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Making Church in Our Own Image

By John W. Kennedy | April 14, 2009

In my half century of churchgoing I’ve seen plenty of laypeople try to intimidate pastors by insisting they avoid certain preaching topics, complaining about a particular style of worship music and upholding one unbiblical tradition or another just because the church has always done it that way.

I’ve seen an elder quit on the spot when the church board wouldn’t vote for an expansion the way he wanted; a majority of a board that threatened to quit if the pastor didn’t put a stop to charismatic choruses; and even two women who organized a telephone “quit tithing” campaign to like-minded members in an effort to oust the pastor.

What all these people forgot was that they didn’t own the church. Christ does. And while “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), the expression of how His people relate to Him changes with the times.

On occasion, I have been guilty of trying to push a certain program or ministry style that the church really wasn’t ready for — at least the local congregation which I attended. In the end I’ve found it’s better to stop pestering the pastor, or go somewhere else where my offer of ministry is better appreciated.

I understand the debate over worship. I miss the full orchestra 1980s Hosanna! Integrity arrangements, which today have largely been replaced with guitar-driven worship. But hey, I can live with it. These 20-somethings are passionate about worship, even reintroducing some hymns that had fallen out of favor. I can always put on my CDs at home if I want music from my younger days.

Of course it’s natural to nostalgically pine for that which reminds us of a more familiar time, even if those songs or programs really aren’t particularly relevant anymore. A great treatise on the topic is Gordon MacDonald’s book, Who Stole My Church? What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century.

my-church.jpg“A church is not meant to be a club for the convenience of insiders but a cooperative where people combine together to grow spiritually, to worship the triune God, and to prepare themselves for Christian living and service in the larger world,” MacDonald writes.

It also is wise to remember that Jesus didn’t come for the “righteous” regular attendees but rather the messed up people who really needed help (Matthew 9:13). When we try to remake the church into our own image, sometimes we forget about those Jesus wants us to reach. When all is said and done, church isn’t about making sure my favorite color of carpet is installed in the nursery or whether the guy in charge of the overhead flipped the lyrics quick enough to suit me. It’s about trying to behave enough like Christ so that those who don’t know Him are attracted to Him by what I say and do.

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5 Responses to “Making Church in Our Own Image”

  1. Mrs. Janet Holton Says:
    April 14th, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Mr Kennedy,

    I have a concern that this one isolated paragraph (perhaps not your complete view of the subject) seems to me to suggest that church-hopping is a perfectly good way to deal with a feeling that “my offer of ministry” is not appreciated.

    Too many of us, sadly including my husband and me, have left churches out of our own feelings, rather than because God has released us and called us to a new place of ministry. Who sent me to this church? Was it God? I hope yes. If so, I’d better be careful when I choose to leave that He is the one who is directing my paths.

    Mrs. Janet Holton
    Dayspring AG, Bowling Green OH

  2. John W. Kennedy Says:
    April 14th, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Dear Mrs. Holton,

    Thanks for writing. I can see how the paragraph could be misconstrued. I’m not advocating church hopping.

    Still, I don’t want to be a thorn in the flesh to some pastor. What may have drawn me to a church in the first place may no longer be what I think God is trying to teach me. In that case it’s me who needs to move on rather than stay and try to change others.

    Let me give you an illustration. A quarter century ago I attended a non-Pentecostal church where I was grounded in the fundamentals of prayer and Bible reading. I was actively involved in leadership. Then the church had a weeklong revival, where both the evangelist and worship leader were Spirit-filled. During the week the congregation learned all about the Holy Spirit. By the next Sunday we had a worship team instead of a choir and lots of hand raising and clapping. That lasted for a couple of weeks, when the leadership determined that really shouldn’t be the direction for our church. Rather than press for change — which I believed God wanted because I had prayed and fasted before the revival—I decided it wiser to move to a Pentecostal church where such worship attitudes were welcomed.

  3. Mrs. Janet Holton Says:
    April 14th, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Dear Mr Kennedy,

    I appreciate your prompt response. Each of us is responsible before God for our decisions/actions. It seems you had His approval for your move. I’m glad.

    Mrs Janet Holton

  4. Marilee Says:
    April 14th, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    In the debate over worship, why must it be one or the other? The church must minister to ALL generations!

  5. Josh Says:
    June 13th, 2009 at 5:21 am

    the new guy is much quicker at flipping the lyrics quickly enough.