What a Weird Church – Relationally

What a Weird Church!

The Church Being Salt & Light in Relationships

Have you ever heard the name Philip Spener? He was a German believer who lived about 150 years after Martin Luther. Not all of Luther’s followers loved him, as Spener taught that the Church would be strengthened and renewed by developing church members who knew the Word and served in the church. In 1675, Spener argued that small groups were present in the Early Church and that the Reformation-era churches should bring them back. He wanted to see believers in close relationship to one another–reading the Word, serving in the church, living out their faith in the world, and treating other believers with humility and love.

Spener is credited as the Father of Pietism, though he wasn’t a legalist, a quietest or a separatist. He simply believed that churches should be filled with people who love one another and serve one another. And back in 1675, this was craziness. Orthodox Lutheran theologians went berserk, with one university staff charging him with 264 errors. But that daring idea of Spener’s caught hold.

As spiritual awakenings occurred over the next two centuries, God used small groups of believers gathering for personal study and growth to fan the flame of revival. Wesley, Zinzendorf and many others trained believers to minister to one another. They were not book clubs or discussion groups, but places for people to work seriously together to apply the Bible to their life. That was the norm for a time, but the priority of relationships has been lost. Most churches and people today seem focused on the Sunday morning show.

We live in a world that elevates the individual. We follow them, we read about them, we love them, we blame them. It’s not Russia, it’s Putin. It’s not the State, but Newsom. We live privately. We love doors. We put fences around our yards. We have garage doors and gates to keep others away. Yard services keep us from seeing our neighbors out front.

If you need groceries, you can have them delivered. Target now lets you stay in the car. And if we ever risk being near someone, we have headphones to plug into. That is America today. There are cultures where family relationships are valued. There are cultures where the village or tribe is the priority. But this is America! We live and breathe individualism and exceptionalism. That is our nation. That is our valley. That is what we breathe each day.

And so, to talk about relationships is to talk about something familiar and something lost all at the same time. Rather sadly, few churches remember what Philip Spener pushed for. Many churches forget about the priority of relationships. They measure God’s favor by the number of people attending, rather than the spiritual maturity and relational strength of its membership. Sunday is a performance piece, dedicated to God, and serving an audience. That is so much the norm that when people encounter a church with healthy relationships and connected people, it stands out. It is a weird church.

And that is the series we’re in right now–What a weird church! Being salt and light to a dying world means that we will look weird to them. A few weeks ago, I was talking to someone who had spent many years in big churches. For more than a decade, they had lived in various megachurches. And as we talked, I kept trying to convince them that FBC is different. It’s not a high stress place. It’s a place where you can be known. It’s often described as a loving place. Our people are different. He couldn’t picture it–zero comprehension.

As we talk about relationships today, I want you to know that I think we do pretty well at this. We have our faults and failings, but we try hard to love others with truth. We want that to be our identity as a church. Every church has a personality. Some are known for their legalism. Some are known for what they’re against. Some are known for their programs. When I say Saddleback Church, something comes to your mind. If I said Calvary Chapel, there is some personality or idea that is in your head. When people think Faith Bible Church, I want loving people to be what comes to mind. Humble, grace-filled, Word-saturated, Spirit-dependent believers–this is the kind of church that God is calling us to be.

To those unfamiliar with God’s commands, they may actually say, “What a weird church!” And some Christians may say that as well. I don’t get to visit many churches, but I’m told a church family that loves people is rare. I think we’re doing well and have room for growth. What I do know is that strong relationships are something we’re called to as believers. There are 59 one-another commands in the Bible. A third of them exhort us to “love one another”–John 13:34 (twice) and 35, 15:12 and 17, Romans 12:10, 13:8, Galatians 5:13, Ephesians 4:32, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:9, Hebrews 10:24, 1 Peter 3:8, 4:8, 1 John 3:11 and 23, 4:7, 11, 12 and 2 John 5. That increases to 50% if you include the phrase “greet one another with a holy kiss.”

Today, as we talk about what it means to live as salt and light to the world around us, we’re going to look at what that means for our relationships. A commitment to “one another” is the very opposite of our world today. But it is a foundational truth of the Bible. The first commitment we make to one another is saying, “I need you.” As a Christian, you are going to stand apart simply by believing that.

1.  You need others–life on your own is deadly

This truth was first spoken at the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:18, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” Adam needed a helpmate–animals weren’t enough. Adam needed Eve. Not a functional need–he didn’t need her like you need a plumber. It was a personal need. He needed a personal connection and relationship, with loves, values, hurts, convictions, and spiritual depth.

You might think that you know someone so strong that they don’t need anyone. I would argue that there has never been a person stronger than Adam. Before the fall, he would’ve been perfect–physically without flaw. Emotionally without a scar. Mental capacities were unblemished. Strong beyond words. And without sin, he was deeply in need of someone else.

We need others in our life. We are created for relationship. When sin came, Adam realized his greater need for another. His sin had separated him from God and damaged his relationship to Eve. Sin broke every relationship. There was never anyone who experienced more pain from sin than Adam. And though hiding and unsure what to do, God reached out to him and sacrificed animals to clothe him. He told Adam and Eve of a day when the serpent’s head would be crushed. And they responded by putting their hope into the future promise of a Savior who would be Jesus Christ–who reconciled them to God.

It’s because of Jesus that we can have healthy relationships that aren’t riddled with sin. A healthy relationship is at the core of our Triune God. We believe the Father, Son and Spirit exist in three persons with one nature. We understand them by means of their relationship to one another.

Part of being made in God’s image means that we need others. It’s baked into every single person. It was manifest even in Jesus Christ. Jesus, the perfect man, didn’t go through life alone. He had a community around Him. He invested into them. They did life together. They laughed, talked, served and traveled together. In His darkest hours, Jesus was not alone. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He goes to pray and takes along three men.

So here’s what you have to get. The Christian life is not a solo life. The Christian life is one lived in community. That must be true at Faith Bible Church. My great fear of moving into the Performing Arts room is that some of you would begin to equate church with theatre and movies. I don’t love the benches in the gym or the seats in the stadium or the plastic chairs at Bella Vista. But the danger of these theater seats and long rows is that you feel increasingly comfortable just sitting there.

Earlier in life, if you went to a youth group at church, you may have felt connected and part of a community. Maybe you were in a college ministry where you felt this same way. Most of the time after college, you move to a new area, you get a job, maybe you’re married, you have kids now. And what happens on Sunday is that you are tired, your schedule feels full. You feel like you’re doing good to make it to church close to on time. You work hard during the week and you don’t have time for much more. You forget that God designed the Church to be a community. And these chairs aren’t helping us. We need others.

In the last few years, scientific research has shown that your health is better and you live longer when you have strong relationships with other people. The impact is equivalent to quitting smoking. Studies have shown that the absence of strong relationships is like smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. You need others in your life. It’s physically good for you and spiritually vital.

At our church, midweek Community Groups were begun to provide a place for connection, relationship and community. If you’re feeling disconnected, isolated and alone, I would bet that you are not connected to others, whether by community groups, or in ministry. Almost every week during announcements, we talk about how to get plugged into ministry and how to find out about community groups. We say this over and over, because the Bible says we need others in life. They are to experience our love, and we are to experience theirs.

We don’t just need people who affirm us and encourage us. We need friends of all sorts. People different than us. People from different generations, socioeconomics, ethnicities, and education levels. Chris often says, “FBC is filled with people I’d want to vacation with.” And I totally agree with that. But have you ever actually vacationed with another family? It’s great the first day. But by day four, the little differences can start to bother you. They eat the last bagel. They leave water around the sink. Their kids aren’t as cute anymore.

Ephesians 4:1 to 3, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Faith Bible Church must be a place that models safe relationships. We don’t need safe zones where people are afraid to offend. We want to be a place where hard things can be said. We want to be a place where you even say wrong things–but grace, kindness and patience are extended. You will get offended and hurt by people. People say things without thinking. They ask questions that are hurtful. Their words come across as judgey. They speak with ignorance about your life.

Remember, Ephesians 4:3 says, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, show tolerance for one another in love.” Strong relationships are forged by overlooking the little things and transparently, humbly talking about great things. And Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” We have people starving for relationships and friendships. We have people who are scared of relationships and opening up. We need others.

What God is calling you towards today is to step forward in faith. You may need to open up to someone about your struggles. You’ve been hiding and you need to be known. Maybe you need to invite someone out to lunch and get to know them. You’ve been waiting for someone to reach out to you. God is calling you today to step forward and take the initiative. You need others in your life.

A Christian who attends church and drives off each week without connection to the church family is out of line with God’s Word. Maybe you feel like your family is your relationship, or you’ve already got friends? That is not enough. All those one-another passages are describing life in the church. You need people here who know you. Take steps to get relationally connected today. The first commitment we make to one another is saying, “I need you.” As a Christian, you stand apart simply by believing that.

2.  You’re called to serve others–living for yourself is toxic

If I google “keys to success in life”, I find instruction about self-discipline, persistence, influence, goal setting, networking, embracing failure. The Bible says something different in Philippians 2:4, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” As Christians, we are called to serve others. We imitate Jesus, who came to serve.

Matthew 20:26 to 28, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” The call to serve others is a call to look like Jesus. A call to live for others is not radical–it’s simply what it means to follow Jesus.

We should be serving others each day, rather than pursuing our self-interests. Almost every decision you make is a decision about serving others. Do you eat healthy to stay fit or to live longer for your kids and grandkids? Do you drive to get there fast, or with concern to keep the people in your car safe? Do you use your phone to entertain yourself or to help others? Do you care for your yard and home out of love for others, to make it hospitable, or so that people think well of you? Almost every decision you make can be selfish or done to serve others.

In every sphere of your life, you are called to serve others. In marriage…Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3 and 1 Corinthians 7–marriage is servant ministry. Your concern should be about how to serve and please your spouse. In parenting…Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6–parenting is a call to serve others. You lead your kids to know and love the Lord. At work…Colossians 3, 1 Timothy 6 and Titus 2–a good employee and a good boss are both defined as those who serve others.

If Nigel could snap his fingers Thanos-style, and have every person receiving counseling begin to live entirely for others rather than themselves–we would need to find a new ministry role for Nigel in the church. As a Christian, you are called to serve others. This is true in marriage. This is true in your family. This is true in the workplace. And this is true in church.

First Peter 4:10, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Christians are called to serve others. We are given spiritual gifts, which 1 Corinthians 12:7 says is “for the good of others.” Those gifts are then to be used to serve other Christians at church.

Do you know why we have multiple worship services at our church? Why did we launch two services back in 2006? Multiple church services enable people to minister without missing church. You can serve during one service and attend worship during a service. And it is so good to see people who serve in-between services–hanging out on the patio, talking and laughing together, while they wait for the next service to let out. The patio can feel like a great big party sometimes. If you are not plugged in and serving somewhere and you just come to church then drive home, you are missing out more than you know.

We are called to serve others. Membership in our church requires service in ministry somewhere. Ephesians 4:16 says that the church is healthiest when every single minister is using their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the rest. As a church, we will be healthier, happier and stronger if every single one of you finds a place to plug in and use your spiritual gifts for the good of the church.

If you don’t know how you’re gifted, just volunteer for something. If people tell you to stop, then it’s probably not your gift. Seriously, the way you figure out your spiritual gifts is by affirmation from the church. You have to serve somewhere to figure it out. If you don’t know how to serve, go to faith-bible.net/serve. Fill out the form and someone will contact you. There are ministries galore for you to consider. And if you have a heart for something we’re not doing as a church, then talk to me or another elder. Almost every ministry in our church was begun because of someone with passion for that area of ministry–everything from orphanages to hospitals trace their origin to Christians who understood God’s call to serve and help others.

Living for yourself is toxic—it is like injecting poison into your relationships. You need others in your life. You’re called to serve others. Those are the first two commitments we must make to one another as Christians. They are foundational truths of the Bible. The last relational commitment we make to one another is saying . . .

3.  Your gender matters–taking another role is exhausting

Right now, gender is everywhere in the news. We have trans and intersex athletes competing against female athletes. We have school curriculums that increasingly push gender identity. Newsom recently signed a law that large retail stores must provide a gender neutral toy section by 2024. Gender is in the news and our doctrinal statement is very clear.

Under the section about man’s creation, it says God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God (Genesis 1:26 to 27). “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

First Corinthians 11:3, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” Starting with the Trinity, we see that persons can have different, distinct and unique roles while being equal in worth. And in relationships, it is important to remember that gender matters. In the home and at church, God has designed men and women with different purposes and priorities.

When you look around our church, you will see that gender matters in certain contexts. Who can drive the ice cream truck? Any man or woman (as long as you have a license). Who can work at the book rack? Both men and women. Who can lead the high school junior girl’s small groups? Women, not men. In counseling, we pair women with women for counseling, because (a) that is what Titus 2 commands, and (b) they’re just better than men at reading the situation, context and nonverbal cues of other women. Likewise, we pair men with men for discipleship, because (a) that is what 2 Timothy 2 commands, and (b) they can show what it means to obey God in the unique roles that God has called them to. Whether its counseling, discipleship, shepherding or leadership, we strive to put men with men and women with women.  We recognize that gender matters in shepherding.

You will not hear of Nigel meeting to counsel a woman alone. You will not hear of Tracy Farrell counseling a college guy. You will not hear of Patrick meeting alone with a female musician. Inappropriate relationships are the number one cause of failure in ministry. But that’s not the main reason we don’t do it. The main reason that men meet with men and women with women is that God has commanded for discipleship and personal investment to be man to man and woman to woman. Your gender matters and we want to follow God’s design. God has made men and women equal before Him, and different in their roles.

Men have a responsibility to provide, according to 1 Timothy 5. Women have a responsibility to care for and maintain the home, according to Titus 2. Men are responsible for the discipline and instruction of their kids. Women are called to love their husbands, because we can be tough to love. Your gender is a determiner of the priorities God has called you to in life. And in our age, when you live these out, people think that is weird. Today, a woman who lives out God’s design and priorities for her as a woman is going to experience ridicule, antagonism and opposition. A man who lives out God’s design and priorities for him as a man is going to experience the same thing, though maybe less. As a church, we want people to see that gender matters when they visit.

We work to train men with the Bible. We call them to lead in their homes, and provide opportunities for them to lead in the church. And God has made wonderful, amazingly gifted women to bless and strengthen His church. I look around the room and see some amazing women here today. You’re going to hear us talk more about men though, because of how our culture is working to neuter men, and because many men tend to sit back you will hear us prioritize men.

Though the Bible doesn’t prohibit a female usher, we put men into that role because we want God’s design for men as leaders to be highly visible to every person who’s new to our church. When your kids hit middle school, most ministries are led by men because we want them to see God’s design in action, with men leading in the church. We believe the Bible’s teaching on gender matters. And we want to follow God’s design. And I know that me saying men and women are differently designed by God, risks offending people. It feels weird because it is different than what the world says. When you live out God’s design and purpose for you as a man or woman, you are going to draw eyes. People will notice.

I know there’s a chance that you’re sitting here listening and thinking about your life, and you already know changes that should take place. Can I encourage you to remember point #1? You need others in your life. Find two people to talk with today. Talk to your spouse about what you’re thinking–get their buy-in. Talk to an older, godly Christian about how you’re convicted. Get their counsel on how to move forward. If you’re unsure of what it means to live out God’s design in your situation, find an older godly Christian and ask them for counsel.

Singles, families, empty-nesters, and widows who live out God’s design for their gender roles will have a massive platform for ministry as our world sinks deeper into its madness. In our world today, there is one holiday that stands above the rest for community. Can you guess what it is? Halloween. Every Halloween, neighbors gather together in their front yards. They greet others, they laugh, they talk, they wander the streets together for a few hours. Certain parts of our own town are like Disney Main Street with the crowds.

My prayer is that this same level of community, affection and engagement is visible whenever and wherever our church gathers together. As a church, we should be able to outshine Halloween. And as I said at the beginning, I believe we’re doing pretty well. I would say that we are as loving to others as we’ve ever been. But we can excel still more. We can grow. You can grow.

You need others in your life, for the church is absolutely integral to health in your life, your marriage and your family. You’re called to serve others with your life, for God built and crafted you for that very purpose. And your gender matters, for it was given by God to help make you into the person He wants you to be for His glory. When people think, Faith Bible Church, I want loving people to be what comes to mind–humble, grace-filled, Word-saturated, Spirit-dependent believers. This is the kind of church that God is calling us to be.

About John Pleasnick

John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church

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