Is Going to Church Out of Style?

Church membership and attendance is on the decline.

It has been for several decades. Is attending church out of fashion for the online generations? Have we overbooked and overworked everyone, with no clear 9-5 boundary anymore? Weekends (including Sundays) have turned into safety zones for family and retreat?

Our world will never cease to change as technology evolves, social life fractures and capitalism dominates more of our choices. So, is the future of the church in jeopardy?

The church, the Body of Christ, is not going to become a fashion victim. The ways that we carry out its functions probably will. As people and the way we live change, so too will our methods of ministry. But church isn’t going out of business because it has an eternal purpose.

Here’s what Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright believes about the church:

“The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world … The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship.” ― N.T. Wright

There aren’t any other social organizations fulfilling these essential tasks. Here’s my list I’d like to add to answer the question, Why Do We Need The Church?

  1. It is a place to become yourself
    We become more and more real as we experience transformation. The church is the one place where we can see who we really are and be changed. It’s a gathering of those who are living out a brand new life because of following Christ – as disciples. Our true self is emerging when we are a part of God’s church. Your local church is a place that challenges you and allows you to experience transformation in all areas of your new life.
  2. It is a place to suffer
    When we do suffer, and all of us surely will, we need others with us as we navigate those treacherous waters. Christians find eternal meaning in the suffering they experience. A large part of this meaning is experienced together as the Church when others help to share our burdens of fear, worry and pain. God cares for our every need through the actions of the church.  We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” – 2 Corinthians 1:7
  3. It is a place to make sacrifices
    Once you’re a part of a church you quickly learn that it’s not really about you anymore. A church is a place where people come together and make sacrifices of their resources, time, efforts and even their will. It’s not what I want or what I think is best, but what others need. The sacrifice of your will is going to be the most difficult you will make. It takes much practice.“Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
  4. It is a place to grow up
    Literally and figuratively we mature in this body of faith. The church has a schedule filled with activities for every age group. It is an essential “agent of socialization” into the Christian faith. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (1 Corinthians 13:11-12)
  5. It is a place to become more and more like Christ
    This is the direction we head as we die to ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. When John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to his own followers he said, “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30). The church is the gathering of people who will love us in our successes and failures as we journey toward Christlikeness. This is where we come to learn, to grow and to see firsthand the great mission we are called to follow.
  6. It is a place to worship, pray, serve and give, together
    When we come to church we do something different. We are challenged to act, think and to imagine a different way of living. The world outside we’ve made for ourselves is increasingly oriented toward the individual, helping to make us successful and less obligated to others. Our life within the church contradicts this alien culture with practices and beliefs that bind us together and challenges our selfish inclinations.
  7. It is a place that’s not really a place
    Usually the word “church” makes us think about a building, a location or even the distant memory of place. On my way home each day I drive past churches in traditional looking buildings with steeples, with big signs in strip shopping centers and even one located in an industrial workshop. In America, churches are located in all sorts of places.But we all know that the church isn’t really a location, it’s really a group of Christ followers. The church is bigger than a building, it’s all those people who love you no matter what. The church takes care of family, friends and strangers. It embodies love as it shares an eternal message of hope. It’s a group of people who try as hard as they can to pull away from this world and live as if there’s something bigger and better that’s eternal and means more than this life can give.

“The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes- a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith and in spiritual character and power. The greatest danger to the Christian church today is that of pitching its message too low.” ― Dallas Willard

 

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What Has Come to Your Life?

It’s Advent Season

Advent means coming – the coming of the Messiah, the long awaited one.

There’s always something coming around the bend, isn’t there?

  • Your annual scourge of the flu
  • A job transition
  • New neighbors next door
  • A new and revolutionary software upgrade
  • An 800 year flood

As you reflect on this past year, what came into your life? What welcome events made your year that much better? Which disasters appeared over your horizon?

Christmas is now here, arriving as it always does – too soon but also full of just the right hidden messages that we needed to hear every day of our lives. The Good News of Christmas, the advent it introduces every year, causes us to stop, if we have the courage, and think about the things that mean the most to us, and maybe what we ought to do about it.

“…And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

An advent of some sort or another is always appearing. This year, remember that nothing is going to arrive in your life that will surprise God or that can overwhelm his presence and power.

Even before the Good News was proclaimed in Bethlehem, God had promised his constant presence and protection.

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”  – Isaiah 43:1-2

God has not changed and his promise remains.

What has arrived in your life this past year? Perhaps it was something really big that disrupted everything you thought was so certain. Maybe your life was right on its normal track but when you think about it, it’s really going nowhere.

We celebrate the advent of the Messiah at Christmas, as a reminder that our lives in Christ are no longer the same and that nothing will ever arrive to put our lives out of his order. Christ is now with us. No matter what else arrives in the years to come, Christ will always be here with us. We celebrate this reality every Christmas.

“And I will be with you, day after day, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20 (The Voice)

“Because He has raised Jesus the Anointed from death, through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope…” – I Peter 1:3 (The Voice)

Christmas is the advent of every single day of hope that you and I have been living ever since. Be reminded this year that this hope is real because we live it out in front of the whole world each day (the good, the bad and and the ugly days). Jesus arrival, life, death and resurrection means that we can walk confidently in hope every single day.  It arrived and never left.

“The place that the shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic, it was not a place of myths allegorised or dissected or explained or explained away. It was a place of dreams come true.”  ― G.K. Chesterton

Looking The Other Way Around

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“The truth of the matter is that the whole world has already been turned upside down by the work of Jesus Christ” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

A friend from college in the midst of a medical crisis passed away this week, not so much unexpectedly, but all of a sudden. As I looked back at photos from when we were together at college, it seemed as if a thousand years had passed. And yet, it was just a moment ago when we were having so much fun and dreaming about a hopeful future.

In the eternal scheme of things, as a lyric goes from one of my favorite singers, “…you and I will simply disappear, out of sight.”  

  • Time passes us by so quickly
  • So much that we worry our lives with, doesn’t really matter
  • Perspective and context are essential to keep ourselves on track – heading in a meaningful direction (instead of lost in the woods, cussing too much)

Death sometimes comes too fast.  To some who are too young.  It catches us off guard. Things seem out of order. I posted to friends a passage from the Gospel of John as I thought about sudden departures for heaven. It’s a familiar passage, when Jesus is telling his disciples (and us) to not be afraid, there are bigger and better things waiting in eternity.

Don’t get lost in despair; believe in God, and keep on believing in Me. My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.  I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. – John 14:1-3 (The Voice)

The translation grabbed my attention.  The reason that despair (and fear and worry and anxiety and anger and frustration and calamity and uncertainty and…) can be conquered isn’t because Jesus has a magic lamp to rub and wishes come true. The reason that all of these trials of the heart and mind can be defeated is because, in perspective, they don’t matter as much as we think they do in the moment.

Our forever future has already been established. Here and now with all of the accompanying troubles, pales in comparison to the overwhelming eternity that awaits – where Jesus himself is waiting. This is the true context in which we ought to walk our steps on earth. Always on the march toward a heavenly home. One that won’t ever need a fixing up!

Last year, my Sunday School class shared the story in Acts 12 of Peter’s rescue from prison by an angelic messenger. We couldn’t help but notice the first verses of that chapter that quickly described the execution of Jesus’ brother James in the same jail. This great mystery puzzles me still. Sometimes God sends an angel to the rescue, and other times there’s an execution awaiting.

But the way I have been thinking about that story and telling it is backwards. Probably lots of things I think about are that way, what about you? We are now living on the Titanic and we know it’s going down. We are awaiting transport to safety to be secure forever.

The sad news in Acts 12 isn’t that James was left in jail to be executed. With a Christian orientation to our mindset, when we read this account, we ought to be heartbroken that poor Peter had to stay on board a little while longer and wasn’t taken to safety as quickly as his fellow disciple James.

Paul had this perspective when he wrote…

“For my life is about the Anointed and Him alone. And my death, when that comes, will mean great gain for me. – Philippians 1:21 (The Voice)

There is so much about my perspective that needs constant reorientation because of the Good News. What about you? Do you need to use your faith today to remember the eternal context and reorient your heart and mind (and mouth) back toward that accurate perspective?

I showed this quick video to my class this week – it helps keep your thinking the right way around.

Walking to Emmaus Part 4

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“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report.
They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.” 
– Luke 24: 22-24

This truly is the amazing part of the story – but for a very different reason. If these two eyewitnesses actually believe what they are reporting then why are they so sad and in retreat?  Remember that it’s possible this couple are the disciples Cleopas and his wife. She may have been at the cross and one of the women at the tomb that very morning. They recount this miraculous news with defeat written on their faces and they head back home as if the story is finished.

Maybe in their hearts they are still spectators and not participants. They have heard and maybe even seen part of the earth shaking story but they haven’t stepped out of the boat as Peter did on that stormy day.  Perhaps this adventure has all been just an intellectual exercise and they’ve dared not believe what their eyes and ears have told them.

The Good News has made no difference in their lives.

What difference has it made in your life today? Certainly it makes all the difference in your life of tomorrow, your eternal life. But what about that life you’re living today, right now? Each conversation, those little decisions, the expression you carry about on your face, what difference has it made that everything He said was really true?

Would you be the same person today, act and think the same way, if it had never happened?

At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

On the road you’re walking today, what difference has the Good News made?