church

Do I Even Need To Go To Church?

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I’ve been in church my whole life. Some of you who are familiar with my story know that, when I was a child, parts of our journey had devastating effects on my family. I’ve also been hurt more than once in the church as an adult, and have personally journeyed alongside my husband and family towards discovering what church truly is. I’ve wanted to quit more than once, both as a church-goer and as a woman in ministry. But I’ve stayed. I’ve kept at it. I believe in the power of the local church, not because it is perfect, but because Jesus loves and believes in the Church, and calls us to both build the Church and be the Church. I’ve given this quite some thought, and I want to share with you, both from Scripture and from my journey, about why I’ve stayed and continue to build the Church with passion.

What’s The Point?

Many times people don’t quit Jesus- they quit the church and its imperfect people. However, I believe that we as a people have lost our "WHY" for "temple worship", and it's meant to be simply this: to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. 

"11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." - Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV

Corporate gatherings, Sunday services, and the like, no matter how big or how small they are, if they're held in a YMCA, someone's home or a state-of-the-art auditorium, are all about EQUIPPING the SAINTS (simply put, followers of Jesus) to go out and DO the work of the ministry. To be UNIFIED in faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.

You may be thinking, "I can get just as equipped, if not more, reading a book at home on my own on Sundays rather than at a church service." Now, that may be true, but our gathering together goes beyond just equipping.

Can we do things like be equipped and worship outside of a church setting? Yes, and we should do those things,  but Hebrews 10:24-25 cannot happen if we do this alone, "24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Gathering together is for more than just equipping; it's for worship, encouragement, and spurring one another on toward love and good deeds. It's for being a part of something bigger than yourself, for a purpose that resonates beyond yourself, for being a part of a community that will value you and, for better or worse, see you for who you are and push you to become an even better version of yourself, a.k.a. more like Christ.

When we isolate ourselves, we can become self-centered, seeking our own desires while spouting our own ideas before seeking understanding in a multitude of wisdom. 

1 A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire;
He rages against all wise judgment.
2 A fool has no delight in understanding,
But in expressing his own heart. - Proverbs 18:1-2 NKJV

Jesus didn't isolate; He had intentional solitude. Isolation is self-protection from society, whereas solitude is preparation for society. We have to know the difference. 

If you’ve been a believer for a while, you’re probably aware that corporate church gatherings aren’t all about you - they’re about being equipped to spread the Gospel to others. Lately, I've observed that there are multitudes of disgruntled millennials (to be clear, not all millennials), as well as hurt, angry and bored church-goers of every age that are dissatisfied with the "monotony" of going to church on Sundays. Recently, I have had one too many conversations with people that are saying, "I'm just not sure I believe in going to church on Sundays because I am the Church wherever I go." 

Of course WE ARE THE CHURCH wherever we go, but we cannot miss the integral part of gathering corporately in community. Sure, if Sundays have become the mark of "Christianity" for you, then you've been sold a watered-down Gospel. Go and read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the book of Acts all over again to see what we as followers of Jesus are all about. We're not simply "Sunday church-goers."

Before you throw Sundays (or gathering as the church corporately) out like a baby with the bathwater, consider its purpose in serving the body by preparing us to live out the Gospel in our daily lives.

As of late, I've been having great discussions with our good friends Tyler and Hannah Pines, sparked by having them look through the doctrine in my coming book, to be released this Fall. In a recent email discussion, Tyler wrote this powerful statement pointing to the "why" for corporate gathering:

The purpose of the Church, therefore, is not to save the world. That is the mission of the saints, who have been given the ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Cor 5:19-20). The purpose of the church is to equip the saints (Eph 4:11-13), to gather to stir each other in love and good works (Heb 10:24-25), and to worship God corporately in spirit and truth, as in the days of the tabernacle of David (Amos 9:11, John 4:24). - Tyler Pines

New believers and followers of The Way in the book of Acts were so desperate to be equipped and discipled that they gathered corporately in the temple DAILY and in each other's homes. 

It Was BOTH-AND

"42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." - Acts 2:42-47 NIV (Emphasis added)

The "temple model", if you will, is simply an opportunity for believers to be equipped. It is not the whole picture, but it is a fundamental part of it.

We gather corporately (Sundays, worship nights, prayer nights, conferences, etc.) to be equipped by the apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors and evangelists. For Jesus, this was from a boat on the lake so His voice would carry to the multitudes, going to the temple (as was His custom - Luke 4:16-21) and reading from the Torah or from a mountainside; really anywhere a crowd could gather and hear His voice. He created spaces for people to hear about the Kingdom of Heaven. After Jesus died, rose again, and had ascended to the right hand of the Father, they didn't destroy the temples and tell everyone to stop meeting there; they continued to use the space to gather so that new converts could be equipped to be followers of Jesus. We also see that they would then break bread in each others homes to disciple others and become disciples; it didn't just happen in the temple. Every day of the week, they had countless opportunities, as do we, to carry the Kingdom of Heaven living within to their every sphere of influence from neighbors to workplaces, to their own families, to the grocery store and beyond. 

But What About Discipleship?

Let's not be fooled. Discipleship is a slow burn over a lifetime, through every season, in loving community, coming in from countless facets. It’s not just a hot topic; it’s for a lifetime. We are never "perfect disciples" of Jesus. There is always more to learn and do. Just look at Jesus, and how He lived life intimately with 12 people over three years, and all the ways in which they learned from Him. They watched Him preach, teach the Torah and prophesy in the temple. They had front row seats to His life, often scratched their heads, gleaned from Him, were challenged by Him, listened to Him speak to the multitudes and also have time for the one. They watched Him heal, deliver and make whole the least of these. They were activated in their faith, but also confronted and challenged in their unbelief. And when He ascended, He left it to His disciples to do what He had modeled for them -  to continue to be taught by the Holy Spirit and to disciple others in "The Way". 

In our modern-day context, activation of our faith should be taking place all the time within community. If we're equipped on Sundays, then what are we going to do to activate what we've learned? Activation can take place in our own time with God, in small group/discipleship settings, corporate gatherings, and as we do life together as Followers of Jesus. There was fluidity to the way Jesus discipled; it was all-encompassing. Sundays can be a part of that, if you take what you learned and do something with it, but that's entirely up to you.

We Are One

We are ONE body with different functions. If we could stop talking about who's right and who's wrong when it comes to "styles" or "models" of church, and actually just start doing the work of the ministry, we'd start to see more of His Kingdom bring light into the darkness. If we could stop comparing ourselves amongst ourselves and actually start loving one another, we'd begin to see a lot more unity in the church. If we could open our eyes and see that we are all ONE body with many DIFFERENT parts, whether we execute the Gospel through the equipping and making of disciples in a house church, mega church, underground church or community church, we'd get a lot more done. We'd stop hurting one another, and instead, learn from each other.

Often, when we’ve been hurt in the church or disagree with they way someone else expresses the local church in their setting, we can swing our beliefs to align with another extreme. The problem with extremes is that we begin to live in reaction to what we don't like instead of being led by the Holy Spirit into everything we ourselves are called to, without judgment of others and their method of spreading the Gospel. 

So What Is The Fruit Of Your Life?

Dad and Mom baptizing Giles. 

Are people becoming disciples? Are they being transformed around you and walking in their identity? Are they discipling others? Are you being transformed and walking in your identity? Are the lost coming home? Are you seeing signs, wonders and miracles following those who believe? If you can answer "yes" to all of the above, then great! Keep lifting up your eyes and stay about your Father's business in the lane to which He's called you.

Meet together, however and wherever you may gather as a church - movie theaters, homes, gymnasiums, parks, schools, beaches, rooftops, warehouses, state-of-the-art auditoriums, and the like. It doesn't really matter as long as the Gospel is being preached and people are doing life together in the "slow burn" of the discipleship journey, and we are finding ourselves, and others, becoming more like Christ and transforming society as we see the Day He comes again approaching.

“19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” - Hebrews 10:19-25 NIV

Chaos, Community & The Power Of The Table

I woke up last Wednesday in the middle of the night at my hotel in Nashville to the news that Trump has won the election. I didn't have any extreme emotions whatsoever because immediately my mind and heart went to the people God has called Paul and I to pastor, love and come alongside at Liberty Church. I placed both hands over my heart and began to ponder - how can we come alongside our people at this time? Father, what does your heart say in this day and age to your people? How can we lead with wisdom, truth and love? How can we create safe spaces for people to be transformed, and then go out and bring transformation as followers of Jesus Christ?

I came home and asked my husband if we could swap our rostered positions this month so I could speak to our church instead of him on Sunday, as I felt I had a word in season for our people. (You can listen to the message here or watch it here - I believe it may really help you.) These last few weeks reminded me that cultivating true community and making disciples - true followers of Jesus Christ with a free will - isn't neat and tidy. It's messy yet beautiful and totally worth it.

True Community WITH Unity Can Be Messy

Pastor Cedric speaking with my husband Paul

Pastor Cedric speaking with my husband Paul

Pastor Cedric C. Johnson, a good friend of my husband's who also wrote a book entitled, Race, Religion, and Resilience in the Neoliberal Age (Black Religion/Womanist Thought/Social Justice), came and spoke alongside my husband Paul at our "Race, Justice and Unity, A Liberty Family Conversation" that we hosted last month. Amongst many other things, he spoke about the four stages to true community. 

I will break down these stages in my own words alongside reflections from that evening.

Stage 1: Pseudo Community

Oftentimes, we comfortably and often unknowingly remain at this stage, not letting our guard down with one another, while living internally (and sometimes externally) isolated lives, even when others are physically in our midst. This is where we self-protect and preserve. 

Stage 2: Chaos

Chaos is not something we naturally want to embrace. The moments, seasons, interactions or world events that bring chaos in our lives, cause our guards to come down with one another while exposing the state of our hearts. These are the moments where our beliefs are exposed and confronted. Where disunity is seen, felt, and wrestled with. These are the times when relationships are tested and solidified, or tested and broken down. These are the moments where our bias and pre-conceived ideas are often brought into question by someone else's point of view. These moments, seasons and interactions can cause us to look at our own hearts and search them in partnership with Father God, or they can cause us to abort mission and go back into self-protection mode. Often in a church setting, this causes us to either put our roots down, look each other in the eye and build together with an understanding that every life is in desperate need of God's grace and that we're all on a steep learning curve, OR it can cause us to go and look elsewhere for another imperfect church. 

Stage 3: Emptying

This is where we arrive at relationship with no agenda. Where we learn to continuously lay our lives down just as Jesus did (John 15:12-14, Matthew 16:24-25, 1 John 3:16). It's a place where we come to understand others and not always have the insatiable need to be understood. It requires humility and the ability to let others speak and be heard. It requires confrontation and conversation paired with truth AND love.

Stage 4: True Community

Oh, we say we want the real thing, but the real thing can be messy, just like marriage can be messy and full of chaos. I choose my husband every day, people, just like he chooses me! "In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer..."  I once heard Pastor Chris Hodges of Highlands Church in Alabama say, "Love's not a ditch you fall into; we choose to love one another." It couldn't be more true with our neighbor, our community, our spouse, our friends, our kids, and those we don't understand and even disagree with. The real thing isn't always nice and neat, but it's oh so worth it!

The Power of The Table in True Community

The book of Acts is just that - a collective of people not just speaking (a.k.a. just putting quotable quotes on social media without putting their hands to anything) but acting on and doing the good work of the Gospel day in and day out.

I love Acts 2 -  specifically the beauty of the Church as she emerged on the earth after Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father and sent the gift of Holy Spirit. The Church that we are all an extension of, playing our part, building together in our unique places and spheres here on the earth. Their devotion, their outright passion, coupled with tangible signs, wonders and miracles following those who believed is confronting. Their hunger to learn and to be together, breaking bread, praying and sacrificing to meet each others needs is inspiring. The sincerity, the joy, the favor and salvation - it is breathtaking! This is HIS Church. 

The Fellowship of The Believers

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. - Acts 2:42-47 NIV
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This passage mentions breaking bread twice. Why, you ask? Is it because bread is SO good? Well, yes - we all love carbs even if we don't like to admit it in this gluten-free, Paleo day and age we live in, but beyond that, it's the picture of the table - the beauty of gathering around a meal while prayer and connection take place, coupled with an excitement to discover more of who Jesus IS in our lives TOGETHER.

I have to imagine that most of these people that we read about in Acts who gathered in the temple courts daily didn't get to meet or come in contact with Jesus before He ascended to the Father. Because of this, their sheer desperation to devote themselves to the apostles' teaching, to connect with one another, dig in, learn, grow, and pray together is palpable - it was necessary. They needed each other. And we still need each other.

This Hasn't Changed.

Connection, chaos, truth, love, a good meal, savoring life and new-found revelation happen at the table. A desire to go out and bring others to the table happens as we discover the joy of coming together in our diversity and differences. It's at the table where Jesus is the center, leveling the playing field as we empty ourselves to come and hear each other, understand each other, lovingly challenge each other with truth and love, giving our lives to each other. It's a place where we commune with Him, and with one another. There is so much power at the table. And when we get up from the table it's then time to put into practice what we've talked about. To be doers of the word, not just hearers. It's time to put our hands to the good work of building together, loving our neighbor, speaking up for injustice and bringing the good news of Jesus love to all we meet.

Remember, love is a choice - it's not a ditch you fall into. Love requires us to lay down our lives daily. Love doesn't stop at the table, it moves us to action. Where there is new understanding, there is also new responsibility.