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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 are a crucial ingredient to authentic church life.
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:
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.
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.
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 dealing 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).
The one who states his case first seems right until the other comes and examines him.
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:
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).
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 do 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.
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.
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 critically 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.
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.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).