Wishing All Christians Could Experience Church Life That Makes A Difference.
As I reflect on my years as a pastor I think about what binds and bonds a church community together. As Christians in the church we make covenants with each other, we confess common creeds, we take membership vows, and if we have been members of the same church for some years we have “gone to church” a lot, together. Some of us have gone to the same church and sat in the same worship services for years. Yet, some of us have experienced little community between ourselves, and our relationship has been thin. We may have common memories of something the Pastor did or said, but for too many of us it is like all having seen the same movie. Cults go after this lack of community and hold up the idealism of what church ought to be and their challenge is appealing. There are of course some who have lived in legitimate Christian community, and there are many wonderful things to say about that, as well as some very practical difficulties. Yet, it seems to me that the common church goer has missed out on many of the things that are available to make their church life richer and fuller. Some of the blame for this lies with the member but unfortunately I would have to lay some of the blame on many pastors who have failed to provide for their people some things that can make life in the church intensely fulfilling. Of what have your memories been made; from family, from neighborhood, from school? When you sit down to reminisce do common stories of church life come up, do you have any? If you don’t then this is a symptom that your church life has been relatively empty of experience that grips you. Now I certainly believe that a strong Christian life means you have spent numerous hours in worship, and that in worship you should have been focused on God and His Word. I hope that the Word has just washed over your soul and that the knowledge of it has permeated your mind. However, I also think that if you haven’t experienced your Christian life in meaningful community in the body of Christ your theology is not as practical as it should be, and you are probably not as thankful for “church” as you ought to be. I am not so much speaking here about emotional interaction in worship, which is a valid subject in itself, but about a lifestyle of love, sharing, fun, common reflection, discussion, challenge, and mission through the agency of the church. One of the things that really drove this home to me was my experience in the Army. During my time as a Senior Pastor I was also an Army Reserve Chaplain. Every month I went away for a week-end, every year I spent at least two weeks with my unit in the field. When I was mobilized for war I spent months on end with those same folks. Time with people, common experiences with people, cemented our relationships and memories together. No, time by itself didn’t bind us together, many of them were not believers, and not really my friends. I would say some were actually opposed to what I stood for, and didn’t like me. Maybe if were honest I could say the same about some of my church members, but thankfully not too many. The time spent living together combined with friendship did create a bond. My point is that I realized I was growing closer to my soldiers than many of my church members, and that for one simple reason, I spent more time living with the soldiers for two weeks than I would ever spend with some of my members. I remembered that as a young person growing up in a church I had become close to the teens in my youth group, and to the adult leaders, because we spent a lot of time together in mission, on evangelistic trips, on retreats, in camp I have too often felt sad for some of the youth and members of my church because as the years went by they consistently opted not to experience mission, ministry, or devotion in meaningful time spent together. Some of their “options” were due to conflict with school activities, sports, or just because they looked upon the activities of the church as another social option. Church members, families and parents of youth who could have, and in my opinion should have, steered themselves and their families into experiences of substance with the church neglected it and thus today have no common memories of mission, of sacrifice, even of conflict with other believers in the midst of trying to get ministry and mission done. That conflict is great training for realizing the power of God’s grace in the midst of spiritual warfare on the mission field. Those who have committed themselves to being part of a church plant team, or the initial core group, also get to participate in some intense experiences that will forever color for them what church is supposed to be; shared hope, shared sacrifice, shared fear, shared prayer, and shared victory. One of the reasons for this may be a lack of leadership from pastors who have little sense of mission except to think that the mission of the people they pastor is simply to listen to him preach, or defend theology, or be proficient in the courts of the church. Some pastors can’t seem to read the Bible, then look at the world (their neighborhood, city, nation, or the nations) and put the two things together so that they could coherently tell their people what needs to be done. I wish I could say that I was as successful as I should have been in inspiring my people to be caught up in such a passion for the Kingdom of God that all of them experienced what it means to be in a church that is obedient to the Great Commission, obedient in practicing justice and mercy, and collectively being that city on a hill whose light must not be hidden under a bushel. I think I can say the opportunites for experience and memories in following the Lamb were at least provided.