The Church Can Change The World...Or at Least My World (Part 1)

I have a complicated relationship with the church. 

I've attended a church as long as I can remember (my dad was a pastor), but because of two significant events, I don't always trust church. First, my dad passed away when I was twelve years old. It was very difficult for me to process at that age (or any age really) how a pastor, a "man of God", would die at such a young age.

Secondly, about eight years after my dad passed away the church shut its doors. One of the older members of the congregation accused the elders and pastor of stealing from the church. He didn't seem to have any proof, but still took his "story" to the local newspaper. It indeed became a story in northern Illinois. This old crotchety man, essentially brought a 35 year-old church to its knees because of something ridiculous like he wasn't allowed to pitch on the church softball team (I don't know his real motivation, but it does seem church softball usually plays a role in church splits).

Fast forward another eight years and I am heavily involved with a church plant that meets about 20 or so miles north of Boston.  Our church "lineage" is kind of confusing. I will try to explain it in a way that makes sense.

Church in Waco, TX plants church in Boston. Church in Boston plants church in Beverly, MA. We are that church in Beverly, MA.

This church in Texas has launched something like 200 churches (either directly from the Waco church or from one of their sister churches).

The pastor of this entire "movement" is a man named Jimmy Seibert.

A few years back Jimmy wrote a book called The Church Can Change the World. 

The book tracks not only Jimmy's own spiritual journey, but also the journey of the church he came to pastor (Antioch Community Church) and many of the subsequent church plants that came from this church. It is truly a remarkable story. In the introduction of the book Jimmy describes a conversation he had with a pastor that visited Antioch. When Jimmy finished giving the pastor a tour of their facilities he says, "It's nothing fancy; we are fairly simple people. In fact, we have chosen to spend our time and energy on just a few things: we seek to love Jesus with all of our hearts...we intentionally invest in others lives...and we are committed to reaching the lost."

I have to admit. That's pretty good. Jimmy even wrote another book expanding his thoughts on this topic more.

I should add, I think very highly of Jimmy. In fact, people that I think extremely highly of, think the world of Jimmy. People I trust, trust Jimmy, etc.  What I'm about to say is not a critique of Jimmy, Antioch or my current church.

I read The Church Can Change the World and enjoyed it for the most part (if you've spent any time with Jimmy, it kind of reads like your having a conversation with him). But after reading it, I thought a lot about that title.

Can the church really change the world?

I think it's a complicated answer.

A few Sundays ago, while sitting in church, I realized something relatively profound. I am an incredibly prideful and self-centered individual.

As I sat there, I found myself growing increasingly jealous of the individuals on stage that day. I was jealous of the band (which I play in pretty regularly, but was not playing that Sunday), I was jealous of the college pastor as he went through a few prayer points (he happens to be a former roommate of mine) and I was jealous of the lead pastor as he preached.

Then it clicked.

I enjoy playing music. I enjoy speaking in front of people. I enjoy teaching.

I wasn't enjoying the service because I wasn't the one on the stage. Because I wasn't the one that the congregation was paying attention to.

So yeah, I believe the church can change the world, but I fear (at least in my own life) that the problem is we are looking for the church to change our world. I realized that I wanted the church to become my outlet for the things I enjoy. I like playing guitar, then I should be on the worship team, etc.

Perhaps some clarification is needed. I'm not saying that there is something inherently flawed with the church impacting individuals in a profound way. In fact, a church like the one that Jimmy describes in his book should change people's lives. The danger is when we put our hope in the church, not in the gospel that Jesus preached. Theologian Scot McKnight argues in his book "The King Jesus Gospel" that perhaps a key reason that Christians have walked away from the church is because our gospel message is really a message about personal salvation not Jesus establishing His kingdom. In a sense, the message we are preaching is incomplete.

According to Scot, we have twisted the salvation message into one that works out best for us in the end, instead of a complete redemption of humanity. I think we've done the same thing with church. We use church as our own personal place of fulfillment. In doing so we lose perspective on the larger work, God's work, that is being done.

I realize this isn't a terrible new thought. Actually, it's kind of startling that this is finally occurring to me now.

I think God does use the church to change the world, but often times not in a way that we would expect.  I never finished the story about the church my dad pastored...
 Go to part 2 of "The Church Can Change the World..." to finish reading the story.


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