The most important thing the church does

Vic Van Den Berg has a fine post on this subject over at his blog ‘Vic the Vicar‘. Here’s an excerpt:

Being a disciple means that I want to learn how to look like, act like, think like, live like, love like Jesus.

When I was an apprentice I followed people around, made tea, handed tools to whoever I was working with, washed the cups, made tea, got shouted at (a lot) and learnt my craft. As I passed through each of the training areas I followed the fitter, technician, P Way man and learnt what they did and copied them. Where they went – I went!

I found myself talking like them and becoming a composite of them all in terms of expression and thinking…

I became a product of the whole and learnt that for us to succeed (which meant do the job well and not be caught when we weren’t) I had to be a part of the whole: There was just ‘us’ and that’s who we worked for – Each Other! When a problem appeared we got stuck in and supported one another – we were a team.

Nothing has changed now I’m in the Church. I find myself sounding, acting and (I hope) thinking like the man I’m apprenticed to (in case you haven’t guessed, this is Jesus) and I assume that this is the same for others too.

This is where I get disappointed because my assumptions are all too often wrong and rather than follow and look and learn and do and be, I find people who (like some of those I once worked with) are under the impression that ‘being there’ is enough. These are the people who clock in and out of church and work environments with the belief that attending is enough and, just like in the world of work, they are saddened as they see others pass them by.

We can change the world if we are disciples.

It seems to me that the last line is the most important, and it relates to yesterday’s post about the Kingdom of God. There are many ideas about how the world can be changed and improved, and many of them involve political or military solutions. There were a few of these ideas around in Jesus’ day, too: ‘Kingdom of God movements’ that included driving out the Romans and the corrupt Jewish leaders and installing a political/military Messiah as literal King of Israel.

But Jesus didn’t buy into any of those movements. He believed that the Kingdom of God was God’s idea and God’s initiative, and that his part in it was to call disciples, teach them a new way of living, and then send them out to change the word by (a) living by his teaching and (b) making new disciples in their turn. This is how the Gospel changes the world: one heart, one life at a time.

So the most important question is not “What’s our average Sunday attendance and is it increasing?” but “Are we, the people of this church, learning to follow Jesus by putting his teaching and example into practice in our daily lives?” For instance, are we learning to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves? Are we living simple and generous lives, uncluttered by lots of possessions and eager to give to others? Are we loving our enemies and doing our best to be reconciled to them? Are we selling our possessions and giving to the poor? Are we speaking the truth and learning to be people of our word? Are we learning to live our lives for an audience of one instead of trying to impress others all the time? These of course are just a few of the practical issues raised by the teaching of Jesus.

Unfortunately, there are many people who think that the sum total of what we’ve trying to do is to get people to come to church. Making habitual churchgoers then becomes the measure of our success, rather than making disciples. Well, it’s nice to see crowds in church, but that in and of itself doesn’t change the world. What changes the world is when the people of Jesus learn to live as Jesus taught us.

Of course, that’s far more challenging, and I suspect that’s why people like to avoid it. Going to church is relatively easy. Following Jesus is not. No wonder we prefer not to think about it!



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