How Your Church Compares: Apples to Apples

11 06 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:8-9

apples-to-orangesGenerally, I have never liked comparing churches…for lots of reasons.  It is a thing wrought with pitfalls and other dangers.  I think comparing churches just fosters the already-prevalent attitude that churches are somehow in competition with each other for all the best people.  We all know better intellectually, but our actions and attitudes say otherwise.  I also do not like comparing churches because each local body of believers is dealing with its own special calling to a community or a certain people group or some other such “calling”, and the processes and programs should be specific to that calling, which makes comparing your church’s programs to my church’s programs an apples and oranges kind of thing.

But as with almost any other rule, there are exceptions to my rule against comparing churches.  I mean, seriously, if a particular comparison was OK with Paul, then who am I to question it?  Paul did not seem to hesitate in his second letter to the Corinthian church, comparing the generosity (in giving) of that church to that of the poorer Macedonian churches.

You see, there is something about “living generously” that transcends cultural differences or even differences of church size or Christian “flavor”.  It is the very heart of a church, and it has a way of leveling the playing field in any comparison.  The church who focuses on pouring itself into the lives of others, who focuses on being generous in giving and in meeting the physical needs around it, stands out…in any culture and in any demographic.  When Paul says he wants to “compare your sincerity with the earnestness of others”, he recognizes that this comparison has little to do with church size or with the particular needs of this community versus that community, or with language or with church government or structure.  No, Paul is putting his finger right on the very pulse of the church when he speaks of generosity in giving and ministering to others.  He is assessing a vital sign of that church, determining how “alive” it really is.  In a very strong sense, measuring a church’s “heart” for generosity (irrespective of the size of its membership or the size of its bank accounts) is a very real measure of life for that church…a very real measure of the Spirit of Christ in that church.

Shouldn’t we have clued into this reality from our reading of Paul himself?  Notice he spends precious little time in his letters to the churches talking about the things with which we in the church are obsessed.  There is simply not much there on facilities and grounds, nor on budget, nor on worship styles, nor on personnel costs versus program costs, nor on denominational politics and affiliations.  But without hesitation, Paul wades right out into comparing the apples of this church’s generosity with the apples of that church’s.

So, I believe it is a mistake to look at how another church handles its corporate worship and decide to do it the same way in your own church.  It is a mistake to ask why your church cannot do its children’s programming as well as that other church, or why your church’s buildings don’t rival that church’s.  It is a mistake to listen to another church’s pastor and wish your pastor would preach more like him.  But when you see another church living generously and giving sacrificially to its community, it is perfectly acceptable, even good, to ask, “why isn’t my church living that generously?”  It is the common calling to every church…it is a fair comparison…apples to apples.  Look around.  Ask the hard questions.  Make the comparisons.  It is OK to insist that your own church live as generously as the church across the street or across the world.

So, how about it?  How are your church’s apples?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Belonging, Believing and Being a Boomer

15 11 2011

Tuesday Re-mix -

I grow tropical plants in my backyard, specifically, plumeria and some hybiscus.  It is one of the wonderful “perks” of marrying into a Hawaiian family.  Mind you, I am no master gardner, which makes plumeria the perfect plant for me.  I can break off a limb, stick it in the ground, nurture it for a year or so, and it will take root and bloom just like all the other ones around it.  I just have to have some patience while I wait for the roots to grow.  That is the key…patience.

Besides being a gardener, I am also unashamedly a Baby Boomer.  Pretty much all the observations I have heard sociologists make about my generation are true about me as well, at least in some degree.  I was shaped by a cultural mindset that said anything is possible, that I can make a difference in the world, and that a common vision is critical to any “revolution”.  For my generation, the way this all translates into church is this: what I “believe” is of first and highest importance…if we don’t all “believe” the same central truths, our “revolution” will fail.  For my generation (and, by the way, for the generations which came before me as well), BELIEF comes first, followed by BELONGING to the church.  For us, without belief, there is no belonging.

So it is with great fear and trembling that I turn to Generation X and then to the Millenials, two generations who will lead the church sooner than any of us realize, and I begin to embrace their very different values and priorities when it comes to church.  These generations hold connection and community as much higher values than we Baby Boomers have.  These generations may well come to respect the concept of a “regenerate church membership”, but they will otherwise radically blur the nice, bright lines we have drawn around categories of “belonging” to church.  They will do this because, deeply rooted in their generational culture is the need to belong.  In short, for them, BELONGING will come first, even before BELIEVING.

For them, gathered worship services will be filled with friends who have come for the BELONGING, but are still trying to work out exactly what they BELIEVE.  They won’t be “members” in our traditional sense of the word, but they will be friends with whom we are developing a growing relationship and whom we are nuturing and to whom we are ministering.  They will be very much like my plumeria sticks which “belong” in my garden a long time before they actually start blooming.

I admit that this scares me a little.  I admit that I will continue to talk a lot about the importance of doctrine and believing and authority and truth, etc.  I will continue insisting that truth is not negotiable and that scripture teaches us to respect authority.  But I also admit this…I’m going to learn a thing or two from these younger generations about how to love the non-believers around me and how to engage them in relationship SO THAT they can see Jesus in me.  I am going to learn to invite them to “belong”, i.e., to find community here, even as they are still working out their beliefs.  I am going to learn something about loving my neighbor and, as Jesus might say, figuring out exactly who my neighbor really is.  I am going to learn to do church a little differently, at least in this particular regard…

…and I am going to LOVE this change!

How about you?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com







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