Giving the church, the body of Christ, a much needed makeover.
Steve Dresselhaus – September 9, 2022
Other than to follow him, did Jesus ever invite anyone to anything? He did invite himself into Zacchaeus’s home, he did request that his disciples prepare for his last Passover meal, he did invite us to go to him when we are burdened and on a couple of occasions he told people to “come and see“; but other than these occasions and perhaps a few others, Jesus did not do a whole lot of inviting to anything. Several times he did issue the command to “go.”
Jesus absolutely abolished the need for an institutional temple. He certainly did not start any institutional ministries, nor activities needing to be maintained, nor religious structures to which to invite anyone. We assume Jesus was a trained craftsman and builder; yet the only cornerstone we see him laying was himself. The only building stones we see him using were his people. The only mention of woodwork was what he carried uphill on his back. He started nothing measurable; yet he changed the world and he continues to do so. He did promise to build his church, a noun which at the time had little or no religious connotation both times he used it. The word church was more akin to a group with a common interest. He did build his church, his group, and is still building it, but I´m not sure his idea of church and ours are even remotely similar. I´m sure we all could and would say what we are supposed to say if asked to define church, but I fear there is a vast chasm between our practice and our memorized answers.
Jesus did not create a compartmentalized religion separate from everyday life. The religion he created and lived was and still should be for us a way of life, everyday life, not an acquired program of behaviors or learned tradition to be added on and practiced at certain times and in certain places. The religion Jesus revealed is an action-filled, God-honoring lifestyle devoid of empty rituals, traditions and spectatorship. He set free an idea, a way of thinking into the world, not a program or place or mandated to-do list. Jesus made no effort to hide his anger at the “paint by number” religions of the day, and I doubt much has changed since. The religion Jesus let loose on the world is little more than an ever-growing relationship with God and each other, both made possible by his ultimate personal sacrifice. This relationship, built on an ever-increasing experiential knowledge of Jesus, neither offers nor requires an attractive place, program or ritual through which to perform it.
So, if Jesus created no activities with which to attract people, and if he did not invite people to church, synagogue, Bible studies, the Temple or anything else, how did he do ministry? The short and simple answer was that he was frequently invited into the lives, homes and activities of others. He was followed. People sought him out. He turned their invitations and their pursuit of him into times of ministry. His ministry was not one of extraction and transplanting. His ministry was that of entering the lives of the people and transforming them by a new birth. His ministry was sitting at their table, not them at his. The marriage feast of the Lamb to which his followers will be invited is a remarkable exception. But even this unequaled invitation is all about presence with him. Just being with Jesus resulted in ministry being done.
Jesus grew in stature and favor with both God and people. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being liked by people; in fact, being sought after appears to be rather important to Jesus. It is true that on occasion Jesus´s words caused some people to abandon him and that during the last few hours of his ministry, at the instigation of the professional, program and place-based clergy, who never did like him, the crowds did turn on him. However, that was a short-lived hatred which was reversed when not long after their rejecting him, thousands upon thousands of people began to follow the resurrected Christ and became known as Christians.
In this world we are promised tribulation and, yes, we are told the world will hate us because they hate the exclusivity of Jesus. But let us never earn hatred because of un-Christlike behavior. There is no merit badge for hatred purchased with boorishness. While there may be persecution at times, our lives are to be so pleasant, interesting and good that people will be drawn to Christ because they were initially drawn to us. People may accuse us falsely, but we are to live such unblemished lives that the accusations will fall flat.
Being liked and respected are such important values that we are to choose our church leaders in part because of their good reputation among non-believers. We are to be such good people that others will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. Based on the fruit of the Spirit, we should be a bunch of pretty cool people with whom to hang out. Sadly, because of the unbecoming behavior of many Christians, we are lumped together; and I am afraid we are frequently misperceived as being the mirror image counterparts of the woke ones telling everyone else what to think, say and believe.
Jesus’s ministry and message were inseparable from his way of living. As I look at the ministry of lifestyle lived by Jesus, I see people searching for him and inviting him into their lives. How does that apply to me and my ministry and to you and yours? It is really quite simple. Are we attractive enough because of our Jesus-emulating lifestyle that we get invited into people´s lives? If you were able to be someone else for awhile, would you want to hang out with your current you? If people don´t want to spend time with you, they might not ever get to spend time with Jesus.
Jesus did not start one single complicated ministry needing to be maintained. He created no programs. He started nothing to which to invite people but he did create and demonstrate a way to be, a wonderful way to live and a way in which to participate and enjoy fellowship. He attracted people to himself because of how he was. He loved people, they loved him and they invited him into their lives, becoming his transformed, born again followers. They came to be known for whom they followed, not the place they met. They grew to be like Jesus, not molded clones to be fit into a slot in an established structure.
What would happen if we simply changed how we measure success by adding one more line? Instead of counting how many people were in church on Sunday, how about we also begin counting how many times non-Christians invite us to their activities and into their lives? How long has it been since you were invited to a social activity or party put on by non-Christians? Look at your list of friends on Facebook or Instagram. How many of them are not Christians?
Lest anyone think I do not love the current church, I need to make a clarifying statement. We should be overwhelmingly grateful for today´s church. For the past two millennia God has used the existing structures, programs and places to keep his bride alive. Good, vastly beyond any ability to measure, has been the result. Millions upon millions of people have come to know the King, been transformed and served faithfully. It would be impossible to even begin counting the selfless acts of love carried out in schools, hospitals, universities, orphanages, shelters, agricultural programs and countless other ministries established by the church. But now things are not going as well as they used to and it is time for a renewal. The math is now against us. Is it time to shut the church doors for the last time? Of course not, and it never will be. However, we may need to remind ourselves that like the Temple-centered worship of the past, today´s church establishment is but “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” This is not a bad thing at all. It just is. The church system we have known is probably in need of a makeover, not closure. The makeover begins when Jesus is the attraction, not our places and programs. That makeover begins when people are drawn to Jesus because they see him in us. After all, the system is not the body of Christ, we are.