When was the last time you were involved in a heated discussion about the church? Maybe it was about your home church and something that drives you crazy. Or maybe some “crazy Christian” made a comment that offended you and a discussion ensued about how “the church” is a hot mess.
I’ve witnessed and been a part of lengthy debates regarding the church. These discussions have been regarding the church as a people group, the worldwide collection of creative sinners falling short of the glory of God. These discussions have also been about the church, the entity that combines leadership and a congregation, often meeting under one roof in the pursuit of God, to shepherd people to Christ for salvation and hope. I’ve seen red-hot faces, tears, clenched fists, shaking heads and hands on hearts, and my own heart has palpitated at the sheer ferocious force behind these fiery words and wounded spirits.
These discussions and the overarching discontentment of people in the church have hammered at my heart for several months. I’ve asked myself why we’re so apt to pick apart what isn’t working for us, to share our negative opinions, or to congregate and elaborate on how we’re offended and let down.
This is a complex topic, but the simplest answer is we’re human. Us humans are a self-centered and self-important tribe. The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that to have unity in the church we need to build each other up; get rid of bitterness, anger and brawling; and forgive each other. Obviously when we’re stuck in a cycle of complaining about THE church or OUR church or THE PEOPLE in our church, we’re not heading Paul’s advice. Our humanity gets the better of us because we tend to have a balance issue. Not only do many of us read Scripture for only a small fraction of the time we stream our entertainment, many of us want more from the church than we’re willing to give the church. A big duh to why many of us, then, struggle with being the church.
Can we break this cycle? I believe we can. And we’re going to follow five steps modeled after the actions of the earliest church to physically move us in the direction of holy healing – individually and as the church.
First, let me offer a quick overview of how this first church came to be:
- Jesus died, rose from the dead, hung out on earth for 40 days, prepared his disciples for his ascent into heaven, promised the Holy Spirit, and then ascended into heaven.
- 10 days after Jesus returned to heaven, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on his disciples with a loud, violent wind and tongues of fire.
- Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus three times before Jesus was crucified, fueled by the Holy Spirit, gave a balcony sermon that inspired 3,000 Jews to become Christians.
This group of hungry, on-fire-for-God, baby Christians were the first church. While they’d been bound by religion and legalism all their lives, they had just received their first taste of freedom in Christ. Because of how they lived collectively as the church, God added daily to their numbers, and the church grew rapidly.
Here are FIVE IMPACTFUL STEPS that made everyone want to be the church back then – and how these steps can propel us now.
- They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship. We have the apostle’s teachings right in front of us, friends! We have the Word! These men and women didn’t get to know Jesus personally as the disciples had (many of them likely hadn’t ever seen Jesus, as they’d just traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost), but they grew to know and love him through the voices of men who knew him and loved him. We can do this too. The Scriptures are God-breathed and inspired, and the Gospels are the way Jesus transcends the page into our lives.
When we receive the Word in our heart, we know in our spirit how to be the church instead of recycling the mentality that church is all about us.
- They gathered in each other’s homes and devoted themselves to fellowship and to the breaking of bread. If you’re struggling within the church in some way, I encourage you to bring people into your home. Invite the people you know. Have them invite people you don’t know. Sit around a giant table or on the floor. Spoon out massive mountains of spaghetti with cheap tomato sauce from Wal-Mart. Make the bread on your own or do like I do: ask Trader Joe or Target to make it. Bring as many imperfect people together as possible under your roof and join together with a common purpose of breaking bread. People today are broken and lonely. Invitations are too few. We feel left behind and forgotten.
When we bring people into our home, we are the church.When we bring people into our home, we are the church. Encourage a Friend
- They prioritized others. These early believers sold their belongings to give to those whole had little. What these early believers did was put others before themselves. They learned to be selfless. For some of us, this will be a lifelong lesson, but we can take bold steps in the right direction.
- We can give to a church or a Christian ministry.
- We can donate our most valuable resource, time, to a local service for the poor.
- We can meet one-on-one with another person with the sole purpose of building her up and sharing the love of Christ. This is the simplest form of the great commission, building disciples one at a time. Starbucks addicts, this is perfect for you.
- We can make and deliver meals for hurting members in the church. (Try making them in bulk and freeze them so you always have something to give when time is short). Macaroni and Cheese from scratch is my staple: it’s easy to make a massive batch, it’s super affordable, and it freezes great!
We’re told in Philippians 2:3-4 to value others above ourselves, to esteem them higher than us. The Greek definition of “esteem” here also means to lead. So when we put others first we are truly leading.
When we prioritize others in the way Christ calls us to do, we are leaders within the church.
- They worshipped daily and praised God. I love how they continued to meet daily in the temple courts, which had always been a place of prayer and the Jewish law, even though they had received a new promise of grace. I love this because we do the same. We fight to break habits from an old life to live in the fullness of grace, even though we know better. But I also love this because they were so eager to gather, worship and pray, that they went to the nearest available location to do it. They sought a community under a roof. We do this too when we seek a church. If we can shift the focus of our life within the church back to God and our desire to worship Him, maybe we can more easily align with the fact that everyone in there is a combination of the new and the old, the law and the grace, what fights to remain and what God is working to sift out of us.
When we worship with our fellow sinners, knowing we all struggle to break the bondage of the law, we are the hands and feet of freedom within the church.
- They enjoyed the favor of all people. Favor here means grace. There it is again: grace, that thing we talk about all the time but rarely ever truly give. Because it’s hard. And it takes a supernatural supplement (the Holy Spirit) to boost our severe deficiency in it. But without it our church will drown in our “what about me” mentality. I’ve told my husband this: when you like me the least, I need the most grace. Because that’s when I’m hurting. So when grace is the last thing you want to offer, I promise you it’s the spark that will ignite a wildfire, as those who receive it are more likely to give it away.
When we step out of how we’re feeling and offer grace when we least want to, we are the grace of the church.
Dear reader, let’s break the cycle of complaining and questioning the church. Instead of focusing on all the ways we wish the church could be different, let’s spearhead a movement of becoming the church we want to experience.Let's spearhead a movement of becoming the church we want to experience. Encourage a Friend
Did this blog speak to you? If so, there’s more inspiration to come! Sign up below to receive my blog via email, plus a free devotional.
Acts 2:42-47 New International Version (NIV)
The Fellowship of the Believers
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Friend, it’s time to ditch the chaos and give your faith a makeover. You need the 5-Day Faith Fix – five days of scripture, reflection and action designed to take your faith from faltering to flourishing. GET IT FREE. Plus, you’ll receive my weekly blog directly to your inbox! (Don’t worry, I don’t sell or promote my email list so I’ll be the only gal sending you goodies each week.)