Church Life; Building On The Foundation Of Jesus Christ


                                 



By Clay Sterrett

Chapter Three

The Church is an Equipping Center, Not a Sympathy Club

 The local church should be a place of refuge where the hurting and wounded can come, feel accepted, and receive the healing they need.  One of the main ministries of the Holy Spirit is to bring comfort. The Greek idea of comfort, however, goes beyond just mere sympathy or consolation.  It means to encourage, to make strong, and to fortify.  In his study of New Testament words, William Barclay points out that the function of the Holy Spirit is to fill a man with the spirit of power and courage which would make him able to cope triumphantly with life.  He says the Greek word, parakalein, was used for exhorting troops who are about to go into battle. . . it is the word of the rallying-call to urge fearful and timorous and hesitant soldiers into battle . . . to make a very ordinary man cope gallantly with a perilous and dangerous situation.[1] John Miller, in  Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, wrote:

 The local church was intended by Jesus to be a gathering of people full of faith, ­strong in their confidence in Him, not a gathering of religious folk who desperately need reassurance.[2] I have known believers who have spent their entire adult life getting over past hurts.  Such persons have kept their attention too long in the wrong place B themselves!  Indeed, the body of Christ must take time to help the wounded in our midst and yet at the same time maintain the goal of equipping them for a life of discipleship B denying themselves daily and following Christ.

Over the years, I have known people who have left a particular church because they did not feel loved or because they felt that proper attention was not given them.  Sometimes God has used such people to point out deficiencies in our churches.  But while we are called to encourage everyone and especially to help the weak in the faith,[3] we are not called to be spiritual baby-sitters.  When my two sons were little, I would hold their hands when we walked together, especially when crossing dangerous intersections.  When they grew up to be teenagers, I no longer held their hands; they could walk on their own, and I expected them to take responsibility for crossing the street safely.
 

 Not a Place to Continue Our Selfish Pursuit of Life

 The church is a place where God wants to conform us into his image.[4]  It is not a place to continue our selfish pursuit of life.  The church leadership has a primary role: to equip us for service.[5] The church should be like a spiritual boot camp, preparing us for warfare, to endure hardship . . . like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.[6]  Jean Vanier commented: 

Christian communities . . . are not hiding places for the emotions, offering spiritual drugs to stave off the sadness of everyday life. They are not places where people can go to salve their consciences and retreat from reality into a world of dreams.  They are places of resource, which are there to help people grow towards freedom, so that they can love as Jesus loves them.  AThere is no greater love than to give one=s life for one=s friends.[7]

Some people in our churches will tend to focus too much on themselves and their problems.  This is a significant problem in the body of Christ, and it becomes evident when one looks at the best selling Christian books. Most of them have to do with solving personal problems, e.g., fixing marriages, healing hurts, solving financial problems, losing weight, or feeling better about one's self.  It is true that the Lord will save and bring into our assemblies many hurting people who will carry over into their Christian lives the baggage of the past. These folks will need special attention from members who are sound and stronger in the Lord.  Some problems will need long-term care that will require much patience and forbearance from the brethren.  However, people's problems must never dominate a local fellowship.  When Jesus calls a man to follow Him, he calls him to deny himself.[8]  This is a call for every believer; there are no exceptions for wounded people.  The Amplified Bible says here, If any one intends to come after Me let him . . . lose sight of himself and his own interests.

The people of God are not called to be a spiritual problem-solving group, but rather the body of Christ that will encourage people in their relationship with God.  Our primary focus should always be on Christ Himself.  We will not be able to solve everyone's problems, but we can put their hand into the hand of Jesus.  Our greatest command is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.[9]

Some people in conversations will only talk of their problems, their opinions, and their concerns for others. These same folks may then wonder why they have a hard time making friends and experiencing joy in life. Scripture says, A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but only in airing his own opinions.[10]

Whenever a group feels compelled to solve everyone's problems, they fail to be an equipping center, preparing people to live a God-centered, rather than a self-centered life. People must be encouraged to begin to look more outward: Each of you should not only look to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.[11]  Larry Crabb, a respected Christian counselor who has talked with thousands of Christians in need, made this observation:


 

The Christian life cannot develop without a deepening awareness of what we first recognized at the time of our conversion: self-centeredness still runs deep within us.... Self-centeredness convincingly and continually whispers to me that nothing in this universe is more important than my need to be accepted and respectfully treated.  Nothing is more necessary to understand than my neediness, in all its complexity and depth.  If people were really moral, murmurs self, then everyone who crosses my path, whether shop-keeper, pastor, or spouse, would devote their resources to making me whole, happy, and comfortable.[12]
 

People who come into our assemblies weighed down by problems must be encouraged first to seek the Lord, instead of attaching themselves to caring Christians as the source of their hope and security: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.[13] Frequently when I counsel people with personal problems, I will ask, how is your personal time with the Lord?  Are you spending much time in the word and prayer? Almost always, their answer is in the negative.  If people who have serious financial problems would take the first step mentioned above and seek first His kingdom, then things would more likely begin to fall into place.  The truth of the matter, sad to say, is that many people simply will not pray or seek the Lord for His help.  If this is the case, we must still show grace and love them with the boundless love of Jesus.  We must not, however, allow such self-focused people to distract us from God's plans and priorities for the assembly.

 

 

Should We Help Everyone?

 

The early Christians did not try to meet everyone's needs.  When dealing with the practical needs of widows, Paul did not encourage unqualified support for all widows; rather, he suggested several practical stipulations: the widow must be over 60 years of age, faithful to her husband, a doer of good deeds, and without supporting relatives.[14] We will not be able to help all people who come to us, and we should not feel guilty when we do not. I frequently get phone calls from people who are simply going down the list of churches in a phone book asking for money.  I try to be discerning, but rarely help. I do not get distracted by such calls.  Many of these needy people only want a a quick fix; they do not want the larger solutions to their problems. 

People do need flesh-and-blood involvement and reassurance; however, many who come to our churches will become disappointed or disgruntled because they are not coming primarily to seek the Lord Himself and his plan for their lives.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains:

Many people seek fellowship because they are afraid to be alone.  Because they cannot stand loneliness, they are driven to seek the company of other people.  There are Christians, too, who cannot endure being alone, who have had some bad experiences with them­selves, who hope they will gain some help in association with others. They are generally disappointed.  Then they blame the fellowship for what is really their own fault. The Christian community is not a spiritual sanatorium.[15]

 

Christians must always balance compassion with discernment.  Just because we see a need does not mean God is personally calling us to respond. Joseph Stowell, former President of Moody Bible Institute, wrote these words of wisdom to Christian leaders:

 

Some of our parishioners are like bottomless buckets. We pour ourselves into them, feeling like that ought to fill them up and the next time we look into their bucket, it's empty again. I finally realized that some people who have problems have them because they learned a long time ago that when they were in difficulty, someone would pay attention to them and they would feel loved and cared for. The problem was only a means to an end.

 

These individuals can never be helped. They will consume your time, possess your energies, and manipulate you. When you tell them you've finally decided that you can no longer help them and try to send them to another counselor you think can help them, they will usually resist, saying they've been to that counselor before or they've tried people like that before and you're the only one who can help them, and that if you don't help them, no one will ever be able to help them. I've even had people tell me that if I wouldn't help them, they were going to commit suicide, the ultimate manipulative stroke to keep their thirst for attention satisfied at the well of our schedule.[16]

 

We must have a realistic, God-focused attitude toward the unlimited problems some people seem to have.  We will often be called to give sacrificial help of our time and resources.  However,  we must ultimately point people to the Lord and take the attitude of the ancient king who exclaimed,  If the Lord does not help you, from where shall I help you?[17]

 

Attention on the Head
 

If we look at a person's natural body our attention is usually drawn to the head.  That same focus of attention should be true of the spiritual body.  Our main purpose as the body of Christ should be to draw attention to the Lord Jesus Himself. While it is true that a church is a place where personal needs are often met, the complete peace that our souls long for will never be found merely in the fellowship of God's people. True peace can be discovered only in God himself:  Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; My hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.[18]  The church should be focused more on God than ourselves.  A. B. Simpson once stated:  

Whenever the church becomes self-conscious and self-centered, she fails to accomplish her real divine calling.  Her highest glory is to be seen only in the revealing of the Lord.@[19]

Our churches are pervaded with common complaints.  Most of these members' complaints have to do with the lack of attention that is shown them.  Some members will complain because people never visit them or invite them into their homes.  Others will feel ignored and left out of the in group. Some members will become upset because the pastor seldom or never visits their homes.  The root of this problem is a failure to focus on Christ as the Head of the body.  R. J. Rushdoony reproved self-centered thinking:

No one is called to be a passive Christian, to be courted, waited upon, or soothed by the pastor and church.  Passive Christianity is a contradiction in terms. . . . The church is Christ's army.  Its purpose is not to provide breakfast in bed for all members, and a social lift for the unsocial, but a faith for life, preparation for battle against the powers of darkness, and a strategy of life for victory.  The ineffectiveness of the modern church is partially due to this passivity.[20]

 The early Christians were not absorbed in plans and programs to keep everyone happy and interested. These Christians were absorbed with the King, Jesus Christ, and the kingdom that He was establishing in the hearts of men.  May this be true for us as well.

 

CHAPTER THREE NOTES: THE CHURCH IS AN

EQUIPPING CENTER, NOT A SYMPATHY CLUB
 


[1].William Barclay, New Testament Words (SCM Press Ltd., London, England, 1964), pp. 220-221

[2]. John Miller, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church (Zondervan Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1986), p. 20

[3]. Rom. 14:1

[4]. Rom. 8:28-29

[5]. Eph. 4:12

[6]. II Tim. 2:3

[7]. Jean Vanier, quoted in Ralph Neighbour, Where Do We Go From Here? (Touch Publications, Houston, TX, 1990), p. 113

[8]. Mk. 8:34

[9]. Matt. 22:36-37

[10]. Prov. 18:2

[11]. Phil. 2:4

[12]. Larry Crabb, Men and Women (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1991), pp. 53, 76-77

[13]. Matt. 6:33

[14]. I Tim. 5:4-10

[15]. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together , translated by John Doberstein (Harper and Row Publishers, New York, NY, 1965), p. 76

[16]. Joseph Stowell, Shepherding the Church (Moody Press, Chicago, 1994, 1997), pp. 197-198

[17]. II Kings 6:27

[18]. Ps. 62:5-6

[19]. A.B. Simpson, AThe Church in the Heavenlies,@ published in The Best of A.B. Simpson, compiled by Keith Bailey (Christian Publications, Camp Hill, PA, 1987), p. 99

[20]. R. J. Rushdoony, Chalcedon Report, May 1981 (P.O. Box 158, Vallecito, CA)

 

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A NEW BOOK FROM CFC LITERATURE FOR ALL WHO LOVE THE LORD’S CHURCH

 
 
 
    Contact Information
Telephone
Clay Sterrett
(540) 886-7054
Postal address
P.O. Box 245 Staunton, VA 24402
Email address
sterrettclay@gmail.com

 

     
 

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