The messiest place on earth outside our families should be the local church. Each family unit is a context where masks come off as we expose our real selves to each other. The local church is a macro context of the micro family.
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If you are “doing church” correctly, you’re experiencing an appropriate amount of unmasking. Authentic church life happens when real lives willingly and appropriately reveal themselves in eclectic gatherings throughout the week.
If your church people are not living in transparent community contexts where there is “appropriate awareness” of the good and bad of their lives, your church is not modeling what Paul taught in his letters to local churches.
Every Christian is a mixture of righteousness and unrighteousness, which is why when two or more Christians gather, there is an intentional desire to share both sides of their lives–good and bad–so restoration can happen.
If you do not reveal your whole self to those with whom you do life in your local church, you may not be in a fully-functional New Testament church. Hidden lives hinder the local body from being a fully-functional New Testament church.
In the last chapter, I asked why you attended your local church? In this chapter, the question is about the messiness of your local church. I am not talking about exalting your mess. Sin-centered, sin-hunting gloating does not honor the Lord. Being humbly transparent about your real self does. You and your friends are not perfect. I’m talking about stating the obvious by being honest in a community.
Gospel-centered, gospel-shaped contexts where you can reveal your imperfections for transformation into Christlikeness is a crucial ingredient to authentic church life.
- Exposure for exposure sake perpetuates chaos while highlighting sin.
- Exposure for redemptive purposes perpetuates holy living through the transformative power of the gospel.
Back to my question: Is your church a messy place? Though you’re not bragging about your mess, you can express gratitude to God for creating a context where broken people can experience healing for their mutual benefit and God’s fame.
One of the best analogies of this concept is the hospital, specifically the emergency room. Thank God for emergency rooms: places where people choose vulnerability because they are desperately determined to be healed.
To put it in religious-speak: May your church always be a fig leaf removing environment (Genesis 3:7; Romans 8:1), so you can engage the real problems that keep people from thoroughly enjoying each other and God.
You do not need to create a mess so you can say you are a messy church. You need to be yourself. If you do that, it will only be a matter of time before the good and bad of your life will be “out there” where gospel transformation can happen. Your call to action is twofold:
- Are you creating a gospel-centered community that fosters realness for a change?
- Do you love your church when your flaws and the flaws of your friends are exposed?
How To Love a Messy Church
Love the Church With Your Heart
True love is born in the heart and motivated by the gospel. All other loves will not serve you well when it comes to engaging messy people. This infographic highlights a culture-centered view of love and a gospel-centered perspective of love.
- Love that begins with what you feel, experience, prefer, like, or crave will not stand the test when things become difficult.
- Love founded on a commitment to glorify God regardless of the outcome will stand up when things fall apart.
Committed love is what motivated Christ to persevere when things turned dark and deathly (Luke 22:42). His affection for His Father motivated Him to do the will of His Father (John 4:34), even if it meant going to the cross.
Loving someone for the wrong reasons is easy. It is hard to count others more significant than yourself (Philippians 2:3-4). Who has not fallen into that trap? Your love for others must be rooted in Christ and the strength He provides (Philippians 4:13). That is the only way to maintain strength in well-doing (Galatians 6:9), while not losing your way when things take a turn for the worse.
- Are you aware of how much God loves you?
- How are you imitating the love of God to others?
- What do your responses about the negative things that happen in your church reveal about your love for the church?
- How do you need to change regarding your affection for your local church?
Love the Church With Your Mind
Your thoughts (mind) reveal your heart, and your heart determines your thoughts. In that way you can self-diagnose: If you are not sure how much you love your church (heart), examine your thoughts (mind) about your church.
What do you think about your church? What you think about your church will reveal the depth of love you have for your church. Jesus said it this way in Luke 6:45, “Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
The best practical way to examine your “church-thought-life” is to review your most recent thoughts connected to your most recent church conflict or disappointment. How did you think about the last thing that disappointed you about your church?
While you should never ignore church problems, it is not wise to over-fixate on church problems. Fixating on church trouble almost always exacerbates church trouble. The wise and humble person will speak to the issues of the church while guarding his mind against being negatively affected by those problems.
(It is possible you may have to leave your church because the faults are too great and the needed change is not going to happen. Still yet, even if you leave, you should be more fixated on and controlled by God than the problems in the church.)
There is a process to deal with faults, but making what’s wrong with the church the central and controlling theme of your thinking is a mistake. That kind of fixation makes you problem-centered, not God-centered. Paul taught that your first response to problems should be fourfold: (1) bear all things, (2) believe all things, (3) hope all things, and (4) endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).
- What does thinking the best about your church problems mean to you?
- Are there ways, times, or areas in which you have not thought the best about your church?
- How do you need to change to have a more gracious and biblical thought-response regarding your church?
- How has (or should) Proverbs 18:17 factor into your responses to church problems?
The one who states his case first seems right until the other comes and examines him.
Love the Church With Your Time
After meeting Lucia for the first time, I began strategizing how I could spend more time with her. I was “falling in love” with her, and the more I fell for her, the more I wanted to be with her. Love and time work together that way. If you love something you want to spend time with it; if you do not love it, you do not want to spend time with it. It’s simple math: love equals time or time equals love.
Distancing yourself from the church while saying you love the church is an antithetical concept. This idea is one of the wonderful reasons you love God so much: He loves you with an everlasting love, even though He has an omniscient awareness of you (Hebrews 4:13). He loves you, and He wants to spend time with you. That is the way He is, which you see from the very beginning of His relationship with humanity:
- God spent time with Adam in Genesis 2:15.
- God designed a tabernacle to spend time with His people in Exodus 25:8.
- God sought a new way to spend time with His people in 1 Chronicles 29:1.
- Jesus, God in the flesh, desired to spend time (tabernacle) with His people in John 1:14.
- God came to spend time with you through the Spirit in Acts 1:4.
- And God will always spend time with you in Revelation 21:3
It is God’s will for you to imitate (Ephesians 5:1) that kind of love toward others (1 John 4:21; Hebrews 12:24-25).
- Do you love your church?
- What does loving your church look like for you from a time perspective?
- How are your gifts and your time intersecting your church?
- How does the church show up on your weekly calendar of events?
This last question is not asking about attending events, doing busy things, or allowing the church to dominate your life. When I talk about a calendar of events, I’m speaking, for example, about how you pray for specific people in your church, give money or other things to particular causes, email friends notes of encouragement, and doing things that do not necessarily center on the church building.
If your definition of church connotes a building rather than a people, you’ll miss the point of the question and this chapter. Some people use the word church to describe a building. I do not. The church is the people. The building is a building. It is not a local church.
Love the Church With Your Hands
James called you to be a doer of the Word, rather than hearers only (James 1:22). A loving Christian is a doing Christian. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Though your works do not save you, they do point to the reality of a faith that is alive.
To suggest to someone to “be warmed and filled” (James 2:16) while not lifting your hands to warm and fill them is not the religion Jesus taught or modeled (Mark 10:45). Peter said it this way,
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 4:8-11
To be gospel-centered is to be a person of action. Jesus entered your world as the first missionary to help you change. You want to imitate Him by Your activities. Christians are doing people because they are gospelized people.
- How are your gifts being used in your church?
- What contexts are you creating within your sphere of influence to exercise the gifts the Lord has given you?
- In what ways do you see and encourage others to use their gifts?
- In what ways are you equipping others to use their gifts? (Cf. Titus 2:3-5)
Love the Church With Your Mouth
To love the church well is to speak well of the church (1 John 4:19). Paul talked about how your mouth should build up others rather than tear them down (Ephesians 4:29). Your tongue is like a hammer that can crush or build up a soul.
The local church is part of the body of Christ. It is a beautiful thing that God loves, Christ died for, and the Spirit empowers. As the wife of a husband, who is a delicate, cherished, and valuable vase (1 Peter 3:7), the church is a wonderful organism full of parts, all for whom Christ gave His life.
To speak sinfully critical about the church is to talk critically about Christ (Matthew 25:45 ). The most expensive and beautiful organization on the planet is the church–the individuals that make up the body of Christ.
(Refusing to be sinfully critical does not mean you ignore real problems in the church. You can address issues with discretion, as well as a charitable spirit that is full of compassion for something broken that you love.)
When Christ talks about you to His Father, He speaks from a heart that is motivated by a love that has your best interests in mind. He is never sinfully critical about you to the Father. He is always for you (Romans 8:31) even when you make those messes I spoke about earlier.
Your mistakes do not mitigate or alter God’s love for you! Though He does not ignore your errors, He lovingly perseveres with you to help you be better than what you are at this moment. The speech patterns of Christ are always redemptive with redemptive goals.
- Are your speech patterns about your local church redemptive?
- When you hear something negative about another person is your default to believe the best or think the worst?
- How are you at being quick to hear, but slow to speak because you want to be more measured in how you talk about your church (James 1:19)?
- Do you lovingly confront gossip? If not, why not?
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Gossip reflects the image of a spiritual, celestial being. But it is not God. It is not a stretch to say that Satan’s name is gossip. He is an accuser. – John Maxwell.