The "cool" thing in Christianity today is to let your convictions and personal beliefs be shaped by those you are around. Or so I've heard. If I've noticed and heard correctly, an example of such an ideology would mean that, if I'm with cocaine junkies, I can join in with them in order to influence them toward Jesus. Okay...so there are a myriad of problems with that kind of belief, I won't even approach it or I'd rant. Ranting coming from me isn't usually very good, because I'm extremely honest and blunt about what I think. And, of course, what I think is not always nice, and definitely not always correct. So. All I'm trying to do by citing that example is point out that God wants us to have convictions. Firm ones. Ones that we own. For ourselves.
For most of my teenage years (which are rapidly dwindling...down to days. Oh dear.), I had no firm convictions, ones that I felt strongly as my own. Sure, I knew what was right and wrong. I knew what the Bible said, and I knew what I should and shouldn't do. But there's a big difference between knowing that I should or should not do something, and believing in my own heart through the conviction of the Holy Spirit that that something is not for me to partake in. As I've grown in Christ, I've realized that He's given me some strong convictions of my own, not just the ones (good ones, too!) that have been instilled in me by my parents.
Last week, God encouraged me by bringing to mind two main personal convictions that He's given me over the last year and a half or so. Well. Or so. They're obviously two different ones, so they happened at different times. The one I want to talk about in this post is that of church. And committing to a church. Oh yes. Be afraid. Hot topic? Yes. Controversial? Yes. I'll try to be as tactful as I can, and you should probably realize that this is MY conviction. I don't need everybody to agree with me. I don't need your approval at all, actually, if I'm thinking straight. That's not to say that I don't want it or like it...but I'm a child of God. He sees me as His perfect son of God. You guys can't beat that...so. Yes.
Church is a biblical institution. Of sorts. The word "institution" has come to have negative connotations when applied to church. Just know that when I use it, I'm speaking of the biblically ordained structure of a shepherd and his flock, a pastor and his people. The place where the Lord's Supper occurs, where true community is meant to be experienced (and where, most likely, it is not). The church family is meant to be the most attractive group of people in the world, and the church is meant to be the safe haven of the children of God. Of course, we're all part of the world-wide church, the group of believers who claim Jesus' blood as their only goodness and right to to be with God. But, in this post, I'm talking about the local church. You know, the one we go to on Sundays.
This is where things get inflammatory, perhaps. I'll try and be careful. Somewhat. I will say that I don't have a lot of patience for the people who leave church after a while because they "aren't being fed." Since when was church a place where everything was about being fed? How selfish have American Christians become, to think that if a sermon doesn't give them a special buzz or a tingle up their spine, there's something wrong with the church or the leadership? A church is all about feeding, yes, but the people of a church are not all meant to just act like little baby birds, squawking and holding their mouths open for more regurgitated worms from their slaving mother bird. Church is not about programs, or money, or how happy we feel after the singing. Church is about meeting Jesus, and seeing Him through the people there. It's about understanding the gospel more clearly through the sermons, the singing, and all the interactions that take place. When a church doesn't incorporate the gospel into everything it does, it is not going to be a healthy church (and yes, there are a few good reasons to leave a church. A few.). When the people of a church look beyond the gospel for their spiritual growth, they will have unhealthy spiritual lives. And they will leave the church. Most of what I'm saying here probably sounds very judgmental and, in the end, hypocritical. I seek my own good more than I seek others'. I do what's in my best interests. I am not an accurate depiction of a member of the body of Jesus, and I do not accurately convey what He is to those who don't know Him. But I want to move closer to that. And I'm convinced and strongly hold to the belief that, unless a church's people commit to staying in it for the long haul and process of becoming the true community of Jesus, people will not be fed in the way they need to. So, yes. Leave if you want to, but know that your leaving is part of the problem in why you weren't being fed in the first place. It takes commitment for a church to be healthy. And it takes the right heart attitude to be committed. Let's not be leeches. Let's be part of a beautiful symbiotic relationship that shows the world a group of people who love each other more than we love our own feelings, desires, and needs. When a church is not just a building, but a community of people who all love each other, are invested in each other, open with each other, and all bring something to the table, the power of Jesus' blood is evident in a unique and awesome way. I want to experience that.
I haven't really told you my conviction. But. What God's done in my heart this last year is similar to what happens when a sparrow (no, I'm not equating God with a sparrow. He's a lot more magnificent than that.) builds its nest out of an intertwined combination of grasses, leaves, and whatever other junk it can find: He's taken me, a blade of weak and broken grass, and knit my heart with my church. I will not leave unless my church sends me, and I will be a part of what God is doing in my church. He's also shown me how ridiculous it is for me to want my friends in other churches to come be a part of mine, how hypocritical (for one thing) and how counter-productive it is. A church should grow primarily through new believers, not church hoppers and transplants. My prayer is that He uses me to grow my church through new followers of His cross and His glory.