Following the way of Jesus is a life devoted to The Fellowship. The fellowship is:
- A family formed by faith in Jesus
- Marked by mutual sharing
- Unified, not uniform
- Not optional for a follower of Jesus
- The future of the Kingdom of God
Following the way of Jesus is a life devoted to The Fellowship. The fellowship is:
For the past few weeks, I’ve been making The Case For Going to Church. I’ve been trying to clear up confusion about what the local church is and what it is called by God to do. First and foremost, a local church is supposed to regularly gather for worship (see The Local Church: A God-Glorifying Family). Second, and what we’ll focus on today, is that the local church is a beautifully blended family with deeply loving relationships.
The gospel is not a story about a local god or even a regional god of a particular tribe, people, or language. The gospel is the story about God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Ruler of all nations, who loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son…to do what exactly?
The Apostle Paul writes in Eph 2:13-20, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ…For through him we both [Jew and Gentile] have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with Godâ€™s people and also members of his household [family], built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.“
Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son, came into the world, lived, died, and rose again to save people from the power of sin and death. Jesus brought light and life into a world of darkness and death. He did this to unite people from, “from every nation, tribe, people and language.” (Rev 7:9)
So ever since, by faith in Jesus, people from all over the worldâ€”regardless of ethnicity, culture, or backgroundâ€”are saved and are united into one new, radically inclusive, beautifully blended family/household (v. 19). This is astonishing. What other family, nation, or tribe is like this?? What other religious story is like this?
In Christ, God is uniting diverse people as brothers and sisters for all eternity. So, we do not gather for worship as a crowd or an audience but as a family. And we are not united by our common interests, preferences, or politics (as powerful as those connections may be!) but by Christ alone. A local church is an expression of God’s beautifully blended family.
So, how does a local church relate to other churches? As my immediate family belongs to a greater extended family, so a local church belongs to the universal Church. That Holly and I and our three kids don’t live, eat, work, and play with our aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins every week doesn’t break our relationship. So the fact that our local church (Appleton Gospel Church) doesn’t gather every week with all the other Christian churches in the world doesn’t break our relationship, either.
Because God is forming a new family in Christ, we must ask, What does this mean for our relationships with other people at church? If we are family members, brothers and sisters with a common Father in heaven, then our relationships must be the same as any healthy family: deeply loving relationships.
What helps form deeply loving relationships?
Now, I know it’s not always easy to worship God or spend a good deal of time with people who have different likes/dislikes, preferences, opinions, and politics than you have. People are wired very differently! And it’s downright challenging to form deep relationships with certain people.
But in our deference toward othersâ€”and the humility, love, grace, and patience that unity in diversity requiresâ€”God is greatly glorified. Loving people who are different than you (culturally, ethnically, etc.) is a unique and beautiful glory that is impossible to give God on your own.
This is why being committed to regularly gathering to worship God with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is so important. This is why being committed to regularly meeting in a Community Group, men’s/women’s ministry group, or Bible study that is part of your local church is so important.
This is why it isn’t super helpful to jump from one group to another in a church or to sample from a variety of ministries from churches in a region (as wonderful as those experiences might be). There’s simply no way to build deeply loving relationships with people you see only a handful of times in a year. Finally, there’s no way to replicate deeply loving relationships online. Social media can supplement in-person relationships, but it can never replace them.
People cannot be fully loved from a distance.
So what do we do? Let me leave you with the encouragement of the author of Hebrews:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one anotherâ€”and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:24-25, emphasis mine)
America is the land of the free. Every July we celebrate our independence—usually at a cottage on a lake. Our Bill of Rights enumerates cherished liberties (of which we can recall 3 or 4?). We value, promote, and defend freedom. Are we perfect in our pursuit? Of course not. Grave errors are made here and abroad that work against us, cost lives, and undermine our values. My heart breaks for the sin and injustice carried out in and through our nation. But even so, I still love my country and wouldn’t hesitate to chant U-S-A! should the need arise (Olympics maybe?).
However, as a Christian, I understand that I have dual citizenship. I’m an American by physical birth, and I’m a Christian—a citizen of heaven—by spiritual birth (Php 3:20). Christians are called to be ambassadors for Christ (2Co 5:20). Being a good ambassador means understanding both the culture you’re in (American) and the one you are called to represent (Christ). So as a Christian, should independence be one of my highest values? Yes and no.
On the one hand, the freedom we enjoy is such a good thing. We’re free to gather publicly to worship our God. We’re free to talk about Jesus and to share our faith. We’re free to love our neighbors and serve those in need. We’re free to work and provide for our families. And we’re free to advocate against and act for the reform of evil and unjust institutions, ideas, and practices. This isn’t a luxury enjoyed by Christians everywhere, and I’m deeply thankful for that aspect of our freedom.
But on the other hand, in America, our attitude of independence is often elevated higher than our created design. We don’t think we need anyone. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to admit you need help with something? Even something little?? We’re FINE. Independence becomes unhealthy isolation. A friend recently observed that in his neighborhood, every house has unused patio furniture. People don’t stop by. Garage doors protect, fences separate, and conversations and deep relationships are rare. Think about this: how many of your neighbors, within one block, do you know by name? What are their kids’ names? What are they excited/nervous about for their future? Social media only makes it worse. We have a neverending feed of people sharing their successes and celebrations, but we feel more lonely than ever. This is where the value of independence may need to be replaced by the more Christian value of inter-dependence. Inter-dependence is not an unhealthy dependence enabling bad behavior, but the recognition that we need each other because relationships and community were part of God’s design. After all, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.’” (Ge 2:18). Our neighbor’s win is not our loss.
But an independent attitude isn’t just bad for the neighborhood. When we see ourselves as fully self-sufficient, without needing anything from God, then our independence has become idolatry. We must not worship and serve our autonomy in place of God. We were made to be wholly dependent upon God. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) Do you really believe that? Apart from Christ, you can do nothing? God is our Creator (Ge 1:27); we would not exist without his will and his creative work. And God is our Sustainer, “sustaining all things,” every breath, every star, every atom, “by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3). At its heart, sin is the desire for independence from God. But, like a young child running from his parents toward the street, running from God could never result in flourishing life, but only ever destruction and death.
God alone is self-sufficient. He doesn’t need us. But the gospel says that God wants us. That’s totally different. Jesus wants a relationship with you. And he was willing to sacrifice everything, even his life on the cross, to accomplish his saving work. Isn’t that amazing? So, faith in Jesus heals our independent attitude. Faith restores dependence upon God and healthy inter-dependence with our neighbor. Faith empowers the selfless and self-sacrificing love necessary for relationships. When we see God’s desire in Christ to restore and build a relationship with us, it strengthens us to make the uncomfortable effort to get out of our isolation. We may have to replace the patio furniture more often, but it could be a great way to be an ambassador for Christ in America, and it might just be more fulfilling than endless, lonely scrolling.
I usually focus my writing on applying the good news of Jesus to regular aspects of life (parenting, marriage, leadership, work, etc.). But today, I’d like to give an update on an exciting new church building project. At our congregational business meeting last May, the Elder Board announced that we would be starting to gather information and explore options for moving to a more permanent building facility—and people cheered! (Obviously, there had been a felt need for some time.) But at that time we had no definite plans and no real timeline. Our first priority last year was on helping to launch Village Community Church. But we said this was the direction we believed God was leading us in the future and we asked for prayer.
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Pro 15:22). We consulted many sources looking for wisdom and guidelines that other churches have followed in buying facilities and relocating. So far we’ve…
Trust me when I say that we are not the first church to look for a building! This is completely normal in the life of a church. But this is no small deal, and we do not want to leap before we look.
So after this “learning” phase, we are now assembling a few options for the congregation to consider in the coming months. We believe these options will allow us to continue and expand our mission of sharing good news for years to come. And we really do believe that by God’s grace, we will see the good news of Jesus Christ transform the people of the city in every way!! This vision always makes my heart beat faster. The main options are…
In a perfect world, Option 1 would be ideal as we could build exactly what we want (obviously within financial reason). However, it’s far more expensive than Option 2, and most of the reasonably priced available land in Appleton is outside of Appleton. For these reasons (and probably others), Option 2 is much more common for churches of our size and life-stage. The elder board is working out details on several options and will communicate them in time. We will need your feedback, ideas, support, and prayers along the way. To be continued!
The first point to clarify is that the building is not the church. It’s common to say, “We’re going to church.” as if the destination was the church, but the people are the church. If the YMCA somehow disappeared overnight, Appleton Gospel would still be a church. No different than if something happened to my house, my family would still be a family. But the people of the church are expected to continue to meet together for worship, community, ministry, and mission (Ac 2:42-47; Heb 10:25). A church only needs a building to facilitate the mission of the church. A church building a tool for mission. A big, expensive tool, but a tool nonetheless.
When we started as a church plant about 7 years ago, all we needed was a conference room for worship and 1-2 classrooms for children’s ministry at the YMCA. I worked out of my house or in coffee shops (which is when I became a total coffee snob). Since then, we moved twice within the YMCA to facilities that better fit our needs. Now we use the McGuire Gym for worship, 4 classrooms for children’s ministry, and the cafe, kitchen, and family fun center for social events. We also use the hallways, restrooms, onsite storage, and parking areas every week at the YMCA (things we don’t normally think about). This doesn’t include the space used in people’s homes, other facilities rented for events, or the office space we rent for church admin. For the first 6 years, we were absolutely blessed by the facilities of the YMCA. They have been a great partner of ours. But for the past year or so, we’ve felt the limitations of being a mobile church. There’s only so much you can do when you setup and tear down everything every week. It takes a lot of bandwidth that could be put towards more fruitful things.
So does a church need a building? The answer is no because a building doesn’t define a church and isn’t the mission of a church. But if a church is healthy and doing the evangelistic work of sharing good news, making disciples, and loving their neighbors, then the church will likely grow. And when that happens, the needs for facility space grow as well.
So let’s keep our eyes on Jesus. Let’s keep focused on his mission to make disciples. Let’s keep loving and serving one another and our neighbors and grow in our capacity to do that. And let’s just see what God might do in building a church as we faithfully follow him!