Sometimes when we get caught up talking about how we apply Biblical church, it’s easy to stay in the theoretical realm. We talk about what the Bible says and what we’re actually doing in our church services without thinking about the impact our choices have on real live people.
Take our friend Jake, for example. Jake is a successful business owner who started attending Sunday morning services because it was what his wife wanted and it was good for his reputation. It was a large church and being seen there made him appear respectful and trustworthy. Plus there was always good coffee and pastries along with free childcare, so why not go? It wasn’t like it was one of those radical churches where they expect people to pray and read the Bible and stuff. The pastors were happy if he simply brought his family and put a check in the offering basket occasionally. It didn’t seem to matter if he listened to the pastor or sang the songs or got involved; all he was asked to do was show up and sit quietly.
So Sunday after Sunday the family went to church services. Sometimes the kids were grumpy or mom and dad were fighting but it didn’t matter; they would put on their smiles and go anyway, shaking hands with everyone and telling them they were fine. Church was all about keeping up appearances and the idea of asking for prayer or advice didn’t even enter their minds. There problems were their own, not the church’s or even God’s.
Sure, they knew that Jesus loved them and died on the cross for them and that they would go to heaven when they died. They appreciated what God did for them and believed that no matter how they lived, the reckless love of God would chase them down and take them to heaven with Him. It never even occurred to them that they should pursue a relationship with God of their own. Bible study and prayer and trying to live according to the teachings of Jesus was for the pastors or people in a discipleship program; it wasn’t for normal people who lived in the real world and had jobs and a mortgage to pay.
Then one day Jake was at the gym when he ran into an old friend from high school named Phil. Jake and Phil were both on the football team so they had the same circle of friends and hung out and partied together often. They went to different colleges, though, and lost track of each other over time. Jake had heard, however, that Phil struggled with drug addictions and that his wife had left him. So Jake was surprised to see his old friend at the gym, sober and in good shape and happier than he had ever been.
They talked for a while, and Phil told Jake about how the pressures of life had built up and he had tried to escape from the pressure by drinking too much alcohol and using drugs to relax. They only made matters worse, though, and before long he was on the streets without a job or his wife and kids. He lived on the streets or down at the mission when it was too cold. He tried rehab a couple of times but it didn’t seem to work for him.
Then one day Phil was hanging out at the park when a Jesus-freak began to tell him that Jesus could deliver him from his addictions and restore his life if he would give his life to Jesus. Phil had heard about Jesus quite a few times during meals at the mission and he was thankful for the Christians and churches who fed him. However, he had never been the religious type so he didn’t go to any of their Bible studies or prayer groups or anything. He figured that since Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, then he would go to heaven with everyone else, so he didn’t need to do anything.
So when Phil heard that Jesus was not only a ticket into heaven but also a Lord and Savior who could help him overcome his addictions, it got his attention. He realized that he needed the power of Jesus in his life or he would never get free of drugs and alcohol. And as far as giving his life to Jesus and living for Him, Phil realized that he had totally screwed his life up and needed someone to tell him how to live. So he prayed from his heart and gave his life to Jesus, repenting of his sin and beginning to live for Him. It wasn’t easy, but his Jesus-freak friend began to pick him up and take him to a home church where Phil was warmly welcomed into the family of God. In fact, his new brothers and sisters in Christ began to not only pray for Phil but also to give him some practical assistance. Over the next few months they had helped him get a job and an apartment and even the gym membership that made it possible for him to cross paths with Jake.
Jake was amazed by Phil’s story, and couldn’t believe that people had been so generous and caring. The people at the church he went to would never go out of their way to help someone like that; it just wasn’t in their nature. They barely knew each other and were too busy with their own lives to get involved with helping others out. But something about it struck a chord in Jake’s soul. It just seemed right and Jake wanted to be a part of a group like that. So when Phil invited him to come to the home church, Jake was happy to go.
Jake’s first experience at the home church wasn’t as happy as Phil’s was though. Everyone was warm and welcoming, but they spent a lot of time singing songs and worshiping, and Jake began to feel uncomfortable. He began thinking about God and how he rarely took time to pray or give thanks to Him, let alone serve Him or give his life to Him. Just being in God’s presence with others who were worshiping and praying made Jake feel convicted of his sin. He got this horrible sense that he had wasted his life chasing money instead of the God who made him.
So Jake began to do business with God in his own heart as everyone continued to worship. He began to pray – really pray – for the first time in a long time. He began to talk to God in his own heart, confessing his sin and his need for God as well as giving thanks for Jesus dying on the cross and forgiving his sins.
As the worship and prayer time came to an end, people began to share what God had put on their hearts as they worshiped and spent time in His presence. People encouraged one another and prayed for one another and there was a sense of holy awe as people were made whole and given direction for their lives.
One brother, though, took Jake to the side and began to pray and prophesy to him quietly, “I think the Lord is saying something to you, Jake. I feel like God is saying your days as a deceiver are over. Like Jacob in the Bible, you have been a deceiver but God blessed you anyway. Now is the time to turn away from your deceptions and to live for God. You need to grab a hold of Him and wrestle with Him like Jacob did. Turn away from deceiving your employees (Jake sometimes cheated people on how many hours they worked). Turn away from deceiving your customers (Jake liked to advertise a low price but actually charge a higher one). Turn away from deceiving your wife (Jake was unfaithful at times). And most of all, turn away from deceiving God by going to church and pretending like everything is ok and that you are a Christ-follower when nothing could be further from the truth.”
As uncomfortable as it was to hear, Jake felt relieved and even at peace with what was being said to him. For he knew that only God knew about all those deceptions. He could fool some of the people some of the time but he couldn’t fool God even one more time. He knew that his days of going to church to go through the motions and pretend to be a Christian were over. From that day forward he would be a true Christ-follower.
Jake and Phil both went on to enjoy the abundant life that Jesus offers all of us that follow Him. That little home church changed their lives, although the actions that brought about the change can happen in large churches as well. What is important is that a Biblical approach to doing church is put into action rather than church being a Sunday morning performance where everyone puts on a smiley face and pretends that everything is great even when it is not.
Changed lives happen when we get real with one another and confess our sins and pray for one another. Real life in Christ happens when we get into God’s presence and pray for one another and give encouraging words to one another as we are led by His Spirit. People become born again when we invite people to come to Jesus instead of inviting them to come to a church service. People grow in Christ when we call them to repentance and challenge them to live for Jesus. And people are most fulfilled when they are using their God-given gifts and talents to bless others and bring glory to God instead of sitting in a seat and watching a performance.
Questions for Contemplation and Discussion: 1) At the church you attend, is the weekly meeting/service mostly a performance by those who come as well as those on the stage or is it the family of God coming together to meet with Him and love one another? 2) How can the leaders of your church make Sunday services less of a performance and more of a family meeting where people connect with God and show love for one another? How about considering some of the following ideas and coming up with some of your own?
Breaking into small groups for prayer during the service
Breaking into small groups to get to know each other and discuss a point in the sermon
Encouraging people to get to know each other before and after the service by providing food and drink, having common meals, organizing games and competitions, etc.
Allowing time for testimonies and praise reports during the service
Allowing time and freedom for people to share what God is putting on their hearts during the service.
Encouraging the whole Body of Christ to develop ministry skills by asking many different people to teach, read Scripture, lead in prayer, lead in worship, take offerings, give invitations to follow Christ, etc.
Encouraging people to get together outside of the weekly services by going out for a meal together or getting together in fellowship groups, prayer groups, Bible study groups, need-based groups, informal get-togethers, etc.
Let’s Pray Together: Lord, you know our hearts and you know that our desire is to meet with you and love one another when we come together. Sometimes, though, it seems as if our church culture and traditions get in the way of these simple goals. Forgive us for when we shift into performance mode and don’t take the time to connect with You or love people. Forgive us for when we don’t allow time and freedom for people to love one another and develop their own ministry gifts and abilities. Forgive us for not teaching people how to pray for one another and how to study the Word on their own. Forgive us Lord….(continue praying as you feel led for the church large and your local Body...)