We Live in a Fantasy World of Christian Community

We often get so caught up in a fantasy world, that we fail to see things as they really are. Many of us have done this when we think about Biblical Community. When we think about community in the church we often idealize it and romanticize the concept. We long for community and we long to be a part of a people who always get along, always listens to us, and always encourages us. Anyone who has spent even the slightest amount of time in a local church knows that this fantasy world we've imagined is just that, fantasy. Even Pastors fantasize about a utopia church community. We read about the early church in Acts 2 and we think, "Why doesn't my church look like this community!" Yet we often fail to see the incredible conflict in the early church. Their community was far from perfect. From sexual scandal, false teachers, intense church conferences, authority issues, and fundraising, the early church by no means resembled the fantasy world we think it is.

Yet strangely, it is the imperfection of our community which makes biblical community so sweet. The church is made up of redeemed sinners and it is expected that we will sin against each other. Many have been hurt by the church, wounded by other Christians. The church is a defunct group of people, yet God has miraculously brought this ragamuffin group together, despite all their differences through the blood of Jesus Christ.

In Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book Life Together, he addresses this fantasy world we live in when we think about community. He writes,

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live in a dream world... A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

So often we are more in love with the fantasy of our personal utopia vision of community that we don't actually love the community God has placed us in. Community is messy, yet God has called us to love these other redeemed sinners around us despite the mess they may make. There is no such thing as a "perfect church" and that is a good thing. Because as soon as you or I joined it, it would cease to be perfect. God in his wonderful plan brings sinners together and unites them through Christ.

Your illusion of christian community may have been recently shattered. You may have been greatly hurt by people within your church. You may be so frustrated with the hypocrisy in churches that you just want to abandon Christian community all together. But take heart, God has not redeemed you and saved you in Christ so you can live in a fantasy world. He has redeemed you to love and serve other sinners, real people, just like yourself. Bonhoeffer would go on to say, "We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily". God has given you your local church, a messed up sinful group of people to be your community. It is a gracious thing to be a part of the body of Christ. Cherish your community and love them for who they are now, not for who they may one day be. Love them well without expectations and when we stop seeking an ideal of community of our own creation, we just might very well find true Christian community.

Multi-Ethnic Congregations: A Present Need and a Future Reality

Our world is changing. It is not any secret that ethnic diversity is accelerating in American culture. What has been a traditionally white dominated culture is simply changing before our very eyes. The unfortunate thing is that many times churches are the most segregated gatherings of people in the country. Established churches have a tendency to be mono-ethnic, meaning that they reach one sort of ethnicity. White people go to church with white people. Black people go to church with black people. Asian people go to church with asian people. You get the point. This is incredibly unfortunate and fails to reflect the reality of heaven in which there will be people from every tribe, tongue, and nation worshiping King Jesus (Read Revelation 5). If established churches are going to survive and thrive the next few decades, we must begin to get a vision for mult-ethnic congregations.

The Church is Not Dying

Many Christians seem to be the prophetic voice of doom. "The Church is dying in America!", well,  so they exclaim. However, this is proving not to be the case. Soong-Chan Rah in his book The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity argues that christianity in America isn't dying it is just changing. He writes incitefully:

“As many lament the decline of Christianity in the United States in the early stages of the twenty-first century, very few have recognized that American Christianity may actually be growing, but in unexpected and surprising ways. The American church needs to prepare for the next stage of her history—we are looking at a nonwhite majority, multiethnic Christianity in the immediate future. Unfortunately, despite these drastic demographic changes, American evangelicalism remains enamored with an ecclesiology and a value system that reflect a dated and increasingly irrelevant cultural captivity and are disconnected from both a global and local reality” (p. 12)

We are looking at a next stage of evangelicalism and it isn't just a white or black movement. It is multi-racial. Rah argues that evangelicalism is actually growing rapidly in America, not among whites, but among first and second generation immigrants from Asia, Africa, and South America. The reason we have been missing this trend is because all of our studies and research are done through an Anglo-Centric lense. Rah continues to write:

“The public face of America is no longer a white male. Meanwhile, the trend of a nonwhite majority America will hit the churches faster than it will hit the general population. This tend is due in large part to the sustaining of American Christianity by newly arrived immigrants who bring their Christian faith with them…. Contrary to popular opinion, the church is not dying in America; it is alive and well, but it is alive and well among the immigrant and ethnic minority communities and not among the majority white churches in the United States” (p. 14).

Embracing Racial Diversity in our Churches

We must begin to reach out and engage people of other cultures and nationalities in our churches. This will by no means be an instintaneous transition. It will be slow and gradual, but we must be commited to reaching all people from every sort of ethnic background. The nations are no longer overseas. The world has gotten smaller and the nations are right outside our door.

In my own church, a southern baptist church, I've been so excited recently because our church is beginning to look more like the throne room of heaven. We still have a long way to go, but by God's grace we have seen multiple cultural backgrounds.

  • We have a thriving hispanic ministry meeting at our church and worshiping with us on Sunday morning.
  • We have many deaf members along with a deaf pastor on staff to reach this people group in Wilson.
  • Our church has become less "white" by having black Americans join and visit our church.
  • We have begun to see Asian people begin to join and visit, including this past Sunday where we had four japanese students visit our congregation.

These are very exciting things that are happening in our church, and for a SBC church which is known for being predominatly a white denominatio, this is amazing to see. It is my conviction that our churches should look like our local Walmart, which has become a population sample of the etnic melting pot of our cities. May we learn to see that the Gospel is for all people from all backgrounds and may we create strategies to reach all the people in our cities, even people with different skin color.

Replacing False Foundations in the Church

The Gospel is polarizing. So often we build the unity of our churches on anything other than the Gospel. We build it on a worship style.

We build our unity on our social group.

We build our unity on our skin color.

We build our unity by our age.

We build our unity on entertainment and fun.

We build our unity on politics

We build our unity on anything other than the blood of Christ. The danger is that when we take Christ from being the cornerstone we have lost the church completely. Christ alone is what brings us together as a local body of believers. It is through his life, death, and resurrection that we are able to be forgiven of our sins and grafted into the kingdom, adopted as a child of God. When we put false foundations in instead of Jesus as the source for our unity, we fail to be a church and instead become a social club.

I have found in my ministry that when you begin to remove these false foundations and replace it with Christ it polarizes people. Not everyone will understand making Christ the center and source of unity in their community. They have lived their church lives standing on the instability of false foundation so long that they have forgotten what it is like to stand on the immovable rock.

Our churches are plagued with building their lives on sinking sand rather than Christ. As a result many people have a hard time grabbing a hold of a great vision of Christ and his sufficiency in unifying the church.

For pastors this can be a very difficult and an often painful task. Removing these false foundations can be very painful for the sheep and they will bite back. However a Pastor must operate like a surgeon. A surgeon cuts the patient for the patients health. Although the surgeon inflicts damage, his intentions are not to harm but to heal. Pastors we must operate in the same way. We must have the courage to cut out these false foundations and replace them with the Gospel. However we must make sure we operate in love, with patience and teaching. A pastor must love his sheep, sacrificing his own ego and reputation if necessary for the good of the flock. A Pastor must imitate Christ by walking the way of suffering, laying down his own life for the sake of his people. Pastor you and I must do this. The health of our churches depend on it.

Making Christ the sole foundation for your ministry will not be easy, quick, or painless, but nevertheless it is necessary. For the sake of our churches we must do this and for the sake of our own souls. As pastors we are men who must give account, and at the end of the day we will not be held accountable for our popularity but our faithfulness in proclaiming to our people the whole counsel of God. We must minister in such a way in which we can stand before the Chief Shepherd at the day of judgement knowing we have stewarded our responsibility of shepherding well.

Lies Pastors Believe When Discouraged

Recently I was at an event with a lot of pastors. As we were sitting around the table and conversing, I heard comment after comment showing their frustration and personal anguish over their own churches. Each and every one of these guys seemed so burned out and frustrated over their congregations that they seemed to have practically given up. It was a sad sight to see so many called men of God seem so discouraged. Discouragement and frustration are a natural part of ministry. disappointment will happen and church ministry can be very tough. I've noticed in both my own life and in the life of other pastors there tends to be a few common lies we start believing when discouragement comes our way.

Lie 1: I Must Not Be Called to Ministry

This tends to be constant doubt many pastors have. Am I really called to this? Where is the fruit of my ministry? Am I just fooling myself that God wanted me to do this? However these doubts are lies from the enemy. In our age of instant gratification, where you can go to McDonald's and get a Big Mac instantly, we want to see results instantly. Many pastors begin their first few years at a church and results seem to be small and insignificant. We want results and we want them know, so when things begin to get difficult we automatically think that we were not called to do this. Sure, there may be some problems in our own hearts we need to address, but just because things are tough does not mean that we are not called by God. Many men in the Bible faithfully served with fruitless ministries. Jeremiah is a prime example.

Lie 2: God Can't Work in My Church

In addition to doubting ourselves, we tend to doubt God. We think that God is unable to revitalize this church, that he is unable to transform the lives of our people.  Our people are to difficult for God, so we think. Pastors, we should know above all others, as men of the Word, that this is a blatant lie. God can transform even the most calloused hearts. If he can transform the heart of the apostle Paul and if he can transform our hearts, than God is able to transform the hearts of those in our congregation. As you faithfully minister do not doubt the power or the ability of God to bring revival to your congregation. Beg God to move through prayer and faithfully lead. Wait for God to do the impossible. In your frustrations in ministry, do not doubt the power or goodness of God.

Lie 3: We Need a New Program

This is a temptation many pastors face. Things are going so well so we get the top church ministry books and then viciously apply them in our local churches. We take models of bigger churches and try to force them on our churches. The problem however, isn't just our programming, it is our hearts. Trying to bring revival through programming is like trying to put a roof on a house that isn't built yet. Programs are not the answer to your churches woes. The problem with our churches are not external programs, but the internals of our hearts. Our temptation is just like the Pharisees, to white wash the tomb while our churches are rotting on the inside.

Externals and programs are perceived by pastors as a quick fix that provides instant results in our churches. That is why we so quickly gravitate towards them. This is why we have an obsession with what the latest "Successful" church is doing and we try to copy it.  However, as faithful pastors we must shepherd the hearts of our people, pointing them towards Christ and the power of His Gospel.

Love Your People. Preach Truth. Lead with Conviction. Pray for Revival

Pastor, do not believe the lies of pastoral ministry we are so quick to think in times of discouragement. Ministry is not always easy. We will suffer. We will be criticized. We will often feel all alone. However, we must not doubt the power of God in our ministry. In times of desperation, run to our good God and King. Fall on your face in prayer. Ask him to give you the strength to be faithful. During these tough times of discouragement love your people like Christ has loved them. Preach boldly the truth of God's word. Lead with conviction over the truth of the Gospel. Pray that God would do the miraculous in your ministry.  Beg God that he would open the eyes of the blind and raise the dead to life. He is able.

Pastoral Lessons from the Life of Martin Luther

128756_imagno Martin Luther was a a German Monk whom God used to start the Reformation.  Martin Luther is remembered for many things such as his famous 95 thesis published on October 31, 1517 that went viral.  He is remembered for translating the New Testament into German, the language of his people.  However, one of the most dramatic events in Luther's life was the Diet of Worms.  It was at this meeting that Luther was asked by the Catholic Church leaders to recant all his beliefs such as the justification by faith alone.  It is here that Luther faced with excommunication and possible execution as a heretic, he would have to make his choice.  Luther asked for a night to think about whether he would recant or stand firm on his beliefs.  The turmoil in Luther's soul was fierce that night, and when he arrived the next morning his mind was made up.  Here is what the german monk said:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason- for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves - I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound.  God help me. Amen.

For those who prefer the movie version of this historic scene you can watch the clip from the 2003 movie Luther. (In the movie version they skip the night he takes to dwell on it)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5P7QkHCfaI

What lessons can Pastors today learn from the life of Martin Luther?  Well there are more than can be written in this blog post, but let me suggest to you one primary one.

Just like Martin Luther, pastors today must unapologetically stand on the Word of God for all things regarding faith and practice.  There is a temptation for ministers today to let tradition or culture dictate how the church must be.  Pastors must boldly stand on the Word of God, even in the face of incredible opposition.

The Bible will continue to be more and more controversial as our western culture continues to secularize.  Soon, and to some extent even now, faithful pastors will be marginalized for their commitment to the truth of the Scriptures.  Sooner than we think we too must make our stand.  When that time comes we, just as Luther, must make our conscience captive to the Word of God.  We must stand firm on the sufficiency of Scripture and we must do so unapologetically.  God help us.  Amen.