Recovering the beautiful simplicity of church

September 11, 2015 — Leave a comment

Let’s make our faith communities beautiful again using the unsexy, ordinary tools that have always worked: truth, confession, humility and prayer. They are surely not fancy, but they save and heal.

Jen Hatmaker

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The Washington Post features an article by Jen Hatmaker on the terrible cost of a consumer church model for the staff and people of a congregation. She describes a sort of dysfunctional spiral where the people expect results from the pastors/staff and, in turn, the pastors/staff feel like they’re forced to make committed volunteers’ lives busier and busier.

Each group feels resentful; pastors wonder, What more do these people want from us? and the church folks wonder, What more do these pastors want from us? This approach is not making disciples but is creating a lose-lose situation where no one feels they can deliver.

 It sets leaders and followers up for failure, creating a church-centric paradigm in which discipleship is staff-led and program-driven.

The truth is that, ultimately, none of us can deliver.

That’s the message of the gospel–Jesus has done what none of us can do, and he is making happen those things that we cannot make happen.

Only Jesus can ransom us and free us from the penalty of sin and deliver us from the wrath of God. Only Jesus can transform our lives from the inside out so that we are holier people–reflecting him in our character and our actions.

Your pastor can’t do that for you.

If you expect that from your pastor, and he or she buys into that message, then here’s the likely outcome:

Maybe we start here: 90 percent of you [pastors] believe you inadequately manage the demands of your job, and half of you are so discouraged, you would abandon ministry if you had another job option. Any career in which 90 percent of the laborers feel insufficient indicates a fundamental problem. When your nearly unanimous cry is “I cannot do it all,” maybe the answer is simple: You actually cannot do it all and should quit trying. [Emphasis mine]

In my own reflection on ministry, I’ve come to see the beautiful simplicity of the Christian life when viewed through the prism of the classical reformed faith. What I’m talking about is a way of life that places the ordinary means of grace as central to the life of the individual and of the congregation. You can read my post on this topic, here.

What does this look like?

This is a start:

Q: What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?

A: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

The church needs to recover ordinary means ministry. That is, before we start talking about missional practice or the five-fold model of ministry, we need to establish that the foundation of Christian faithfulness is no less than following the pattern established by the apostles—gathering for word, sacrament, and prayer.

Our congregational gathering for common prayer, for the proclamation of Scripture, and for the celebration of the sacraments provides the corporate foundation for our private and family lives of devotion. It also provides the base from which we are sent into the world as part of God’s mission to the world.

The one thing that ties together the great works of God across the centuries is the resurgence of the means of grace as the heart of life in Christ. For the church to stand firm in its new cultural exile, we must once more embrace word, sacrament, and prayer. The reality of the Christian life is that a thousand whispered prayers while hanging laundry on the line is of more value than a handful of celebrity pastor conferences.

Additional resources: Ligon Duncan on the Ordinary Means of Grace [link]

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