I'm studying John Stott's The Living Church this week. Here are some of my thoughts on the first part:
Are we a Radical Conservative church? Radical means that we connect with the culture. Conservative means that we conserve the scriptures. Many churches do one of these things or the other, but seldom do they do both. A church that connects to the culture and doesn't conserve the scriptures becomes worldly, no different from a secular charity or social service group. A church that conserves the scriptures and doesn't connect with culture becomes elitist, ritualistic and cultish. Both ends of this spectrum lack faith. Does our church have the balance of connecting with culture and conserving the scriptures?
At the end of Acts 2, we see the church engaging in 4 activities: apostolic teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers. Let's take each of these things in turn, to see what a church should be:
1. A Learning Church: Pastors teaching the congregation is understood, but parents should also be teaching their children. This happens throughout the week. Finally, members should be teaching themselves and each other throughout the week as well. The pastor is included in this, too. As Diedrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together, Christian community involves someone, regardless of role in the church, understanding something about scripture in a new way and unpacking that concept for the rest of the church. We teach each other. More on Life Together in future postings...
2. A Caring Church: This is outreach, serving the community, creating welcoming and safe spaces for people to go, harvesting relationships within other communities and forming new communities through those relationships.
3. A Worshiping Church: A church that worships properly has both formal and informal elements. For example, we can read the Nicene Creed together in unison, and then, ten minutes later, stand up and give individual testimony about a unique way the Lord has worked in our lives. A church that worships properly has both joyful and reverent elements. We kneel before the cross and then elevate our hands toward that same cross.
4. An Evangelizing Church: As Christians, we already have the Holy Spirit, but we still need to humble ourselves before God and seek the fullness, direction, and power of that same Spirit. As it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:19: "Quench Not The Spirit." We may not be able to stifle God's spirit. We may not be able to prevent God from doing his will in the world, but if we are not seeking God's fullness, direction, and power in our lives, God will be a gentleman and back down, allowing us to live lives as we wish. As I've said before, God is not a stalker. He won't follow us around and shout after us, "Why don't you love me?" He allows our hearts to change toward him. He reads our intent, and when he knows that our hearts intend to do his will, he unleashes his holiness upon us.
More thoughts to come on The Living Church.