Club Jesus

church-light1

You go to the interview because you’re desperate, buried in debt. The Personnel Director seems very upbeat. He takes a moment to affirm your debt, then shares some very good news: The owner of the company hates debt. He started the company by asking his rich son to personally bankrupt himself, filling the company’s vaults with unlimited cash. All you have to do is accept the gift, and walk away debt free.

“What’s the catch?” you ask.

“There is no catch.”

“What do I have to do?”

“Just believe what I’m telling you.”

“Okay, but after that. What’s the job?”

“There is no job, per se. But if you want to help out, you can tell others about the company, get some people in the door.”

You hesitate. Something feels wrong. “Why would the owner do that?”

“He loves you.”

“Why?”

You get a smug smile, as if you should have known better. “He just does.”

You hesitate again, which seems to concern the Personnel Director. “Let me tell you about the insurance program,” he says, pressing. “You’re gonna love retirement!”

When you finally agree, the Director puts a mark on his white board, then hands you a white board and a marker. “Just in case you want to talk to your friends about the company,” he says. “The owner loves a good recruiter.”

Before you leave, he mentions that the office is open on Wednesdays, which is optional, and on Sundays, which is strongly encouraged.

“What do we do?” you ask.

“We send thank you cards to the owner, get any new debt taken care of, talk about retirement, things like that. We have a new cappuccino machine. That’s fun. The company down the street doesn’t have one.”

You sort of nod, still trying to wrap your brain around being debt free, then head for the parking lot with your empty white board.

Okay, back to reality. I admit that I am being a little facetious, though I have experienced much of this kind of thing in my 30+ years as a Christian. As you probably know, I’m not a fan of preaching a cropped Gospel.

In this post, however, I want to talk about the role of the local church. How can we do a better job of presenting the Gospel and encouraging our congregants to fully engage with it in their private lives?

Here are some trends that I believe can be counterproductive:

FUN CHURCH:

Come to SonShine Community Church! We have programs for everybody, with awesome snacks, upbeat music and a wholesome, inspiring message. This is a place for families. It’s a place to meet people, make friends, maybe even find a date. And, hey, we even talk about Jesus. He loves you. He wants to bless you. He wants to make all your dreams come true. If you seem to have trouble, any trouble at all, we’ll pray for you. We also have fun community groups to get you plugged in.

CLUB JESUS:

If you want the truth, join our church. We take the Gospel seriously. Our pastor teaches the Word without compromise. We baptize the right way. We do communion every Sunday. We stand by the orthodox teachings of some of God’s most anointed preachers. We’re not like that church down the street that muddies the obvious truth with their bizarre doctrines. We’re not like the world, entertaining ourselves to death. We’re set apart.

FULL SERVICE:

Need a teacher? Come listen to our pastor, he makes the Bible make sense. You can also join a small group Bible study to dig a little deeper with one of our staff members. Need counseling? Want direction for your life? Sign up for a consultation with one of our on-campus counselors. Look online to see their qualifications. Need comfort? Talk to someone. Get on the prayer chain. Feel lonely? Join a community group.

Obviously these things are not all negative. What’s wrong with having a solid orthodoxy, strong leadership or inspiring programs? Can’t Christians have a little fun? Most local churches are helpful, well-meaning communities that preach the Gospel and work alongside the suffering people around them.

However, we can’t deny that, in general, many believers have a fairly shallow understanding of Scripture and spiritual things, struggle with private weaknesses, and make very little positive impact in their communities.

I think there are some things we can do to make the local church more effective without trying to start a whole new movement.

VISION:

For most major leaguers, winning a ring is the motivation behind every workout session, every diet plan, every minute in the batting cages, every moment on the field. For most Christians, however, Jesus already won the World Series on the cross, and people just need to realize that.

Sure, grab a bat, take a swing, but it doesn’t matter if you make contact. The game is already over. The devil lost. There is nothing more to gain. We just need to wait until the season is over and collect our rings, which, of course, we’ll hand over to Jesus right away.

My next post will be about vision. I believe that an expanded vision of the Gospel is critical if we want to do something about our lack of personal and corporate education, our general lack of motivation, lack of accountability and lack of unity.

SMALLER:

Sure, large churches connect with more people. More people means more money, which means better programs, more staffing and more opportunities for growth and outreach. Sadly, it also distorts God’s vision for his people.

As I mentioned in a previous post, every believer receives the Spirit of God at the moment of conversion, and that Spirit is expected to bring light to our own self-oriented souls, then to our families and friends, and ultimately to our own communities. This process requires a sense of responsibility that urges us toward daily study, social disciplines and personal accountability.

How can we be supported by our pastors and teachers if we are just one of a few thousand people? We can talk about small groups, but how many leaders does the church need to train, and how good can that training be in such a short time? Trying to force spiritual wisdom and maturity into teams of community group leaders is like trying to force a tree to grow to maturity in just a few months. And God’s people need trees, not saplings.

BALANCED:

Despite the presentation of spiritual gifts in Corinthians, expressing balance and variety, churches tend to burn out their clergy, and neglect their congregations. Why? The clergy are paid to devote their full attention to the church, the rest of the people have jobs and families to attend to. Ultimately, the church becomes a grueling job for some, and an uplifting life-enhancer for others, right alongside piano lessons and trips to the gym.

Can we bring more balance to our churches? Can we encourage people to seek harder after God rather than depending on their pastors and programs? How can we educate our congregants without feeling like we have to entertain them as well, anything to keep their tithing bodies in the pews? What can we do to help people feel more connected to a more global mission and purpose?

6 thoughts on “Club Jesus

  1. Very good post, john!

    Saw Leah & hear that Lucas is going to Poland for eight weeks this summer. Live with a family over there?

    He may get to visit Auschwitz & the other “infamous” death camps,from WWII.

    Have you visited Brandon?

    Hope to hear from you!

    GOD BLESS!!

    David

    On Thursday, January 28, 2016, Barnts in the Belfry wrote:

    > John Barnts posted: ” You go to the interview because you’re desperate, > buried in debt. The Personnel Director seems very upbeat. He takes a moment > to affirm your debt, then shares some very good news: The owner of the > company hates debt. He started the company by asking his” >

    Like

    • Hi David,

      Lucas is actually going with Teen Missions International to teach English to Polish kids, and do some renovation as well. He’ll be doing two weeks at a boot camp in Florida to get ready, then spend a month in Poland, then come back to Florida for a debriefing.

      I did the same thing when I was his age. Went to an orphanage in Egypt. It made a big difference in my life. We hope it has a similar impact with Lucas. Be praying!

      Like

  2. ALRIGHTY – here’s my two-cents. I liked the opening story a great deal. Saw where it was going….pretty good illustration.

    As for the church caricatures: I think there’s a ton of churches that fall into these categories but I wonder if we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Can there be churches that preach a strong gospel message and still be “fun for the whole family?” Is creativity and dazzle something people do when they don’t have substance? I don’t think so. I have been a worship leader in a…Medium-sized church for most of my worship leading career and I stepped away momentarily because I recognized my hand in creating a consumer culture within my own body so it’s not as if I’m defensive. Mega-prosperity-church with false doctrine from the pulpit? I can think of a few. Mega churches with a life sized animated Noah’s ark entrance to the children’s ministry campus can also have solid, gospel centered teaching and life changing fellowship. And besides, that Giant cartoon Ark was probably a gift from some very talented people called to give their gifts in that church.

    And not to be even more contrarian sounding (cuz I promise I don’t mean to be) there are many MANY highly gifted and qualified life group leaders in all of these churches. They are gifted by the Spirit and also lead thriving careers outside of the ministry. Not everyone needs seminary training to be able to change lives in their life groups. Trust me. I’m in one. My life group leader is a successful wealth management adviser at Merrill Lynch and does just fine.

    It feels like, in trying to break the mold, you may be on your way to creating a new mold. (I’m sure there’s a joke in here somewhere about you turning into a crotchety old man one day) 🙂

    In conclusion, I agree with everything you say here….kind of. 🙂

    Like

    • You say two-cents, but you usually throw in a nickel. That’s what I like about you.

      I really have no interest in breaking a mold, necessarily. I really don’t think changing this or that program, or this or that building is going to make a difference in people’s hearts. I think what we have in place can really work as long as people are getting solid teaching, and enough attention and accountability to really grow. Many churches are doing that right now, and even doing it with flair.

      Notice what I wrote:

      “Obviously these things are not all negative. What’s wrong with having a solid orthodoxy, strong leadership or inspiring programs? Can’t Christians have a little fun? Most local churches are helpful, well-meaning communities that preach the Gospel and work alongside the suffering people around them.

      “However, we can’t deny that, in general, many believers have a fairly shallow understanding of Scripture and spiritual things, struggle with private weaknesses, and make very little positive impact in their communities.”

      Part of my challenge comes at the beginning of each semester when I have forty new students that have been raised in church and have very little understanding of the Bible and a very loose grip on the gospel itself. My immediate question is: “What are they getting at church?”

      Obviously this can’t apply to EVERY church. And people need to be accountable for their own lives. I have spent most of my life in the church and see quite a lot of beautiful things. But my question is: “In general, what can we do better?” That’s why I suggested a stronger vision, smaller congregations and a more balanced diversity of gifts. I think that’s just biblical, not breaking a mold, right?

      Anyway, thanks for reading and tossing in your nickel. I promise I won’t spend it all in the same place. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Uh-oh, now I’m really thinking about this….. Why you gotta make me think?! (Wink)…. I think there are men called to pastor that aren’t very good preachers (herein lies the beauty of the body) <– that was free. 🙂

        what I really think is, … How much of discipleship is the church's responsibility and how much of it falls to the individual (and also, the individual family?) as a decently strong Christian, I personally feel that the primary responsibility falls to me to raise up my kids in the Lord, not the church. The church walks alongside and supports, right? But then, obviously, where do I go to grow? Don't I really just NEED my Bible and a willing spirit? As a full time church staffer, I see value in the church. The church has been flawed since its inception because people are flawed sinners everywhere you go! If we are looking to the local church to solve all the shallowness of people's faith, we're gonna be disappointed every time. Doesn't Paul commend those who hear and then go home and search the scriptures to weed out false doctrine? That makes me think there's never gonna be a 1st world church with a high rate of -that-success-that-cannot-be-truly-measured. I'm guessing the church you're talking about is hiding out in a secret room with 11 people praying and reading and taking the gospel back to their huts and villages.

        I will also say, I think the premise of your post is still true. It not nearly as true as it was, even 20 years ago. There's been a shift in thinking with all of these new preachers/theologians who are reminding the world all the same stuff you're saying here. The Gospel being spread was being stunted by surfacy razzle-dazzle and high attendance Sunday's don't matter if they don't produce. Good fruit.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Now you’re making ME think . . .

    Because the entire premise of the gospel is relational—God to people, people to God, people to people—growth must be practiced on an individual level, like a friendship or a marriage. The church can encourage and celebrate, but I don’t think it can actually GROW a person. That has to be done in our daily lives.

    Sure, education is important. Critical, actually. But growing in knowledge is not the same as growing spiritually. Growing spiritually is growing relationally with God and one another, and that must happen organically. We need to be engaged with it every day, making choices and sacrifices to deepen those relationships.

    If we make it about us, we literally cannot grow in a positive direction. We turn the church into a spiritual service station or amusement park rather than a place to come together and celebrate who and what we are in Christ.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s