We're Family: A Church That Anyone Would Want to Join
Sunday, October 02, 2011 Comments (0)
A friend of mine who serves a church in north Georgia sent me an email a couple of weeks ago about a skirmish that broke out the first of August in a church over in Mobile County, Alabama. Actually, to call it a “skirmish” is way too kind; the truth of the matter is that it was more of a brouhaha.
The whole thing started when the pastor of the church decided that it was time for the minister of music to go. He called a meeting of the deacons and the decision was made to give the minister of music his walking papers, along with a severance check of $300. The minister of music didn’t think that the check was enough, and when he expressed his disagreement, a fight broke out between the two of them, at which point the minister of music pulled out a Taser gun and used it on the pastor. At that point, several of the church members became involved, including the minister of music’s mother, who ended up suffering a stab wound at the hands of a deacon. Deputies were called to the church and only after they arrived did things finally begin to settle down. And to top it all off, the name of the church was “the New Welcome Baptist Church.”
Does that sound like a church that you might like to join? Probably not. That would be a church that most of us wouldn’t touch with the proverbial ten-foot pole. And yet, as hard as it may be for most of us believe, that’s how far too many people feel today about churches in general, including our church. Too many people today believe that every church is full of people who are mean-spirited and judgmental and way too prone to cast insults and injuries toward one another. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met over the course of my ministry who are staying away from church because they’ve been emotionally Tasered and relationally stabbed and are still carrying around the wounds of a church experience that didn’t work out for them.
I want to say, “Please don’t give up on church entirely.” “Please don’t lump all of us into the same category.” I want to say, “I remember getting food poisoning at a restaurant once, and though I decided to stay away from that restaurant, I didn’t give up eating out at restaurants all together.” I want to say all of those things and more, but I’m not sure that any of them would be convincing. What people are looking for is a place where folk are serious about being together and about encouraging one another and about loving one another. What people are looking for is a place where folk are on the same page and moving in the same direction. What people are looking for is a place where folk don’t just play church but are committed to being the church, and when people find a place like that, then that will be a church that they would be willing to join.
Paul was looking for the Christians at Philippi to become that kind of church. His letter to the Philippians reflects in part how much Paul was missing the friendship of fellow believers, languishing as he was in a Roman prison. As many of you know from personal experience, when something is taken away, you begin to understand its value better and you start to appreciate what you had a little more. As Paul was in prison, he was able to ponder more deeply the real blessing of Christian community, and so he wrote this letter to the Philippians in order to remind them of the joy they ought to be experiencing together before something happened that might take it away. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, and being one in spirit and purpose.”
As with so many of his letters, in this one Paul is pleading for unity. But by unity, he’s not suggesting that believers must see things the same ways; Paul would understand how impossible that would be. When Paul pleads for what he calls “like-mindedness,” he’s talking more about wanting the same thing and working for the same thing, which in the context of the church is always that which furthers the cause of Christ.
I’ve known churches that have been adamant about demanding agreement in theology and interpretation, and inevitably, those are the churches that are always the most prone to splits and splinters. The landscape is littered with them. But the churches that find their unity in Christ and in working together for his cause to be advanced are amazingly able to stay together and hold together. The churches that find their unity in Christ and their desire to grow in his grace and knowledge are precisely the churches that have a tie that binds them together that nothing in this world can sever.
It’s like the difference between a tree and a brush pile. There are some things the two have in common: they are made of the same material; they both have many branches. But there is also a crucial difference between the two that gives one life and the other decay. The tree grows by an internal principle of design. The brush pile is just a bunch of branches that have been lumped together. The tree is a work of God. The brush pile is a work of man. The tree is blessed with an organic unity. The pile is nothing more than a jumbled and confused heap. Sadly, not every church is like a living tree; some are just a group of people who have come together, sometimes because of things they have in common, like musical tastes or ethnic background or philosophical perspective. But what make a church a place that people are moved to join is the presence of Jesus in their midst that takes a group of people who sing differently and look differently and even believe differently and forms them into a force for good that accomplishes everything he gives them to do.
Is that hard to understand? I think not. There are some things about church that are somewhat hard to get our minds around, but this is not one of them. This is not spiritual brain surgery. The truth of the matter is that what Paul is calling for here is something that is pretty simple – just come together to share and serve Jesus. And when we do that, then do we become the kind of church that anyone would want to join.
Carlyle Marney was a great Baptist preacher of a previous generation. Something of a gadfly, which Baptists were once proud of being before we became so obsessed with power and popularity, Marney was once asked by a young minister if his church’s inconspicuous location was the reason his church wasn’t growing like he wanted it to. Marney replied, “Son, just start doing the work of Jesus, and you won’t have any problem with people being able to find you.”
Marney was right. As much as people today are cynical and skeptical of the church, when a time of crisis rears its ugly head, guess where those people are the most prone to go. It happens in this church every Sunday, and if I hear Paul correctly, when they do, rather than seeing them as nuisances or problems, if we see them as people whom God loves and for whom Jesus died and if we welcome them into our number, then not only will this church grow in number. Just as importantly, we will grow in becoming the church that Jesus needs us to be and that he is certainly calling us to be.
Is that not the kind of church that you want this church to be?
I love the story of the little boy who asked his father where he had been born. “I was born in Texas, son.” Then he asked where his mother had been born. “She was born in Louisiana.” Then he asked to be reminded where he had been born. “Son, you were born in Oklahoma.” You could see the wheels turning inside his brain. And finally, after thinking about it for a moment, he smiled and said to his father. “Daddy, aren’t you glad we all got together?”
We were born in different places. We’ve come from different backgrounds. We have different interests and different abilities. But if you’re a believer in Jesus, then you’ve been born again in the same way as other believers – through his broken body and his shed blood and your willingness to bear witness to the difference his presence in our midst always makes.
Aren’t you glad we all got together? Then let us share these elements that represent our life in Christ and let us experience the communion that Jesus promises when we invite him into our gatherings and let us be formed into a church that wants his will and works together for his will, for only that will make us a church that anyone would want to join.
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