I once heard a young Bible college staff member talk about his dream church. He grew up Baptist where no one raised their hands during worship. He then attended a Presbyterian church where many of the high church traditions were adhered to. He spoke about his “dream church service” in which the Book of Common Prayer is read, an organ is played, the Eucharist is observed, and a sermon in which Augustine, Spurgeon, and N.T Wright are quoted.
In spite of his inner dream church, he ended up in his current non-denominational Charismatic church in which many of his personal religious tastes were challenged by Biblical ideas and practices (speaking in tongues, praying out loud, participatory worship including the lifting of hands, etc.). He described his experience of the past 3 years in his current church as “full of discomfort, but also probably the most enriching three years of my life” in terms of spiritual maturity.
If you want to grow don’t seek personal preferences but Biblical preferences.
I have heard other Christians describe their dream church as being big enough to be filled with special programs for all ages from babies to senior citizens. Their dream church would offer special groups for everything from having a positive self-image, divorce recovery, financial training, to high energy children’s and youth ministry. The services would be as anonymous as you want, and attendance can be as sporadic as you want, and no one will ever question it. When you choose to attend, services will always be upbeat with great music and upbeat messages that remind us how much “God is for me.”
One family I know spoke glowingly about their new church, “they take our kids at the door, given “em” an arm bracelet, and we do not have to do anything to take care of them until after services are over.” There is a variety of entertaining ministry that fits their children’s age groups and they don’t have to worry about being responsible for them if they get bored or cause any disruption in the service. We can sit in the adult service totally free of responsibilities and distractions.
The apostle Paul never gives the easy option like “choose a church that is more in line with your preferences.” If you choose a church with “your best life now” mentality, it is disingenuous and will not produce transformation and maturity. Maturity is always tied to discomfort and challenge.
Another set of friends had a different take on a similar experience. “We tried to bring our daughter into the service but ushers and attendants repeatedly asked us to put her into the special children’s programs. They almost made us feel ashamed to take her into the worship service because she may disrupt someone.” Not that they had a problem with “Children’s ministry” because they put their child there at their home church, but they also knew that the Bible doesn’t show an age-segmented church in the New Testament. The New Testament picture of church is all generations serving God together, one generation influencing the other.
Comfortable or Uncomfortable Church
If we think about Christianity and church in terms of our dream experience or our personal preference it is not only an exercise in futility, but it can be an outright denial of Biblical Christianity. Church should be an experience that helps us grow and mature not cater to our personal wants and desires (Eph 4:11-16, Col 1:18, 2:17-19).
If we look at the examples of how Jesus called people to follow Him while on earth (25 times in the Gospels) as well as the descriptions of the church in book of Acts, and the letters to the churches, we see something vastly different than a dream church mentality. In reading the Bible we quickly discover that God and His church don’t exist to meet our every need and satisfy our various checklists of personal tastes and “comfort zone” preferences. As a matter of fact, the church exists to often destabilize these things.
When measuring personal preference and the Bible’s perspective on “self,” they always take a back seat to His kingdom. Church isn’t designed to make us comfortable but to facilitate maturity. The church should be a place that challenges the religious stupor of our culture of comfort-worship.
Call to maturity
Biblical Traits of Maturity: Biblical love (1 Cor 13:1-13), the mind of Christ (1 Cor 13:1-13), and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24). “Patience, kindness, joy, peace, humility, doesn’t brag, isn’t arrogant, is not self-seeking or swept up in self-interest, is not easily provoked, bears with people, endures things, full of hope, doesn’t take into account wrongs, serves, has self-control.”
When we speak of maturity, comfort and personal preference can be some of the biggest obstacles to growing up. Whether it be natural family life or Spiritual family life, maturity is usually tied to discomfort. Few parents I have ever known felt completely ready for children. The discomfort of children caused them to mature as parents.
Parenting isn’t about being perfect. It’s about God perfecting you through the responsibilities associated with raising children. This is kind of what sanctification is like. Having children (which is one of God’s greatest blessings) brings you face to face with how selfish you can be and how selfless you need to become. You end up learning God’s nature of giving yourself away for the sake of another. This is what Jesus did, and over and over in the gospel He calls everyone to “lay your life down for my sake so you will find real life.”
Discipline for Progress
Think about changing your routines to become healthier, which we often do as a New Year approaches? While workout facilities seek to draw people with friendly employees, state of the art equipment, and friendly attractive personal trainers, health isn’t tied to comfort but discomfort. You still have to lift the weights and do cardiovascular exercises. It takes discipline and overcoming discomfort to become physically fit. Paul alludes to this example when he speaks of growing towards maturity.
1 Timothy 4:1-16 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…(7) But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; (8) for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come…(10) For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. (11) Prescribe and teach these things…15) Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. (16) Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
The Christian satire site Babylon Bee came up with five meticulously researched and peer-reviewed signs that you should leave your church behind (a sarcastic spin on consumer-driven, comfortable, dream curch mentalities)!
1.) The full-service cafe discontinues your favorite seasonal drink. If winter rolls around and the coffee shop in the foyer decides not to run its usual peppermint mocha promotional, it’s time to start Googling “good churches in my area.” It’s a sure sign that the church has abandoned the faith once delivered to the saints. (This should go without saying, but if your church doesn’t have a full-service coffee shop, its lampstand has been removed long ago).
2.) The church fails to immediately respond to your weekly helpful comment card feedback. When you say “jump,” your church should say “how high?” You pay their salaries after all—meaning they work for you. Pastors that don’t immediately make major changes to the worship experience, their preaching style, the decor of the building, or the genres of music on offer based on the fifteen helpful comment cards you turn in each week are not expressing love for the brethren, which may indicate they’re not saved at all.
3.) Someone expresses concern that you missed the last eighteen services. A church that shows interest in regular church membership is like a creepy ex-girlfriend that can’t let go. Can you say “red flag?” Run, don’t walk, away from this aberrant and apostate congregation.
4.) The men’s retreat features fewer than twenty fully automatic rifles. There’s nothing more disappointing than gearing up for your church’s annual men’s retreat only to discover it’s nothing more than a couple days of Bible teaching, prayer, and fellowship. In fact, Jesus Himself rebuked the church at Laodicea for being lukewarm, which scholars believe indicates their men’s ministry never once went on a week-long hunting expedition in the Yukon. (Women, substitute “fully automatic rifles” with “crafting tables.”)
5.) The pastor faithfully preaches the Bible on a weekly basis. Pastors who keep sticking to the same faithful presentation of the Word of God each week lack imagination, honestly. How can your church be a fun, exciting place with engaging programs and appealing special events if the pastor guy keeps rambling on about sin, repentance, and new life in Christ, while systematically preaching and teaching the Scriptures? Think about it.
Lets avoid comfortable church and seek to mature in Christ.
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