Two Churches

I want to tell you about two churches.

A. Church A has money from tithing members. They invest it in normal things; building maintenance, a new music minister/youth pastor, and a monthly commitment to a missionary family in Africa whom they have met and like. They have a surplus. They invest the surplus:

-They expand the parking lot, get better coffee for the coffee hour, buy a set of drums for the church worship band, and begin a fundraising drive for an expanded front entryway.

-Church members are involved in fundraising, seeing plans for the expansions, auditioning to play the drums during the worship service, and choosing and serving the new coffee with all the extras (fancy creams, various types of sugar, coffee shop cups, etc.)

B. Church B has money from tithing members. They invest it in normal things; building maintenance, a new music minister/youth pastor, and a monthly commitment to a missionary family in Africa whom they have met and like. They have a surplus. They invest the surplus:

-They support a Christian camp that keeps costs low for kids in poorer families, and a local seminary that trains pastors, elders, and laypeople from the entire region (including pastors from suburbs, rural areas, and the inner city). They begin an internship program to train young men in their church to be elders, and a few to be pastors. They organize a service missions trip to help a poorer church in another area of the country.

-Church members counsel and work at the camp, attend classes at the seminary, participate in the internship or help train the interns, and support or go on the mission trip.

Do you know churches like these?

I do. Several of each, in fact. They are really compilations of things I’ve seen in various churches, but they highlight what I see as a big issue. I think a lot of churches are focused on themselves, and it shows up in their stewardship of resources (both financial and people resources).

See, churches like Church A are fairly predictable. They often just continue on their self-focused track, growing larger and larger. They become more and more exciting, more and more fun. They begin drawing weaker Christians away from other churches. They build a “Solid Rock Café” coffee ministry. They pull in people who might call themselves Christians, but won’t go to church unless it is fun and exciting. The sermons at these churches often become more life application focused and simple, but involve less of sin and hell and judgment and the gospel. They still support missionaries, but nobody really knows them.

In the end, one of two things usually happens. Either they pursue this direction efficiently, and become megachurches, or they pursue it ineffectively, and struggle with both size and content (often they eventually die). Either way, in my experience, they often are not a) spreading the gospel to areas that desperately need it, or b) producing spiritually mature disciples from among their membership.

Churches like Church B, though, are a lot harder to categorize. They orient their ministries to the context God has placed them in. They serve in whatever way best fits that context. Some of them start private Christian schools, or even colleges and seminaries. Some of them support gospel-proclaiming ministries in the local area. Some provide services to the needy or hurting, but carefully show that their love is because Christ loved first. They often have a much stronger culture of discipleship. They are often better at keeping track of and caring for people who are having a hard time. In my experience, these types of churches are generally better at promoting faithfulness to Scripture. Their membership is more spiritually mature. They fit many sizes, from living room assemblies to massive numbers. Either way, they seek to retain the qualities mentioned above. Not only do they know the missionaries they support, often those missionaries come from their congregation.

Now, I realize the obvious criticisms here. I am over generalizing, and the types of churches are much more fluid. There are plenty of struggling, faithful churches, and plenty of megachurches with wonderful ministries. There can be a lot of debate about whether supporting a local camp as an outreach to kids is truly more godly than building a Solid Rock Café as an outreach to kids.

That said, though, I have SEEN these trends with significant consistency. I have seen churches make self-centered stewardship decisions as if they are trying to make the Fortune 500, and I have seen it hurt the spiritual maturity of their members a few steps down the road. I have seen churches where a person can believe in contact with dead relatives or guardian angels and still be a children’s Sunday School teacher. I have seen places where more priority is given to the parking-lot ministry than training people to rightly interpret Scripture.

At the same time, I have seen the wonderful impact a gospel-centered church can have on its members and its community. People are trained in the gospel and evangelism, ministry and godly living. They are taught to give up their time and effort and skills and talent for the sake of the gospel and the building up of saints. Lives are changed, and efforts to proclaim Christ’s saving message go out all over the world. There is an aura of true worship.

Where does it begin? In some ways, it begins with stewardship. Stewardship of God’s grace, of the gift of the gospel, of the blessings of money and time and talent. If a church wants to be faithful, it must seek to manage the blessings God has given it in a way that honors Him. This means they will be radically committed to the gospel, will creatively work to expand the kingdom of God, and will care more about ministries that exalt the name of Christ than those that exalt the name of the church.

This is a key area of meditation for me. I want to be a church member or pastor that is committed to using my profession, my resources, and my gifts for the cause of the gospel, and not just the cause of my church. I want to launch new church plants, train new leaders and missionaries, see lives change and mature. I want to be able to look back at the end and know that all was in service to Christ, and that I was not just building my own little empire with a rockin’ band and great coffee.

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