10 Essential Things to Tell People about the Church
- Joe McKeever
- 2011 3 Mar
Editor's Note: This represents the first half of a two-part series. Find Joe McKeever's "10 More Essential Things to Tell People about the Church" by clicking on the link at the end of this article.
According to the Spring edition of OnMission magazine, published by the SBC's North American Mission Board, 90 percent of unchurched 20-29 year olds believe, "I can have a good relationship with God without being involved in a church."
That sounds new. But it's as old as Methuselah.
Some of us can remember the so-called "Jesus Movement" of the 1960-1970s when the beaded, bearded, flower children carried signs announcing "Jesus Yes; Church No."
No one will be surprised that we who have given our lives to serving God through His church believe in the church. We believe in it passionately even though quite a high percentage of us bear scars from our years of service.
Believers in the church's essential role in God's plan are not the "establishment." We were not brain-washed and are not duped or deluded. We are not mouthpieces of some denominational hierarchy somewhere. Neither are we defenders of the status quo. (No one who ever sat under my ministry even once accused me of defending the status quo. Quite the opposite, in fact. Many have wished I could be satisfied to leave well enough alone.)
Most of us have had a love-hate affair with the Lord's church. We have loved it when it did well, been blessed by it when it was faithful, grieved for it when it got off-track, and sometimes suffered from our proximity to cancerous members.
Our convictions are not shallow or lightly held. They have been through the fires and come through stronger than ever.
Each of us has our burden for the church. Here are mine. Twenty things I wish we could say to every church, and repeat them at regular intervals until they take hold.
1. The church has always been under attack. So, when people criticize it, Christian, don't panic.
How does that line go? "There is no such things as 'news.' There are only old things happening to new people."
Like all those fake petitions in cyberspace we can't seem to be rid of, the same "news" about people's religious views keep recirculating every few years. Someone discovers that Christians get divorced at a high rate--oh, horrors! That early Christians decided some so-called epistles were spurious and discarded them--oh, no, "Banned by the church!" And that people who do not want to have anyone telling them how to live decide they can please God without the church. Ho-hum.
Any day now someone will come out with "revolutionary" evidence that Jesus did not bodily rise from the dead, there was no Virgin Birth, there never was a historical person named Jesus, and/or that His grave has been found in a cemetery in Milwaukee. Yawn.
2. That the church has survived the attacks from its enemies and the failings of its own members for two thousand years and is still going strong stands as a remarkable testimony of God's plan for her.
God's people were told to expect attacks from the outside--Paul called these people "savage wolves"--and divisive sneak attacks from the inside in Acts 20:29-30. The one constant of ecclesiastical history has been those two disruptive forces.
Expect it, Christian. And remember this elementary lesson from your high school physics class: A fire under pressure will burn brighter. Since the devil never took physics, he doesn't understand this, so he keeps persecuting the Lord's people and attacking the Church and slandering Jesus. What he cannot figure, though, is why all such efforts only spreads the Gospel.
3. The apparent weakness of a particular church is generally deceptive.
God delights in using weak things, ordinary people, and unlikely prospects. He can take a young child's simple lunch and feed thousands. So, the next time you look at your church service and decide that you are tragically out-of-date in the hymns and technology and that you need a younger pastor because the one you have is too boring, bite your tongue. You are in the kind of church where God delights in showing up and doing something remarkable. Drop to your knees and start asking Him to do one of His patented God-things among your group.
4. The Church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ.
According to Matthew 16:18, it's Jesus' church. According to Acts 20:28, it's God's. Same difference.
Pastor, I know your name is on the sign out front. Thank you for your faithful work, but it's not your church.
Deacons, thank you for your years of sacrificial effort and service. But it's not your church.
Church members with seniority, thank you for hanging in there through good times and bad, but it's not your church.
Those who have given the most money, thank you for your generosity and sacrifices, but it's not your church.
And church polity aside, congregation, thank you for coming and working and giving and praying, but it's not your church.
It's His Church. And the only question on our lips every time we meet to do His business should be "What would you have us do?"
5. Whatever we do to the church, Jesus takes personally.
Scary thought, isn't it?
Jesus told Saul of Tarsus that when he touched one of "the least of these my brethren" to harm them, he was "persecuting me." (Acts 9, 22, 26)
Jesus taught that when we helped even one who believed in Him, He took it personally (Matthew 25:40) Likewise, when we failed to minister to such a one--or even when we brought harm to that one--He took that personally also (Matthew 25:45).
This is consistent with the Old Testament where God put His reputation and Honor upon the Jews. However the outside world treated them, God repaid them in kind. However, the Lord went one step further and told His own people that whatever they did for "the House of the Lord," they were doing for Him. In Malachi 3:8, God told the Jews that by withholding their tithes and offerings, they were "robbing God."
Serious, serious stuff.
Just today, a friend quoted Dr. Adrian Rogers who said concerning the Church and the Lord Jesus: "They're not identical--but they're inseparable!"
6. God sends pastors, not to make the church members happy, but to make them healthy and holy and Himself happy.
At least one pastor out of ten--I don't care what denomination--has been ousted from a church because the members were unhappy with him. (That's just my number; nothing scientific about it, so don't quote it as authoritative, please.)
"Well," one church honcho says, "My understanding is that if the people are not pleased with him, it shows the preacher is failing at his job."
I am not saying that every pastor whose people want him to leave is automatically doing a lousy job. He might be. Or maybe not.
Show me one place in all the Scripture where the pastor (or any other leader) is sent to please the people, and I'll show you ten where the people rose up in arms against a faithful leader who was serving God well. We'll start with Moses and go to Jeremiah and on to Paul. You will notice we skipped the best example of all, the Lord Jesus.
May I suggest the best response when someone suggests the pastor ought to leave because some of the members are unhappy with him? Laugh at them. That's all. Laugh out loud. And then add, "Are you serious? Read your Bible, man." And then walk away.
7. The best thing your church has to offer Christians is fellowship.
Now, the best thing the church has to offer the world is the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be sure. However, once they are in the kingdom, fellowship with other believers is the greatest need of believers. By that, we mean they need regular, close contact with people like themselves who are also serving Jesus. They need time to visit, to talk, to argue, to pray together, and laugh and work and serve.
In the typical church there is planned fellowship and unplanned fellowship. The planned kind takes place at assigned times in a Sunday School class or on a mission trip. The spontaneous kind involves hallways and parking lots and coffee shops and living rooms.
Your television set brings in some good preachers every Sunday morning. You can sit in front of the set and worship God, study the Word, pray, sing, and even make an offering. I suppose you can even find a way to minister without leaving home. But the one thing you cannot do watching Charles Stanley or David Jeremiah on the screen is to fellowship. For that, you will require other believers. You will need to "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together" (Hebrews 10:25).
8. The toughest part of belonging to a church is the requirement for submission. That's why we rarely hear about it.
Submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
To submit means to give in to the other. Two men disagree; one gives in. Two women disagree; one gives in to the other. Only in matters involving life-or-death issues (the inspiration of Scripture, the efficacy of the cross, the Virgin Birth, etc) do we dig in our heels and say with Luther, "God help me; I can do nothing else."
To give in to another is to practice the command of Philippians 2:3. In humility, consider others as more important than yourselves.
Two motorists met on a one-lane bridge. The first one leaned out and yelled, "I never back up for fools." The second throws his car into reverse and calls, "I always do." Which of the two men is the stronger?
Practicing submission could stop 90 percent of church divisions in their tracks.
9. God created the deacons because He needed servants willing to do the dirty work.
Jesus gave us the ultimate picture of servanthood when He stooped and washed the disciples' feet (John 13). The Jerusalem incident of Acts 6--commonly believed to be the origin of the diaconate, even though they're never called deacons there--confirms that these godly men are to serve the Lord's people in the lowliest tasks in order to free up the leaders for the ministry of the Word and prayer.
In the Old West, during cattle drives, there was a division of labor. Someone rode point in front of the herd, others rode the flanks to keep the cattle together, and some poor soul had to ride drag. Usually, this dirty job went to the newest hire or youngest cowboy or the one in trouble with the boss. His task was to see that no animal was left behind.
That's the deacons. They are not the point people, setting the vision for the congregation; God has His "called" pastors for that. They are the background workers who spend their time and energy to see that everyone is cared for, that the headstrong stray is corraled and brought back, and that stragglers are dealt with.
The Greek word translated deacon, diakonos, literally means "through the dust." That has to mean something.
At a concert in your favorite public arena, workers wearing t-shirts with "Event Staff" across the back are scurrying around. They are not performing on stage, they are not the highest paid, but the concert would not happen without their faithful labor. That's you, deacon.
Thank God for you.
10. If you do not like change in your church or your personal life, you will want to avoid Jesus. He's all about change and growth.
The Lord Jesus said believers were to be like "new wineskins," a reference to their flexibility, their adaptability to change, their skill at making adjustments to fluid situations. (See Matthew 9:17)
The image of Christians as defenders of the status quo, of resisting every new idea, of reacting against anything foreign--that is anathema to the spirit of Jesus Christ. The seven last words of the church, it has been said, are "We never did it that way before."
Jesus knows this and understands it. In fact, we could make a case for our having been created this way so we will not too easily trash the best things of our past. The Lord said, "No one, after drinking old wine, wants new. For he says, 'The old is better.'" (Luke 5:39)
So, we have to work against our innate resistance to change and growth. I once heard Rick Warren say at his church, they are continually introducing new ideas and innovations. The idea--one of them, at any rate--is not to let his people get too comfortable with any one way of doing things.
Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt. Used with permission.
Read part two of this series: "10 More Essential Things to Tell People about the Church."