Read an Excerpt
the key to caring
By Jr. Lawrence J. Crabb, Dan B. Allender
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr. and Dan B. Allender
All rights reserved.
The more I understand people and their needs, the more I am persuaded that God has uniquely designed the local church to respond to those needs. And as my conviction grows, so does my frustration.
The needs of people, to at least some degree, are obvious to all but the most insensitive and self-centered. Even a casual consideration of the healing potential of relationship with Christ makes it clear that the deep wounds of hurting people can be substantially healed. But still we attend to lesser matters and lose sight of what can be done. The church, where Christ's holiness and love are to be evidenced the most, too often becomes an organization just seeking to perpetuate itself, while the reasons why it should continue and grow are obscured.
When the central dynamic of living in relationship with God and each other is made secondary to concern for better facilities, expanded programs, or more staff, then the quietly enriching and soul-stirring excitement of life in Christ is numbed. The Christian life is in danger of being reduced to (depending on the personality of the leadership) either a pep rally for Jesus or an irritating set of restrictions.
The muscles of relationship within the Christian body atrophy when we fail to exercise them, and the church becomes limp. Attendance falls off, volunteers are hard to come by, and a vague but strong mood of indifference spreads through the body. Rather than realizing that the life of the church lies in its worshipful relationship to God and its loving connections with one another, the leadership may diagnose the problems as weak commitment, boring ser vices, or rebellious attitudes. These problems may indeed exist and require remedy, but they might not be the core issue.
The church often responds to such misdiagnoses by trying to create and maintain a soul-grabbing level of excitement and by legislating stronger commitment for members who fail to catch the disease of induced enthusiasm. Church services may begin reflecting a polished professionalism more appropriate to a black-tie-and-tails banquet than to a meeting of the family. Stragglers from the fold may be called back with noisy exhortations that give the impression that church life is one long boot camp directed by a tough drill sergeant. Through it all, the potential of the church for satisfying longings and for nourishing life diminishes. Worship becomes ritual, and teaching loses power.
How can we recapture our focus in the church? What can we do to shift our attention back to relating to God and to each other in loving fellowship and mutual ministry? The task is especially difficult because each of us tends to regard our focus as clear and the other person's as blurred. No pastor would say that his or her church does not revolve around loving God and loving others.
One pastor will argue—I think correctly—that expository preaching directs attention to God's character and people's problems by presenting biblical truth. Another will maintain that a church that focuses on building relationships within the church community is more on target. Still another will speak warmly of the possibility of reaching more people with God's love through expanded facilities and will thus regard the church's building program as consistent with its purpose for being.
Church life seems to pass through various stages. The era of tent revivals and sawdust-trail conversions has largely yielded to a more settled (and stifling?) approach to doing the work of the church. In some circles, the emotionalism of rededication invitations has been replaced with a more sober emphasis on meaty teaching. But for some, that kind of teaching seems to result in cold orthodoxy. So they strive to inject new life into the ecclesiastical corpses through support groups. These groups attempt to strip away masks of phony contentment and to uncover the gutsy problems raging inside people. The idea is to build relationships through self-disclosure followed by mutual affirmation.
Critical observers have noted, however, that a relational focus can shift the foundation of the church away from "dry" truth to vibrant experience. The Bible may then become less the authority for belief and behavior and more the stimulus for building caring relationships. Meetings for Bible study to which participants come armed with commentaries and concordances have sometimes given way to groups in which people bring their needs, experiences, and opinions—and occasionally an unstudied Bible. Sharing one's faith may then become more important than knowing one's faith.
Faith communities that attend more to relationships than to the truths upon which relationships can be built run serious risks. Divisions, superficiality, and a shift in authority from God's Word to human experience argue for a different focus. But what?
Every alternative has its own disclaimer. Old-fashioned revivalism, for some, is culturally outdated; expository preaching may seem to sail harmlessly over the heads of the shallow masses; a relational emphasis puts people uncomfortably close to each other where tensions surface and squabbles may break out. The answer for many has been the Big Church: culturally in vogue, appealing to the success-conditioned masses, offering opportunity to be lost in the crowd or involved in a group—whichever your taste may be.
Church growth experts (who usually define growth in numerical terms) help local leaders to polish their promotional skills and refine their community appeal. Using organizational strategies developed and tested by industry, they have transformed struggling churches into prosperous business enterprises—an achievement of dubious value. Think big and you'll get big.
And what argument can be raised against bigness? Who can voice objection to increased attendance without inviting scorn for lack of vision and evangelistic concern? Diversified programs to reach all special-interest groups (singles, older folks, newlyweds, blended families), improved music (and I'm all for asking the off-key soprano on the worship team to reevaluate her gifts), and more relevant and practical preaching (which makes the weekend ser vice the inspirational and socially chic hub of church life) are a few characteristics of the big church.
Watching these developments are numbers of small churches in simple buildings who fervently cling to a well-defined set of unique convictions, adamantly refusing to focus on numerical growth. But too often, as these sincere Christians continue on faithfully, their convictions harden into complacency, and doctrinal orthodoxy declines into dogmatic traditionalism. Because the right way is narrow and often missed, lack of growth and outreach may be unconsciously but proudly regarded as testimony to ecclesiological purity.
A Focus on People
What are we to do? I have my ideas, and you have yours. Some of us want to return to evangelistic campaigns; others place a high premium on exegetical teaching that gets us beyond milk and into meat; some see the answer in a relational focus; and still others dream of big churches with the confidence that a Big God can do Big Things.
In whatever direction we move, one thing is clear. Church life involves people getting together, people in contact with other people—whether in small groups or huge auditoriums, whether in worship concerts or teaching classes, whether in outreach campaigns or weekend ser vices. When any emphasis in our church life interferes at all with our effort to better understand the resources of Christ and to more effectively minister to needy people, then the church has lost its way
Excerpted from Encouragement by Lawrence J. Crabb Jr., Dan B. Allender. Copyright © 2013 by Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr. and Dan B. Allender. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.