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Church is not about you

So where some of us, like me, need to grow in seeing things through the lens of the faithful men and women who have served and served and served and served God’s local church for decades, there is yet another group who needs to be willing to let go. Because this is not your church either.

Today I want to address those who have been in church for a while. This is not about generations, or age. This is about mindset. There are many faithful men and women who I know that have served the church for 50+ years that I would not put in this group. Moreover, there are some who have attended church for only a few years but they do fit in to this category. In fact, I think the majority of churchgoers have their chubby little hand in this cookie jar, and they need to seriously contemplate how they view the church (not only as “mine” or as God’s) but also why church even exists.

Church is not about you.

This is the other side of the this-is-not-your-church coin. You are not the captain of the ship nor are you a passenger to be pampered. The church does not exist primarily for you, or me. The church exists to reflect the glory of God. All aspects of church life ought to be primarily about God’s glory. Period.

There has never been a day in my church ministry where everything has gone the way I would have liked. I would have chosen different songs, on a different key with different instruments. I would design systems differently, make changes to the sanctuary, and nix a ton of (what seems to me) ineffective events. But I’ve had to learn that church is not about me. I am not all-knowing. My point-of-view is limited. And what I think is the best route to take is often, simply a deep-seated preference I am unwilling to let go of. I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes those antiquated systems were actually the very thing that gave God most glory. The broken systems that shouldn’t have worked showed off the power and provision of God.

I am not God’s gift to the church. Neither are you.

So, let me spell this out plainly:

  • Worship style is not about you.
  • The sermon format and length is not about you.
  • Church curriculum is not about you.
  • The sanctuary colors are not about you.
  • Budgeting details are not about you.
  • The landscaping is not about you.

Now, I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t care about these things nor am I saying that we should never speak up about them. We should. But only so far as we are called to.

Because, church is not about you.

If you are a church attender seeking a church home, you are in gathering mode, and should be. This is a time for observation and contemplation, but be careful to keep first things first. Pay more attention to the CONTENT than the DELIVERY. Because worship teams can practice and get better. Church leadership can grow and get more organized. Preachers can become more polished in their delivery. Children’s programs can grow. But if the Word of God is not being faithfully preached, and the kids’ program is primarily glorified babysitting, that is most likely not going to change until there is a new pastor, and maybe not even then. If this is a church that is used to their ears being filled with feel-good fluff, their next choice will probably be full of the same. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen people choose a church primarily for their worship style and/or children’s ministry, while the pulpit lacked any sort of solid truth being delivered and the kids (though snacked-up and entertained as they are) are given a watered-down moralistic version of the Gospel.

May I also encourage you to look for a church who needs what you can give. What has God gifted you to do? What are you passionate about? What experiences and expertise do you have that can help the church better shine for God’s glory? Don’t just look for a church home that you can settle into and get comfortable. God has given you specific gifts for the purpose of serving Him through loving on the local church (see 1 Corinthians 13). Don’t waste your time being a pew-dweller. Get to work.

Because, church is not about you.

If you are a church member, you ought to be an informed and involved one. You should feel freedom to directly* state your opinion and/or concerns on any one of these things, in gentleness and respect, at the appropriate time (HINT: this is typically NOT on Sunday morning as the pastor is preparing to preach), in great humility, knowing that you do not have all the information (nor all the training and experience). I encourage you to consider the following when it comes to your complaint:

  • Bring it first to the Lord.
  • Bring it second to the leadership of the church (so, not to all your friends, in a spirit of complaint).
  • Bring a preparedness to be the answer to the problem.

If there is a certain area that continues to bother you, week after week, and month after month, and that area is suffering because there is no one overseeing it, or the person who is serving there is overworked and out of ideas, consider the possibility that God is nudging you to step up and serve in order to fill that very need which is pressing on your heart.

*Directly=not complaining in a Facebook post or over lunch to your buddies where everyone can hear. Directly=to the face of your leadership. Not through an anonymous letter, or passive-aggressive behavior (like stopping your financial giving or attendance to make your point.)

Because, church is not about you.

If you are on a committee/team that serves one of these elements of church, you ought to lead prayerfully and with confidence. Use your expertise and passion in a synergistic way with the rest of your committee members, and any other committees you overlap with to make that area run with excellence. (And, of course, all of the above suggestions for the church member applies to you, too.)

Because, church is not about you.

So what should you do when opinions clash? Remember that church is not about you.

When you want blue carpet and everyone else wants red? Remember that church is not about you.

When you love upbeat songs that are familiar to you but a solemn song you don’t know is played? Remember that church is not about you.

When someone does or says something that wasn’t quite the “right” way (according to you)? Remember that church is not about you.

And please, please, please (as I say often to my kiddos): be kind or be quiet. Because some of the most damaging things to the image of Christ, to the fame of His name, to the reflection of God’s glory to the lost and dying world around us? The words of His people to one another. The mean, selfish, foolish, prideful, angry words we sling at one another.

If we say that we follow Christ, then we ought also to follow in His footsteps to be about His Father’s business. And the Father’s business is all about His glory being known among the nations (which includes the lost souls in your family, neighborhood, workplace, and grocery store). Why on earth would we expect those who are perishing without Christ to tag along with us to this building we call church, to spend time with people we don’t really like anyway, and listen to music we can’t stand, and a preacher we constantly complain about?

We must pay attention to our motivations. There are more preferences and opinions than can ever be satisfied—even in the smallest of congregations. But if we can each learn to be driven primarily for the glory of God—not the glory of an individual or the glory of the church itself—we can finally begin to move forward TOGETHER in UNITY toward that goal. Because, once we have this point settled in our minds, we are able to view our preference and opinions through the lens of what gives God more glory. Blue carpet or wood floors? The organ or electric guitar? Jeans and flip-flops or a 3-pice suit? We will see them for what they are: surface-level stuff. Small potatoes. Instruments that God can use equally for His glory if He so choses.

Lord, help us.

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This is not your church

There are always topics that lay heavy on my heart. Some never make it past discussion with my husband Chris. Some make it out of our house into the circles of my trusted friends. Some I’ll chat about with acquaintances. Every once in a while there is a topic I feel led to “discuss” online. For the most part, I find that difficult topics are usually best kept around the table, where we can observe each other’s body language, hear the tone of our voices, and believe the best about each other when we don’t quite understand the other’s point of view and/or conclusion on a matter. And while this topic is not the biggest hot-button out there that I could push, I think it may still ruffle some feathers. In fact, I kinda hope it does. Not because I want anyone to be hurt (SOOO not my heart) but because I think sometimes we need to hear the hard things.

Plus, I might just be preachin’ to the choir. But we’ll see.

I’m in several pastor’s wives’ groups and it breaks my heart that almost monthly there is another woman sharing her story and asking for prayer over how she and her pastor-husband have been mistreated. Some situations are mild, while some are very, very extreme. Many of these women I do not know personally beyond a computer screen, but I do have dear friends who have walked through horrendous seasons (some still are) of hurt and loss. And the primary source of this pain is not from outside of the church, but from within.

I have seen and heard of mistreatments and manipulations from church members and leaders that would make anyone—even a non-believer, who has no framework for the Biblical picture of a healthy church—cry, “This is wrong!” Though we’ve not personally experienced the brunt of evil that is within the church (Yes, I said evil. Satan has some power players in those pews.), both Chris and I have together and individually heard, seen, and experienced enough controlling comments, blatant disrespect, and passive-aggressive actions to make some people never want to enter a church building again.

I have loads of thoughts about how the church treats the pastor and his wife, but right now my heart is aching and burning with these thoughts for the churchgoer who just doesn’t think about how their actions/inactions affect the man they call pastor, and the woman who is trying her best to follow and support her hurting husband. Or maybe for the person who does know what he or she is doing, but simply ignores the Spirit of God within them who is staying, “STOP.”

Here are a few things I think all who follow Christ need to consider.

This is not your church.

Now I’m a HUGE proponent of church membership. I believe that God’s best plan is for every believer to be in a covenantal connection with a local church, and actively attending, serving, loving, and praying for their fellow church members. And in some sense, yes, the church each of us attends and/or are members of is our church, but ultimately, “your” church is not yours. It’s God’s. This is a gigantic shift we each need to make, both mentally and emotionally. If we primarily see the church as God’s church, for God to do with as He sees fit, we can all avoid a whole heap of church troubles. Not only will this dramatically change your relationship with your pastor, but also with your fellow church members.

Over time, and through many, many tear-stained conversations with my much-more-level-headed husband, I have learned to look for and attempt to understand how each church member views the church (and the physical items within the church building). Where I see a worn out pew, others see the financial sacrifices their parents made so they could make significant offerings above their tithe for those seats to be purchased. The outdated wall hangings, floral arrangements, and recognition plaques that make me roll my eyes are like stones of remembrance to some, which point them to God’s past faithfulness. (Not always … sometimes it’s just the type of trinkets people really like … and still have in their own houses.) Events, traditions, and services that I think are sorely antiquated, completely ineffective, and/or pointless are part of their weekly spiritual rhythm—and have been for decades. If taken away abruptly, could negatively impact their spiritual life.

I don’t always understand it. I often think it is some of the stupidest things that people get upset over. But the Lord has cultivated in me … s-l-o-w-l-y … the eyes to see things through another’s viewpoint. Because this is not my church, either. And I praise God that I am not the one in charge. Instead, it’s my patient, wise husband who knows that being a human bulldozer is not the best way to move a church forward. Yes, we may be able to clearly see the boulders that keeps a church from moving forward, but we cannot move them on our own. It has to be a group effort, led and fueled by the Spirit of God. Not by manipulation, or shear force. By God’s powerful and gracious and patient hand alone.

So where some of us, like me, need to grow in seeing things through the lens of the faithful men and women who have served and served and served and served God’s local church for decades, there is yet another group who needs to be willing to let go. Because, this is not your church either.

… continued in tomorrow’s post.