Restoration is an intimate-sized church and we’ve been blessed lately with a regular number of visitors. It seems that almost weekly, we get some new people coming in… and as a church that is coming through a retreading period, every so often, we have friends leave us. This coming in and going out, I think, is all part of a healthy-church.
We, of course, hope that none would leave and every visitor would stay forever… but that’s not going to happen (and would be weird if it did). We actually have a staff position designated to receiving new friends (acclimation), tracking spiritual growth (investment) and assisting with transitions (departures). Nancy Brieger has served in this role of our Connections Minister for 6-months. Why do we need this kind of ministry in our church?
We live in an age of church-shopping and church-hopping.
I always try to meet every visitor who comes on a Sunday morning. Sometimes, they say, “We’re church-shopping, right now.” Most times, I take that as a healthy way of them saying, “We’re looking for new place to worship and a church community for connection.” And sometimes, they really mean to say that they are church-hopping—which is the habit of visiting several church communities (perhaps intentionally) looking for reasons NOT to connect on a more meaningful level. On the way out, they might ask each other, “So, what did you think?”
Pressing it further, I actually have friends who admit, with some pride, that they church-hop. “Oh, I visit a new place every week. It’s great! I’m getting all kinds of perspectives and it’s really interesting to see what makes churches different.”
Let’s not assume that this new age of church-shopping and church-hopping is going unnoticed by secular culture (people who don’t know how they fit in God’s Story). More and more (especially) younger people these days are rejecting “organized religion” and finding whole thing community of common faith thing irrelevant, a nuisance or even dangerous. If we, who are striving for faith, can’t get connected, then why should they?
This week, our series from Revelation, called God’s Unfailing looked at the seven letters to the seven churches in Chapter 2. We opened up just the first two letters this week. These were written to the churches in Ephesus and in Smyrna and we found some interesting connections to these days of shopping and hopping.
But before we got to that that, we asked:
Is God failing to hold together His Church? Is He failing at keeping the Church a vibrant, tangible and attractive presence in the world?
The church in Ephesus was praised for rooting out false teaching and holding on to the core teachings of the Apostles. Today, the Church (whole Christian) is marked by deep divides over what amounts to very subtle doctrinal disputes, such as baptism and styles of worship. Believe me, I understand the value of clear and defined doctrines, but there are sound biblical arguments that can be made for many aspects of modern church life and practice.
At Restoration, our emphasis is on the bigger Story of God—meaning the essentials or absolutes of the historic Christian faith. As long as you and I can connect on the “major teachings” of the Bible (God as Creator, mankind as fallen, Jesus as the only means of salvation and the promise of the eternal Kingdom), we should be able to get along with anyone else who professes to love Christ and honor Him as Lord (provided that we mean the same Person of Trinity when we say the name Jesus Christ and hold to the scriptures alone as our authority on everything).
Doctrine aside, the reason most people leave churches and head out to shop n’ hop is over Preferences (and/or broken relationships, which we deal with in other series). Preferences are practices of the church that are not defined by scripture (or not defined without over-stressing subtle points). Where there is conflict over preferences, we, as church people should be humble and allow for different tastes.
For Restoration, it is our mission that dictates our preferences.
The church is Smyrna was called to prepare for intense persecution, including death. It’s no secret that the blood of many martyrs was spilled in the early centuries of the church and we should know that we are here because they remained faithful. Today, we are also undergoing persecution. Right now, around the world, there are brothers and sisters who are enduring through persecution. And right now, you (if you’re a Christian in America) are also enduring a subtle type of social persecution.
As far as trying to be people of faith is concerned, we live in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” world.
A couple of weeks ago, my son (2nd grader) wanted to ask his teacher if she knew Jesus. I didn’t stop him. He picked a time when they were in semi-private space. He asked her and she replied asking him back, “Why do you want to know?” He said, “I dunno. I just wanted to know.” She said, “Well, do you believe in Him?” Without reservation (her POV), he said, “Yes.” Then she replied, “I do too.” And they had a nice moment together.
It was sweet that his teacher shared that story with me and I’m proud of my son for having the courage to ask his teacher such an important question. But I wondered, how did he know to to whisper his question in private?
So I ask is God failing to keep His church a vibrant and relevant expression of His presence here in these “modern” times? Or is Revelation written to show us a vision of His unfailing love that will overcome, despite our petty doctrinal disputes, church splits and “me-church” mentality?