It seems nowadays like there is something just intrinsically uncool about the word “church”. Various attempts have been made over the years to more adequately describe the people of God. Back in the 70’s, those of us that were converted in the Jesus / Charismatic Movements preferred the term “fellowship” as a synonym for church. I was recently in North Carolina and noticed Quaker churches that call their gatherings “Friends Meeting House.” The escape hatch for today’s modern church is the new buzz term “Missional Community.” In almost every generation there is some bright lad or lady who wants to draw us back to that elusive “New Testament pattern” of the church. They usually decry the use of buildings and programs and anything smacking of being “churchy.” They usually don’t like to have pastors or leaders “over” them but like to just meet organically.
Looking around the world today you can see many types of churches: Seeker churches, Bible churches, simple churches, emerging churches (not to be confused with Emergent churches), innovative churches, mega churches, liturgical churches, Neo-Calvinist churches, and then there are those of us in the “Back to the Bible” churches who believe that if we just stick to the Word everything will work out OK.
I think it is safe to say that in the last 35 years I have spoken in and had good friends in all the kinds of churches mentioned above. Not only have I yet to find the perfect church, I have yet to find the perfect kind of church. Ironically, I have found a lot of people in certain churches who knew they were not perfect and yet criticized many of the others who were not in their camp. Bible churches tend to think that seeker churches are shallow and water down the Gospel. Seeker churches tend to think that Bible churches tend to get stuck in a rut and are short on applying the teaching they have heard.
The younger Missional churches tend to take issue with the more established churches because they are not “incarnational” in their community. In other words, they are failing to be “missional.” The emergent churches formed because they failed to see in some of the more traditional churches the character of Christ and some of the basic attributes of love, loyalty and tolerance for those who are not like them. Smaller churches accuse the mega-churches of compromising quality for the sake of quantity. One mega church pastor told me he was criticized for pursuing excellence. He then turned to his critics and said what would you like me to pursue, non-excellence?
I would like to humbly call a moratorium on all non-constructive criticism of the Church, which is Christ’s body. I would also like to encourage you not to criticize your brothers and sisters especially if you are going on hearsay information and know not of what you speak. Case in point, I was at a church not long ago and made a reference to the church I had been I the week before. Someone came up to me and confidently asserted “I heard that church doesn’t get into the Word. My reply, “Well they weren’t using the Q’ran and yes they did ‘get into the Word’ but maybe not the same way that you define what it means to ‘get into the Word.” Then I asked the convicting question, ‘Have you ever been to that church?’ “No”, was his reply, “but that’s what I heard”. I lightly exhorted the brother that even in a secular court of law hearsay evidence is not admissible and yet we receive hearsay evidence all the time about “churches.”
Paul warned the Corinthians very clearly not to divide Christ’s body over different types of churches. I am of Paul…Cephas…Apollos…Jack Hayford…Rick Warren…Chuck Smith…Rob Bell…etc. There is nothing wrong with honoring leaders or even being very happy or “proud” in a “good sense” of being a part of a church or a certain movement that espouses your values of what you conceive to be an effective church. It is just extremely hard when you don’t have all the facts to render judgments on churches or types of judgments when you have never been an integral part of that church. Even if you had all the facts you are still commanded by God not to judge.
Local Church Para-church
Back in the 70’s, there were much teaching flying around talking stink about “para-church” organizations. It was even declared by some para-church organizations have no right to exist because they are not in the Bible. The only reason para-churches exist is because the local church is not doing its job. Most of these judgments on para-church organizations have subsided and the critics have realized the ludicrous nature of their assertions. Without para-church structures there would be no Christian schools, hospitals, orphanages, denominations, Bible colleges, seminaries, mission organizations, rescue missions, Christian aviation ministries, relief and development programs, etc. etc.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. People from para-church organizations, including YWAM have in some places rendered the church irrelevant. Either by their non attendance at local church functions or proclaiming they “do church” all week long, why should they go to church on Sundays. Para-church members often do not appreciate those who make such assertions that most of their money and most of the people that make up these organizations have come from local churches. Most of the finances which support para-church organizations come direct from churches. Besides, isn’t it a bit selfish to say I don’t get fed there or the worship is more exciting in my YWAM base, Campus Crusade headquarters, Youth For Christ meetings, etc.? Shouldn’t we go to church to serve the local church? And to be a part of a body of believers where we live? It is my humble opinion (and I suppose my opinion counts because I’m writing this article!) that every para-church worker should not only attend but give money and serve into the ministry of the local church where they live. This is of course with the exception if you are doing church planting yourself. I thank God I had local church loyalty drilled into my new believer head when I was a young Christian and joining YWAM did not change my commitment to a local church. Time and space will fail me to tell of the blessings I have received because I have been committed to my local church and served under my pastor. When people tell me in YWAM that they are too busy to go to church, I simply say then you are too busy and point out to them most of the folks who serve in local churches are already working 48 hours a week at a job, doing the soccer mom, take the kids to band practice duties as well as teach Sunday school and perform other services for the church.
I am not suggesting that we should serve the church so that we will get their support that would be a selfish motive, although it may happen. We should serve the church because Jesus called us to be a servant and it helps us to keep our feet on the ground and not simply pretend that we are not in an artificial environment, in the bubble of a para-church organization.
Furthermore, I think if we have a bad attitude about local churches in general (there will always be bad apples in every bunch and bad churches in every city). If we are bashing the church, we should just repent. In closing, I would suggest that we do a serious inductive Bible study of the book of Ephesians and seeking God’s perspective, His attitude toward his people the church. Among other things Paul tells us in Ephesians that God is preparing Himself a “glorious church” not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing but it should be holy and without blemish. I love the church. Christ loved it too and gave himself for it.