People should know what we’re against. But people should also know what we are for. This is true in any sphere. It is certainly true in the body of Christ. We are immersed in a consumerist culture. This means that we have absorbed consumerism into our being, just like a sponge absorbs water. Make no mistake, we are children of our consumeristic times.
As a pastor, I see just how much a consumer mindset has infiltrated believers when they are 1) looking for a church and 2) serving in a church. When people are looking for a church, they “shop” around to see which church will serve them best When these same people join a church it impacts their service because they remain committed to getting rather than giving–or giving nominally rather than sacrificially. I liken church membership to a bank account. A person typically makes deposits and withdrawals. A balanced church member does both. A church member who only withdraws (benefits from ministry) just drains resources–it’s an unsustainable pattern. A church member who only deposits (participates in ministry) burns himself out. As church members, we need to do both. I appreciate the congregation of Bible Baptist Church (BBC), the church at which I serve. There are a good number of people involved in the work of the ministry. This post is not a backdoor critique of the congregation I shepherd. On the contrary, it’s a joy to do the work of the ministry with many of the saints at BBC. At the same time, every American Christian has marinated long enough in a consumer oriented culture that we cannot escape its influence.
This brings me back to where I began. The Apostle Paul’s teaching on the body of Christ reveals that a consumer mentality (a focus on me and what I can get) is the polar opposite of a ministry mindset (a focus on others and what I can give). The two cannot peacefully coexist. So believer, do you want to be counter-cultural? According to the Apostle Paul, if we are going to be anti-consumerism as believers we must be pro-body of Christ.
I’ll close with a citation that prompted this post. Paul Tripp communicated the importance of the body of Christ when he wrote,
Many of us would be relieved if God had placed our sanctification in the hands of trained and paid professionals, but that simply is not the biblical model. God’s plan is that through the faithful ministry of every part, the whole body will grow to full maturity in Christ. The leaders of his church have been gifted, positioned, and appointed to train and mobilize the people of God for this ‘every person, everyday’ ministry lifestyle.
The paradigm is simple: when God calls you to himself, he also calls you to be a servant, and instrument in his redeeming hands. All of his children are called into ministry, and each of them needs the daily intervention this ministry provides. If you followed the Lord for a thousand years, you would still need the ministry of the body of Christ as much as the day you first believed. This need will remain until our sanctification is complete in Glory (Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, ix).
This came out of Kevin DeYoung’s and Ted Kluck’s, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. It is a hypothetical narrative of a dismayed churchgoer expressing their frustration with the “institutional, organized church.” So true, irreverent, and funny (its humor is bound up in its basis in reality):
The institutional church is so (pejorative adjective). When I go to church I feel completely (negative emotion). The leadership is totally (adjective you would use to describe Richard Nixon) and the people are (noun that starts with un-). The services are (adjective you might use to describe going to the dentist), the music is (adjective you would use to describe the singing on the whole congregation is (choose among: “passive,” “comatose,” “hypocritical,” or “Rush Limbaugh Republicans”). The whole thing makes me (medical term).
I had no choice but to leave the church. My relationship with (spiritual noun) is better than ever. Now I meet regularly with my (relational noun, pl.) and talk about (noun that could be the focus of a liberal arts degree) and Jesus. We really care for each other. Sometimes we even (choose among: “pray for each other,” “feed the homeless together,” or “share power tools”). This is church like it was meant to be. After all, (insert: “Where two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of you,” or “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” or “we don’t have to go to church, we are the church”). I’m not saying everyone needs to do what I’ve done, but if you are tired of (compound phrase that begins with “institutional” or ends with “as-we-know-it”), I invite you to join the (noun with political overtones) and experience (spiritual noun) like you never will by sitting in a (choose among the following architectural put-downs: “wooden pew,” “steepled graveyard,” “stained-glassed mausoleum,” or “glorified concert hall”) week after week. When will the (biblical noun) starting being the (same biblical noun) (DeYoung and Kluck, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, 14)?
I came across this thought-provoking citation in the March publication of Christianity Today. CT highlighted the issue of depression in their March edition. Derek Keefe interviewed John Ortberg on how the church can help those who are depressed. Here is one question posed to Ortberg,
What preventive measures can churches take [to help those struggling with depression]?
[Ortberg] When churches are being effective, creating authentic communities where intimate connection is offered, this is the single biggest contribution they can make. A medical sociologist named Janice Egeland has done some really interesting research on depression among the Amish. One of her findings was that rates of reactive depression [an inappropriate state of depression that is precipitated by events in the person’s life] are significantly lower among the Amish than among all other segments of the population.
In comparison, among evangelicals as a whole, there is virtually no difference in the incidence of reactive depression as compared to the general population. Part of the explanation is that we evangelicals are much more a part of our culture, and have a ways to go to create a community where people are so connected that there is a significant difference in the incidence of depression.
The Amish, of course, take great pains to separate from the broader culture. For evangelicals as a whole, a separation that radical is probably not likely. We see our calling to be “in the world but not of it.” But is it possible to be in the world, as most evangelicals are, but still part of a community that is alternative enough that it would actually change the incidence of depression? That would be a really interesting experiment (Keefe, “Connecting to Hope,” Christianity Today [March 2009], 29).
The larger point I want to highlight is simply this, that a loving and genuine church body can have therapeutic effects on those who are hurting emotionally, physically, and mentally in the body.
In my Bible reading yesterday, I read from Nehemiah 10 and Acts 20. Both emphasized the importance of an assembly of believers. In Nehemiah 10, the assembly covenants together. The covenant was made only by those who could willfully make this covenant (10:28). The covenant was to keep the law of God (10:29); concerning marriage (10:30), commerce (10:31), giving for the maintaining the operation of the house of God (10:32-34), and bringing their tithes and offerings (10:35-39b). This also included the care of those who ministered in the house of God, i.e. priests (10:36). So the covenant is encapsulated with the phrase: “we will not neglect the house of our God” (10:39c). We ought to share the perspective and priorities of God’s people in the OT concerning the house of God. Its care, advancement, and primacy were foremost to the people. Not only did they concern themselves with the maintenance of the house of God, but aesthetics mattered to them. We shouldn’t skimp on what we have in God’s house. All too often we are content to do the bare minimum by way of furnishings, functions, etc. This should not be. God’s people in the OT understood that the care of the building reflected their view of the God they worshipped. They also understood that those who ministered in the house of God were worthy of their wages.
In Acts 20, we have the well-known account of Paul’s meeting with the elders (touvV presbuvterouV) at Ephesus. Paul extends a sober reminder to the overseers (ejpivskopoV) that they should shepherd (poimaivnw), i.e. pastor, the flock of God (note that the words “elders,” “overseers,” and “to shepherd” are used interchangeably for the same man). The overriding emphasis is that those who serve as an elder/overseer/pastor are stewards not owners. It is the church of God (20:28), which was obtained with a most precious commodity, the blood of Christ (20:28). Paul tells them that their duty is to protect it from outside dangers (20:29) and to care for those within it (20:28).
Even though the house of God in Nehemiah’s day was not the church, it was to be cared for physically and to be central in the life of God’s people. It was God’s plan for His people. Similarly, the Christian Church of the NT ought to have a central place in the life of God’s people. It was, after all, obtained through the death of God’s own son. May the refrain of God’s people in the NT be that of the OT saints: “we will not neglect the house of our God.”