Friday, May 26, 2023

A Caution

When you suggest something like establishing a social calendar for the church and doing your best to attend the real-life events of your brothers and sisters as an act of fellowship and togetherness, the natural caution is: how do you prevent little cliques from forming? 

It's not hard to imagine. You have a couple of persons who show up to someone's event, and then, they routinely show up to that person's event, and that person in turn shows up to their events and before you know it, there's a small group of maybe three or four persons or families who are doing just about everything together. 

This isn't necessarily a bad thing; discipleship happens in smaller groups. The kind of fellowship that Jesus had with the disciples was just twelve men, and even within that, He had a core of about four (Peter, Andrew, James, and John...and sometimes, not even Andrew). There's no inherent problem with having very tight small groups of persons form through the social calendar type of fellowshipping. 


As long as they retain the heart of Jesus and don't shut others out who show up. As long as they don't become a closed group, you're okay. Remember that Jesus never pushed anyone away because He was busy with Peter, James, and John. He never failed to talk to someone in the crowd just because He was already talking to His disciples. So if you've got persons who are developing the heart of Jesus, as they should be if they are discipling together, then you don't really have to worry about cliques. 

That requires, of course, that the persons in these smaller groups really are discipling one another and not just having fun together. It requires that they are forming the kinds of relationships where they can hold one another accountable, where they are pushing one another toward spiritual and relational growth, where they have their eyes constantly on looking for ways to put love into action - with one another and with the world around them. They can't just be hanging out because they happen to share common interests; the heart of every social fellowship has to be love for God and love for one another. 

Now, a really cool thing also happens when you adopt a fellowshipping like this: bonds form that you might not have previously expected. 

Sometimes, you end up with someone who has a passion for, say, tennis. And you find out that a kid in your church is playing on the local school's tennis team. That person with the passion starts showing up to support that kid - because they love tennis - and they end up loving the family.

Or you get someone whose past includes the tragic loss of a loved one too early to something like cancer, something that happened before they came to the church or that most of your church members don't know about them because they don't talk about it. But they see someone's biopsy appointment on the social calendar, and they show up in the waiting room. And that chance encounter becomes a friendship and a supportship that is healing for both of them. 

Cool stuff just happens when you start to know one anothers' actual lives. When you start to engage in the place where you actually live. When you start to laugh and really, really do life together and not just a smattering of events on the official church calendar. It's such a cool thing to watch how God brings persons together in new and vibrant and exciting ways. It's amazing to watch how He grows them together through just showing up. 

It's even cooler and more amazing to be part of it. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Social Calendar

If the church is designed for doing life together, then it seems pretty simple what one good, strong step toward that ought to be - and no, it's not filling our church calendar with a bunch of special events, whether we "baptize" those events with prayer and worship or not. 

It's actually much simpler than that. 

What the church ought to be doing is keeping a social calendar of its members' events. 

Put your kids' ball games on there. Dance recitals. Put what time you walk your dog in the morning or when you like to go for a run. Add your anniversary or your birthday. Write down the day you're making your famous chili. Share the days that you're going in for medical testing or times you're going to spend hours in a waiting room. Weddings. Funerals. Days that you're working in your yard or around your house. 

What I'm saying is - if we are supposed to be a people who do life together, we ought to be doing our lives together. Not some shared church life where we still, at the end of the day, go our own way and live in relative isolation from one another. 

Imagine the bonds that are formed in the humdrum of watching your kid's soccer practice with someone you're fellowshipping with. Imagine how your kid feels when these other persons keep showing up for them. 

Did you know a lot of our young people are leaving the church the first chance they get to make an autonomous decision? The first time they get to decide for themselves whether they're going or not, they choose, well, not. And a lot of that has to do with the relationships they aren't forming in church any more. 

It used to be that the church was multi-generational, but not any more. Now, most churches have children's programs. In fact, many churches define themselves by their children's programs. It's a time when the kids are removed from the rest of everything and taught a lesson in a classroom by one teacher, a teacher who often changes every few weeks. The only time most of our kids are seeing someone in a church is during the brief fellowship time before or after service, when their parents are usually shushing them and telling them not to interrupt adult conversation that might be happening. Then, when they are in the service, they are told to be quiet and to not disturb anyone or anything. Then, we send them out. No wonder they're leaving the church; they aren't really connected there. 

Think about how that changes if your church members start showing up for your kid. Practices, games, performances, recitals, shows, competitions, etc. Imagine if the persons you stand around talking with in the church foyer for three minutes a week became a constant presence in your kids' lives. In your life. 

I have to be honest - I love it when I go to the grocery store and turn the corner and run into someone I fellowship with. I love it even more when it keeps happening multiple times in the same trip. By the third or fourth one, I'm like, "Hey, it's church day at the Walmart. Bill, Luke, and Donna are also here, and they're just the ones I've run into already!" 

Imagine if it wasn't a random occurrence to run into your brothers and sisters in the course of your daily life. Imagine if it wasn't rare for that to happen. Imagine if you were so intertwined with one another that it was just expected that someone else would be where you are. 

Now, now, I know - there's a danger here, too. I'm not blind to that; you're probably already seeing it, too. But it's not inevitable. Not if we have the love of Jesus in our hearts. We'll talk a bit more about it tomorrow. 

In the meantime, I just want you to start thinking about this idea, to start thinking about what it would be like if your church kept a social calendar of stuff that's already happening, rather than a bunch of special events the church itself is planning for you. I want you to start dreaming of what it would be like if we started showing up for one another in the lives we're already living. 

This is what I dream for the church. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023


We're talking about the church being the place where we do life together, where we become disciples together and are sent out into the world. So, of course, the natural place to go next is to the actual disciples - the men and women Jesus traveled with routinely. Because they have something essential to teach us about what it means to do life together. 

Jesus said our one anothering would be a hallmark of who we are as a people. He said that the world would know who we are by how we love one another; the world would know that we are His. And if that's true, then the ways that we live together in our communities of faith is essential to the development and practice of that faith. 

Look at the disciples. Look at how often they were together. Look at how they traveled together, showed up in houses together, had dinner together. Even after Christ's death, the disciples are often together. The Bible tells us they were out fishing one morning. Now, who was fishing? Was it just Peter and Andrew, James and John? Was it only those guys who were already fishermen? The Bible isn't 100% clear on this. But it would not be a stretch to imagine that some of the others were there, too. After all, Matthew can't just go back to tax collection, and Simon is unlikely to return to his political zealotry. Some of those guys needed something new to do, and it wouldn't be a stretch to think that they took up fishing...because that's what the rest of the disciples were out doing.  

But it's clear about who was in the upper room together - the disciples. All of them. Except Thomas, but he shows up next time, so maybe he was out getting groceries or using the restroom or something the first time Jesus shows up. The point is that these guys learned so deeply how to be with one another that even after Jesus is gone from their physical presence, they still are doing life together. 

And here's one place where I think the church can learn quite a bit. 

See, for most of us, when we talk about doing life together, we talk about planning a bunch of programs and outings and service projects and inviting the rest of the church to join us. We have potlucks or pitch-ins, we have community clean-up days, we get together to put a fresh coat of paint on the church, we have game nights and concerts and movies on our big screens. And all of that is great, don't get me wrong. 

But it's not really "doing life together." 

It's adding one more thing...or a dozen more what are often already-full social calendars, then adding a bunch of stress to it by calling it a "Christian" event. A church thing. Something where you get heaven points for attending...or lose them if you don't show up. And let's face it - we are paying attention. We know who's coming to church events. We know who is most likely to show up. And we know who isn't coming. And we have a lot of judgments wrapped up in that. 

Then, of course, we run into the hurdle of trying to plan events that reach a wide range of demographics. Card nights aren't for everyone; neither are movies. Not everyone wants to attend "faith night" together at the ball park. Some persons can show up and pray for an hour; some can worship; some want nothing to do with either. They simply aren't wired that way. So what we end up doing is creating a bunch of different events so that there's "something for everyone to do," something for everyone to get involved with over the course of the calendar year. 

And honestly? This doesn't further our one anothering. We make it about what's happening, and who shows up is kind of secondary. You might see this person at this event and that person at a different event and still someone else at a third event. We create a broad fellowship, but not a very deep one. It would be as if Jesus kept a different group of disciples for every location He visited, and the disciples from Jerusalem occasionally run into the ones from Galilee, who might meet the ones from Nazareth once or twice. We could not then say that these are all Jesus's disciples doing life together, that they could at all be known by their love for one another. 

How can they have love for one another through a series of simple chance meetings? 

I have a proposal. I was intending to propose it today, but this post is reaching its maximum length per the average reader's attention span, so I'll propose it tomorrow. Do come back and see what you think. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

For Disciples

The church is for discipleship, plain and simple. That is its primary function. It exists as a place from which disciples are sent out into the world to make more disciples, much like the boats and the streets where Jesus gathered with the original twelve. 

To understand what discipleship is, we have to understand what the disciples originally were. To most of our modern ears, we hear the word "discipleship," and we start to think about a class, a study, or a program. We think that a disciple is someone who prays, reads their Bible, and goes to church. Disciples are those who are so good at the spiritual disciplines that we look up to them for how to become disciples ourselves. And, of course, they invite other persons to church - so they are, you know, making disciples themselves, every time one of those persons shows up and commits. 

This is not discipleship. We think it is, but it's not. This definition of "discipleship" would be completely foreign to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. It would be completely foreign to Jesus. 

Discipleship is giving up your own life to take on His. It's following Jesus around and doing life together with the other disciples. It's learning-by-doing and by being so close to the doing that you can't not see what's happening right in front of you. It's drawing near to Christ and being there, even through raging storms. Discipleship requires togetherness. 

That's why, by the way, the church is so important to the life of a person of God; we were meant to do this life together, and it is essential to the discipling of our souls that we be traveling together. 

Sometimes, particularly in our individualistic culture, especially in a church where we are continually told that Christ died just for us, for the individual us, it's easy to think that we are following Jesus and to see it in our heads as Him walking around and us tagging along. Just us. Just the two of us, navigating through this life, through my life, together. But raise your head, friend, and look around. You aren't the only one following Jesus; we're all doing it. And if we're all doing it, that means we're not traveling just through your life, but also mine and mostly...His. 

Now, we have to be careful here. And in a couple of different ways. 

When we say that the church is for doing life together, it's easy to make the church some kind of social club. It's easy to schedule our calendars full of things we do maybe at the church or with the church, but they have little connection to actually making our faith deeper. They have little connection to drawing us any nearer to Christ Himself. There are, in our day, plenty of churches who have adopted this model, whose people are doing all kinds of things together, but Christ isn't central to them. 

On the other hand, our natural tendency when we hear this is to simply try to "baptize" the social things that we're doing so that we can call them church. We throw in a prayer before the Bingo game, and we say, voila! It's Christian bingo! We sing a song while we're working, and we say our project is now Christ's project. This isn't it, either. Saying a prayer, singing a song, even reading a Scripture doesn't make any event a discipleship event. 

We have to be intentional about the ways that we're doing life together if we truly want to be about discipleship, if we truly want to be what the church is called to be. We have to be intentional about who is at the center of our togetherness, too. (By the way, it's not the pastor or the elder or the deacon in charge; it's Christ.) 

It has to be about more than just being together, but it has to be deeper than just throwing a coat of Christian paint on it. And that's not an easy balance to strike, which is why so many churches tend to lean one way or the other. Or sometimes, to alternate between one and the other. 

So how do we get to be a place of true discipleship? And are we still asking, too, what true discipleship even is? 

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Church

If we're going to talk about the Temple and the priest, then it only makes sense that we talk about the church - the place where most of us get our ideas about what the Temple and the priest must have looked like. And we've talked about the church before. But I'm not sure we can talk about the church enough

Depending on what denomination you're in (or not in, in the case of the non-denominationals), your church experience is probably a little different. But there are some ideas that seem to be pretty common across most church experiences in our current culture. 

So church probably means a place where you go at a set time to experience a production of sorts, a program that members of the church (or staff members of the church) have been rehearsing and preparing for all week. It usually includes some singing and musical worship, some prayer, probably a sermon or a teaching of some sort, and in some places, a celebration of Communion/Eucharist. Interestingly, I have noticed in a lot of churches in our age, prayer is a bit of a sideways thing - a lot of churches don't pray any more. Or if they do, they pray for the presentation/service they're having at the moment they're having it and nothing more. And a lot of prayers are spoken more for the human audience in attendance than for the Lord. 

But I digress.


So the church is the place that you go for a worship service - to be a spectator, a consumer, perhaps a participant to some degree or another. You show up late, and nobody really notices. Or they laugh it off because you always show up late. You don't show up at all, and few, if any, really notice. It's come-as-you-are and come-and-go-as-you-please, a relaxed sort of affair that lets you commit to it only as much as you want to for whatever season you're in. 

What, then, is the church?

This gets a little tangled and complicated, because I have a lot of things that I want to say, but they are so intertwined that it's hard to sort them out from one another. I guess I will start by saying...this isn't what the church was meant to be. 

The church was a place where the people of God came together after the Cross for mutual encouragement and accountability. They came to learn, yes. To worship, yes. But more than that, they came to be together, to draw from one another the strength to do two things: primarily, to live as Jesus would want them to live, which was less about hearing a sermon about how Jesus wanted them to live and more about holding one another accountable to the ways of Christ. And second, to gain from one another the encouragement to continue living in The Way in the face of the opposition of the broader culture - when the church started, that was Rome. 

Now, I know that when I say something like that, our culture hears something like this: "You only have to go to church when you need the encouragement." And I know that there are many who are living in good seasons in their lives where it's easy to say, you know what? I don't really need encouragement right now. 

That would not be a statement that anyone could make in faith. 

Because when we're talking about the church, we're not talking about the kind of emotional "you can do it!" encouragement that our culture thinks of. We're talking of something more. We're talking about the kind of three-stringed cord it is to be doing life together. Of having a circle of belonging. Of having an extended family. Of truly being brothers and sisters and, more important than that, a band of disciples. 

Yes, that is the heart of the church. 

And that's what we're going to talk about this week.