When Paul wrote the great “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13, he probably never realized how much it would be quoted in weddings. (And perhaps how much it would stay relegated to weddings alone, and ignored otherwise!). But I love the imagery he uses:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all the mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NET).
It comes as no surprise to most of us that love takes time, and in many ways, people know you love them by how much time you spend with them. If I give my wife only a few minutes a day, it’s obvious that there is a problem – or going to be one very soon. To be honest, I often love my news feed and my Instagram more than others, given how much time I spend with those things. But the point is that you ‘can’t hurry love’ (as Phil Collins once sang).
Yet when we look at the life of our churches sometimes, you would think we think you can – because instead of creating environments that slow things down enough for us to truly love each other, we create fast environments filled with things to do. And we call it Kingdom.
I think, if I were to make this scripture above a little more contextual for today, we could say: “if I build churches with the most amazing outreach events and evangelism projects, and am constantly making sure I am busy doing the work of God and at every meeting, but have not love, I am nothing.” Many leaders will nod their heads at all this. Many of us will insist that we must spend lives with personal devotion times with Jesus that take time. No 15 minutes with Jesus stuff. But if you are creating a church environment, as a leader, where you’re always keeping people busy, can you lament that they’re always too busy for Jesus and community?
It’s not always about time, but space. We often don’t give ourselves, and those we lead, time to even think. Sure, I know that many of us are our own worst enemies, filling up any free time with other things and clogging up our thoughts with social media feeds… but still, there is something about many of our city churches where we seem to have adopted the driven nature of our city.
In Tim Keller’s book, Center Church, he speaks of how a church can often either over-adapt to its city culture or under-adapt. If it under-adapts it is frequently misunderstood. For example, a charismatic church that waves flags and has corny dancing teams to trumpet-led 90’s worship music in an American mega city might be under-adapting. I think a church can sometimes over-adapt in some things and under-adapt in others. For many of our churches in cities today, we over-adapt to our city culture when we become places of busyness. The city is busy enough. Where will people find rest? The home is frequently not the place. They’re supposed to find rest in Jesus and find Jesus in their church community, and that rest then goes into their home.
There are times when we embrace a culture and times when we are to be counter-cultural. In the case of being busy, city churches need to be counter-cultural. But people are often finding communities of busy people that have little head-space and consequently heart-space for depth and relationship, because that community is too busy trying to do ‘good things’ and be ‘missional’ through event after event and church service after church service. Look, I really love you, but I committed to pouring tea tonight and leading the prayer meeting, so no time to chat about what’s going on in your life and your heart, and no time to hear what’s on mine. We’ve got a job to do, don’t we?
Little space in our lives makes for little hearts. Love slows down. Perhaps in rural churches they need to speed things up a bit (I imagine it takes quite a bit of work to get people to do new things in those contexts). But in city churches, we need to really slow down. Otherwise, all we become are communities of noisy gongs and clashing cymbals, and pretty much nothing else.
Last month I wrote an article challenging the increasingly popular statement, ‘I identify as a Christian but not a churchgoer.’ Numerous reasons are given for that sentiment, with people claiming: ‘The church hurt me,’ ‘Most Christians are too judgmental,’ and ‘I don’t need the church to have a relationship with God.’ In my article I argued that such a view of the Christian life – regardless of your reasoning – is disobedience to Jesus and discordant with the gospel. Theologian Millard Erickson wrote, “Christianity is a corporate matter, and the Christian life can be fully realized only in relationship to others.” The Christian life is inseparable from and unsustainable without Christian community. In this short post my challenge is not as much to those with an aneamic understanding of the local church but an ungodly attitude towards it, which is hidden behind the pious veil of a love for missionaries.
In my previous post I made the point – Paul’s from Ephesians 2 – that as we are brought to Christ we are inevitably joined to other believers, becoming mutually committed to one other’s faith and spiritual maturity. The decision to withdraw from the local church is therefore the decision to withhold my God-given gifts from other Christians. Obviously, you can still be a part of the local church and contribute nothing to the lives of others; one of the ways to do this, without losing face, is to express a passion for missions. It is after all much easier to love those who are far away, in word (and rarely in deed). You might even pray for missionaries, give financially to their organisations, and insist that the local church remembers those in the field – all worthy efforts – yet overlook the Christians right in front of you.
Please do not hear what I am not saying. The local church must zealously support the work of missionaries; as John Piper says, Christians can either send or go but they cannot be indifferent to missions. That means our churches must be committed to training and sending missionaries (and church planters) or continually giving towards mission. However, I agree with Mark Dever, in What is a Healthy Church?, when he says it is impossible for us to love the church universal without first loving the church local and visible. He writes this, “If your goal is to love all Christians, let me suggest working toward it by first committing to a concrete group of real Christians with all their foibles and follies. Commit to them through thick and thin for eighty years. Then come back and we’ll talk about your progress in loving all Christians everywhere.”
What prompted me to write this post was the confusing paradox I have witnessed in some Christians: apathy to the point of spiritual abandonment of the local church alongside a fervency for the missionaries supported by our local church. How can this be? One of the answers is, in my opinion: in practice it takes less effort and personal investment to be committed to the work of missionaries than working in the local church. I fear that some (definitely not all) who pour themselves out for missions might in fact use that as a smokescreen for their unwillingness to get into the trenches. After all, a passion for missions is admirable and desirable, not to mention desperately lacking in most local churches. Therefore we must gratefully receive those with a concern for missionaries, but not if their love of missions is not coupled with a commitment to the life of the local church.
Dever writes, quite probingly, ”Committing to a local body…confirms what Christ has done. If you have no interest in actually committing yourself to an actual [local church], you might question whether you belong to the body of Christ at all.” Though typically sensational, Dever makes a challenging point as we conclude. Jesus insisted on perceptible and palpable love amongst his disciples, calling us to imitate his selfless and self-giving love (John 13:34; 14:15; 15:12), by which the world will know we are his disciples (13:35). Surely such love must begin at the local church.
When I was a young boy [yes, yes, many years ago in a galaxy] I remember a number of occasions of sitting in front of a plate of [now] cold cauliflower cheese that my mom had made for what seemed like hours with the mantra, ‘You don’t move until you’ve eaten that last bit’ hanging over my young little head.
I hated cauliflower with a passion, and the logic of eating it while it was warm because it was at least a whole lot better than when it was cold, was never quite explained to me in ways that I assimilated.
Years later, I love cauliflower, and in particular, my mom’s cauliflower cheese [which is cauliflower with a white cheese sauce over it – so great!] and really can’t get enough of it when we go for lunch and she makes it.
Some things change.
TRUE STORY 2
I hated strawberries my whole life.
Until something dramatic happened one day.
I ate one, and discovered they are actually not all that bad.
For a time I would still defer to others when strawberries were around because I knew some people REALLY enjoyed them and I just thought they were okay.
But now I might knock you down if you try beat me to the last one. Especially if it is dipped in chocolate.
I have absolutely no idea why I thought I hated strawberries as a child. I was literally 18 or 21 or something when I discovered, never having tasted them before that I could remember, that they were actually okay; and later became pretty amazingly good.
TRUE STORY 3
I hate raiSINs.
No, I mean really.
No, more than you.
I REALLY hate them with a passion. always have and always will.
I believe there is a reason the word SIN appears in the second half of the word…
I can trace back my vicious hatred [as opposed to just the standard hatred I had before] to a time when I was 5 and my mom made me eat something with raiSINs in, via a similar cauliflower cheese plate-staring contest, and the result was that I ended up vomiting and missing out on our annual visit to the local children’s home to watch the big screen movie [to this day I have still not watched Ben Hur]. So that is when my hatred for raiSINs grew in me, but as far as I can remember, even before then I did not dig them at all.
My hatred of raiSINs and all things squishy fruit led me to write and record two anti-raiSIn/squishy fruit songs, in fact, which you can track down if you are really desperate, over here.
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And then there is just pure hypocrisy like the other day when we had dessert at my mom’s place and both my mom and my wife, tbV, looked on with unbelieving eyes as I helped myself to a large piece of Swiss Roll, despite there being jam in the centre. You know, squishy fruit. I hate jam too, but for some reason, in a Swiss Roll it is okay [must be some chemical transformation that takes place, or something].
WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CHURCH?
Well, I AM working on self-publishing a book about church that will help explain a lot of this to greater depth, at least in the way that I see it.
But in the meantime, through posts like ‘Did you go to Church today?’ and this one, I hope to challenge the way many people think about church [or maybe more accurately, don’t think at all].
Leaders of churches seem to get particularly iffy when people start questioning church or encouraging others to question any aspects of church.
But I believe it is so incredibly important for us to be questioning why we do the things we do on a regular basis [and if we discover that there is no reason for doing something we do regularly, possibly taking the big risk of stopping it].
This is my conclusion for pastors and other leaders. If your thing [in this case, church] is a good thing, then surely at the end of questioning and challenging, people should naturally arrive back at what you have. If they don’t and you realise collectively that change needs to happen, then surely that is a great and important process.
WHY IS THE CHURCH SO AFRAID OF QUESTIONS?
In Acts 17.11, we read this incredible piece:
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
And then ignore it completely forever.
I am convinced that one of the biggest problems in so many local congregations of the church today is that it is filled with people who don’t read or know their bibles outside of a Sunday meeting; hardly at all; and so, because people do not know their bibles, whatever the pastor says up front has to be correct [because they have nothing to tell them otherwise].
A comparatively huge and related problem seems to be so many people in church leadership who seem to have a fear of people in their congregations asking questions [or, heaven forbid, expressing doubts] and so we cultivate a space where people are encouraged to ‘just believe because I said so’ and not be real [to suppress questions and to hide doubts] and always give the impression that everything is great.
I wrote this piece a while ago in response to that:
Because if Jesus told us to Love God with all our heart, strength, soul and MIND, it does seem like he might be wanting us to use our minds.
WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO THE FOOD
When we start looking at how we do church [particularly in the meetings we typically hold on Sundays but also in prayer meetings and home groups, prayer times and youth gatherings] perhaps we will have some cauliflower reactions. Growing up, I never saw the reason for this and didn’t particularly like it, but now that I am older I find that it is amazing and I know that it is really healthy for me.
[I have seen a lot of people, especially in Americaland heading from protestant churches back towards catholic and more high church liturgical gatherings, because they realise that in their pursuit of living out their passion for Jesus, they may have ignored or missed out on some incredible practices and rituals that make a lot more sense now.]
If we start asking questions and sharing fears and taking what we see up front [and behind the scenes] and, like the Bereans, holding it up against Scripture, we might find, like the strawberries, that certain things we haven’t thought were worth doing, actually are. We might also find the opposite and realise that some of the stuff we have always liked [because it was always there and we always did it just because everyone else always did it and never took the time to ask why] needs to be thrown out, or given lesser preference. I really believe that any church that gives itself the time and the energy to look at all its stuff and ask some why questions can only benefit from the outcome.
We also might find, that like raiSINs, some other stuff we have always been against, is right to continue to be against. Just because others around us might be professing that raiSINs are good doesn’t mean they are.
This becomes an incredibly tricky task because there might be different things that fall into these different groups, yet seem to be similar things which should be treated the same. So much wisdom and discernment and being led by the Holy Spirit is required to be able to move forward. To let some things go. To add some things in. To change some things around completely. To embrace some things we have always had more tightly.
But at the end of the day, it must always come down to Love.
[If you feel like your church leadership might benefit from reading this message, why not forward them the link, or print it out and hand it to them. These are important things to consider.]
Brett blogs to provoke laughter and challenge and inspire and encourage and share ideas and wrestle and celebrate and mourn – as his tagline says, to really ‘suck the marrow out of life’. Follow him on Twitter – @BrettFishA
When it was announced that Mark Driscoll, well-known evangelical pastor at Mars Hill Seattle, has stepped down for six weeks while allegations against him are examined, it resulted in a flurry of opinion, conversation, and finger pointing. I don’t like to say too much about this sort of thing. I don’t know Driscoll, have never been to his church (they just never appealed to me) and live on the other side of the planet anyway. But some of the opinions around this are worth talking about.
If you’re not quite up to speed on who Driscoll is and the background of the allegations, an article at Vox.com summarises it well, although I don’t care for the overall tone of it. However, what’s interesting to note is how Driscoll is called an “evangelical rock star.” That perception is, perhaps, exactly right and, perhaps, exactly the problem with modern Christianity.
So here are, what I found, the more interesting opinion and interests about the matter:
Nate Pyle in his post “The Tweetable-Tale of Two Mars Hill Pastors” speaks about how the evangelical community seems to place more importance on what you believe over what you practice. It’s a fair point and one worth thinking long and hard about. He asks:
“…I can’t help but wonder, are we as a church in danger of conflating right thinking with salvation, thus making it a work by which we are saved? Are actions more forgivable when a person’s theology is right?”
This spawned several public and private conversations on social media. Those outside of the Protestant fold have been questioning just how Protestant churches decide on orthodoxy anyway and why there seems to be a lack of accountability. In particular, there have been questions around why no one said or did anything when Driscoll preached a sermon like this one: God Hates You. (Personally, I think Driscoll was trying to re-preach Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”)
Conversations around how we all seem to put more emphasis on belief over practice also abounded. I think this is a solid point and one worth thinking about.
Jesse Johnson (who has contributed to The Christian Blogger before) in his post “Driscoll Drama: To those who sold tickets” takes influential evangelicals to task for neglecting to actually deal with obvious issues from the beginning and willingly exposing their people to Driscoll’s teaching, even though there were issues.
“It strikes me that in the chorus of calls to pray for Driscoll’s repentance, or hope for his hopeful repentance, or whatever other optimistic attitude we are supposed to have for that aforementioned repentance, there is something missing. Namely, the ownership of the problem.”
What I found most interesting was how Johnson felt that the doctrine of sanctification was being ignored and now we’re seeing the result. He says:
“By 2009 it was obvious that the doctrine of sanctification was seriously neglected in the theology that was coming out of Acts 29 and specifically Driscoll’s preaching… While I am always in favor of repentance, and remain hopeful for it in everyone, the call for it here is exceptionally tone deaf. That’s because to pastors outside the Christian-rock-star echo chamber, the issue has never really been one of “will Driscoll repent?” Rather the issue has always been one of “will Christian leaders recognize how foolish it was to expose their people to Driscoll’s preaching and leadership?”
(Notice Johnson talking about the Christian-rock-star echo chamber.)
Doug Wils’ post “Though There Is a Difference” takes evangelical leaders to task for jumping on the Driscoll band-wagon when it was cool and then jumping off when that became cool.
“Part of me wants to pop bottles and strike up the band. I want to rejoice like one person in my twitterfeed who responded to the announcement, “Good riddance, Mark Driscoll”. But as I’ve given it more thought, I cannot celebrate the demise of Mark Driscoll, and I don’t think Christians should either.”
He goes on to quote Proverbs 24:17: “Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall; don’t be happy when they stumble.” I didn’t like this post for reasons I won’t get into but I include it because it shows how some evangelicals felt embarrassed about Driscoll.
Who cares about my thoughts? But I’ll offer this up for consideration anyway because I think this is the core problem of not only this scandal but many of the others popping up from time to time in the evangelical world: there is a lack of real relationship between leaders. Especially big-name evangelical leaders. You can’t build an accountable and proper relationship using documents and contracts and signed a creedal statement. Unfortunately, in many ways, evangelical organisations do just that.
Dudley Daniel, who used to lead the NCMI team (which my church partners with) used to say “Friendship before function.” Over and again I see the wisdom in this simple little saying. While my own church group has had its fair share of controversy, most of it hasn’t been public, precisely because if friendship comes first accountability can happen properly. Friendship before function means something takes longer to build and perhaps doesn’t gain the kind of prominence other movements / organisations etc. enjoy (or do they enjoy it?) but its roots run deeper, making it effective in the long run.
Unfortunately, it seems to me that Driscoll’s situation (as in many others) may be a case of too much too soon. I don’t really blame him for that; perhaps the general evangelical culture and approach to accountability in ministry and friendship is to blame.
Ryan Peter is a writer and novelist from Johannesburg and the editor of The Christian Blogger. Follow him on Twitter – @RyanPeterWrites.