Thank you to all who have read M & C's 1-3. I have literally been afraid to broach this subject to myself, and having someone listening as I thought through these things has been a genuine blessing. I owe all of you something, so if you can think of any way I could repay you, feel free to collect!
I don't know whether it will come across in these few more pages how far I have moved since starting this blog, and since writing the first post of this series. I can assure you that Codepoke a la 1987 would have written a dirge mourning the shipwreck that is Codepoke 2006 after reading this post. I'm pretty sure that my current, advanced age would not given me much pause. ;-)
FWIW, this M & C - 4 is not about dreaming up castles in the sky, or a holy wish list. What I describe here I will either find somewhere or I will try to build it. This is no game for me, no mental exercise. I lost 15 years of my life because I got this wrong once already. If I have 30 years left, I might have 2 more tries left in me. That's not much. I cannot allow myself to waste that time sitting in a place that cannot do the work of the kingdom.
What does a church look like that can do the good works God has prepared beforehand for them?
The church will know their goals.
Goals differ from Purpose. The purpose of the church is to show the multifaceted wisdom of God. The goals of a church, though, are profoundly smaller. Think of them as milestones along the path. They are things to which you and I can contribute. Here are 6.
- To be the right size
Fewer than 50 people is almost unworkable. More than 500 I cannot imagine. Maybe I'm wrong on this; I have no experience of a church with more than 300 people. I am imagining a church of 100 - 300 people as I write these things. I have heard told that the human brain is hardwired to know 150 people on sight, so I think there's a limit to how big a church should be.
- To have a stable leadership
This matters. When the people don't know who will be leading them over the next months, they are afraid to reach out and try things. Stability is more important than superstar talent.
- To have a broad leadership
There should be a leader for every 5-20 people. Think of a mother/father hen more than a bible scholar. I cannot imagine a church of 200 with fewer than a dozen leaders, though I can easily imagine it with 40. The lower the leader is in the feeding chain, the easier it is to talk to him or her. Yes, I said "her". I do not believe that the church works without women in leadership, but feel free to tune out my mentions of "her" in leadership if you must.
Broad leadership will not work if it remains overly centralized. As long as the church is run by businessmen who see it as a CEO/Pastor plus a Board of Directors/Elders, we are out of luck. Each little group needs to be responsible for their own decisions and their own actions, and that will be hard to teach at first.
- To spread the labor as deeply as possible
Now that the church has leaders running out of their ears, let's get them busy. Specifically, let's get them busy keeping their people busy. Give them meaningful work, and make sure everyone gets recognition when good work is done.
- To find meaningful labor
Here is the key goal. If everyone has enough to do, and if what they have to do is necessary work, any group will be knitted together. Do you wonder why men are underrepresented in the church? They don't have anything meaningful to do. If you take a man, give him a rifle and teach him how to be a soldier all day every day, you had better give him something meaningful to do or you are going to have a morale problem soon. Give a man a bible and 52 weeks of every year teach him how he would use it if he were doing anything meaningful, and that man is soon to be gone.
Work draws men, and hard work draws strong men. Guess what. I bet it draws strong women too.
Meaningful work comes in thousands of shapes and sizes. There is work toward God, work toward each other, and work toward the people around us. We could stay busy for lifetimes, if only someone were there to tell us what to do. But God doesn't work like that. He gives us some talents and leaves us alone. It is ours to figure out how to invest those talents, and that is why I emphasize finding the work that is to be done. Sometimes it reaches out and bites us, but usually finding the right work is the most important work of all.
Listening to the Word and worshipping are necessary bits of work, but everyone is already doing them. There's other work out there that needs doing, too.
- To sow meaningful holiness
I mean three things here. Holiness should be grown, not policed. It should focus on things that make a real difference, not the little things that are so easy to measure. And, holiness should be a drawing near to God, and only incidentally a pulling away from the world.
The church should sow holiness, not enforce secondary standards. Enforce the ten commandments, sure. Don't let everyone start drinking blood, yeah. But don't try to tell people how much beer is unholy. Instead, plant the seeds of holy lust for eternal communion with the Lord Who bought us.
There is a lot of meaningless holiness in church history (not so much in modern America, it seems.) Abstaining from a hundred tiny pleasures may not be a bad thing, but that is not holiness. Such abstinence is discipline. Discipline is good when used with wisdom, and I encourage it. But the church needs to plant, water and reap something a little more substantial.
Holiness is more than sinlessness, even. Holiness is a separation toward God. Separating from worldly things is not bad, but it is not necessarily effective, either. Separating from movies might only join you to books, for example. Separate toward God, and you should find that movies and books both end up in their proper places.
The church will be local
I cannot see any way around this. You can try to pull a church together from all over the city, but I don't think it will ever reach as high as one grown from a single neighborhood. Forget the fact that it cannot happen for just a second, please. Imagine that you could see every house of the 10 people you labored with in the church. Imagine that you knew each other well enough that it would be freaky if no one knocked on your door all week. I've lived it, and after experiencing it, I believe it is why we are here on this planet.
For the first month of trying this, a church should take as their first labor "meal sharing." Everyone should know who their block leader is, and who is in their little group. The block leader will help coordinate the meals so that everyone has at least two church dinners each week. Each person has someone different from the little group over and goes over to someone else's for dinner. After 4 weeks, everyone would have had 4 singles/couples/families over at their house and been in 4 other houses for dinner. What's even more cool is that if there are 15 groups, then all 15 groups are doing the same thing, but each group is having their own individual experience. There will be lots of stories to share when you get together!
We need to get comfortable in each other's homes. It is a foundational labor. For most of us, the Lord is already a big part of our homes, but the church simply isn't. The church in some other place, and we have to drive to them. The church needs to be people we have sitting on our futons. We need to know each other in real ways before we can love each other in real ways.
The local neighborhood will know its church for its good works
I cannot be the only person who interprets Rev 22:2b as describing the church's relationship to the world around her.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
The tree here is the Lord plus His church. He is the Vine, and we are the branches. The fruit of the tree is given for the Lord and for the church. The leaves of the tree, though, are for the healing of the nations. And so history shows it. Nations that have embraced the church have done so to their great profit. Literacy, equality, compassion, justice, democracy, mercy, and even wealth have followed the church wherever we are welcomed. This is no totem of superstitious coincidence. The health of the nations is helped by the blessings of God and by the natural effects of living in closer harmony with the design of the universe.
The church should extend her leaves to the neighborhood. We should care for those around us who need care. We should be a voice of reason in the PTA dogfights. We should make the parks nice places for everyone to be. We should be in tune to what's happening in local government, and even contribute there.
Our little church should bring healing to our little neighborhood.
Preaching and Teaching may be central, but they will not be the center
The center of the church is "Thou shalt love the Lord they God," and "love thy neighbor as thyself."
Love here is a verb involving the heart, mind, soul and strength. Preaching should put us in the way of doing that, but sitting under preaching is not loving God and it is not loving my neighbor.
If the church can apply itself to loving God, each other and the neighborhood, something amazing will happen. We will begin to fail at things. Failing is a good, good thing! When we finally begin to fail, it will prove that we are no longer sitting on our thumbs. Failure trumps boredom any day, too! Not to mention that it softens our hearts for instruction. Nothing better could happen for a teacher than to have a class full of students who suddenly care about the lesson at hand. Preaching becomes fascinating when it applies to something everyone is experiencing together!
To be always learning, and never coming to the application of the truth is not a good thing. I know that we each go home and apply each of the sermon's truths individually, but applying them as a church is so much stronger.
People will disagree on doctrine
This is a treasure, not a burden.
Tennis analogy again. I hit a one-handed backhand. Most of my friends hit a two-hander. It gives us something to talk about! We get to look at the relative advantages of each style and see them in action. Kids joining our team get to hear both sides of the argument and choose intelligently. If we split into different tennis denominations, then I have to drive to Lower Slobovia to find 12 decent one-handers to make a team (we are a rare breed any more) and my life gets that little bit more boring. Why do that to myself?
I now disagree with almost every biggish doctrine my first church gave me. So what? I was a child of the Lord then every bit as much then as now - I just hadn't made many mistakes yet. Should Codepoke a la 2006 disfellowship Codepoke 1976? Both '76 and '06 subscribe to the Nicene Creed, and I think that's good enough. But the issue is not the doctrines, but the life inside. Life is drawn to true doctrine. Flesh is drawn to false. Who shall deliver me from the doctrine of this death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Think of the arrogant pride I might never have learned had I been able to fellowship with people who believed both what I believed then and what I believe now? I could not have believed that just because 'my church' said it, it was God's own truth. I would have had to understand a doctrine before pontificating upon it. And when I picked a side, I would have chosen it knowing that Johnny over there is respected by everyone, even though he has the nerve to disagree with me.
Please, please, please, end this curse of denomination.
The church will worship with variety
This is important.
Corn, rice, and hamburger patties make a good meal. Corn, rice, and hamburger patties for 10 years, though, will kill a man. Not to mention how unpleasant that 520th meal will be. Our palattes take joy in variety because our bodies a variety of nutrition to survive. We need different veggies, meats, and starches to keep all the little organs working at full capacity.
When there is so much variety in the Lord, why are we satisfied to hear a different sermon than last week? Why are satisfied when the songs are a little faster this week than last? It's like putting barbeque sauce on the hamburger instead of salt and pepper. Sure, it's a little different, but it's not variety. It's not healthy. Cast the sermon into the outer darkness for a month. Let the church share testimonies instead. Instead of singing 3 hymns, have 3 people pick and present 3 psalms. Let everyone read them together. Hey, just try turning off the stupid loudspeakers so the people can hear themselves sing! You might be surprised. Try "holler-back" praise. Let the people on one side of the room declare something, and the people on the other echo it.
Variety is hard. It's work, but it's worthy work.
Church will take time
There has to be a balance in all things, but in this one we are currently light on the "work" side. We complain that we are sucked into the world's attractions, but we don't backfill the vacuum that leaving the world's amusements creates. The world often works to draw us away from the Lord by entertainment, and sometimes the church tries to answer with holy entertainment. Bzzzzt.
The correct answer is work.
Work gives a feeling of satisfaction that entertainment cannot match. Really. The world loses this battle when it is properly engaged. The 2 keys are to seldom work alone, and to seldom do "busy work." If most of the time, you are working with someone you enjoy, doing something that you know matters, you are not going to miss that TV.
Notice, though, that I have the church taking its time from our "entertainment" time, not our family time. The church should seldom take time away from family. It is foolishness to think that if we serve the church with all our might our families will be the better for it. I would also say that the church should not take 100% of our entertainment time (or when would I play tennis?)
Us fanatical nutcases need to be reminded of these things.
There will be a building.
The cathedrals of Europe are an offense to me. I despise them. They exist because men with evil hearts chose to make something beautiful to gratify themselves. They sat down with their abacii and worked out how to stir dread in the hearts of all who came to God, then built those monstrosities on the blood of the people. May the Lord repay them.
Every now and again, I just have to say that out loud. I know it is a minority position.
I have learned that my despite for cathedrals is not a good reason to reject the idea of buildings dedicated to the Lord's work. That building has the potential to be a really useful thing. I don't believe the majority of church buildings are used well, but they could be. Besides, if the churches were suddenly to be transformed into building-clasts, they would flood the market selling their buildings anyway, so there's no point trying that plan. ;-)
Alright, I think I have said enough.
I doubt any of you is as surprised at some of the things you found here as I. I am shocked by a number of them. I never thought I would say anything nice about church buildings, for example. I never thought I would say anything positive about the church encouraging holiness. I was converted and raised legalist (and I was a natural at it) so I tend to fear of a police church.
If there is an area of practical church implementation that I skipped, please point it out. (Except money. I did not talk about that here because I am still not ready. Maybe some day.)
This was fun. Thank you, again.