Ever thought about why we do Church? The schedule of meetings is not always convenient, we have to deal with people who sometimes rub us the wrong way... it would seem so much easier to be a Christian at home - except in doing so, we would not be living as disciples of Christ.
Obviously, we need to make allowances in our thinking for the housebound Christians who are physically impeded from getting to the corporate gathering. But for all of us who are able bodied and call ourselves disciples of Christ, the Lord Himself (through His apostles) commands us to be regularly attending services. He also summons us to live under pastoral rule and care (Heb 10:25; 13:17). To either ignore or dismiss these responsibilities makes us rebels, not disciples. We can say we love the Lord but Jesus says, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" and the commands of the God breathed Scriptures carry the full weight of divine authority because they come from the Lord Himself.
Alright - so God wants us to participate in this thing called "church." But what exactly is "Church"? What are the priorities in the life of a church?
Obviously, the subject of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church) is a vast one. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. The Church is the people of God. Most of the Church are already amongst the heavenly choir. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only institution that does not lose a member at death. That's a breathtaking truth isn't it?
But what of the church still on earth? Is there a plan or blueprint for us to follow as we gather and live the Christian life together? I believe there is. We are to govern our collective lives together by the mandates of Scripture, making God's priorities our own.
When we look at God's priority list for His Church - we notice that His list is not identical to ours. For many people, priorities include adequate parking, clean restrooms, music to our liking (not too loud mind you), relevant youth ministry, comfortable seating, and the preacher having a likeable personality. He must be strong, but in a gentle way; very serious, with a great sense of humor! There is of course, nothing inherantly wrong with these things. But my question is whether or not these should top our list, to the exclusion of the things Christ has commanded be observed. Have you noticed something about the short list above? None of them are mentioned in sacred Scripture.
But back to our list (whether or not it is written down, it exists somewhere in our mind) - lets examine it and ask if we put things like prayer, sound doctrine, evangelism, baptism, the Lord's Supper and worship on our top 10 list when we look for a church home? Really - do we? How close to the top of our list is how the church handles the word of God? Is that a priority for us? Where do you think this would rank on Christ's list of priorities?
I believe that consumerism is not just out there in the world; it is right inside the Church. We want to be entertained, we want to feel comfortable. Don't get me wrong - one of the worst sins a preacher can possibly do is to make the most amazing message, "the Gospel of Jesus Christ," sound boring. I believe a boring sermon is a scandal! Yet if someone cannot find contentment or spiritual nourishment in the gathering of the people of God, or in the consistent accurate presentation of the Word of God - if that is not enough... then something is seriously wrong.
At the end of every year, we can determine whether we have had a successful year two different ways. One way is to see if we met attendance goals, etc. Now again, there's nothing inherently wrong in that. I want to see many, many more true disciples of Christ here at the Church I pastor, and that's something I pray for regularly. But I wish to suggest that there is a second way of determining success, by answering a different set of questions such as:
How many of our people are more godly than a year ago?
How many disciples of Christ have we made?
How many men are more patient with their wives, or better fathers to their children?
How many wives are more godly?
How many people are growing in grace, and in their hunger for the Word of God?
In things like language, dress, attitudes and thinking, are we different from the world?
And what about the leaders? Are we passionate about the ministry of the Word?
Is the teaching sound and biblical?
Are our entire hearts involved in the worship of God? Are the songs and hymns even about God?
Then what's this sermon thing? Do we really believe in the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit?
Do we really believe that He shines His light on our motives and attitudes when the Word of God is proclaimed?
I certainly do, and am convinced God is watching over His Word to perform it (Jer. 1:12). The sermon is not an addendum but is an essential part of our worship.
But many pastors, while convinced of the message of scripture, avoid the hard hitting doctrines of God's holiness, wrath and sovereignty because.. well ... if we're honest, we know that some folk will leave if we tell it just the way He said it. But on the other hand, we have no right to adjust or avoid the clear teaching of Scripture. I also believe that the people of God are crying out to hear about God as He really is, and the Gospel as it really is.
I think as pastors we need to face this head on and say, "yes, some will leave," just as some quietly vacated the crowd in Jesus' day when He outlined His demands for discipleship, or pressed home His Father's Sovereign Grace in election (Jn 6:37-66). But that's the point - Jesus didn't preach to please the crowd, but to please His Father. He wasn't seeking to build a popularity base in Israel, but He did say, "I will build My Church."
We need to ask the question, "who are we trying to please - men, or God?" When I stand before the Master, I don't want to face Him with only bulimic, under-nourished sheep under my charge. I certainly don't want blood on my hands for failing to preach the whole counsel of God (see Acts 20:26, 27).
I believe that God is worshipped when His truth is proclaimed, and that my responsibility as a pastor is not to try to keep all the wolves happy, but to feed Christ's sheep. As the prince of preachers, C. H. Spurgeon once said, "Christ's sheep will never be offended by Christ's voice."
I don't wish to come across as someone who feels I've got everything in place or that I think God is perfectly pleased with how I do Church. Not at all. And that's what's scary. I don't have all the answers, but I do feel that l am beginning at least to ask the right questions. I want to find biblical answers, rather than simply designing a church by the popular trend of the day. I think that has to be the place to start - asking the right kind of questions.
What haunts me - what really scares me - is that one day I will stand before the Master and give an account of my life and my ministry. I am scared, not because I do not believe in Christ's imputed righteousness to me as a believer. I certainly do. Thank God! With Scripture alone as my sure foundation, I affirm that my justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone — for the glory of God alone. What a secure refuge the Gospel is in all this! But what scares me, and if I am honest, what I think should scare me and all of us a lot more than it presently does, is the reality of Christ's future judgement over our works (Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:5-15; Rev. 22:12).
We see Christ's priorities in many places in the Scripture, but perhaps the place we see them most clearly is in the letters of Christ to the seven Churches of the book of Revelation (chapters 2 & 3). As I read through these letters, I have to admit, I find it more than a little frightening. In my mind, I have a mental picture of that day when my works are judged. Jesus is standing in front of me, in a blaze of glory, and with a Bible in His hand, He asks me three piercing questions:
1. How well did you live this?
2. How well did you preach this?
3. How well did you do Church by this?
These are not questions He doesn't know the answer to. He knows the answers all too well, of course. But whatever the picture in my mind right now, the reality will be a great deal more alarming. Jesus, with eyes of love, but eyes of fire, will look at me and all of us Christians with a gaze that penetrates all self professed spirituality. He will deal with us in truth. With all that is in me, I want Him to say, "Well done!" and not "well, are you done?"
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. - Heb 4:12-13
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. - Heb 13:17
Its a wonderful and joyful privilege to be a pastor - an under shepherd to the Great Shepherd of the sheep. But being a pastor is also the most scary job imaginable on planet earth. Please take some time today and pray for your pastor and elders.