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Faithlife Corporation

Real Church 4

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Intro:  Here's what could happen. I know because I’ve seen it happen, not often, but I have seen it. A church that's hungry for truth becomes a church focused on formation. When Christians wake up to realize that truth is not an orderly group of theological-sounding sentences properly punctuated in a doctrinal statement, when they understand that truth is a way to live that is willing to endure any level of discomfort for the sake of its source, then a truth-hungry church becomes a formation-focused church.  In that church, you will pour out your heart in praise music, but just as often you will release other regions in your heart through lament. You will worship by waiting. weeping, struggling, and hoping, both in music and in life. When teachers open the Bible to share truth, you will sense that the words coming out of their mouths come from the Bible but also from hearts that have been humbled by truth, formed by truth. As they speak, you will catch the aroma of a life lived in God’s humbling, forming presence.  And you’ll find yourself especially respecting a handful of folks for their gentle wisdom, not for their expertise or proudly worn titles. Those whose wisdom and character stand out will be your elders, your pastors, your spiritual directors. They may wear titles: they may not. They may be professionally trained and officially ordained: they may not. It really doesn’t matter. You’ll want to listen to these men and women when they speak from behind a pulpit or over coffee. You’ll pay rapt attention as they talk about what they’re learning from Scripture, who they’re realizing God is, how they pray, and what their inner lives are like. Their stories will fascinate you. Whether shared in sermons or casual conversation.

You won't know why, but you’ll realize that time with them adds to your wisdom. It gives you categories to think in that are rich with implications for what to do with your teenage daughter who you worry is having sex with her boyfriend.

In a church hungry for resurrection truth (you're alive to God!), story truth (here's who God is, what He’s like, and what He's up to!), and signpost truth (here are a few categories to think in as you handle whatever life throws your way), something happens.  Again, you won’t be able to clearly trace the process, but something good will happen. You’ll notice that you're more concerned to give your daughter a taste of Jesus than to find a way to improve her morals: you’ll want to spread the 'good infection' of Jesus through you into her. A hunger for truth will lead to a focus on formation. You’ll want to want what Jesus wants, to think what Jesus thinks, to choose what Jesus chooses, and to know the contentment in the middle of a trouble-filled world that Jesus knows. You’ll yearn to be more spiritually formed, and you’ll welcome the painful adventure of walking the long, narrow road to life.

 But something more will happen. As both your appetite for truth and your desire to resemble Christ grow stronger, some or your friends will back away from you. You will feel disappointed in relationships you previously thought were pretty good. You will want so much more than those relationships offer. You will want to give more than some of your friends will want to receive. You will worry that you are becoming a whacked-out fanatic, a misfit in the Christian world. You will feel a new kind or loneliness, not the old kind that made you miserable and self- preoccupied but a new kind that makes you hopeful and other-centered but even more dark and alone—and a little weird. You’ll envision what life-giving intimacy with family and friends could feel like, what you already know a little or in your relationship with Jesus, and you’ll yearn to experience something similar with people you can see and hear and touch, people who could serve as sort of stand-ins for Jesus, maybe folks in your small group. That is what's happening in me. The more truth-hunger I feel, the more formation-focused I'm becoming. And the more formation-focused I become, the more I'm realizing how profoundly I long to connect in a new way with others. And the more hungry for truth you feel and the more focused on formation you become, the more you’ll be looking for what I’m looking for, the third mark or the church I want to be part of: community-centered.

{And that’s when real problems begin. Aim toward relating the way the Trinity relates, and you’ll bump into obstacles that you never before knew were there. The only way to avoid them is to aim lower.}

v  Some missional activities are much easier than others to do.  Comforting a hurting friend or aquaintence, leading a group of adults or teens to hand out free coats or food at a homeless shelter; these are good, and very easy.  Taking in a pregnant teen who has been kicked out on the street or caring for someone dying from the complications brought on by aids; these are much harder to get involved in.  We tend to find those areas of ministry that give us enjoyment and a minimal about of time and money.  It is easier to give what we can afford in the offering plate, than sell a car or forgo a vacation in order to impact someone or some organization in a deeper way.

Ø  But here's the point I’m getting to: nothing is more difficult than developing the kinds of relationships with fellow Christians that Jesus wants us to have because nothing else we can do is more strongly opposed by powerful forces within us.

v  Here is another point: building the kinds or relationships that Jesus wants us to have is the one thing Christians can do that non-Christians can't. Non Christians can build pretty good relationships but not the kinds that Jesus has in mind.

v  A third point: building those kinds of relationships is what Christians do least well. We develop convincing counterfeits, but only rarely do we pay the price to develop the real thing.

v  Jesus gave the world-lslamists, atheists, hedonists, friendly neighbors who live decent, moral lives—the right to judge whether He is Elmer Gantry or God’s Messiah, not by how many houses we build for the homeless, not by the number or hospitals we fund in developing countries, not by the amount of food we send to famine-ravaged regions, not by how many little acts or kindness we offer to frazzled moms, and certainly not by how big and impressive our church buildings are or how talented the worship team may be or how well presented and inspiring the pastor's sermons are. If not these things, then what?  John 13:34-35; John 17 What he meant. I think, was this:how we get along with one another is the most persuasive evidence the Holy Spirit has to work with as He draws people to Jesus.

v  This third mark of the church I want to go to—community-centered— involves so much more than having a vibrant small-group ministry, and with that, several questions arise: Are people in the small groups facing all the stuff within them that's keeping them protected and distant from one another, even while they are enjoying their time together? Are they recognizing the evil of their self-protective maneuverings? Do they see relational sin as sin? Are they broken over it and repenting in ways that release more or the good stuff in them donated by Jesus so that they come closer to relating the way Jesus wants them to? Are they taking the risk or graciously, at the right time, helping others see relational sin to which they’re blind? That's what I mean by a community-centered church.

Ø  I think we sometimes put the missional cart before the community horse. And we are doing it in churches that are truth-hungry and formation-focused. We grasp the truth of the kingdom, and we long to draw closer to God, but then we expend tons of energy on missional activity and pay scant attention to the quality of our relationships.

Ø  I think I know why: it's easier and more quickly fulfilling to get active in kingdom work than to get along with kingdom citizens. Stay active doing good things in the world, and you won't need to face the bad things going on in your family and in your own heart. You will be too busy with kingdom work to worry about quality relationships.

§  The results of that thinking are painful. The number one cause for attrition on the mission field continues to be strained relationships among missionaries. Haven’t we yet learned that outside goodness doesn’t clean up inside badness, that missional busyness doesn’t inevitably produce communal oneness? Jesus told us that a long time ago (Matt. 23:25—28).


Ø  I want to go to a church that lets the relational horse pull the missional cart. I've never been part of a small group that didn't at some point run into heavy tensions, some that dissolved the group or at least moved out a few members. I know we don't live in a perfect world. I know the church never lives up to the vision I painted in an earlier book, originally titled The Safest Place on Earth, now called Developing True

v  Taking on that challenge will require at least two things from us, two things that will mark community-centered churches.

Ø  One, we’ll need to face what we’re up against, what's in us that gets in the way. When you tell me how I failed you, it comes as naturally as breathing for me to tell you how you failed me. Your failure comes to my mind without effort. It's the first thing I think of. Defensive self- protection is embedded in my being. It's the energy that feeds my addiction to my immediate and happily felt well-being. The church I want to go to will understand the dynamics of relational sin and treat it like cancer. That’s what it is. If they’re competent, surgeons see cancer. if they care, they cut it out.

Ø  Two, something more compelling than protecting ourselves will need to grab us deep inside. God’s glory, advancing the kingdom, future hope, gospel love, biblical truth, other people's well-being, less suffering in the world—they're all facets or one brilliant diamond: the revelation of God by the Spirit or Jesus. And that revelation is a story. the greatest love story ever told, the story every sell-aware heart longs to hear. But that diamond will not sparkle in my soul until I'm broken by my addiction to myself, to the story I demand be told that honors me and preserves my well-being on my terms. My spouse should love me this way. My daughter should be moral. Business partners should treat me fairly. Friends should know when I'm tired and ask me for nothing. Until we recognize and hate our addiction to ourselves, we'll never get along with one another the way Jesus wants us to, the way He died and rose again to make possible.

Conclusion:   I don’t want to go to a church that is so program-centered and celebrity driven and consumer-oriented that it enables people to stay far enough away from one another that they never feel the impact of their self-centeredness. I don't want to go to a church that treats hurt feelings and nagging irritations as relationship-breakers rather than opportunities for brokenness and therefore as relationship-builders.

I don't want to go to a church that values Christ's mission above the kind of community Christ prayed that His people would develop. I want to go to a church that releases missional energy through community.  I want to be part of a community-centered church. That's the third mark.

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