Part 2 of the Series, "Living Foundations for the Church"
1 Peter 2:4-12
(Why should I go to church on a regular basis? Why is it many don't attend church services?)
Pastor Bob Stone
Scripture uses a lot of metaphors for the church:
- God's field
- God's building
If you were to choose a metaphor for the church today, what would you choose?
Luis Palau tried to capture the nature of the church in an earthly metaphor'"The church is like manure. Pile it together and it stinks up the neighborhood; spread it out and it enriches the world." (You won't forget that one.) Eugene Peterson described the church as composed of equal parts mystery and mess.
Philip Yancey gave several modern metaphors for the church. He called it:
- God's 12 step group
- God's Driver's License Bureau
- God's emergency center
- God's locker room
- God's neighborhood bar.
Bob Stone: I was thinking about a modern metaphor for the church while I was sick recently and eating a lot of chicken and vegetable noodle soup. (What is it about chicken noodle soup that makes you feel better when you are sick?) As I was sipping on the soup I begin to think, "The church is a lot like soup."
So welcome to Cooking With Bob, and "How to Cook Church Soup." Emeril Lagasse, Graham Kerr, Julia Childs, Martha Stewart look out, Chef Bob is here. In real life I don't cook very often; but if I am pressed, I think I can come up with a batch of pretty tasty church soup. Before we get to that recipe, however, I want ask a few questions:
- Why should you or I go to church services on a regular basis? There are some great reasons why people become a part of a church and attend the church services on a regular basis.
- Conversely, why is it that many people don't attend church services today? Even without taking a survey, I think we can easily come up with a list of reasons why some people stay away from churches in general. I'm sure there may be some very unique reasons why people struggle with the church, but I think we can imagine most of the reasons.
- What makes the difference? It all depends on the church soup we are eating.
To get at some of the most popular reasons, let's imagine we are making two recipes, two versions of church soup.
The first is yucky beans church soup.
(Yucky beans comes from my son-in-law, who tells his kids when something isn't good to eat or to do, that it is yucky beans. "Oh, you don't want to do that. It's yucky beans." Or if I ask them to do something they are not sure they want to do they say, "Oh, Papa, we can't do that; it's yucky beans." So, let's call this first recipe "Yucky Beans Church Soup.")
How is this soup made? Why would anyone make it? What happens is that some of us have a hard time with churches, so we make a church soup from memory and definitely don't read the directions. Here's how we cook up the soup.
- We pour in the water of our own imagination and distant impressions of the church. We may have no or little firsthand information, but we gather bits of information here and there from distant impressions we have had, or things we have simply imagined.
- We then mix in several dashes of spices from the media and from rumor'most of these, by the way, aren't favorable, e.g., scandals we've read about.
- Then we add the yucky beans of some stretching or bad experience we have had with the church.
- Next we pour in the hot sauce of anger. This can boil deep within us!
- We mix in all the vegetables that come from our reasons and excuses. (We'll come back to these in a minute.)
- We stir this all together until it is all thoroughly blended, and voila', we have what we are calling, Yucky Church Soup.
My impression is, we wouldn't blame anyone who had to eat this concoction if they never took a sip of the church again. The question is, "Did we put the right ingredients into the soup?" "Is there a better way to make up a pot of church soup?" To answer these questions, let's look a little closer at this recipe for Yucky Beans Church soup, especially the vegetables that come from our reasons and excuses.
It is possible you are beginning this yucky brew, or know someone who has rejected the church because of the soup already made. So let's look back at the recipe, especially at the vegetables.
- Hypocrisy in the church'"There are too many hypocrites in the church." Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "I would believe in their salvation if they looked a little more like people who have been saved."
- Cultural distance/can't relate to it. Philip Yancey, reflecting on his childhood experiences in church, has said, "Sunday morning was oddly unlike any other hour in the week. At no other time did I sit for 30-40 minutes in a straight back chair and listen to someone lecture to me. At no other time did I sing songs written one or two centuries ago." (Church: Why Bother? p. 20.) This is the impression so many people have of the church. It seems just too distant from their current life.
- Sunday's the only day to spend with my family. 'I am too busy the rest of the week, and Sunday is the only day I have any time.' Many people really believe that time spent in church services takes away from their family life.
- Kids don't want to go; I don't want to embitter them by making them go. "If I make them go, they may not want to go when they are adults. So I will let them make the choice'where they want to go and if they want to go. It's a terrible thing to make a child go to church if they don't want to."
- Bad experiences with the church in the past. "Since I had that experience [whatever it was] I haven't gone back to church. It is obvious if it happened once, it could happen again. So why should I put myself in jeopardy a second time?"
- I want to sleep in one day a week. "I don't go to bed at an appropriate time the rest of the week, so I need to make up for it on Sunday."
- I can't find a church I like, so I don't go. "I really think the church I go to should answer my laundry list of needs and wants. I haven't found one that does, so I don't go and I have stopped looking."
- Church is boring. "Church services don't really catch my attention like a concert, a sporting event, or television. I don't need any more boredom in my life."
- Don't have any reason to go. "It doesn't make any sense to me. Why go to something I don't understand or value?"
Now that's quite a soup of excuses. What is our response to its taste? We need to examine these less-than-tasty vegetables of reasons and excuses.
Hypocrisy in the church
Yes, there are hypocrites - people who wear masks in the church, but if we eliminated any exposure to hypocrisy, we would not be able to go anywhere people gathered, including our own houses - 1 Peter 2:1. As I have said many times, "If we find a perfect church, we shouldn't go because we will mess it up."
It is so obvious to regular attenders that Christians are not perfect, just forgiven'1 John 1:9. Attending a church doesn't make us a Christian any more than attending a concert makes us a musician, or hanging out at McDonald's means our nickname is Big Mac. We can't forget that churches are for sinners who are in the process of becoming more like Jesus - Colossians 3:5-10. If only the perfect attended, no one would show up, especially the pastors.
Colossians 3:5-10 and other similar passages of Scripture make it clear, after we become believers we are to be in a continual process of putting off our old way of living and its practices. We are also to simultaneously put on our new self, which is a reflection of our Creator. So our new life in Christ does not mean instant perfection.
Here's some basic theology: There is a past, present and future dimension to our salvation. We have been saved (justification), we are being saved (sanctification), and we will be saved (glorification). So if we are concentrating on another person's imperfect journey (the working out of their sanctification) or casting every Christian in the same light as the most inconsistent Christian we know, are we being fair?
Within the church, hypocrisy and inconsistent behavior should be confronted; but it should be done gently and without planks of hypocrisy in our eyes - Gal. 6:1-2; Matt. 7:1-5.
Cultural distance - "I can't relate to it."
The problem many people have with the church could be cleared up if they realized the church service is not the church, nor is the building; the people are the church—1 Corinthians 1:2; 16:19.
Christ is to be an active member in the church and in our lives every day. Colossians 1:18—"And he (Jesus) is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy."
If church is only a meeting where we sing some songs, hear a lecture and are uncomfortable in the chairs, then let’s all leave. I have no desire to be just an attender at a meeting. If Christianity doesn’t play itself out in shoe leather during the week, add dimension to my present living and guarantee eternity to my soul, why do it? The gathering of the church on Sunday is a most important element in our spiritual life, and if it is not meaningful, it could be because we are not living the life, and/or have no idea of what the true Christian experience is all about.
Again, Christianity has to do with our everyday life, and most importantly is centered on a relationship with Jesus—Hebrews 12:1-3. If we have no relationship with Him and other believers, we have no clue as to what Christianity is all about.
Sunday—"The only day to spend with my family."
"I am too busy the rest of the week, and Sunday is the only day I have any time for family fun—to spend quality time with my family." Singles might say, " It’s the only time I have to spend with my friends. Attending church services interrupts my day." (Whose day?) This is a statement that can elicit a lot of emotion.
Many people argue the church has no right to cause any conflict with their family, and if it comes to a choice, then the church will lose. The whole discussion is a problem for me, because my church life has always been integral to my family life; not just because I am a pastor, but because that is what church is to be! Church is not just an option when we have the time; it is who we are. The church is people.
So the very discussion could show a misunderstanding of church and family. If we are followers of Jesus, then He is an active member in our family, and there is no conflict between the church and family—Ephesians 5:21-6:4. Scripture indicates we can and should spend time with our family while we are carrying out our active participation in a local church.
That involvement, of course, can get out of balance, but family life or church life should not be relegated to one day a week. There was a time when families gathered at the church building 3-5 times a week. I don’t see that happening today. It’s a stretch to get families to spend one hour a week at church activities or services!
If we have no time for our family except on Sunday, we are too busy, and need to make some priority decisions about our lives. One survey reported the average parent is spending only 10 minutes a day with their children that is not directive or corrective. If that is the case, a whole lot of improvement is needed in order to have a quality family life. Why is it family life and church life should both be relegated to the same hour every week, or be limited to one hour a week?
On the other hand, our families can be enormously improved by conscious interaction with other church families on a recreational and spiritual level. Our families need the church, the modeling of other adults who are living out their faith, the encouragement of others, and the shared opportunities to learn from each other in service. I have seen some church families put the best of ingredients into the soup of their children’s public school life, and only give the bones to their church life—2 Tim. 2:11-15. Think about these verses:
12] "...if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us...15] "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."
I will talk about this in our family series, but here is a prelude: If parents invest only in their child’s public school life, grades, and extracurricular activities and then pay little or no attention to their spiritual lives, they have made a short-term investment that will not have eternal values or return—Matthew 6:19-21. I have seen Christian parents sell their souls for academic achievements, popularity and success in their children’s school life; for every pursuit their children are into, and then realize one year after high school/college they have made a bad investment.
Their children have little or no interest in spiritual things. They have no friends who are Christians, and the very friends and activities they invested so much time in are short-lived—they are gone. We must invest heavily in our children’s spiritual lives!
That observation leads us to our next excuse for Yucky Soup brew.
"Kids don’t want to go…"I don’t want to embitter them by making them go. If I make them go, they may not want to go when they are adults. So I’ll let them make the choice, where they want to go and if they want to go. It’s terrible to make children go to church if they don’t want to."
How many of you know the statistics as to the age when most people accept the Lord? (See Appendix.) Of those who become believers, 85% do so before the age of 18. The implication is, if our children don’t make a decision to follow Christ and begin to live the life of a believer, then the odds are they never will (there's only a 15% chance they will).
What does that say to us about the importance of the church and having a consistent spiritual environment? It’s obvious. George Barna’s survey discovered the following:
- Nearly two-thirds of parents (63%) said that their church should take on an increased role in assisting parents.
- Adults who attended church regularly as a child are nearly three times as likely to be attending a church today as are their peers who avoided the church during childhood (61% to 22%, respectively).
- Just less than two out of three adults (63%) who were churched as children take their own children to a church, which is double the proportion among adults who were not churched and who now take their kids to church (33%).
- Adults who attended church as a child are twice as likely as others to read the Bible during a typical week as are those who avoided churches when young; and twice as likely to attend a church worship service in a typical week (2001).
- Adults who attended church as a child are nearly 50% more likely to pray to God during a typical week than are those who did not attend church as children (2001).
We can’t and shouldn’t force children to make a decision to follow Jesus, but we should understand, a child is not embittered by church attendance; it is more often by the treatment of a parent and/or hypocrisy—the distance between what he/she is being encouraged to be or do in the church and what he/she sees in the home.
Eph. 6:4—"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."
Col. 3:21—"Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged." (Who is encouraged not to embitter? What does that instruction tell you about why fathers are specifically prohibited from not embittering? Is it possible they are instructed not to embitter because they are the ones most likely to do it?)
Heb. 12:15—"See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."
I believe it is a mistake to give children choices about church attendance while they are in our homes. Proverbs 22:6—"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."
In matters of personal hygiene, the choice is not given to a child. In matters of safety or appropriate behavior in the home, choices are not given. If we give children choices about church attendance/activities, we are in most cases, guaranteeing they will choose not to participate. We have to teach them faithfulness and sticking with a church in the ebb and flow of church life—Matt. 25:21; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Cor. 4:2; Acts 16:1-2.
If we read the above passages, we will quickly notice how faithfulness and reliability is rewarded. If a child doesn’t learn faithfulness in spiritual matters, he/she will not receive all God has in mind for him/her, or the eternal rewards awaiting the faithful. The training ground for faithfulness is the home. Please don’t worship at the altar of "I will let them make the choice as to where they want to go and if they want to go." It isn’t a terrible thing to make a child go to church even if he/she doesn’t want to.
Before leaving for church one Sunday when I was a boy, I told my dad I hated him and the church and when I grew up I would never go to church. That was the day I became a Christian. Even if the church isn’t perfect, teach your child to thrive in imperfection, not be a critic and a negative influence!—2 Timothy 4:3-5; Romans 12:11,14-18.
By the way, we shouldn’t be surprised if the excuses we have given for not attending church services are the very same reasons used by those we are influencing, e.g., our children, friends. They may have been schooled by us.
How about those who had:
Bad experiences with the church in the past
"Since I had that experience I haven’t gone back to church. It is obvious if it happened once, it could happen again. So why should I put myself in jeopardy again?"
We should be careful about what churches we attend, but we can’t let our past dictate our future or all we are doing is reacting. Churches are all different and many keep changing!—Revelation 2-3; Romans 1:8-12; 1 Corinthians 1:5-7; 3:1-3. If we study the 7 churches in Revelation, we discover that they were all different. Some of them functioned as they should and others did not. It is unfair to judge all churches the same. It is also unfair to judge a church as bad if it chooses to exercise godly and loving discipline with an individual. The experience might be classified as bad, but was it wrong? The final arbitrator has to be the Scriptures, and of course, the Lord.
We should be careful not to make judgments about a church’s action from a distance. It is usually best not to take up someone else’s offense, unless of course it is abuse, gross mistreatment, financial mismanagement, or gross legalism. A good way to get some perspective on a church’s strengths and weaknesses is to begin reading the epistles. First and Second Corinthians are good examples. (They succeeded and failed miserably.)
It should be apparent that as long as there are people involved, there will be times when the church will not function as it should, but that doesn’t mean all churches are toxic, nor that our past experiences aredestined to be repeated—Rev. 3:7-13; 3:19. In a healthy church, problems are corrected and the church grows even though it has seasons of difficulty—2 Cor. 2:5-11.
If we look at 1 Corinthians, for example, we discover that the church failed miserably in its response to incest. After Paul’s confrontation of its sin, however, they apparently took care of the situation. The result was that in the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul commended the church for taking the correct action.
If we have had bad experiences with the church in the past, we should look for a healthy church, not a perfect church, where the Scripture is lovingly applied and Jesus is the focus.
"I want to sleep in one day a week."
"I may not go to bed at an appropriate time the rest of the week, so I need to make up for it on Sunday."
The answer is not to make Sunday a catch-up day for sleep; the focus should be on acquiring healthy sleep habits during the week—Prov. 3:21-24; Psalm 3:5; 4:8. As a person who doesn’t sleep very well, I have studied sleep in Scripture. One of the passages we should apply is Proverbs 3:21-24. There will find that good, even sweet sleep will be possible because of our pursuit of sound judgment and discernment, not because we took a special day to catch up on our sleep!
Other helpful verses are:
- Psalm 3:5—"I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. 6] I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side."
- Psalm 4:8—"I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety."
The most important response we can have is to value what God values, and give our attention to the church!
"I can’t find a church I like, so I don’t go."
"I really think the church I go to should answer my laundry list of needs and wants. I haven’t found one that does, so I don’t go and I have stopped looking." What we need is found in a church’s community life, not by someone or even any single church service. It all goes back to the question, "Are we followers of Jesus; have we committed our lives to Him?"
If we have, then participating in a church is not an option, nor are we consumers waiting for some church to produce the product we like and then respond positively.
The church is not like the government, where we determine its future by our votes or our preferences; it is a dynamic community with Jesus as the head, and He can’t be voted out of office—Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:15; Colossians 1:18; 2:10. More of the focus should be on how Jesus meets our needs in the context of community life, and how, in turn, He wants to invest in our lives to meet others’ needs—Ephesians 4:15-16. For Christians, most church problems would be avoided if we focused on how we might meet other people’s needs rather than our own.
As far as thinking we don’t need the church, or we can get along without it, if we are believers, we can’t avoid the church any more than we can get by without our bodies. 1 Corinthians 12:14-27—"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."
Church is boring.
"Church services don’t really catch my attention like a concert, a sporting events, or television. I don’t need any more boredom in my life."
The answer to this statement is really the same as the previous one, plus the fact that there is a misunderstanding of what the church is to do. Sports, concerts, television are for audiences, but in the church we are on stage, we are on the screen, we are on the playing field; we are active!—Psalm 95:1-6. Church life is boring when we have not discovered the purpose of God’s church and how we contribute to its life—Ephesians 4:15-16.
We can eliminate boredom and find great joy, meaning and encouragement by our involvement with God/His children—2 Cor 7:3-4; Romans 15:31-32 (two of many passages).
"I don’t have any reason to go."
"It doesn’t make any sense to me. Why go to a place I don’t understand or value?" This is the most honest response of all. It is easily addressed, however, if we take the time to study God’s Word—2 Peter 1:5 and its context.
What we need is to have many good reasons to be involved with a church, so let’s do that by looking at a few verses that describe the kind of church God has in mind for us. They come from 2 Peter 1:2-9: It all starts with Jesus
2] Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3] His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4]Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
The church soup ingredients
5]For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6]and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7]and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8]For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9]But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and hasforgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
This is a description of some of the best church soup we can make.
The second is tasty chicken church soup.
I think we can see the problem with the untasty soup we previously discussed; it is very unlike the original version, the one God has given directions for in this passage and many others as well. If we just look just at this passage for a tasty church soup recipe, we see He asks us to mix together a few key ingredients:
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone, and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
We begin with the water of God’s grace and peace through Jesus Christ.
v. 2—"Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord."
This represents the work of Christ. The cross brought us God’s grace—His unmerited favor. The cross also guaranteed us peace with God. The good news is, grace and peace are available through Christ.
As the water is added, the heat must be added.
We add in the heat of God’s power.
v. 3—"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness."
We put in the meat of God’s Word—v. 4; Hebrews 5:14.
v. 4—"Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."
His word is a powerful and potent food—v. 4.
The flavor of our soup will be seasoned by the salt of faith. v. 5:
v. 5—"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith..."
We add in the vegetables of authentic Christian character.
v. 5-6—"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness..."
We add the noodles of meaningful relationships and interaction.
v. 7—"...brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love."
We can’t call our recipe Church Soup until we follow the directions. Then we can taste and see if the Lord; His church, is good. God’s grace, peace, power and promises enable us to work out (or add to) the Christian faith—to make church soup that tastes authentic. It has:
- The water of God’s grace and peace —v. 2
- The heat of God’s (divine) power—v. 3
- The meat of His great & precious promises—v. 4
- The salt of faith—v. 5
- The vegetables of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness—vv. 5-6
- The noodles of brotherly kindness and love—v. 7
Can I challenge us all to seriously examine our church soup and see if we have the right ingredients in it? Consider how important this soup/this passage is:
"For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins."
How is our batch of church soup doing? Do we have the wrong elements in it? If we do, we will have a very unpleasant experience in the church gathered, or we will stay away from most church services. The result of eating the wrong church soup is that we will be seriously malnourished. What will it take to get us all to dine at God’s table and eat of the meal He has prepared for us?
Let’s all seriously examine our church soup and see if we have the right ingredients in it, especially Jesus. Without Him, why have church soup at all?
4,200 young people and adults surveyed
|ages 5 -13||32% will accept Jesus if asked to|
|ages 14 - 18||4%|
|ages 19 - death||6%|
Nearly one-quarter of parents (24%) identified their church or religion as a significant factor in their parenting (1998). In terms of born again Christian parents, one-third (33%) maintain that their church or faith has been a dominant influence in the way they parent (1998).
Nearly two-thirds of parents (63%) said that their church should take on an increased role in assisting parents, while 57% of parents think that the public schools should take on an increased role, and only 34% of parents think the federal government should take on an increased role in assisting parents (1998).
Adults who attended church regularly as a child are nearly three times as likely to be attending a church today as are their peers who avoided the church during childhood (61% to 22%, respectively—2001).
Just less than two out of three adults (63%) who were churched as children take their own children to a church, which is double the proportion among adults who were not churched and who now take their kids to church (33%).
Adults who attended church as a child are twice as likely as others to read the Bible during a typical week as are those who avoided churches when young; and twice as likely to attend a church worship service in a typical week (2001).
Adults who attended church as a child are nearly 50% more likely to pray to God during a typical week than are those who did not attend church as children (2001).
63% of those who were churched as children take their own children to a church, which is double the proportion among adults who were not churched and who now take their own kids to church (33%—2001).
Roughly seven out of ten Americans adults (71%) had a period of time during their childhood when they regularly attended a Christian church (2001).
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