What The Church Is Not: Part 1

One of my favorite TV shows is Mythbusters. I love the way Jamie and Adam take a well-known idea and apply testing to confirm whether it’s true or just a myth. I plan to do the same in a new 4-part series called, “What The Church Is Not…”

Part 1: The Church is not a BUILDING, it’s a BODY.

In Matthew 16, when Jesus told Peter that he would “build his church” he was not talking about any kind of structure. He was talking about the founding of a group of people, called for a specific purpose. Much has been made of the Greek word Ekklesia, but the simplest understanding of the word is an “assembly or congregation.” Here are the biggest challenges Christians may have when they perceive the church as a building.

The Property Becomes More Important Than The People

When someone tells me, “Phil, I’ll meet you up at the church” I respond, “Yes, I’ll see you at the building where our church meets.

Frequently, I get eye rolls.

Yet, if we don’t get this right people will place too much importance on the structure–the steeple, the carpeting, the pews, the pulpit, and so on. Historically, this has lead to arguments about carpeting, decorations, remodeling, and a lot of other pointless things.

Plus, it can lead into an expensive capital campaign, causing the congregation to place all or most of their finances into erecting a structure rather than allowing the people to spend their dollars within the community where help is severely needed.

It might seem like splitting hairs but it is drastically important. See, Jesus didn’t die for the bricks and mortar that make up our building. He died for the people that fill the building each Sunday and during the week.

The Danger of The Stationary Church

Almost every church body holds at least one weekly gathering. Most of the time this is on Sunday. So, for one or two hours the people are being the church. But, the people should be the church during the 166-167 hours when we aren’t gathered together as well.

Joel Hunter, the pastor of Northland Church in Florida, said it best, “the church happens not so much when we gather, but when we scatter.”

The church happens not so much when we gather, but when we scatter. -Joel HunterClick To Tweet

Jesus said that we should “go into all the world” and share all that he had taught us (Matthew 29:19-20). Certainly, a weekly meeting of souls is part of that directive, but it’s not the sum total.

For many, a cool weekly gathering, filled with powerful music and an uplifting message is the first experience they may have with Jesus. But it can’t be only place they experience Christ. Many people will never venture into a church building…ever. By calling our buildings “the church” we unwittingly place the task of reaching the lost on the staff of our churches and on Sunday morning.

The Organization Vs. The Organism

The church is people, plain and simple. It’s a living and breathing organism. Every time someone new joins the congregation the body changes a little. It absorbs and takes on the new personality of those who are a part of it. We’ll miss that if we place too much emphasis on the organization and not the organism.

Pastors are often guilty of missing this point. I’ve said it myself, “I have a church to run.” You don’t run a church, you run an organization, a business, or an enterprise. If the church is full of people it should operate more like a family, not an organization.

So let’s remember that we are part of this great thing called “the church.” It’s a group of people who belong to something amazing, something ancient, something living.

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Romans 12:4-5

4 Simple Ways To Beat Stress & Avoid Burnout

Slowing down is a matter of survival. I learned this the hard way on a Saturday afternoon in 2013.

I was doing what I always did on Saturday–running around like a crazy person, dropping kids off at sports, texting church members about upcoming events, and fielding calls about an upcoming baptism at my house.

While I was driving that day I felt my chest constrict and I was having trouble breathing. “This can’t be happening,” I thought. “I don’t have time for a heart attack!” Reluctantly, I headed to the hospital. In the E.R. they ran all the usual tests, echocardiogram, chest x-ray, and so on. They found nothing.

“Everything looks good” the doctor said. “It’s probably an anxiety attack. Are you under a lot of stress?” When I told him I was a pastor and a police chaplain he flashed me a concerned smile and suggested that I see my doctor to talk about stress reduction.

Since then I’ve changed a lot about the way I work. Besides hiring an assistant, seeing a therapist about once a month, and taking a small dose of anti-anxiety medication, here’s the most important thing I do now.

I slow down.

 

If you have been feeling stressed here’s four simple steps you can take, along with the acronym “SLOW” to help you remember.

1 – SILENCE

Don’t be afraid of silence. It’s hard to be quiet in our culture. If I had time driving or waiting in line I would make a phone call or text. Now, I just allow myself to be quiet. Call it prayer or meditation, if you wish, but I’ve learned that my mind comes alive in the silence.

2 – LISTEN

Like silence this is difficult. Listening is an art form. I don’t mean listening to music or a podcast. I’m talking about slowing down enough to hear what people around you are really saying. This is not listening for problem solving, but listening for understanding and empathy. Also, in the quiet moments of silence you can listen for what God is saying to you too.

3 – OBSERVE

I had lost the ability to see and notice the beauty of the world around me. Taking time to notice things helps you remain in the present. Yes, life can be ugly, but there’s a lot that is appealing too. Make a decision to observe what’s good for your head and heart. That means avoiding the news for a while and going to an art gallery or taking a walk on the beach at sunset.

4 – WAIT

Learn to wait. We are so impatient! Next time you’re in line for something at the post office or tax collector’s office don’t whip out your phone, don’t text, don’t put in your earbuds. Try waiting patiently…quietly. This is a trick that I have to make time slow down. It’s a ninja-like skill to wait without distracting yourself with an electronic device. Waiting forces you to slow down and when you do it’s easier to observe and listen.

Since 2013 I’ve relapsed a couple of times. I’ve allowed myself to become over-involved, over-extended and generally worn out. Whenever that happens I come back to this acronym and put it in place again. It always helps.

So tell me, how do you deal with stress, busyness, and potential burnout? Consider leaving a comment and let me know!

Dealing With Doubt

When my kids were young they liked to ask a lot of questions. This was especially true of my daughter. After asking a question and receiving an answer she would say “why?” I would further explain and answer her question only to hear her say “why?” again. And again. And again!

We encourage children to ask questions. It’s a part of the learning process. When it comes to God, however, we are often afraid to ask questions. It’s as if by some reason to ask a question of God is to lack faith.

Doubt and disbelief are very different. The word doubt comes from the latin word dubium, which means “to hesitate.” Disbelief is a wholesale rejection of an idea or principle. Plenty of men and women in the Bible hesitated in their belief. This includes Abraham (Genesis 16), David (Psalm 13), and John the baptist (Matthew 14).

Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus, was unwilling to believe in the risen Christ without physical proof. Jesus didn’t reject Thomas or even scold him. Instead, he allowed Thomas to have doubts, and then invited him to feel the nail scars on his hands and to touch the spear wound on his side (John 20:24–29).

Doubt is not a spiritual crime — it’s the effect of being human. Author Philip Yancey states that the “invisibility of God guarantees doubt.” As long as we are breathing we will be subject to doubts. It’s natural and normal. But it doesn’t have to be faith shattering.

If you’re struggling with doubt here are some suggestions:

1) Don’t doubt alone. Share your struggles with a trusted friend. Don’t keep them hidden. You might feel shame because you have doubts but finding out that other people might have the same doubts is empowering. You’re not alone!

2) Notice what God is doing around you. If you watch the news too much it seems like God is not working. However, look for stories of hope and redemption. They are everywhere! When John the baptist doubted Christ, Jesus sent word to him: “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them.” He quoted a passage in Isaiah to affirm that God is at work. That was true then and it is true now.

3) Lastly, ask for help. Don’t be afraid to pray and honest prayer to God and ask for help. Ask God to reveal himself to you more clearly and to help you with your doubt. In Mark 9 Jesus meets a man who has a son that is demon-possessed. The man is lacking in faith but soon realizes his error and and says plainly, “help me in my unbelief!” He was granted that wish very quickly by Jesus.