Ep. 446 My Church Doesn’t Do Community Well, and I’m Struggling

Ep. 21 My Church Doesn't Do Community Well - I’m Struggling

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Shows Main Idea – A church member sent me an email because they are struggling with what she called a “lack of community” in her local church. She is one in a long list of emailers talking about this problem, and while there are several angles to a local church’s lack of community, I’m only dealing with one in this episode: the church’s leaders. This episode will be dicey, but I want to carefully navigate through it because a church’s leadership is the most critical aspect of all when talking about the spiritual condition of its members.

Show Notes

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Warning: May I appeal to you to guard your heart? If you’re teetering on the verge of church cynicism or have already fallen into the abyss of the cynics, perhaps you want to move on to something else. This season might not be the best to talk about something that triggers you.

Celebrate: Some of you will want to talk to your pastors, thanking them for how they lead their lives, wives, families, and this church. Please contact them. Let them know your appreciation. Don’t assume others will. Honor your leaders; if they are doing it well, celebrate it by letting them know.

The Problem

  • We live in a preaching-centered world, primarily popularized by a plethora of social media platforms where we can listen to the “best” preachers.
  • Some of these “best” preachers are no longer qualified for ministry because of character-related issues that existed long before their sins became public.
  • Doing community well in a local church is every person’s challenge, but our leaders are the pace-setters, the examples, and the modelers of what the church should be.
  • Ephesians 5:1, 1 Corinthians 11:1, and Philippians 4:9 are essential “imitating” verses that all pastors should practice.
  • Though our leaders will never perfect the practice of imitating Jesus, the maturing presence of the Christ-life is non-negotiable for them.
    • Of course, the most important place for this kind of Christ-modeling is their private lives.

The Temptation

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:22).

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Genesis 3:7).

  • All people are the same in that we all struggle with Adamic tendencies, e.g., shame, guilt, fear, and self-reliance.

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Models Matter

Because our pastors are our leaders, they and their wives represent what the church should be; we must follow and submit to them as they follow and submit to Christ.

Modeling of the gospel must precede the teaching of the gospel, or we will marginalize the gospel we teach.

Leadership assessment begins with the character of the pastor in 1 Timothy 3:1-7

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer

  • must be above reproach,
  • the husband of one wife,
  • sober-minded,
  • self-controlled,
  • respectable,
  • hospitable,
  • able to teach,
  • not a drunkard,
  • not violent but gentle,
  • not quarrelsome,
  • not a lover of money.

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

One Versus the Many

  • Unfortunately, we put the big data point on his ability to preach. There are fourteen other assessment elements in addition to preaching, all of which relate to the man’s character and family.
  • When doing a leadership assessment, a vital key begins with the leader’s wife and then his children (if he has any), but not to critique them. You do this to assess him—how has he affected them?
    • Then you assess the husband (pastor).
  • The most objective data point in a pastor’s life, as far as his community skill set is concerned, is how he relates to his wife. The word husband is from husbandman, a tiller of the soil, or what we say today is a gardener. His wife has received more of his relational care, communication skill, restorative help, and Christian experience than any other human.

A Short List

A short list of reciprocal community qualities of a good pastor and wife are,

  • Do they like each other? Not the public side you see, but do you know if they are warm, kind, gentle, always repenting, and have affectionate love for each other when they are alone?
  • Do they want to be with each other?
    • If they could pick one person to go out with, they would prefer each other as their first choice.
  • When they look at each other, you perceive warm affection between them.
  • They are quick to repent after they offend each other because it grieves them when they offend the other.
  • They think of their spouse at random times during the day.

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Average, But Exceptional

  • The preaching may be average.
  • But they (pastor and wife) are exceptional in a private, personal community.
  • If so, the church’s culture has its best chance to mature. They can enjoy true, authentic, repenting community unity.

Exceptional, But Average

  • He teaches wonderfully well.
  • He exegetes a text like nobody’s business.
  • He is dynamic, winsome, charismatic, theologically precise, and well-followed.
  • But suppose his marriage is not a maturing version of what I have described. In that case, your church cannot have an overall koinonia culture or even a trajectory that leads to that kind of gospel-centered living.
    • Of course, there will be outliers in your church who will mature despite the leadership, but they will not be the majority report. The congregation as a whole will not rise above what the leadership models.

Four Options

  1. Go to your leadership, lay out your concerns, and collaborate with them to bring practical, dynamic, communal change to your church.
  2. Accept the community culture of your church while modeling the gospel as outlined here, resigning that you may always be an outlier.
  3. Ask God to lead you to a pastor and his wife who get the gospel in more than “word only” but are exemplars of what it means practically.
  4. No place for self-righteousness. You cannot sin against your church. You must not grumble, complain, or do any other divisive sin that makes things worse than they are.

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