This is the second post in my series of Searching for Church.
If you want to read the first post click here.
I’m trying to sort out what is essential for the work of the church and what new structures might be better suited for that work in today’s America. For the net few blogs in this series however, I’d rather talk about what the essential purposes of the church are.
Today’s blog is a little late because I’m in Arizona visiting my mom who is suddenly and mysteriously very ill and in the ICU here in Tucson. I want to give you two things to chew on over this next week, both about the purpose of the church.
First is this video which I created years ago, and is part of the teaching I do at my Big Ideas Conference. I might say a few things a little differently today, but it speaks well to the basic purpose of the church which is more about being than it is about doing. We are to be the church, to be the temple, to be the light, to be the bride, to be the salt. God can then use the church as He desires, but first we must be what He desires. Discipleship is essentially this process of becoming what God has called us corporately to be. Discipleship is unique among all things because it is the church which builds itself up to be the church. AS I say, this video goes into it in greater detail. It’s twenty minutes but it’s worth a look as we journey together in this search for church. I’d love your comments on it below.
Second, after you’ve watched the video I want you to think about this very simple, very powerful, but too often overlooked and sometimes outright ignored aspect of discipleship.
…God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet so that the lame may not be disabled but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:10b-13)
Think about this verse
First, it is clearly intended in the corporate sense. This is not telling us to strengthen our own physical limbs. That makes no sense. On the other hand, the surrounding context is clearly about gathering together, about our corporate identity, in short, about the church. There’s also an idea taken for granted here which will explore in a future blog of this series. What it takes for granted is the idea that discipleship occurs, not from one person to a congregation but from every member of the congregation to each other.
We are all obligated to see to it that no one misses the Grace of God or loses faith (Chapter 12:15) Together we disciple each other. The leaders simply pave the way for us to do this most important work of the church.
And what does this verse say about this Discipleship? Simply this: that part of the job of Discipleship, a big part of it, a fundamental and necessary part of it is to make it as easy as possible for people to believe.
Actually I find this a huge relief. I’ve known Christians and church groups who seemed to believe that our job was to make it tougher on people, to toughen them up. Tough love became nothing about love and all about calling all toughness, Love. Even harsh, selfish, unreasonable toughness was called love by virtue of it’s toughness. People with compassion are sometimes led to feel that their compassion is a weakness and breeds weak disciples. They are taught to be more concerned about making people stand on their own two feet, then about actually helping them grow.
Do you hear the difference?
We say “Stand on your own two feet” vs “Strengthen the limbs of the feeble” and make the way straight so it’s easier for them to walk. Of course walking and standing are still the call. Discipleship is not about being carried on a throne or a hammock all the days of your life, but Hebrews recognizes that a big part of the community’s purpose is to understand that living by faith in a fallen and deceitful world is difficult and to do everything we can to make faith easier, to make life viable, to point out the beauty when we miss it, to reflect grace and compassion when we need it, to strengthen us and smooth out the rough terrain of our lives.
Notice it’s God who disciplines in the above verses and as we’re often reminded in scripture, He does it perfectly; with perfect love and exact understanding of what’s too much or too little for us. He is the Goldilocks of discipline…just right. We, on the other hand, are terrible at determining how much pressure to put on someone to make them behave. This is why discipleship is not about our making someone behave. Let’s put it simply
According to Hebrews 12:12-13 our job is to make it as easy as possible for someone to walk the path of faith in the rough terrain of a painful and deceitful world.
Taking care of my mom this week, watching the doctors and nurses who are working so hard to help her get better has reminded me that in every encounter we have with someone we have the opportunity to make their life better or worse, harder or easier. It’s amazing when I’m struggling how the simplest acts of bad behavior (cutting me off in traffic) can make me so discouraged and the simplest acts of good behavior (picking up something I dropped in a parking lot and returning it to me) can lift me up again. I’m sure you’ve seen the same.
I’ll wrap up this blog with this. My mom’s condition right now is a complete mystery. Two weeks ago she was doing crossword and jigsaw puzzles in her living room, emailing her kids, and playing in the bell choir. Two days later she was suddenly and inexplicably confused and this began a decline it’s been my sorrow to watch. They’ve been unable to find any infection, trauma or neurological cause for her mental alteration. Today one of her doctors put it to me this way: “When we can’t find a cause, I find that the body will often just heal things on its own. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. But it’s like a race; will complications from her condition drag her down or will her body heal before that happens? Our job at this point is to put out fires and to fight on the side of her body, not allowing the complications to win.”
This is discipleship. We know the cause, it’s sin, it’s deception, it’s the flesh, the world, and the devil. This falleness brings death and wounding to our lives; all aspects of our lives suffer (like the video above). A life of faith in Christ will lead to life, dying things will resurrect, rejuvenate and heal. But it’s a race. Will the deceptions of life drag us down or will the life of Christ be allowed to shine? Of course ultimately the Spirit will not allow us to die, the Grace of God will cover all…but Hebrews is saying to us that our job at this point is to fight on the side of our brothers and sisters in unity with the Holy Spirit and not allow deception to win.
Life is already hard. Every day in every encounter we have the ability to make someone’s life easier or harder. Take heart that God not only gives you freedom to enrich lives, but gives you power and grace and delights in every patch of earth you smooth out for your fellow sojourners in this life and especially the household of Christ.
Who would not want to be part of a community where the goal is to help you do what you do with less pain, or at least more support? I know I do. How cool would it be if Discipleship is at least in part about making each other’s lives better. I think it just might be…Please take a moment to disciple me by commenting in the space below about what thoughts this blog has prompted for and in you.
See you next week! (Post # 3 in this series is here)
Smiling at the future,
David “pastormac” Megill.