I got a promotional e-mail recently about a documentary video called Betrayed: The Clergy Killer’s DNA. It seems that this is one of a series of four videos chronicling problems in churches which are causing clergy to quit the ministry at the rate of about 1,500 per month.
There are, certainly, lots of problems in churches these days. Some people see churches as large corporations where power hungry lay leaders are allowed to destroy faithful yet vulnerable ministers in order to protect the almighty dollar. Others view the church as merely a civic organization which provides a venue for people who have no power in other parts of their lives to feel important. Conceiving of church in these ways definitely supplies opportunities for bad things to happen within congregations. This, naturally, puts pressure on clergy causing many to quit.
To get at a solution to this problem, we must first go back and answer the most basic question: Why does the church exist in the first place? Then, based on our answer, we have to evaluate our own interaction with the church to see if we are actually dealing with it in the way God intended – based on his purpose. Is our activity in the church actually accomplishing the purpose for which God put it on the earth?
In order to answer these questions, we have to understand two important things. First we must grasp the nature of the church based on biblical concepts. We need to know what the church would look like if it were really expressing a Christian worldview. Once we understand that, we have to know the nature of the Christian walk. That is, what would Christians be doing in the church if we were really expressing a Christian worldview?
The Nature of the Church
There are several metaphors used in the Bible to describe the church. For instance, it is called:
The Bride of Christ – Christ is the groom and the church is his bride (Ephesians 5:23).
The Body of Christ – Christ is the head and believers are the body parts (1 Corinthians 12:27).
A Flock – Christ is the shepherd and believers are the sheep (John 10:1-15).
A Building – Christ is the foundation and believers are the superstructure (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).
All of these metaphors describe the relationship that the church has with God. Implied in each is a way that the church should be expressing itself in the world. In every case, God is the leader and Christians are the followers. Way too often, instead of seeing God’s model played out, we see believers expressing themselves in ways which run contrary to what the Bible teaches. In fact, based on what we see actually happening in many churches, a very worldly model seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
In all of the biblical metaphors, we see Christ as the one in control. The groom is the leader of the bride. The head directs the body parts. The shepherd oversees the flock. The foundation defines the parameters of the building. So, in order to fulfill its intended role, it is essential for the church to understand its place and actively work to accomplish the purpose of Christ based on that understanding.
So, just what is the purpose of Christ? It is to bring the world into relationship with himself. Since that is his purpose, it automatically becomes the purpose of the church. But what do we see in real life? We see individuals seeking to enhance their own position within the church organization. We see cliques trying to hold onto power. We see individuals attempting to create and promote their own agendas within the church. We see people actually trying to replace the agenda of Christ with something else, and in the process undermining the pastor and other church leaders. And we could go on listing substitute agendas, but, hopefully, you get the point. The ones who are supposed to be the ones being led, kick Christ out in order to take over control of the church for themselves.
The Place of the Christian
Knowing the nature of the church, though, is only the first step. We must also understand the nature of those who make up the church. This is important because, as individuals, we have to actually express our beliefs in real life. If we do this in a way which is not consistent with the teachings of the Bible, that becomes evidence that a Christian worldview is not being expressed.
We know that human beings are persons made in the image of God. There are a couple of very important implications of this truth as it relates to what we are talking about here. One implication is that we have a free will and are able to make choices regarding how we will act. Another is the ability to exercise dominion in the world. So the question becomes, will we use our free will and ability to exercise dominion in ways which assert our own dominance, or will we discern God’s purpose and serve based on his leading? Will we be master or disciple?
There is a lot of talk about discipleship in Christian circles, but most people probably don’t realize the full implication of this term. The truth is, we don’t use this paradigm a lot in modern culture. The master-disciple model used to be one of the main ways people got their education (school for the common man). But in our modern times we have schools for the masses, certification classes, internet instruction and other models of education.
A disciple is one who voluntarily places him or herself under the charge of a master for the purpose of gaining a skill. The goal, however, is not merely to learn what the master has to teach at an intellectual level. Rather, it is to actually become like the master. Inherent in the relationship is not only the opportunity to gain intellectual knowledge, but a particular character and mindset, as well.
God did not call human beings to be in the position of dominance within the church – even those who hold positions of leadership within the organization. God’s calling on us is to become the body part he has called us to be, and exercise the gifts and skills provided to us in order to accomplish HIS purpose in the world. The dominant one is supposed to be Christ himself.
We have already seen this described above in the biblical descriptions of the church: Christ is the man of the house, the head of the body, the shepherd of the flock and the foundation of the building. What this means is that he is the one who sets the priorities and the direction. He is the master. For our part, we are the bride, the body parts, the sheep and the superstructure of the building. We are the disciples. As such, it is up to us to willingly discern what God wants and put aside our personal desire to control the church.
A worldview is a particular way to understand the nature of reality. A Christian worldview understanding of the church is that God is an objectively real person who is the leader of the church. The church itself is made up of believers. As the leader, God has revealed how the church ought to do work in the world. As followers, individual Christians are to live in relationship with God and interact with other believers based on his direction in order to fulfill his purposes.
We have seen what a Christian worldview understanding of the church involves. But it is also instructive to understand the negative side of the equation. We are not following a Christian worldview when:
1) … we neglect to become equipped for service. God has service he wants each individual believer to discern and perform. Those who do not pursue equipping, and who do not actively seek to accomplish the service God leads in, are not living life based on a Christian worldview.
2) … our purpose is something other than God’s purpose. In authentic Christianity, God is the only leader. When we attempt to make our own way, we do so based on some non-Christian worldview.
3) … we do not find our proper place of service. Too many people look to their own, rather than God’s, desires to plug into ministry within the church. Doing this reflects worldview beliefs which are not Christian.
4) … we try to usurp the role of other members. Each person in the body has been gifted and called by God to accomplish a particular function within the church. It is certainly important for members to hold each other accountable, but the accountability is based on God’s standards, not our personal desires. This issue is particularly difficult as it requires the very highest level of self-discipline, self- examination and integrity. Those who try to take over roles and responsibilities which have not been given them by God are interacting with the church based on worldview beliefs which are not Christian.
If every Christian would live life and interact with the church based on Christian worldview beliefs, we would not have tension and dissatisfaction in the church. We would not have 1,500 clergy members per month quitting the ministry. But most importantly, we would have thousands of people every day coming to new life in Christ.
© 2013 Freddy Davis