Many times in my Christian life, I have found myself asking this. It has been a burden on my heart for a while now, and I wonder if Jesus truly approves of what the Christian Church has become today. Is the Church today what Christ envisioned it to be? Are we everything that Jesus needs us to be? Are we doing Church the wrong way?
There are many different ways to answer this question, and I am sure there can be many ways to debate this question. It’s even a fact of Christianity that answering this question has led to the various different denominations of Christianity, and the different ways we believe Christianity to be.
I’m not going to call one denomination right, or call another denomination wrong. I’m not looking to create more division and debate in an attempt to answer this question. Instead, I want to answer this question by turning to the truths that all of us Christians believe in, regardless of denomination.
But first, I’m going to share some of the stories that make me think about this question. These are stories I have read, seen or experienced myself, sometimes over and over, that make me think that we are doing something wrong. That in some very significant way, we have fallen short of what Jesus envisioned us to be.
One story is about this woman who refused to go to Church. Her reason for it was simple: she felt like Church was a place where people would make her feel worse about herself.
Another story is about a man who would only go to Church when he was ready, when he was a good enough man to be among other good men. He believed that Church was a place where only good people got together.
Another story, one from inside the Church and one I have sadly seen myself, is of a Christian who sees a man with tattoos all over his arms in Church. This Christian feels that such a man had no place inside the Church.
A woman who thought Church would make us feel worse, a man who thought Church was only for good people, and a Christian who believes only certain kinds of people should go to Church.
These are some of the stories that make me think: what are we doing wrong? Are we doing Church the wrong way? What have we gotten so wrong that these people have missed the point?
Church should be a place where people can feel safe, and accepted, and loved.
As Christians we are called to share God’s love, and we should be able to share it because He loved us first.
I can almost hear some people say, “but this person is a sinner!”
But to that I answer that with a simple truth: we were all sinners before Jesus called us. We all fell short and needed His love and salvation. Which is also the answer for those who think that they should first become good people before turning to God: Jesus offers unconditional love, Grace, and forgiveness. He’s there for those who need him, not just those who are good people.
I’m not saying that all Churches and all Christians are doing it wrong. Far from it. If I had myself not received Jesus love from someone that understood what it meant to be a Christian, I would not be where I am now, I would not be who I am now.
Despite the questions that come to me at times when I hear stories like these, I do know that Jesus would be proud of the way we are getting it right.
I do know that His work continues because His love passes from one Christian to another, from one Christian to a sinner, ever reaching out to those who need and desire His love, Grace and forgiveness.
How can we deal with the times when some people get it wrong, though?
I don’t have an easy answer. Though I will say that we should deal with these situations with God’s love, and with a prayerful heart.
There’s a modern parable that I heard once from a pastor friend of mine. I heard it years ago, but like any good parable, it stayed with me and helped me learn a thing or two about how to be a good Christian.
There’s a yard full of empty bottles and two men are assigned to fill each the bottles with water. At the end of the day, each would be rewarded for the number of bottles that each had filled. One man, thinking himself wise, thought to fill many bottles at once, as quickly as he could.
He took his water hose and sprayed the bottles all over the yard. With a wide stream of water, he struck many bottles, and felt he was working at his best. But the other man saw that while the first man struck many bottles, and some water did enter the tops of the bottles, each bottle filled slowly, and some did not get any water at all. So instead of scattering the water as the other man did, he picked up one bottle at a time and filled each one carefully with his hose.
Who do you think filled more bottles at the end of the day?
A man randomly spraying a yard full of bottles, or a man filling bottles up slowly, but carefully.
Most people would say that the man filling bottles carefully would end up filling more bottles.
- Why is it then that many Churches today seem to prefer randomly spraying their congregation randomly every Sunday?
- Or maybe every time there is a special event in the Church?
- Or maybe through their newsletters?
- And why have we Christians felt comfortable not being as full as we can be, satisfied with the few drops we can receive, instead of seeking out God and His Word?
- Do you, as a Christian, study God’s Word on your own?
- Perhaps with a friend?
- Do you as a Christian, go out to make disciples?
“Hold on,” you may say. “That’s not my job,” you may think. Well, whose job do you think it is?
The commandment was for all believers. Go out and make disciples of all the nations. Not, go out and watch Peter make disciples. Not, go out and read about how Paul did it in his day. Not, got out and watch your Pastor disciple the new Pastor.
And much like everything else Jesus taught us, He showed us how to do it first. Firstly by taking in a select few people to teach them personally Himself.
He took His disciples, and while He taught others throughout His mystery, one can see that He reserved much of Himself and His teachings for those close to Him. Why? So that they could, in turn, make disciples of others the way He did, taking the time to teach their disciples carefully, personally.
What’s the point of making disciples, and what’s the difference? After all, we’re all Christians, and we’re all saved by His love and Grace. Firstly, by making disciples, we follow Christ’s commandment to do so.
Next, making disciples means making sure that one person at a time gets the message right, and gets ministered to personally. Imagine for example a large class of students, compared to a small class of students. Between those two classes, who would most likely learn more out of their teacher?
Are we, as a Church, making disciples? Or are we getting the message to the people of the world, telling them about the salvation that Christ offers, but not sticking around long enough to really tell them what that can mean for them?
- Are we leaving the responsibility of feeding the spirits of the Christian community to only the leaders of the Church?
- Are we leaving the responsibility of praying for the Christian community only to those same leaders?
- Have we taught each other how to pray, and intercede for the world? How to read the Bible? How to share our Christian witness?
- And is it only the Church to blame?
- Am I as a Christian, looking for someone to teach me, and disciple me?
- Do I seek to learn about God, about the life of Jesus Christ, even when I am not in Church?
- Do I pray when I am alone, seeking His will and reaching to Him personally, as He reaches out to me?
- Do I feel a hunger for Him and His Word?
- Do I feel a need to disciple and teach another?
Discipleship, and having a real and personal relationship with God is an important facet of the Christian life.
And while I believe that Sunday services, and special events, and group prayers and teachings have their place in the work of the Church, discipleship cannot be replaced by listening to your Pastor’s preaching, and a true study of the Word cannot be replaced by a quick passage in the Church newsletter.