We are working through an article by Scott Thomas on replanting an existing church, that is, renewing a church so that it grows and matures as a church plant does.
How do we get people to be all-in Christians? Well, we don’t. God does.
(Rom 2:29) No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.
(Phil 2:12-13) Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
(Heb 8:10) This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
You see, when we make Christianity humanistic — supposing that it’s man who does it — it falls apart and becomes a caricature of the real thing. But if we let God handle things through his Spirit, everything changes.
I’ve said this before, but it’s important. The Spirit works most powerfully in people who are aware of the Spirit’s presence and are willing to let the Spirit work in them. Those who deny the Spirit or who refuse to give the Spirit sway will never be the disciples that Jesus wants. So the first step is to preach the Spirit — not as an addendum or concession or footnote. Rather, our preaching and teaching has to be as filled with the Spirit as we wish ourselves to be. A Jesus-filled community is a Spirit-filled community.
This means that “fruit of the Spirit” is no longer taught as “fruit of my hard work.” Rather, we ask God to change us through the working of his Spirit. We yield to and cooperate with that work. We “work out” our salvation, but we do it with the Spirit’s empowering presence. It changes everything.
It especially changes how we view the world. Rather than seeing human cleverness and hard work at the center of Christianity and how to do church, we see Jesus divinely working through his church by his Spirit. We step out of the middle and put God back where he was always supposed to be.
It’s big — and it requires repeated, persistent preaching and teaching because it’s utterly contrary to the scientific age in which we live. It won’t come easily.
And we need to get re-acquainted with the Gospels. We need to learn about Jesus — or else we can’t be a part of him.
(Jer 23:29) “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
Now I’ve gotten off the subject of community quite a bit, but I’ll come back to it. I promise. First, though, I have to point out that this radically changes how we read the Bible. You see, we read the Bible in search of life application. This is especially bad (and damaging) among teenagers where teen ministers read a passage, pick out a word, and then lead a discussion about some fine character trait.* We also do that among adults, especially in sermons.
What we often fail to do is read the word of God for what it says. We should apply ourselves to God’s word rather than struggling to apply God’s word to us.
If a student asks, “How does this apply to my life?” the student has the wrong perspective, supposing that the word is there to help the student and should be ignored if it’s of no benefit to him or her. The right question is, “How can I change my life as the word demands?” Thus, the goal isn’t relevant teaching but relevant living.
When we teach teens or the elderly and all in between, we should always push for change, repentance, transformation, submission. It’s never, “This will make your life better” because it just might cost your listeners their lives. It should. It’s not consumerist. It’s about submission — but a kind of submission that delights in becoming more and more like Jesus — even his suffering and death.
We need to truly be people of the book, who deeply drink in God’s word — from Genesis to Revelation. I’m not saying we need a church filled with theologians. We don’t. We need a church that sees the Bible as the very word of God — the message of the God of Universe to his beloved people. Just as a woman reads a love letter over and over to sink into the heart of her lover, we need to read the scriptures as a path toward intimacy with God Almighty — who craves our love so much that he died on the cross for us.
Then we’ll feel like Jeremiah, who wrote —
(Jer 20:9) But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
Community (at last)
So what does this tell us about community? Well, everything.
Community isn’t about having friends. That’s the country club. It’s down the road.
Community isn’t about fellowship meals. That’s the dinner club. It’s down the road.
Community is about being a temple of God’s Holy Spirit. It’s about sharing a mission to redeem the world for Jesus. It’s about participating in God’s work among his people. It’s about sharing a passion for the word of God — where you share fresh insights you learned last night with friends at church, because you can’t wait to share the delightful workings of God through his scriptures. It’s seeing God’s Spirit at work in your own heart and in the hearts of your friends and family. It’s about seeing prayer answered together.
Do that, and you’ll get friends and meals, too. But they’ll be friends for whom you’d willingly die, because you’ll see them with God’s eyes
* I am more and more repelled by the notion that we should dumb the Bible down to the level of the teens rather than calling them to grow up into God’s word. We have to get over this attitude of: “I don’t want to go to class because it’s not any fun.”
Teens: Grow up!
Parents, teachers, teen ministers: The solution isn’t to be fun. It’s passion. Passion isn’t produced by talking about passion. It’s about being passionate for the word of God.
Light up every time the word is opened. Show the teens the delights of God’s word. Treat the reading of scripture as a feast shared rather than a chore endured.