“I bow down towards your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you exalted above all things your name and your word.” Psalm 138:2 (ESV)
Churches today are increasingly building… bigger buildings, infrastructures, staffs, programs, media … expanding, growing, blah, blah, blah. We seem increasingly to draw our identity from this growth. I’m not against building and growth, but at least some (maybe a lot) of the growth in church structure results from the desire for influence and control by “leaders,” with the result of leaving “the sheep without a shepherd.” Shiloh Guy’s comment to the last post cut to the heart of the issue about the difference between “shepherding” and “leadership” (and if you haven’t read that yet, stop and do it now!)
We’re not to be cheerleaders or fundraisers for the professionals… the job of ministry - and the responsibility - is ours, and can not be taken away by others. And that leads me to today's point:
Who do we think that WE are?
Do we see ourselves as having responsibility for doing the work of the church, or are we comfortable with delegating it off to a local church staff?
I'm not so sure as a movement that we think very clearly about this. In a self-indulged, consumer-mindset, entertainment and luxury-driven American culture, it’s not fair to blame leaders exclusively for their view of the laity in today’s evangelical church. Maybe they take charge because we want them - or anyone - to meet the needs... anyone but us. Let me illustrate it this way…
- There are a growing number of homeless people in my community. I see them daily, and am burdened for their condition and spiritual state.
- I see problems in the lives of my acquaintances, coworkers, friends, even my family. I long to see them experience all that God has for them.
- I know literally hundreds of people who don't know Jesus. They are all on their way to an eternity in hell. I long to see them hear the Gospel, and come to faith.
Who? Well, THEM… the church. Here are some questions I've heard (and asked):
"Why don’t they open their doors to the poor and homeless, use largely empty facilities during the week to warm people (especially in these awful Chicago winters!)?""Why doesn’t the church create a program for [this needy group]?"
"Will the church’s Christian education department provide a solid foundation to my kids in the faith?"
"What is our youth ministry going to do about the problems with our kids these days?"
Good questions - you can probably think of some more. But maybe the more important question is this:
"What am I going to do about the problem… Right here, right now... could this issue/problem be MY responsibility to address?"
Should we just wait for the church (or someone else) to come up with a plan, or should we be seeking God for wisdom and His power to meet the need ourselves?
The truth is that it is easy to delegate “ministry” to the local church. Let them do something about the problem – whatever the problem is. But who is ultimately responsible for:
- Understanding what the Bible says, what the Lord has revealed that He requires of us, and discerning whether the teaching that we hear should be followed or disregarded?
- Caring for widows, single parents and their children, the homeless?
- Addressing problems in your community – like the homeless, the mentally disabled, the people without family or social support networks?
- Helping with problems in families – for example, aging parents or troubled adolescents?
- Issues with your own family or kids?
- Reaching our family, friends and community with the good news of the Gospel?
- Being our "brother's keeper"??
--NEWS FLASH-- WE ARE.
“The church” is US – you and me. We are INDIVIDUALLY RESPONSIBLE to God. Too often though, we expect “the church” (or the government, or some other undefined “them”) to do what is our job in the first place!
We’re Americans… we outsource EVERYTHING. We have “people” who do whatever we don’t want to do for us because our time is too valuable (check out this service - there's big "business" in doing other people's "dirty work"). But no matter what our society does, or how much more comfortable it would be, we can not delegate our thinking, our responsibility or our obedience away to others.
Maybe your pastor would be great in delivering a message to your spouse, child or friend. Perhaps there are others more skilled who, with better resources and more time, could “do the job.” But maybe you would do well to deliver the message yourself. Is it possible that it isn’t done because we don’t do it?
Is it possible that God does not need to use your local church to accomplish the ministry needs that you see in your own sphere of influence? Are we (you and me) willing to seek the Lord and His power to work through US… even if no one else comes along to help us?
So here is my question again: Who do we think that we are?
Are we consumers of Christian services, existing to provide direction to the professionals that we hire, and consumers of weekly religious entertainment and inspiration, or are we personally and individually responsible for being Jesus to those around us? Are we supporters of the body of Christ, or are WE (you and me) His hands and His feet?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Who has the primary human responsibility for leading your friends, co-workers and acquaintances to Jesus – you, or somebody else?
- Who should meet the needs of the poor around you – you, or somebody else?
- Who has the daily, primary responsibility for leading your children to Christ, and leading them to spiritual maturity thereafter – you, or your church youth group?
- Who has the responsibility to teach spiritual truth and doctrine (the whole counsel of God) to your family – you, or your pastor?
- Who has the responsibility to “study to show” themselves approved – each one of us, or the professionals at our local church?
OK, I can hear the objection already: “I don’t have the resources to meet the needs around me!” But consider these words of our Lord…
When confronted by a circumstance of a demon-possessed son were beyond the resources of his grieving father, Jesus said that “… All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)
After confronting a rich man about his need to give up his wealth to follow Him, Jesus noted the difficulty … the impossibility of rich people entering the Kingdom. Jesus’ disciples were stunned by Jesus’ words and their implications, because the cost was too high and the message too stringent. (By the way, that was just then – it isn’t any easier for we rich Americans today, and Jesus’ call is a far cry from today’s typical “come to Jesus to ‘get’” kind of evangelistic appeal!) But Jesus said “…With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)
Are you short on knowledge about how to address a need? Jesus said that “…the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
If God has called us to accomplish something, will He leave us to fail? “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:23)
I’ve said this before (quoting my Dad), but the world doesn’t need more people who “believe in Jesus”. George Barna will tell you that most Americans do that. Hey, the demons do too… and they tremble. We need more people who BELIEVE Jesus - and are ready to do His work His way under His direction, and in His power. We are to be people who are willing to seek to meet needs that we are TOTALLY UNQUALIFIED to address – based on our reliance on the sufficiency of the power of the Father in Jesus Christ through His Spirit. We need to put to death the self-centered, consumer/supervisor mindset that many of us bring to “church”.
As I said before, we – each one of us, you and me – are all called to be the body of Christ. WE are called to be salt and light. WE are “the church.” When we say “why don’t THEY do something about [fill in your issue],” we are “they.” And when we cede the work of “the church” to the paid staff at our local assembly and view ourselves as – at best - supervisors of those who do the real ministry or consumers of Christian/religious local programming once a week, we miss the point. We don’t supervise the ministers, WE ARE THE MINISTERS.
OK to be fair, I understand that I’m leaving out one major point: God has not called each one of us individually to meet all of these needs. He has ordained the existence of a corporate assembly… The Church, and our local assemblies are to be functioning as His local body. And that leads us to the logical conclusion of this series in the next post.
But before we go there, consider this thought:
Our total and unconditional commitment, dedication and passion for following Jesus – are non-negotiables. Until those things exist in your life, you may attend a church, you may be well-regarded there, but you are not part of The Church. Remember, it was Jesus who said that "...Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21).
My old friend Shiloh challenged me once, a long time ago, to read 1st John every day for a month, and look for the "tests" - the indications that I really had been converted. It's a challenge that I've repeated many times over the years, to some hopeful profit for my soul. And one test in particular has been ringing in my mind as I've thought about this topic:
"By this we may be sure that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked." (1 John 2:5-6)
So before we discuss who we are “corporately,” let’s first settle the question personally: When we find ourselves seeing needs and asking “what THEY are going to do about it” rather than primarily asking the Lord what we should be doing, WHO we are… is wrong.
Next time: Who do WE want to be?