Rainer’s advice on what makes a good church member, including what the church should expect of her members, and what members themselves would do well to commit themselves to so that their local church can become the expression of the Church that God (her Maker) wants her to be. I read the book and was inspired.

If I decided that I wanted to be the best church member I could be, the first step that I should take is to deliberately decide to be actively involved in contributing to the church. Rather than sitting back and soaking up what is doled out by the church like a sponge it is time for me to pick up my role in the church.

This means that I have to identify (with the help of the Holy Spirit) my role. Based on who I am and where my abilities lay as well as what I am willing to allow myself to do (which is sometimes the scary part because the Spirit may direct me out of my comfort zone), I must do what God directs me to do. This, of course, is without pointing fingers at others, but concentrating on my own role. It means that I am a part of the team–God’s team–and must do my part so that others can do their part. Suddenly, I am concentrating on doing my calling as a member of the church and I don’t have time to point out how everyone else is falling short. And so, in the church, I have a function. And I will do my best to (with the Lord’s help) fulfill my function.

“Jesus said, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.'” –John 21:22

The Resurrection is difficult to fathom. People just don’t die and come back to life—especially on the third day. There are books that convince us that people who are declared dead for a few minutes (up to 90 minutes if you read one book about Heaven and life after death and resuscitation-type miracles), but on the third day? To accept that takes real faith.

Once our faith has developed to the point of accepting Jesus’ Resurrection (which is real, by the way), then we have to deal with the purpose of the Easter story. You see, the Resurrection was not just a parlor trick to wow the masses. Jesus was not a first-century David Copperfield trying to do a trick that was just too good to be true. The purpose of the Resurrection is to provide the foundation for a future. The events of Easter weekend all have deepest significance.

Jesus died on a cross to provide the perfect sacrifice for the unforgivable. We could not pay dearly enough to restore a relationship with God that was broken by the sinfulness of mankind. Jesus, having lived a sinless life in our sin-filled world, made the only payment possible.

Jesus was buried, and His disciples fell into discouragement because the hope they had placed in Him seemed to be gone with Him. That silent second day—the Sabbath of the week—forced early disciples to reflect on what it was—who it was—that they had followed and believed. This kind of reflection makes or breaks our faith. For those early disciples, their faith triumphed.

On the first Resurrection Day, Jesus conquered death as a promise of a future for those who believe. It is this foundational promise on which the church builds and operates even into the twenty-first century. Hard to believe? Yes. Imperative to believe? Absolutely. Christ is risen—for you, for me, for all who did believe, for all who do believe, and for all who will ever believe. He is risen indeed!

“’Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”  — an Angel, Luke 24:5b-6a

Building anything that will last starts with a strong foundation. It doesn’t matter whether you want to build a house, a skyscraper, or some free-standing structure, you want to have basic foundational material that is sound and worthy.

In the case of a permanent building you want to have a foundation made out of strong material that will stand up to anything that nature might throw at it over the course of the long haul. If you are building, say, a car, you want to use the best materials for the frame—something that won’t give way and crumple at the first high wind.

God gave the church the foundational stone of Jesus Christ—a worthy material if ever there was one—and then sound teaching and committed foundational members that would allow for her to grow strong and weather the ages. She’s done pretty good so far, with the only minor chinks attributed to faulty materials in the superstructure, not in the foundation.

As we build on the foundation laid for us, we want to test the material that we are providing through our faith and commitment to be sure that what we add to the structure of God’s church is worthy to be used in His building. This requires faith in the Messiah (Christ), commitment to the mission (Church), and obedience to the message (Scripture), and then we can continue to build a strong house of faith.

“Let each one take care how he builds upon it.”  —1 Corinthians 3:10b

Often when we think of the title “disciple” our minds go directly to the Twelve Chosen to be called Apostles. Truth be told we hardly ever think of ourselves as disciples. We like the label Christian, even with the modern baggage that has been attached to the word, because it identifies us as part of the group who believes in Jesus. For that matter, some people are more comfortable with the label “believer” because it focuses on the belief and not the following.

Then there are those of our number who have latched onto the label “Christ-follower” to emphasize the difference between what we believe and what believers in other faiths believe. I’m still partial to the name Christian because – regardless of the stigma (or maybe because of it) that has latched onto that name – it still means “one who is like Christ” or “Little Christ.”

In any case, we are still called by the One we follow to be and make disciples. So what does that look like? To begin with, a disciple is a person who initially comes to Christ for life. And he continues to come—daily, weekly, constantly—to Christ for his existence. Won’t you come to Jesus today?

  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” –Jesus (Matthew 11:28)

What is the purpose of the church? That’s an appropriate question in any age, but especially for us today. Many people have an ingrained opinion about why we have church. Some people think that the church is a place for people to gather with their own kind and shut out others. It may be a place where we can stack up rules so neatly that they build a wall that no one can get over, under, or around.

I think perhaps, as we consider what the purpose of the church is, it might be better to find out how the Scripture directs the church. If we are to be the people described in the Bible we would be the Bride of Christ (presented to Him for eternity as one loved); the Pearl of Great price (a thing of beauty to be cherished and honored), and the Body of Christ (working together under the direction of the head who is Christ Jesus our Lord).

When we follow His direction we work together, we worship together, we welcome together, we worry together, and we witness together. We do this because we are directed by Christ, following His lead and direction, and obeying His command. We find our purpose and the plan for church in Christ’s Great Commission for the church.

 “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

From time to time I like to watch certain types of racing. It may stem from my days on the Jr. High track team when I was a kid. I was always fascinated with the relay races (although I never was part of that race—the coach assigned me to hurdles). They practiced more than just the average runner who did the road work and wind sprints. To these daily exercises they practiced diligently at passing the baton at full speed. This was important because a dropped baton meant a lost race, a late or early pass meant disqualification. And so they practiced the hand-off with intensity.

I’ve also enjoyed some of the bicycle relays when they’ve been telecast in my viewing area. These cyclists ride with precision keeping in sync with one another almost to the position of the pedal. As the lead grows weary, he drops back to bring up the rear and be carried along in the wake of his team-mates. Everybody is doing their part to keep the machine of the team in motion.

We can take a lesson from the relay athletes in understanding the work of the church. Occasionally we spell one another, working in sync as a team. At other times we pass the baton smoothly and safely to the next one. Are we preparing to pass/receive the baton of service as time marches on?

 “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

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