“There’s only one correct way to ‘do church’.” As arrogant as that might sound, it’s unfortunately, a prevalent way of thinking. It’s a mindset that has plagued me specifically and caused me to say/think things that are very harmful toward other churches.
In fact, one of the things I have had to repent of in the last two years is having a judgmental heart towards specific local churches and even towards the global Church as a whole. I pretended that it was me trying to point out where a church could grow and change when it was really just arrogance and pride. I took my personal preferences and projected them onto other churches in a negative way. It didn’t matter if I was right or wrong. The problem was it came from a heart that was completely opposite of Jesus’. I found myself becoming indifferent to other churches, and I even had a spirit of condemnation toward the Bride of Christ.
Let me clarify some terms before I go on. When I say “Church” (capital “c”), I am referring to the worldwide collection of men, women, and children who believe and follow Jesus. In this post, I’ll also refer to local churches which are the smaller collections of believers who gather under a unified vision and mission. For instance, the the local church that I call home is Brentwood Church.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of spending a couple of days with a group of men and women who led churches all over the world. The local churches they were a part of did not look like or feel like Brentwood Church. They had different cultures, preaching styles, music, and values. They had many different preferences. However, as the week progressed and we continued to dive into intimate and deep conversations, it was evident that we were all unified under the banner of the Gospel. In fact, we all had the same mission which was to be and make disciples of Jesus Christ. It was such a refreshing and encouraging time together.
As the week progressed and we continued to dive into intimate and deep conversations, it was evident that we were all unified under the banner of the Gospel.
Yes, there is such a thing as a healthy church and an unhealthy church. But my experience is that, more often than not, when someone talks about a church being unhealthy, what they are really referring to is that the church looks, acts, and feels different than their local church. They are really talking about their “preference”. What they fail to see is that the other church has a unique vision and culture that doesn’t align with theirs, yet both have the same mission.
It is important to understand that this post isn’t giving a green light for churches to do whatever they want or feel. I am not saying that anything goes and everything is allowed. All we have to do is look at the letters the Apostle Paul wrote to different local churches to know that there are times when correction and exhortation are needed.
That being said, here are the things that God has taught me this past year regarding my feelings of judgment towards the Church:
The Church is Broken
The Church is full of broken people who are being healed and restored over time. This means that the Church itself is broken and being healed and restored. The Church will make mistakes and will even hurt people at times. However, that does not negate the fact that it is the Bride of Christ. It’s the means by which God the Father chose for the gospel to be taken to all the world. Yes it’s broken, but it’s also beautiful.The beauty is found in the redemption that has come through Jesus and the calling that He has given to the Church. The beauty is found in the fact that God would use a broken group of people to change the world with the gospel of Jesus. And if the leaders of a local church are constantly submitting to God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and mature believers, then growth and health will happen, but not perfection… on this side of eternity.
The Church is Diverse
When I say diverse, I am not referring to ethnicity. What I mean is that I believe God gives each local church a unique expression of His main mission for the church. That is, Jesus told us to go and make disciples, but that can be done in a million different ways. That makes each church unique, diverse, and special. That means that one local church can’t simply copy another because that may not be what God wants to do uniquely in and through that local church. It’s alright to have preferences as a church, but we should not hold everyone else to the same preference.
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
The Church loves to Hurt Herself
Social media, blogs, and the Internet in general have made it so easy for Christians to throw digital grenades at other churches while masking it as an attempt to guide the health and purity of the church. What they think is correction or exhortation is really their cynical bias coming out in a more harmful than helpful way. It ends up being self-inflicted wounds; the Church hurting the Church. The person gets so caught up in the difference and unfamiliarity of a particular church that they don’t actually see whether or not the church is, at the core, fulfilling the Great Commission. This is very difficult to see from the outside, by the way.
My prayer is for the world that is so in need of Gospel of Jesus to see the global Church as united under one mission. I want the world to see a group of broken people who have been redeemed by a Savior – people who have unique and diverse expressions of how they gather, grow, and reach a lost world.
If you find yourself having a hard heart toward other churches or maybe your own church, here is a practice that I would recommend you start… because it is what I have had to do. On Sunday, or any other day that you gather at a local church, take time to pray for every single church building that you pass. Pray that God’s Spirit would move mightily at that church. Pray that they would experience health and growth. Pray that they would be able to accomplish the global mission that God has give the church. Pray also that they have success in accomplishing their unique vision. When you pray, not only does it build up the church, but it softens your heart.
Finally, maybe you do have feedback, correction, or exhortation to give towards a church. Follow the instructions of Jesus. Ask God if the problem is really you and your bias/preference. Get that right with God first, then take your concern to the leadership of that church. Fight the temptation to gossip or simply air your grievances online. That doesn’t take maturity, and I believe goes directly against the heart of God.