“It doesn’t matter where they go to church just so they are involved in one.” I have heard this idea expressed many times over the years and usually with good intentions. It is usually made out of an awareness that Christians need to be connected to the House of God. There is something about God’s design of church that is critical to one’s spiritual health as well as involvement in His purposes on earth but will just any church do? Is there something more critical than simply being involved in any church? I think these questions are important and reveal vital issues about church involvement that can often make or break the spiritual life and testimony of Christians.
The famous deaf and blind lecturer and author, Hellen Keller, was once asked if there would be anything worse than not having your sight. She replied in a very profound way, “to have sight but not vision.” I think this is true in a variety of arenas, especially when it comes to following Jesus as He builds His church to impact the earth.
When it comes to vision we all live under the same sky but we do not all see the same horizon. Two people can stand next to each other and look up at the same clouds, one sees a man while the other sees a horse. This can also be true when Christians consider the whole idea of God’s design for His house.
Vision can be defined as a a compelling picture of a preferable future that we labor to see become a reality. Vision affects how we labor. Paul said that he was not “disobedient to the heavenly vision” Acts 26:19. He labored in spreading the gospel and building local churches that would continue God’s work in the earth. His labor was based on the vision Jesus showed Him.
Culture church versus God’s Design
Much of what has come to be known as “church” in our culture has not been totally influenced by God’s vision. Our understanding and expression of church is often based more on religious customs handed down to us than what Jesus intends. It can also be more influenced by our self serving desires than God’s design.
Many times as I have attempted to explain to Christians the glorious design Christ has for His church and they look at me bewildered. It is often a look of “why are you so passionate about these things, you are being a little obsessive about church aren’t you? What’s wrong with how were doing it now. It doesn’t really matter what kind of church we are involved in, just so we are involved somewhere.” This can sound like wisdom but can be spiritually dangerous.
Danger in the Duck Pond
Much of the “actual church life” lived in most of our churches bears very little resemblance to the Spirit-filled, relational life Jesus prayed for in John 17 (in spite of their good teaching, good worship, and good programs). A bigger problem is that there is often little desire in Christians for anything more. We can be seduced by wrong mentalities or comforted in wrong patterns that are easier and require less commitment. This can be deadly.
One of my friends did a lot of duck hunting growing up. Some church environments we settle for are much like the environments my friend used to create while duck hunting. Duck hunters hide by a pond in which they put out decoys in the water. Decoys in the water have enough resemblance of real duck life that they attract real ducks that are migrating to come and settle among them.
To even make it more effective someone invented motorized duck decoys. My friend once heard from another hunter that he needed to get a “mojo.” “What’s a mojo?” Its a decoy on a stick with motorized wings that turn. It gives the appearance of ducks flying off the water which is even more attractive to the real ducks.
The first time he used them the mojo was an amazing success. A whole flock of ducks were coming out of formation towards to the pond right next to my friend. He was standing next to the mojo and the ducks were so caught up with the appearance of life that they didn’t even notice him standing there, with a gun! They were so close to him that he killed two ducks with one shot and one of them was so blown to pieces that it couldn’t be eaten.
The real ducks often don’t even realize that there is a great danger of death in that sort of environment. It has the resemblance of real duck life and ducks that settle are not really getting real duck life, and they face a great potential of dying.
I think the same is true in local churches. There is an enemy that is always trying to destroy us 1 Peter 5:8. He loves seeing God’s people in environments that are not living so he can destroy or neutralize them. It can look like a church but dead is dead. We can have the best technology, nicest buildings, well dressed people, and even have “contemporary music and messages” (like the mojo that has motorized arms), but if the life of God isn’t there and people aren’t alive in Jesus, it is dead and dangerous. “Good enough” church will never do.
Because we serve Jesus, who is constantly building His church, He never leaves “good enough” alone. Just like we see in the first three chapters of Revelation. Jesus speaks to seven local churches in Asia Minor. He expresses anything but “it’s good enough.” He speaks to each local church, commending the good, but also correcting the bad. To some He even threatens to remove their candlestick (the essence of what makes a church a church). This doesn’t sound like a “good enough” attitude.
Vital Marks of a Living Church
There is one vital mark that delineates a dead “duck pond” and a church that is connected to Jesus. Is there evidence that Jesus is at work among them and they are responding to Him? Are they seeking to conform more and more to His life and pattern? Are they responding to what the writer of Hebrews says He is doing? Heb 13:20-21 NASB Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, 21 equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. While there are no perfect churches these are marks of authenticity that constitutes the real. If the desire to please Jesus, follow Him, respond to Him, passion for Him, and His living presence is in the atmosphere it is probably a good place to grow as God’s family and participate together in His mission on earth.
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