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Thoughts on the Church (an Essay) Part II

April 20, 2010

SERMON ON THE MOUNT AS CHURCH MODEL

Up to this point, I have not offered a critique of the “seeker-friendly” model, and so I hope to integrate that critique into what I hope is a healthier, and biblically more faithful model of doing and being [the] church. Let me say, up front, that I find the approach to reach outside of the church to unchurched people to be a laudable attempt to be faithful to the Great Commission. However, I feel that this model has undermined the very purpose for the physical manifestation of the church to exist: to be a place where believers may be discipled to follow Christ, be transformed, and thus become the body of Christ in the world. So my question would be, could we envision a church that emphasizes whole-hearted discipleship, but in such a way that does not alienate, and in fact, creates a safe place for “seekers” to investigate the message. I think we can.

In Matthew 5, Jesus begins his most famous sermon, and perhaps the central teachings of the kingdom that he claimed “is at hand” (Matt. 4:17; NASB). What is interesting to note is how he did so. In verses 1-2, Matthew writes: “When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. Then He began to teach them”. Jesus teaches his disciples the ways of the kingdom in the presence of “the crowds.” In other words, the crowds were invited to listen in on what Jesus—and his kingdom—where all about, but the focus of Christ’s teachings was on preparing his followers to embody the fullness of God’s kingdom (i.e. “You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”; Matt 5:48). The crowds were provided the safe opportunity to explore Jesus Christ.

Following this, the church is to become the people (and the place!) who are devoted to learning, living, and expressing the “kingdom of God.” In fact, I would say that the theology of the kingdom of God is of primary importance for the future of the church. However, in being this, the church should also be the people (and the place!) where “the crowds” are welcome, loved, and embraced, to explore what it is to be a follower of Christ and a participant in the kingdom. Like the “seeker” church, this future church should be a safe haven (i.e. non-judgmental) for seekers to explore; however, unlike the seeker church, the future church’s primary role will be encouraging one another to grow “into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” With that said, here are some possible characteristics of such a church:

  1. Salvation will be emphasized not as a one time event of “believing” but a life long process of transformation. The past, present, and future aspects of being “saved” will be emphasized equally.
  2. This church will reclaim the “art” of devotion. It will abandon the simplistic methodology of “read your bible, say your prayers, tithe, etc.” in favor of an experimental devotion that emphasizes the disciplines that have been prominent in prior ages of the church. The physical place (Sunday morning) will make room for these to be practiced corporately rather than simply being a place where weekly sermons are heard.
  3. Marketing and other business-model approaches will be abandoned in favor of building a community of love that is dedicated to service. The future church will learn from the correction of the “seeker” model, and realize that it cannot be a people (or place!) that is inaccessible to outsiders. However, the focus will not be to effectively market the church to outsiders. This creates a sense that the church’s agenda is growth. The future church will abandon such an agenda.
  4. Because the kingdom of God will be at the center of its theology, the church will seek embody the particular elements of the kingdom. This would include social justice for the oppressed and the poor. In fact, this will become one of the main characteristics of the church. However, it will take seriously the teaching of Jesus to do these things discreetly. It will undesrtand that the kingdom works best when it spreads inconspicuously and with little attention. Thus, the goal of all its kingdom work, is not to have the church to grow, but that God’s loving reign would spread throughout the earth.
  5. The future church will be unrelenting in overcoming racial and ethnic divisions. There will be no “target” group, but all people will be welcome and encouraged to be transformed together. Diversity and racial healing will be intentional for the church.

This is by no means exhaustive, but these are certainly some central characteristics of this model. It would seek to emulate the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount—after all, these teachings effectively summarize what a life transformed by Christ should look like. It would also take Jesus’s approach of teaching the disciples in the presence of “the crowds.” All are welcome to hear the message of God’s coming kingdom, but without compromising the identity of “the people of God.”

I would love to hear your thoughts on characteristics that the “future” church should have. How can we be more faithful to Jesus Christ, as the church?

Blessings.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. Brad permalink
    April 20, 2010 9:27

    Great essay man. I find myself agreeing with much of what you say. Maybe one day you will have the opportunity to flesh this out 🙂

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      April 22, 2010 10:57

      Brad,

      Thanks man. Obviously I will want to flesh this out with a couple of other friends. 🙂

  2. April 20, 2010 10:25

    Nice! I nod when I read and agree, which means I was nodding for most of this article. Haha. I want to see this in person and working. I think it could be beautiful.

  3. Sam permalink
    April 20, 2010 2:50

    Excellent! Excellent! Excellent!! Thanks for the leadership article the other day as well. Great thoughts – something to ponder over the weeknd perhaps…

  4. April 20, 2010 6:46

    I want to hear more of your thoughts about Point #2 – what would this look like? Also, I’ll bet that most churches will claim this is already the model they follow, when likely they don’t. Good stuff Jonathan

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      April 22, 2010 11:08

      Barbara (Hunter’s mom) 🙂

      I’m glad your reading! It’ means a lot. As to point number 2, I think maybe I will try to do another entry and flesh that idea out a little bit. I can say, it would involve bringing back a modified liturgy (such as you might find in Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican type services) where time is given to meditation and corporate prayer. This would need to be balanced with modern aspects of worship and community. I guess I would want to fuse ancient and modern forms of worship somehow. Still working on that. 🙂

      As to your comment about churches,I think churches would say that they are open to “unchuched” people, and so follow this model. However, I don’t see many churches being intentionalabout using this model. In other words, could we design a service with these two ends in mind: transformation and discipleship as the mainstay of our service (not watering Christianity down) but in such a way that we create an atmosphere of safety and love for the person “checking it out”? That’s what I hope we can do.

  5. April 20, 2010 7:16

    I like your thought of comparing church to the Sermon on the Mount, it’s a different approach for me to think this way, and as you said at the end, that church is a place where all can come and hear if they so choose. Also something to think about, Church should be a place where we bring our worship to God- so sort of what you’ve mentioned in your number two point. However, making our focus on GOD, and not thinking about what we will gain from the experience is a vital piece of church that quite honestly is missing in many local churches.

    Great to read your thoughts on this Groover.

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      April 22, 2010 11:00

      Thanks for your thoughts Meridith. You’re right, we do need a healthy balance in our worship. I love how God wants to “inhabit” our praises and give us His presence simply because He is so good. However, sometimes “feeling good” is the only motivation for people’s worship. That plays into the consumeristic attitude of many Western Christians.

  6. April 21, 2010 7:17

    Thought provoking stuff. The sermon on the mount reveals one aspect of Jesus’ teaching model. Two other aspects are the twelve disciples and the inner group. There was corporate gathering and small groups that met in people’s houses. All of these elements must be in place if the future church (the body of Christ) is to model Jesus’ example. This is not to say that all (local) churches must adhere to a particular pattern. The pattern of the organism (local church) will be determined by growth and submission to the will of God by the leaders. In my opinion, submission and discernment are the two essential elements that need to be in place. If these are present, service will surely follow. God is still in control and I once heard that He never did the same thing the same way twice. We can not put God (or the church) in a box.

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      April 22, 2010 11:02

      Jimmy, thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment! 🙂 You’re right, the great thing about church is that there can be diversity–even in how we do it. But again, I think we must always ask this question: “What’s the end goal of our church?” If we let that question guide us, I think we’ll be in good shape.

  7. Sam permalink
    April 21, 2010 9:27

    Thought about this blog when I read this:

    http://www.becausepeoplematter.com/marks_weblog/2010/04/vision-beyond-human-activity.html

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      April 22, 2010 11:03

      Thanks for this article Sam! I love these thoughts on vision. With “vision” being so important in church growth seminars, it’s important to ask: whose vision or what vision are we following? Loved it.

  8. Jamie permalink
    May 10, 2010 4:31

    Just getting around to reading this. Really good stuff. I’m really considering the practical way of implementing this. As worshipers, what does this mean to how we choose set lists and use musicians? As preachers how do we apply this model to our sermons – in both delivery style and topic choices? I guess each and every “best practice” our churches utilize should be on the table while we run them back through the scriptural model and see if they fit.

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