Spirit, Spirit, heed my call.
Where is the fairest church of all?
Where is the church who will love me the best?
Where is the church where I can get some rest;
Where the preacher will make me laugh and relax,
And one who doesn’t confuse me with the facts?
Where can I find a church like that?
What is a Christian Church anyway? And what does becoming a member of a Christian church really mean? The first Pastor, who also was the founder of the church where I became a Christian, had a very loose idea of what membership in the church (which I will refer to as CC) meant. To him, everything was “goosy” (his term for easy-going). He let everyone who wanted to join the church become a member, no matter if they professed Jesus as Savior or not. His rationale was, after the person stayed around awhile and heard his preaching, they would eventually become Christians. This is along the same idea as someone saying, “After we get married, I’m sure s/he will change.
After the first Pastor left, only one of the two Associate Pastors stayed. The one that left found out about the first Senior Pastor’s adultery and left before he did. After the Senior Pastor left, many people left because they were only coming because of this charismatic Senior Pastor, and others left because they found out about the Pastor’s sin and felt betrayed. Even amidst the mass exodus, the core group, who were committed Christians, remained at CC and formed a search committee to find a new Senior Pastor. The Associate Pastor agreed to stay until a new Senior Pastor was found. God blessed the search committee’s efforts and a new Senior Pastor was found.
Senior Pastor #2 was a godly man who understood that CC needed healing. One of the first things he did was to have a leadership retreat, to learn about the needs of the church. This man was BIG in stature and in heart. He looked like an offensive tackle, yet he talked about how he cared for his little son when he was sick, and how much more Jesus cares for his lambs (us), especially during the times we needed Him most. This athletic-looking man would pretend to cradle a little lamb in his strong arms and appeared so kind and gentle, even though his outward appearance looked like someone who could easily mow down Vince Wilfork without a problem. Senior Pastor #2 taught all of us at CC what it meant to be committed Christians – a body of believers committed to Christ and committed to each other.
In the book, REDEEMING CHURCH CONFLICTS, by Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling, it talks about the church in this way: “In Acts 15 the word church refers to ekklesia: ‘the called out’ and ‘the gathered assembly’ (see Matthew 16:18). The church is a local group of Christian believers whom God has gathered together to worship Him, because His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, has called them out of the world to be a community of faith” (p. 16).
After the leadership retreat, Pastor #2, re-wrote CC’s By-Laws to include the offices of the Board of Elders and the Board of Deacons which would be voted in by the members of CC. The revised By-laws also had term limits for elders and deacons. Senior Pastor #2 was very aware of what happened in the past with the first Pastor picking his own “yes-men” and he willing established CC as an elder-led church, with himself being one of the elders. In an elder-led church, decisions were made by majority rule. Senior Pastor #2 verbalized his need, as a sinner saved by grace, to be accountable to others. Pastor #2 also made the By-Laws biblically sound in areas where they were lacking. Here are the three Articles which I find important in my “search for the perfect church:”
ARTICLE III – Purpose
The purpose of CC is to exist for the glory of God; to encourage and motivate one another to attain the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God and grow up in all aspects into Him, who is our Head, even Christ; to bear witness in our world of the abundant life that is found only in a trust relationship with God, through His Son Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:5,6,13,14; 4:13-15; John 10:10b; John 1:12; Acts 1:8).
ARTICLE V – Statement of Faith (a partial list)
We believe that there is one true God eternally existing in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who share equally all the attributes of deity and participate fully in the essence of the Divine God-Head. God has spoken to humanity, and the Bible is His Word, given to make us wise unto salvation. God is Lord and King over His world; He rules all things for His own glory, displaying His perfections in all that He does, in order that humans and angels may worship and adore Him (Deuteronomy 6:4; Matthew 28:19; John 5:17; 14:16-17; Ephesians 2:18; Hebrews 1:1,2; II Timothy 3:15; Daniel 4:34-37; Isaiah 6:1-5; Revelation 4:1-11).
We believe that Jesus Christ is God, who humbled Himself and assumed a human nature through the Virgin Birth. He lived a sinless life and voluntarily atoned for the sins of humanity by dying on the cross as Substitute, thus satisfying divine justice and accomplishing salvation for all who trust in Him alone. He rose from the dead, appeared to various of His followers, ascended to the right hand of the Father, where He, the only Mediator between God and humanity, continually makes intercession for His own (Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 1:18-25; John 1:14; Hebrews 2:14; Matthew 20:28: Hebrews 9:11,12; I Peter 3:18; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 2:9; I Timothy 2:5,6).
We believe that the Holy Spirit is God and has come into the world to reveal and glorify Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit convicts and draws sinners to Christ, imparts New Life, continually indwells them from the moment of spiritual birth, seals, sanctifies and empowers them through His spiritual gifts for life and service. His fullness, power and control are appropriated in the believer’s life by faith (John 15:26; 16:8-11; John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5; II Thessalonians 2:13; I Peter 1:1-3; Romans 8:2; Acts 1:8; Ephesians 3:16; I Corinthians 2:1-4; I Corinthians 12; I Thessalonians 1:5
We believe that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church and that the Church, His Body, is composed of all those living and dead, who have been joined to Him through saving faith. We also believe that the Church is manifested locally through congregations of believers in Christ who assemble together regularly for worship, fellowship, and prayer (Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 4:15; I Corinthians 1:2; Hebrews 12:1; Hebrews 10:24,25; Acts 2:42-46).
ARTICLE VI – Covenant
With Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I promise with God’s help to use my spiritual gifts to serve the Lord Jesus with all obedience and diligences: to enter into the ministry of this church; to support its constitution; to be faithful in my attendance at services for worship and in the observance of the Lord’s Supper; to nurture spiritual growth through discipleship; and to under-gird the church’s outreach through prayer, financial support and participation.
Isn’t that interesting? After reading all the above information about what a Christian church is all about and what it means to be a member of a Christian church, it doesn’t say anything about what I wrote in my little poem, “In Search of the Perfect Church.” The statement from the book, REDEEMING CHURCH CONFLICTS and the Articles I shared from the CC By-Laws say nothing about a church that will love ME the best and where I can get rest or even a preacher that will entertain ME with his humorous monologues. What’s up with that? The answer is quite simple. To borrow a phrase, “There’s no “I” in church. Church is all about GOD and how WE can use the gifts HE has given US to glorify HIM by sharing the Gospel of Christ with our neighbors far and near and it’s about loving each other as HE has loved US.
During the time Senior Pastor #2 was our servant-leader at CC, we all grew spiritually and learned to use our spiritual gifts in the service of others. In addition to Senior Pastor #2, we also had two Associate Pastors. All three men were different in preaching style, but all three Pastors knew how to “correctly handle the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15), in such a way as to encourage us to grow in the faith. We also had an unpaid Minister of Missions come to continue the Missions Program when the Head of Missions himself and his wife were sent out to the mission field overseas. The Mission Program and the CC congregation also commissioned me as a indigenous missionary and sent me out and financially supported me to serve at a Christian residential school and summer camp for children and adults with disabilities, in New York State, for six years.
Presently, CC has missionaries all over the world. At home, a ministry to the homeless was started, followed by the Health Care Project for those without health insurance. Many other ministries, too numerous to name, kept popping up because people wanted to use the spiritual gifts in ministries God placed on their hearts to do. When I came back from New York, I tried to start a ministry with people with disabilities, but it never got off the ground. The Lord had other plans for me. The CC congregation chose me to serve them as one of their deacons. After the first year, I was chosen to be the Moderator of the Deacon Board and I did what I do best – organize meetings and tell people what to do and when to do when to do them. I served as a deacon for two three-year terms. I believe it takes an exceptional church to see a person with a disability (cerebral palsy) as a sister in Christ with spiritual gifts and abilities that enable her to serve as a missionary and later a deacon. It was truly an honor to serve Christ and His body of Christ at CC in these two capacities.
With all the ministries popping up and all of the people being sent out as missionaries, one would think CC was the perfect church and no one would want to leave, except to go on a missionary journey. But, CC has always been a transient church because of a large number of college students attending services. At CC, as well other churches, there are good and bad reasons why people leave. In REDEEMING CHURCH CONFLICTS, on page 169, some reasons and excuses to not worry about people leaving are given: “We lose a lot of people every year to unrepentant sin, divorce, and conflicted relationships. But we get new people coming in so it’s really just a wash. People are going to leave no matter what.” To some extent, this is true. People will always be coming and going because we live in a transient society. People move away from the area for job reasons or they want to live closer to family. Others leave for college or just because they want a fresh new start. Some people go Home to be with the Lord. These are some of the good or inevitable reasons why members leave a church. These reasons are easier to handle and understand.
But, there are also bad reasons for leaving a church. The worst reason for leaving a church is when the person is really leaving Christ. Jesus talks about this in “The Parable of the Sower and the Seed” (Matthew 13:1-23). People stop going to church because they stop believing in Christ or because they don’t want to be hassled by others for going to church or they think they have more important things to do, like working on Sunday to make ends meet.
I have known people who have stopped coming to CC because something said from the pulpit made them angry. Instead of going to talk with the Pastor, they just leave. Others have left because they think the elders gave them poor advice. Still others left because they did not want to repent of their sins and go through church discipline and get the help they needed. A few more people left because they thought they were being snubbed by the Pastor or given bad counsel or weren’t helped enough by the church. There was also a conflict within the Music Ministry that resulted in people leaving the church. And all this took place when things were going WELL at CC. Somehow, we did get through all this because it did not happen all at once. In 2001, my sister and I began caring for my ailing parents, so I wasn’t able to attend church regularly and didn’t know very much about the comings and goings. I just knew my church family was praying for us and I was very grateful for that. Also, some of my brothers and sisters in Christ came to help us care for our parents and some provided their homes for me to get some respite because my parents were living with me. I also was very thankful for that. In my experience, CC was always there for me. CC became my family in Christ, some thirty-eight years ago, and the church building became my second home.
After about twenty-five years of servant-leadership, Pastor #2 decided it was time to move on. In those twenty-five years, he and his wife became good friends of mine. I was sad they were leaving, but, I did understand that it was time for him and his wife to move on and CC had to move on also. CC wasn’t the building or was it the Pastor or any one person. CC was all the people who attended the church. And it did not belong to us. It belonged to God. And God had the right to do whatever He wanted with His church. Stay tuned until next time: “In Search of the Perfect Church (Part Three).”