Friday, February 6, 2015

"Hey, How's Your Church?"

Photo by: arkorn

When I’m at a summer camp with other independent Baptist missionaries, inevitably someone asks, “How’s the church doing?” I guess it’s a logical question. I guess it’s a fair one.

How’s the church? Hmmm . . . .

My friend might have caught our church in an upswing—better attendance than in the last ten years, growing Christians, and we’re starting a choir. Or, she might have caught us at the bottom—poor attendance, backsliding members, and two divorces.

I usually reply: “Well, we’ve had good times and bad times.” Or, “Probably something like your church. We have our ups and downs.” About this time, my questioner is looking for an escape route, and I’m a little sorry to have given such a dumb answer.

How’s anybody’s church doing?

How’s your church doing?

A church, by definition, is a congregation of baptized believers. (I look at ours, and we have some unsaved people coming regularly, one unbaptized believer, and Christians who are doing well. We also have people with personal problems, addictions, and sinful habits.) It’s a needy church.

Is that strange? I think not.

If we look back to the beginning of the church in the book of Acts, there were: divisions, strife, a failing experiment in communal living, prejudice, lying, immorality, and intolerance. The apostles had their hands full teaching truth, obedience, and doctrine. They had to combat the idea of people following people, instead of the Lord. The people said, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Paul’s response was, Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12b-13)

So, how’s your church doing?

It’s filled with sinners, some saved and probably a few that aren’t. Your missionary team is trying its best to share the gospel, disciple, challenge, and meet needs.
  • Some Sundays are great, and some are not.
  • Some prayer meetings are well attended, and some aren’t.
  • Sometimes the church is growing, and sometimes attendance is going backwards.
  • Some years are rough and slogging, and some are mountaintop hallelujahs.
  • Sometimes you have capable, eager native leaders, and sometimes your best people move away to another part of the country (or leave it altogether).
  • Sometimes there are no native leaders at all, and you are doing all the work.

Let’s see God’s view of the church. I have a feeling it’s not as man sees it—and not as the missionary usually sees it.

It’s God’s church. It is so very important for us to recognize the local gathering as God’s church and not ours. God will do His work in His church. It’s our job to be submissive to His leadership. (You can read many references to the church of God and church in God in the New Testament.) The Bible says that God adds to His church saved people. (Acts 2:47) God cares so much for His church that He sent His Son to die for it.

The pastor leads the sheep while relying on the Good Shepherd to lead him. As women in the church, we need to uphold our pastor in prayer. Pray that God would lead the church and that the pastor might be sensitive to God’s leadership. Pray for your pastor’s Bible study, for God’s guidance in his preaching, for the Holy Spirit’s working in hearts.

If the pastor is your husband, encourage him. Listen to his messages. Take notes. Nod your head. Make eye contact. Be his best “amen corner.” (I don’t mean out loud, necessarily.) Find something nice to say to him after the sermon. (Did something in the message meet a need in your own heart? Did it convey the gospel clearly? Was it well-organized, well-preached?) Give positive feedback, every time. Your husband needs this from you.

Be faithful yourself. Go to church when you are physically able. Don’t go if you’re contagious or in terrible pain, but otherwise, be there. Be an example to the believers.

Be cheerful. Nothing deadens the service more effectively than long faces and complaining words. Greet, smile, encourage. Many times, women set the tone for happiness. This happens in the church as well as in the home.

Teach women. Titus 2:2-5 speaks of the men first, but these characteristics are for the women, too: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Are we what we’re supposed to be? Are we actively teaching women? Are we teaching them what we’re supposed to teach? (The whole outline is given in these verses.) If we’re not teaching the women in our churches, we’re not doing our job as “aged” Christian women. (“Aged” speaks of mature Christians, not necessarily grandmas. “Younger women” includes our daughters.)

Give children the gospel. Jesus said, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God (Mark 10:14b; also in Matthew 19:14; Luke 18:16). It is very important to share the gospel—Jesus crucifixion for their sins, His death, and resurrection—with children from a very young age (3-4 years old). It is not enough to teach Bible stories like Jonah and the great fish without sharing the gospel. Jesus said, For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40). Demonstrate how the Old Testament links to Jesus! Preach Jesus!

Pray for Divine appointments. God opens doors in amazing ways and in crazy places. I have watched Him do that for me, and I’m sure you’ve experienced it, too. Keep your spiritual eyes and ears attentive to the Spirit’s guidance. You’ll be amazed how God uses you to share Him with others!

Be prepared. Have gospel tracts on you, always. Pray and keep your heart clean before God. Be soul-conscious.

It’s humbling that God—Creator, Redeemer, Perfect God—could use us at all. What a privilege!

May the Lord bless His church through you!


Jen Bauer said...

As we are in the beginning phase of a church, thank you for these good reminders!

Susan said...

You know, I'm asked that question quite often, and I struggle sometimes to answer it truthfully while still being positive. There ARE times when it seems like everything is going backwards, and those times have been quite frequent the past few years. Thank you for the reminders - I needed them!

Tori Leslie said...

Seems like we're always answering this question. The truth is, the church is a lot like the Christian. Some days we're walking in the Spirit and some days we're not.
Anyhow, enjoyed this post and it's good to know that it's the same everywhere.Thanks Lou Ann!

Jessi said...

Just wanted to say thank you to all of you who write on this blog. I read it faithfully. This post was especially a blessing and encouragement to me.

Charity said...

Love this! We just started a new church in September and we get this question A LOT! We are working in a country and area where the harvest will be slow. They have no knowledge or basis, and what they have been told about Christianity isn't true... They are leery of us and it will take time. After all, they have been told that we just want to force them to be Christians and things as bizarre as Christians only bury their dead instead of cremating them so that they can dig up the body later to make drugs out of the brains. Hmmm... yes, it will take time. It's God's work, God's timing... We are called to be faithful. Excellent post.