It’s a late afternoon in October and I think this may be the most pleasant of all times and seasons. The golden light, rustling leaves, and cooling breeze is a balm to us heat scorched Athenians who’ve survived August and September in the concrete city. My baby is currently trying to eat leaves at my feet, which I don’t mind at all because they distract him beautifully while I write.
While we were traveling recently I was reminded how many of us have found our identity in the church location we gather on Sunday morning and a particular confession of faith. The question, “Which church do you go to” is very significant for us because we can categorize each other accordingly. What we do for two hours on a Sunday morning becomes almost our entire Christian identity, with the added bonus (sometimes) of a weeknight dedicated to kid’s club or teen ministry. Christianity is thus defined as a good man or woman who are dedicated to going to a church service every week on Sunday morning, don’t divorce each other, have a decent family, and have espoused a certain confession of faith. If one has a stronger desire to be more useful they might end up being ordained as a pastor or church leader in some capacity.
Most of us however, file into church on Sunday morning and listen to the program. There are a few worship leaders, a moderator, and a pastor. Everyone else listens and is (hopefully) inspired to go home and be a good person for the rest of the week. The really good people feel a call to be “missionaries” and are sent somewhere else.
I think we’ve created a fine program that might inspire some people on a Sunday morning, but the impact we have is slim if we don’t define Christianity with the criteria Christ gave us first. Otherwise, we can keep pan-frying our leaders in criticism and drowning our time with temporal pleasures while we sit on the pews wishing for more spiritual life.
Our spiritual life is not as dependent on what the pastor preaches every Sunday as it is on how we follow Jesus every Monday. The true church is not so much about one devoted leader standing elevated behind a podium for two hours on a Sunday morning but about the masses gathered on the pews dedicated to obeying Jesus every hour of the week.
It’s not enough to attend a local church and be honest in your business. It’s not enough to drown yourself in diapers and babies and “let the missionaries share the gospel and see BIG things happen.”
God’s call is the same for all of us, “Come follow me.” He has a criteria for “those that believe” that includes going to all nations, healing the sick, being miraculously protected, and praying in the spirit (Mark 16). All of us in our varied callings, businesses, or cross-cultural work have largely the same challenges. If we sow a lot and obey Jesus a lot, we will reap a lot of fruit. If we become lazy disciples and fall prey to the expectations around us, we might just fill our life with 1,000 selfish ambitions and call it good because that’s all that’s expected of us.
A lot of people looking on become very disillusioned when hundreds of good looking Christians gather on a Sunday morning to sing, but have no idea what to do with suffering. A lot of disobedient disciples show up at the altar at annual revival services looking for an experience from God when they are not committed to being obedient to His summons. Maybe we think Christianity is a nice club we can join with some pleasant benefits. When our friends have spiritual experiences we would like to have them too so we can join the super-spiritual club. What we get wrong is that the church’s very reason for existence is not just to encourage and inspire us on a Sunday morning, but to be the driving force of our encounters with the lost every day of the week. We can sit and gorge ourselves on spiritual riches served on silver platters and be theologically obese, but that’s actually not a very pleasant experience because it’s not what we are created to do.
The church is God’s plan for the nations to know Him, and you and I are a part of it.
The goodness we receive is meant to give us life and to be breathed out of us onto others. If we become dormant spiritually we have all the eyes to criticize others and all the time to fall in love with temporal pleasures. We have the brain space to ruminate about all the ways other people should do life better, but not the self-awareness to realize we aren’t living well ourselves. Our criteria has become what others do instead of what Jesus says. Our identity is thus what the church we go to does and not always what Jesus says.
What Jesus says is that the pastor or the missionary is not the sole responsible agent for the gospel. He actually invites each one of us, and that includes everyone. We like to think we have completed the church that started in Acts with all our programs and seminars, but I think we’ve actually squeezed out the most important church functions to suit our apathetic theological pallette. It would be nice if the church in Acts was just the skeleton, and all the things we’ve added made it stronger and more solid through the years, but it doesn’t work if we’re missing even the bare bones of what Jesus told us to start with.
What did they start with? What did the first church planting movement do daily? I don’t see Paul staying put in Ephesus so he could buy a larger space and have more church members. I don’t see Peter trying to gain influence with larger crowds. Acts 2 is a delightful beginning of the church, and it even says what they did.
They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, and fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers. Wonders and signs were being done by all of them. Everyone who believed came together and had everything in common. Day by day they attended the temple together and broke bread in their homes, praising God. The Lord added daily to their number.
What they did was simple, beautiful, and reproducible. Everyone was busy obeying Jesus. What is even more beautiful is that first church planting movement is still moving today all over the world in homes and church buildings, wherever believers are dedicated to following the simple commands of Jesus. We’ve become so distracted with our idea of what church should be on Sunday, we forget that the true church is you and I choosing obedience every day of the week. We should be laying our hands on the sick, worshipping in our homes, and rubbing shoulders with the lost every week. If our programs and schedules are too busy to allow room for the simple gospel to be enacted in our homes, we can only expect a whole crowd of weary and discouraged Christians on Sunday morning expecting the pastor to encourage them. That’s a lot of pressure on one pastor.
Eric and I often draw out the simple church circle, shared with us by our friends who teach discipleship movements. It’s 12 things that every disciple should be doing. Honestly, when I evaluate my life by those 12 things, it keeps me hopping spiritually. When I surround myself with people doing the same thing, it keeps me sharpened spiritually.
Real disciples are walking with Jesus and have a few people discipling them. They then choose a few individuals to disciple and practice healthy church practices with. Every true disciple has first made Jesus Lord of their life. They have repented and been water and spirit baptized. Every true disciple is reading the scriptures, fellowshipping with others, breaking bread in their homes, and praying. Every true disciple should be seeing signs and wonders as the Holy Spirit works through them, should be giving time or money for kingdom expansion, and should be known as a person of praise and worship. Every true disciple will see numbers added to the kingdom.
Maybe we’ve been conditioned to have really high expectations of ministry teams and missionaries and pastors, and have forgotten to have biblical expectations of every disciple of Jesus. No matter your DISC score, spiritual gift, or personality type, there are simple commandments of Jesus we are all called to obey. When we go back to the basics we get back to fruitfulness and joy in the gospel. The truth is this is happening now all over the world and it’s up to us if we want to join in on the absolute joy of being led by the spirit to the places where God’s kingdom is coming into the hearts of men and women. Maybe that’s on your doorstep, across your street, in your kitchen, and always in your own heart as God transforms and strengthens you.
You don’t need to stay stuck in a dormant and apathetic Sunday Christianity. You can be a part of a living moving kingdom of heaven coming daily with earth-shattering hope by dedicating your life to being a Monday disciple of Jesus. It’s as simple as it was when Peter dropped his net and followed Jesus. We can drop the nets of our agendas, expectations, and criterias and follow Him.
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Mark 1:17