In a recent IM conversation I had with my sister, I ended up confessing the fact that I didn’t feel that I “got” much from the previous church I was a member of. Apparently she already knew that, and added that such didn’t make me any better than the people from that church. I haven’t discussed with my sister about sharing that conversation in this post, but I did feel pushed to a corner — as if words were put into my mouth.
The fact of the matter was that I wanted to convey to her that I have stayed as a member at a church in which I did not feel fed or amicable doctrinally not for my sake, but for the sake of the others. I’ll try to say this as humbly as I can: even though I disagreed with some of the methods and theology of that church, I patiently endured such areas of disagreement because I wanted to honor the Lord through serving others. I chose to stay as long as I did because I desired to encourage and build other brothers and sisters up in Christ. I let the main things remain the main things, not letting disagreements in secondary issues get in the way of the mission for the kingdom, until the Lord saw fit to call me to depart.
Do nothing from rivalry (NIV: selfish ambition) or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Having grown up in the same church since I was 5 or 6, it was very easy to just get used and be accustomed to what things were being done and how things were accomplished. It is so very easy to just get used to the status quo — how things have always been — and not care to challenge the current state of affairs. It is very easy to just sit back and relax, and think that as long as everybody’s happy, then all is well. At one point in my journey as a follower of Christ, I felt like that. I was in my teens back then, an active member serving in various capacities in fellowship and for Sunday worship service. All the t’s were crossed and all the i’s were dotted. Everything seemed fine.
But it wasn’t.
And it isn’t.
I wanted to experience more of the greatness of God’s grace in Christ; I wanted others to experience more of the mercies of God too. I started pushing for new things, new ways of doing praise & worship nights, new ways of doing Bible study, new ways of spicing up the music time on Sundays. The emphasis I had was on “new” — as if new was better. And to a certain extent, it was better — the songs we sang became a little more authentic, the fellowship we had became a little more genuine, and we saw the Words of Christ in the Scriptures in a fresh way, as if all the words in the Bible were Red.
But that only went so far, for change in that church environment was slow to come by. Administrative red tape slowed things down dramatically — everything had to be approved by the Elder Board (or rather, the Board of Adminstrators). I soon realized that such was just the way the system worked, and the way things would always be in a church of that denomination. On one hand, I was a fool for continually trying to bring about new so quickly; on the other hand, I knew that the system was a stumbling block for the advance of the kingdom.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
1 John 4:1-3
Despite having seen every single pastor come (and go) at that church, I swallowed my pride and confessed my arrogance to the Lord, and submitted to the system and the status quo. Seeing the futility of my trying and how all my efforts went unnoticed, I stopped pushing for new things. I began doing only what I was told, and didn’t push for more. It’s not that I was serving at church with my 100% — I was — but just not adding in that extra 10% of intuition and ingenuity that would make things thrive instead of just survive. I didn’t seek for any more ministry opportunities except that which I was given — teaching Sunday School upon request, leading Sunday worship when asked, playing Bass guitar for Sunday worship when asked, leading fellowship and small groups when invited. I did my best to stay under the radar and just be a “good boy.”
Somewhere along the way, the Lord in His sovereign grace found me and renewed my mind. The new was out, and what has been historically tried, tested and true in His church was in. Literally, I just went back to the basics, or rather, the fundamentals of the Christian faith and sought to do all that the Lord had given me to do as biblically as I knew how. I went back to the ordinary means of grace — prayer, studying the Scriptures, the Lord’s Supper, singing. In a sense, I returned to the drawing board — the Scriptures — and from that foundation, I began studying His Word: all that Jesus had done for us and all that Jesus had commanded us to do. In a sort of grassroots movement, I began seeing the beautiful simplicity of understanding His Word, obeying His Word, putting it into practice, and living by faith that He who began a good work in me would bring it to completion (Phil 1:6).
The meaning and purpose of what the biblical authors wrote began to have a profound importance that it did not have before. Everything about Christ and Him crucified began to have a new weight to it, an increased spiritual heaviness to its effect on all of life. I saw the infinite graciousness of God having chosen me before the foundation of the world to be redeemed and to serve (worship) Him, and all I began doing was trying to have that rub off on my local church.
There were about 5-6 people I tried explicitly to rub off on, making a conscious effort to maintain a good friendship and bond in Christ. These friends have grown up also to see the glory of the gospel and now seek to magnify God in Christ as never before in their own walks with Christ. I wish I could say I had something to do with it, but in retrospect, it is all the work of the Spirit. There are many I still try to keep in contact with, though our distance apart and differing responsibilities s difficult. There are some, I talk to regularly and try to encourage them in their walk with Christ. Some are beginning to see that the status quo does not have to be the status quo, that the way that that church has been doing things does not always have to be that way. Ecclesial stagnation and spiritual apathy are symptoms they now pay closer attention to, and in many ways, some have began telling me that religious necessities have become nothing more than routine. I share their frustrations, but there is nothing more I can do to change things except to encourage them to seek the better way in the fundamentals of Christ and the Bible.
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
1 John 4:4-6
There certainly is a louder shout to come, and a sweeter song to hear! When we take a step back and take our nose out of our own little world and way of doing things, and see how faithfully other biblical churches around the world are doing things, we can humbly discern our place in the kingdom and examine how it accords with the pattern in God’s Word.
What I have come to learn over the years, is that bigger is not necessarily better; that longer is not necessarily better; that newer is not necessarily better; purpose-driven is not necessarily better. On the contrary, biblical is necessarily better; Scripturally-based is necessarily better; Gospel-entered is necessarily better; Christ-driven is necessarily better.
And until we are willing to challenge the status quo with His Word and disciple others to do the same, we will never really see how beautiful Christ’s bride can be — even amidst this dark and sinful world.