Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Here are some things I've noticed: Jesus never attended church twice on Sunday, and once during the week. Jesus never preached a sermon with three points and a poem, following it with an invitation. He never talked to anyone about placing membership, joining his church, or moving their letter. He never chaired a meeting, prepared a budget, or read a report. Jesus never took up a collection. He never owned a Bible. Jesus didn't study church growth or management principles on how to organize an efficient enterprise. He did not seem to keep good statistics on how many came, how many responded, and on how much they gave. He organized no programs.

So how did the usual definition of being a "good Christian" become a list of things Jesus never did? Why do we have to do what Jesus never did in order to run what some would consider a "good" church? I ask myself these questions when I compare what is often identified as what I should do, as someone who is serving within a congregation of believers, with what I feel called to do.

Jesus spent time in relationships. He spent time with His Father. He spent time with others. He really spent time with those few others would. He did not organize programs, but he gave people a vision of what God's reign looked like on earth. He encouraged and empowered people to enter that reign, and to live out its call on their lives. He did not worry about what the numbers looked like, but watched for what his Father was doing. He did not build an organization. He left virtually no instructions on how to organize or run anything. Instead, he left a body of teaching about how to live in the presence of God daily. He taught about loving God and your neighbor, and on how to go about doing good. He gave little instruction about beliefs to affirm, and much instruction about how to live out beliefs. For him, beliefs led to daily action and were not a list of doctrines to be agreed upon.

So how has being a faithful Christian come to be associated with things Jesus never did? How has being a church leader come to involve so much that Jesus never practiced? I believe we have emphasized and elevated certain minor characteristics as the essential measure of being a Christian, and those are not the real measure. We have sometimes focused on peripheral aspects of leadership, and according to those standards Jesus was a failure. In our world we sometimes do need to prepare budgets, and do need to do some things Jesus never did. In fact, Jesus would probably do some of those things were he ministering in our context. The difference would be that Jesus would never confuse those necessary but peripheral matters with the central truth of being a follower of God, or a leader among His people.

As long as we keep seeking what is central and definitive, we will be asking the right questions. We will also probably do a better job of remembering what is actually incidental to our following of Christ and leading of others, and center ourselves more fully in the real life in Christ and in community.

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