Simple Church, Complex Reasoning Pt. II

Feeling artistic today? Well, I am. Let me paint a picture for you.

Tom goes to church every Sunday morning – he’s faithfully attended for 4 years. Tom is married to his wife, Ruth, and they have two children; Sam, 16, and Shelly, 13.

To the people surrounding Tom and Ruth on Sunday mornings, they look like the typical American family. They have smiles on their faces, they say ‘hello’ when people pass them, they’re attentive during the sermons, and they sing every song. Their kids are well behaved. Sam is on the football team at his local high school, and Shelley is reported to make great grades.

Every Sunday you can count on seeing them in the assembly – Wednesday evenings too. So what’s the problem? They’re there, aren’t they?

Yes, they’re there. But there’s a problem. “There” is all they’ve been, and “there” is all they are.

There’s a massive, profound, nuclear question in life that millions of Americans have been given the wrong answer to: what does it mean to follow Jesus?

 

Clocked In Christianity

Like so many others, Tom and Ruth are living examples of what the wrong answer looks like. The measuring stick for their spiritual health has been their attendance to a couple of meetings per week where they sit with their hands folded and listen to someone speak to them.

No one at that church knows the stress Tom’s job puts him under. No one knows how lonely Ruth has been since the kids were little. No one knows that Sam has been drinking on the weekends and is addicted to pornography, no one knows that Shelly has been sexually active with her boyfriend and is afraid she might be pregnant. No one knows that Tom and Ruth are in dire financial straits, are both very unhappy and unfulfilled, or that their marriage is on the verge of collapse. No one knows.

But how can they know? No one at their church has bothered to spend more than an hour or two a week with them for 4 years, and during that time they weren’t interacting past a polite “hello” and “how are you doing” which are simply normal, surface courtesies people show while they’re clocked in.

No one knows Tom and Ruth’s situation because no one knows them. They’re not part of an authentic, loving, Christ-centered community that’s grounded in everyday living – they’re part of an artificial, manufactured, clocked in community that comes together at set times for set lengths, and has walls erected to separate it from the real world. 

But that doesn’t change this: when the members clock out, real life clocks in, and Satan is having a field day.

 

Today’s Status Quo Standard of Success

Tom and Ruth don’t follow Jesus, and their kids don’t either. The church they’re a part of tries it’s best to meet the standards of status quo, and for the most part it does. That’s the problem.

For church leaders, status quo dictates that success or failure be defined by the number of spectators in attendance. The higher the number, the more successful the church. Billions (with a “b”) of dollars have been spent building new facilities so that churches’ numbers can swell thereby making them “successful.”

For members, status quo says the decision to join a church should be based on whether or not the preaching is good and if the worship style is to their liking or not. Little if any thought is given to how they could exercise their gifts to build the body, or if the world will be a better place by their joining the fellowship and getting involved.

Too often, people like Tom and Ruth are just faces in a crowd, and too often, people like Tom and Ruth are perfectly happy keeping it that way. They haven’t the faintest idea what being part of an authentic Christ-centered community is like, and unless they experience it they’ll never get past the darkness that’s engulfed them.

 

Community is Key

A few months ago I conducted a national study of Church of Christ campus ministries as part of my work for CMU. The process involved making hundreds of phone calls and asking thousands of questions, and I’m pleased to say that the majority of CoC campus ministry leaders were surveyed.

I’ve shared the results of that study with a few people, and also a bit of what I learned  at the last CMU workshop. One of the things the study revealed is the importance community plays in effective spiritual formation.

Christ-centered community is the chief tool in the effective discipling of college students, and guess what: college students are people just like everyone else. The same principle applies – in addition to a vibrant devotional life, community is vital for health spiritual development in most people.

Would you like to see someone develop into a truly Christ-centered individual? Then plug them in to a Christ-centered community.

I believe Christ-centered community is what’s missing from many congregations today, and don’t believe Tom and Ruth would be in the position they’re in if they’d been part of one. I also don’t think it’s too late for them – they simply need to be reached.

Christ-centered community can help people answer that profound question – what does it really mean to follow Jesus?

Clocking in pales in comparison to bearing your cross.

Here’s a question: how should leaders view their role in Christ-centered community development?

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