The fastest growing “religious group” in the Unites States are the religious “Nones”. That is, people who do not identify with any particular practice or religion. What does this mean? It mans people are leaving the church like never before.
The church today is failing to capture the hearts of its members. It has devolved to a consumer-centric, pandering “showtime” experience, absent of any substance. Church leaders are afraid to call for radical disciple-making and church involvement because the members might leave the fellowship with their money and take it to another congregation that will cater to their consumer mentality. that’s where we get the idea of “church shoppers”. We shop for a church that caters to us much in the same way we shop for goods on Amazon. We ask ourselves: “Does this church meet my expectations and desires?” If the answer is “no” then we have free reign to shop elsewhere.
The problem is we are asking entirely the wrong question. Rather than “Does this church meet my needs?” we should be asking “Am I meeting the needs of my church?” Church fellowship was never intended to be a consumers’ market. It is supposed to be where every person is actively practicing servanthood love to meet each others’ needs. The result is a vibrant, exciting fellowship centered on Christ, where love relationships thrive. We should take our example from the first century church. It says in Acts 2:42-47:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Doesn’t that sound like a fun fellowship to be in? In the midst of heavy persecution and struggling to make ends meet, they still somehow retain their commitment to one another and they thrive as a result. The reality of Christ’s resurrection and victorious ascension is fresh in their minds, and their joy finds a practical outworking their relationships with one another. This is not a picture of a bunch of passive pew-sitters coming to put in their token spiritual duty. They shared everything and devoted themselves to the study of God’s Word through the apostles’ teaching. EVERY DAY they would meet. They didn’t consider it weird or cult-like behavior. It was normal. It was exciting.
The unfortunate reality is that today the typical church is not like this. It’s a cold, dead thing. The bulk of the ministry and service effort is done by the clergy. The only expectation for church members is they should attend and give their money. relationships are shallow – never going deeper than an occasional “peace be with you” muttered offhandedly to each other in the hallway after service as members scuttle out of the church doors as quickly as possible. The goal in many church-goers’ minds is convenience. The result is their children losing their faith.
The irony is many churches like these place a high emphasis on obedience and repentance, yet they actively disobey the commands in scripture dealing with interpersonal relationships. They make a big deal out of obvious sins of commission, such as smoking, drinking, and course language, yet the Bible places a far greater emphasis on the sins involving love relationships.
What is largely ignored today are the “One Another” passages in the New Testament, of which there are 59. Each passage communicates an imperative for all church members on what they need to build and strengthen the fellowship. It’s not an imperative reserved for the high level leadership of a church – All members are expected to take these seriously. What you find is churches that take the One Another passages seriously have way more of a vibrant and exciting scene. People stay in churches like these because they’re invested.
It turns out that being involved in a highly-committed church community where the members are actively putting the One Another passages into practice is key to success in other areas of life as well. Politicians are increasingly starting to understand the link between areas of high crime and poverty and the breakdown of familial relationships and community. Areas that have more community involvement and families that remain intact succeed at a much higher rate. Many want to blame societal problems on things we can’t even see or combat effectively, such as “ingrained racial bias” and lack of governmental resources, but the statistics tell us that the #1 correlation found with major societal problems involves broken marriages and lack of community involvement. People don’t want to acknowledge this fact because it means taking responsibility for poor decisions such as having sex out of wedlock and isolating themselves.
This is what happens when we move away from the pattern prescribed by God’s Word. As the culture grows increasingly secular and as churches ignore relational imperatives such as the ones found in the “One Another” passages, ineffective churches and lost and lonely people abound. A church that takes these imperatives seriously and actively seeks to love and serve one another contributes to a strong community that can help set people down the right path and prevent them from destroying their lives. While community involvement is a good thing, the best type of involvement is found in the true Body of Christ in the church, because it provides the best basis for love relationships. Christ is our head, and together, we receive the changed hearts we need to truly get outside ourselves and love one another.
In my next entry of this series, I will explore some of my favorite One Another passages and discuss how we as Christians can put them into practice.