Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Gal 6:14a
Confession. When I overhear people talking about the church they attend, I tend to lean in a little and listen for what most excites them. This is especially so if it happens to be during the weekly Sunday migration for after service sustenance.
In our cultural context it happens often. It’s not at all out of place to see someone with a Christian book or bible in a coffee shop. It’s normal to overhear people asking and telling others about the church they attend in the line of a buffet.
In my eavesdropping, what I hear more often than not is usually a genuine excitement for their chosen church. We all talk about the things we like. Most people like to share what they enjoy about their place of worship; many would be great ad men and women for the church. Sometimes it can sound a bit like a sales pitch. From time to time some seem to be convincing themselves as much as the person listening, but overall men and women tend to share what they like about the people of God they gather with each week, and it’s here that I will finally get to my point.
The bulk of the conversations that I encounter center around style of church rather than substance. What I mean is this, I hear far more talk of the quality of the music, the broad range of activities, a current cause or the charisma of a particular leader than I do talk of Jesus and the gospel. Granted people do mention how they have been affected by attending said church. How they finally found a place for them or how there’s something for the whole family or even that they are the happiest they’ve been in years. Don’t get me wrong, this is great stuff. I love hearing people tell their friends, and complete strangers, about the growth in their life that happened in a local church. But what saddens me, and it does, is when a church overshadows Christ in conversation. When people talk about a church they attend and are more excited about certain music and men than Jesus my heart sinks.
The church is meant to be the radiance of Christ in the world. He should be her song and her boast. It’s he who sacrificed, saves and sanctifies. It’s Jesus who is most beautiful and who those who worship him should be boasting in.
A church in the bible is not a building, but a grace saved, grace stunned, grace sharing people. As sinful people; however, with a proclivity to glory in others and in ourselves, it makes perfect sense that what we notice first, get excited about most, is often the work of our own hands and the glory of other men. I get it. I’m tempted to it myself daily. Churches and Christians; therefore, need to be very diligent about making sure the gospel is preached, and that Christ is their gospel.
When we, even with good intention, lift up anything above the Cross we are in danger of teaching others to do the same. When we promote ministries over our Messiah we do a disservice. When the work of the church overshadows the work of Christ we tarnish the gospels shine in the world, as well as in the lives of the very people we lead and love. Couple this with an American church continues her drift toward conformity to culture over contending for the Cross, and we have our current state – Less Jesus, more Jesus stuff. Increased entertainment and decreased discipleship. To be a healthy church today means making and maintaining happy people. I firmly believe God is after our joy, but through the gospel, not around it.
You might be reading this as a bit of a Monday pastoral rant, but honestly I intended it to be the sharing of an observation with a loving stirring up to change. As pastors, let us be brave, not cowardly in contending for the gospel, lifting up the excellencies of Jesus and boasting in nothing except the Cross ourselves. Let us be loving, being patient with slow growth. Let us be steadfast, settling for no substitutes. Let us make sure we are pointing people to the One Savior and away from frail substitutes.
As the church, Gods rescued, redeemed and loved people, let us continually examine our first loves, wash each other with the Word and encourage one another toward what we are truly about – Jesus. Let us also learn to listen in on our own conversations, eavesdropping on ourselves and asking “What am I bragging about to others?”. Are we inviting people to come see Jesus or something else? Are we excited about and glorying in what Jesus has done or are we inadvertently promoting an alternative hope?
The good news is, from time to time I do hear someone talk about the transforming love of Christ they heard about and experienced in a local church. That thrills my heart. I’ve often stepped in and said something like,” Sorry but I couldn’t help but over hear you talking about your church.” I’ll ask for the name of the church so I can add it to a mental list of churches I look into and recommend to others looking for a home. As a pastor, it would bring me a lot of joy to know people are loving Jesus and braggin on him to others around town, so from time to time I let the pastor of their church know, cause I’d like to know that great news myself.
My prayer for myself, our church and churches is that we would be more excited by Christ and the gospel than anything else, and that what others hear as we share about the family of God we are a part of, people would sense the joy we have in Jesus together and subsequently come to hunger and thirst for him as well.