Christianity 201

July 18, 2015

The Church Attendance Crisis

We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. – Hebrews 10:25 GW

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer… And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had...They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. – Acts 2: 42, 44, 46 NLT

I was gladdened when they said to me, “We are going to the house of Lord Jehovah”!  – Psalm 122:1 Aramaic Bible in Plain English

We are in the middle of a church attendance crisis. What was always a weekly occurrence for individuals and families is often, at very best, only twice a month. Some are skipping entire months at a time. Others have simply discontinued the church habit, with no return in sight.

While some continue the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, others are more certain to have their absence from weekend worship signal a drift away. Twice in 1 Timothy 6:10 and 6:21, Paul uses the phrase “wandered from the faith.” The micro-context is “the love of money” and worldly influences; but clearly a faith that was more anchored would not drift.

We could look at all the factors that are in play right now causing many to give up a lifetime of church participation, but I would rather focus on the positives; the things we gain by gathering together.

FellowshipFellowship – There is so much to be gained from community. The small group movement has made this even more meaningful. As Andy Stanley says, “It’s harder to fall out of a circle than it is to fall out of a row.” When we worship in a larger body, we’re also observing other people at worship, hearing their testimonies, and witnessing the spiritual growth taking place in their lives. We’re also putting ourselves in a place to minister to others.

Corporate Prayer – It’s hard to participate in “If two of you will agree as touching anything on earth” prayers by yourself. There is something to be said for coming into God’s presence en masse and then interceding on behalf of individuals facing great needs, our spiritual leaders, the local and national government, and the work of God around the world.

Personal Prayer – The obvious consequence of corporate prayer is that there are people available to pray with you when it’s your need that is uppermost.

Corporate Worship – Even if you don’t like the song, or don’t prefer the style, there are many intangible blessings of being part of a local assembly lifting their voices in praise that simply can’t be duplicated at home. I know those “worship moments” in nature are meaningful, and singing in the car with a worship CD turned up loud can be inspiring, but in my life, many corporate worship occasions have been life highlights.

Giving – You can give online, of course, but many people don’t. In the offering, we participate together in financing God’s work in the local church and are made aware of the needs of missions operating throughout the world.

Confession – Many services offer a call to go forward or stand or raise a hand and through a physical action affirm that God is speaking to us about a particular aspect of the day’s teaching. Even a short time of silence gives us an opportunity to respond to God in ways that might never come about through watching a sermon on a computer or television, where ‘dead air’ isn’t desirable.

Communion – This is last, but certainly not least. The modern “breaking of bread” service, or Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist has a direct connection to the Passover meal. As we receive the bread and wine in community we do so in humility and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us.

These are just a few of the benefits that occur when we don’t give up meeting together.


Coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ and being joined to a company of imperfect people who are trying to live a new life in a new way.
 ~ Larry Tomczak (circa 1976)





April 13, 2015

If You’re a Christ-Follower, It’s Impossible to ‘Join’ a Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Jim Thomber writes at the other Thinking Out Loud blog. Click the link below to read this at source, and then click around his site for other great articles.

One Body Many MembersWhy It Is Impossible To Join A Church

“In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” – Romans 12:5


After reading this passage in Romans, I’m starting to question the whole idea of church membership. How can I join a church, that is, a local assembly of believers, when I already belong to the Church, the one Body of Christ?

Like you, I live in a town with many churches. Large and small, independent and mainline, the body of Christ is widely represented. However, my understanding of Romans 12:5 tells me there is only one Church in my city; we just happen to meet in different locations.

So the question is: “How can I join a particular assembly of believers and become a member of their church when I already belong to all the others?” My gifts and my life are not my own. I belong to the body of Christ, not just to the assembly that gathers under the banner of my particular denomination. Even though I am an ordained minister of a large denomination, I don’t limit myself or my fellowship solely to this organization. Furthermore, I don’t exist to promote my denomination; rather, my denomination exists to give me what I need to do the work in the “white and ready to harvest” field of the world. In other words, my denomination exists to help me promote Jesus. I don’t exist to promote my denomination.

I’m starting to think that becoming a member of a local church is like saying my arm can choose to join my shoulder. When we see ourselves as only a member of one local church, we limit our gifts and talents to that one part of the body at the exclusion of all the others. But this doesn’t make sense. For instance, if I stub my big toe, my entire body walks differently until the toe is healed. However, if a local church goes through a split or a painful episode with its pastor, none of the other churches seem to be affected. The most we can offer our hurting brethren is a quick, “Oh, I’ll pray for you.” Rarely are we given permission to be part of the healing process. I think this tells us that in most cities the churches do not see themselves as part of the same body, where each member belongs to all the others. Instead, we act as disjointed members, eyeing one another as competitive stepchildren of the same parent, vying for attention and a larger share of the inheritance.

If we see ourselves as just members of one particular church, we are mostly in competition with other churches in town. However, when we ARE the Church, we then find the other churches are companions along the way. I want to learn to work in conjunction and connection with the rest of the Body. I pray you do too. “Lord, hear our prayer.”

Yes, I understand the argument for church membership, for the need to have order in the organization. This is why I submit to my denominational authorities, pastor a church, and teach a class for new members. Still, the body of Christ is NOT an organization; it is a living organism. What I do in my fellowship should have a reverberating effect upon the rest of the Body in my town. But for the most part it doesn’t, and I’m not sure where the problem lies. Maybe it’s with me.

Therefore, I’ve decided to feel free to be myself with whatever group of Christians I happen to be hanging around with. I’ve noticed that if my finger scratches my ear, it doesn’t have to become an ear to be an effective itch reliever. Likewise, I’m going to worship wherever I find myself, associate with whomever I chose, and be an honest ambassador of Christ wherever God leads me. By thinking this way, I won’t have to join any particular group in order be a part of the Body of Christ. I already am.

March 3, 2012

Aiming for Inter-Connectedness

I invite you to begin today by slowly and meditatively read the words of Jesus in these four verses from the NLT rendering of John 17:

(11) “Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.”

(21) “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”

(22) “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.”

(23) “I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”

In the part of the world where I grew up, the rumor was that if you were preparing song-sheets for campfires or transparencies for overhead projectors, you should not use the song which states,

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord

The story — which I never could confirm — was that the copyright, which was owned by “the Fellowship of Evangelical Laymen” was the most prosecuted for copyright violation and that church lawsuits could name pastors, church staff, board members and music committee members. Whether or not the “Laymen” were so litigious, I always found it ironic that a song proclaiming that as the Body of Christ, we hold all things in common, should be subject to a mentality that prevented its widespread use.

In the part of the world where I live now, we’re closing in on the annual Good Friday service. All of the Evangelical churches get together in the largest auditorium they can find, which for the past few years has been a hotel ballroom. This is a high point of the church year here and it’s always exciting — and a little bit distracting from the day’s primary message — to see people from different churches coming together to worship.

For the one day, we truly are “one in the Spirit.” 

But the rest of the year, not so much. We break off into our individual assemblies and congregations for the other 364 days, and while the pastors themselves get together monthly, the rest of us don’t get to experience that blessing of Christian unity except at the one annual service.

The point is, we have a lot to offer each other:  Video resources, teaching materials, children’s programs, church libraries, men’s breakfasts, women’s retreats, marriage enrichment, etc.  We also have a lot we can give together more effectively than we can give individually: Respite for families with young children,  support for pregnant teens and young single moms, networking on behalf of those seeking jobs, service projects for shut-ins, community meals for the poor and the lonely, advocacy for marginalized individuals and groups, etc.

Inter-connectedness needs to be intentional.

It needs to be our goal, our aim, and most important, our desire.

But beyond church resources and neighborhood projects, the thing we best have to give each other is ourselves.

The problem in the Body of Christ is that we don’t really know each other. We might know names and occupations, but we don’t know the heart of each other and we have no meaningful shared experiences. We might work together on a specific project for a limited time, but our fellowship is really just task-oriented. We don’t dig deeper to get to know what makes the other person tick, and we certainly have never taken the time to hear their story.

Inter-connectedness needs to be intentional.

We are one in the Spirit, and we should be able to say that without fear of copyright prosecution, but we should also be able to say it without fear of rejection just because we’re part of another faith family.

~Paul Wilkinson


Today we’re giving you an opportunity to dig a whole lot deeper into sermon videos from some of the larger North American churches.

What started out as a recommendation to a friend turned into a blog post today at Thinking Out Loud which lists links to Bible teachers at a dozen churches.

You can enjoy this for yourself, but you might also want to send the link to the list to someone you know who has been away from Bible teaching for awhile and needs to get reconnected. Or a teen or twenty-something who might relate to some of the younger communicators.

Link to list of sermon videocasts and live streams.

January 19, 2012

Eugene Peterson on American Christianity

It’s not like this blog to get stuck on a particular writer, but I am so impressed with The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson; and can’t believe this writer has been so obvious, so in plain sight, yet I’d never read anything beyond his Bible translation, The Message.   In a couple of places he contrasts “the way” Jesus pioneered with the very different state of things in the modern church.  I have a section I want to include here, but will need to type it out manually; so in today’s busy-ness, I’m giving you a similar passage from the publisher’s blog. (Eerdmans)

Here is a text, words spoken by Jesus, that keeps this in clear focus: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The Jesus way wedded to the Jesus truth brings about the Jesus life. We can’t proclaim the Jesus truth but then do it any old way we like. Nor can we follow the Jesus way without speaking the Jesus truth.

But Jesus as the truth gets far more attention than Jesus as the way. Jesus as the way is the most frequently evaded metaphor among the Christians with whom I have worked for fifty years as a North American pastor. In the text that Jesus sets before us so clearly and definitively, way comes first. We cannot skip the way of Jesus in our hurry to get to the truth of Jesus as he is worshiped and proclaimed. The way of Jesus is the way that we practice and come to understand the truth of Jesus, living Jesus in our homes and workplaces, with our friends and family.

A Christian congregation, the church in your neighborhood, has always been the primary location for getting this way and truth and life of Jesus believed and embodied in the places and among the people with whom we most have to do day in and day out. There is more to the church than this local congregation. There is the church continuous through the centuries, our fathers and mothers who continue to influence and teach us. There is the church spread throughout the world, communities that we are in touch with through prayer and suffering and mission. There is the church invisible, dimensions and instances of the Spirit’s work that we know nothing about. There is the church triumphant, that “great cloud of witnesses” who continue to surround us (Heb. 12:1). But the local congregation is the place where we get all of this integrated and practiced in the immediate circumstances and among the men, women, and children we live with. This is where it becomes local and personal.

The local congregation is the place and community for listening to and obeying Christ’s commands, for inviting people to consider and respond to Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me,” a place and community for worshipping God. It is the place and community where we are baptized into a Trinitarian identity and go on to mature “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), where we can be taught the Scriptures and learn to discern the ways that we follow Jesus, the Way.

The local congregation is the primary place for dealing with the particulars and people we live with. As created and sustained by the Holy Spirit, it is insistently local and personal. Unfortunately, the more popular American church strategies in respect to congregation are not friendly to the local and the personal. The American way with its penchant for catchy slogans and stirring visions denigrates the local, and its programmatic ways of dealing with people erode the personal, replacing intimacies with functions. The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus way with the American Way. For Christians who are serious about following Jesus by understanding and pursuing the ways that Jesus is the Way, this deconstruction of the Christian congregation is particularly distressing and a looming distraction from the Way of Jesus.

A Christian congregation is a company of praying men and women who gather, usually on Sundays, for worship, who then go into the world as salt and light. God’s Holy Spirit calls and forms this people. God means to do something with us, and he means to do it in community. We are in on what God is doing, and we are in on it together.

And here is how we are in on it: we become present to what God intends to do with and for us through worship, become present to the God who is present to us. The operating biblical metaphor regarding worship is sacrifice — we bring ourselves to the altar and let God do with us what he will. We bring ourselves to the eucharistic table and enter into that grand fourfold shape of the liturgy that shapes us: taking, blessing, breaking, giving — the life of Jesus taken and blessed, broken and distributed. That eucharistic life now shapes our lives as we give ourselves, Christ in us, to be taken, blessed, broken, and distributed in lives of witness and service, justice and healing.

But that is not the American way. The great American innovation in congregation is to turn it into a consumer enterprise. We Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting more, requiring more. We have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites we didn’t even know we had. We are insatiable.

It didn’t take long for some of our Christian brothers and sisters to develop consumer congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel in consumer terms: entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem-solving, whatever. This is the language we Americans grew up on, the language we understand. We are the world’s champion consumers, so why shouldn’t we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?

Given the conditions prevailing in our culture, this is the best and most effective way that has ever been devised for gathering large and prosperous congregations. Americans lead the world in showing how to do it. There is only one thing wrong: this is not the way in which God brings us into conformity with the life of Jesus and sets us on the way of Jesus’ salvation. This is not the way in which we become less and Jesus becomes more. This is not the way in which our sacrificed lives become available to others in justice and service. The cultivation of consumer spirituality is the antithesis of a sacrificial, “deny yourself” congregation. A consumer church is an antichrist church.

We can’t gather a God-fearing, God-worshipping congregation by cultivating a consumer-pleasing, commodity-oriented congregation. When we do, the wheels start falling off the wagon. And they are falling off the wagon. We can’t suppress the Jesus way into order to sell the Jesus truth. The Jesus way and the Jesus truth must be congruent. Only when the Jesus way is organically joined with the Jesus truth do we get the Jesus life.

~Eugene Peterson

December 26, 2011

Christian versus Church-attender

This seems like a rather basic subject, but it’s one that every Christian who is working at ‘the next level’ should be prepared to answer.  We tend to think of apologetics as something involving those who are outside the church, but sometimes we need an apologetic to deal with challenges that arise from within.

Because church attendance is no longer culturally mainstream, there are a lot of ‘lone ranger’ Christ-followers out on the fringes deriving their teaching from podcasts and sermon downloads, and getting their worship from CDs and mp3s.  But this fails to provide corporate worship, it fails to provide interactive opportunities, and it fails to provide a prayer covering should one be dealing with things ranging from illness to temptation to broken relationships. 

However, it must also be stated that with many people, church affiliation is over-rated; they tend to speak at great lengths as to the greatness of their church, but rarely, if ever, talk about what it means to be in relationship with Jesus Christ, to know they are loved by the God who created the universe.  Such people occupy the opposite extreme end of the church continuum, and are as guilty of ‘missing the point’ as those who believe they can follow Christ in isolation from the rest of the Body of Christ.

Layfayette, Indiana pastor Jeff Mikels dealt with this issue after someone in his church asked a question at the end of a recent sermon:

This past Sunday, I ended our service by taking some live questions from the congregation…

Does this mean that you cannot be a Christian unless you go to church?

The simple answer is that you can be a Christian without going to church if you define “Christian” to mean “I have been saved.” (Salvation does not depend on going to church or anything else you do. It is a gift from God. See Ephesians 2:8-10). You can also be a Christian without going to church if you define “church” as “an event where I show up, sit, soak, and leave 60 minutes later.”

However, if you define Christian to mean “follower of Jesus” and if you understand “church” to mean “the universal family of God, specifically expressed in local fellowships” then you can’t be a Christian and intentionally avoid the church. Reading the rest of Ephesians will make it clear that God did not save us to be isolated individuals destined for heaven. To the contrary, Jesus died for us to cleanse us of sin and thereby bring us into God’s family! Reading 1 John will remind you that you can’t love God and hate his family.

Even more strongly, John speaks of people who were once part of his church and then decided to leave the church:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. — 1 John 2:19

To state it strongly, every true follower of Jesus will pursue frequent fellowship with other believers that involves locality, leadership, mutual submission, expression of gifts, discipleship, evangelism, ministry, and worship. Any fellowship expressing all of that is rightly called a church.

~Jeff Mikels

April 18, 2010

Seeds, Roots, Branches, Fruit

A guy I knew locally, Paul Kern, is now pastoring the Highland Park Wesleyan Church in Ottawa, Ontario the capital city of Canada.  I decided to see what he was up to by checking the church’s website and got more than I bargained for.

This chart shows their purpose as a church.   The third horizontal section is about their particular ministries and won’t make a lot of sense to you and I, but I left it intact, since it shows how a theoretical purpose is played out in practical ways through their weekly programs and special events.

Our purpose at Highland Park Wesleyan Church is simple: We want to be disciples who go out and make disciples.

Many people are at different places on their spiritual journey and the design of our ministry is to meet your spiritual needs where you are and help you along on your Christian path. We believe God wants us to be consistent in our growth and maturity as Christians.

Our plan is similar to many good churches, and is taken directly from the journey Jesus invites us to in the Bible. These are the milestones of our Christian Journey that Highland Park endeavors to help us through as we hear Christ inviting us to: