Last week I spoke what amounted to an extended introduction about answering the question, “What is ‘A Good Church’?” (We also did a Carnivore Theology episode on it!) We talked a lot about the huge variety of options and opinions that we have access to in our churches, and how that can give us a sort of consumer mentality when it comes to deciding what a “good church” is.
Our conclusion was to change the question from “What do I (or culture, or other people) think is a ‘good church’?” to “What does God think is a ‘good church’?” That little change, which seems obvious, makes all the difference. It takes the decision out of our hands, and removes our feelings from the equation, allowing us to evaluate our church (or any other church) from God’s perspective and by His standards.
I told you that I did some digging into scripture and came up with four universal characteristics – that is characteristics that can be used to evaluate any church, at any time in history, any place in the world – of a “good church”, by God’s standards. Those four things again are, Discipleship, Fellowship, Worship and Outreach.
I briefly explored these four areas from Acts 2:42-47, but what I want to do today is dig a little deeper into these four areas so that we can all, hopefully, understand what God expects from our church – or any church.
Why is This Important?
You might be wondering why this is important to talk about. That goes back to what I was talking about last week when it comes to “consumer Christianity”. People make two important mistakes when it comes to planting, choosing, serving or ministering in their church.
Mistake 1: Using Human Standards for God’s Church
Mistake number one is to define a “good church” by human standards. How the services make them feel, how many people attend, whether the ministries fit their lifestyle and interests, the quality of the musicians, or how interesting the preaching is. These are all human – not biblical – qualifications and cause people a lot of grief and trouble when they are made too high a priority.
Consider that if you evaluate a church by human standards, then it could be teaching you falsehood and heresy, and you’d still “like it”. It could be closed off to the world and not serving anyone, but because you feel “loved”, you would call it a “good church”. It could be accepting of any manner of sin and error, but since it is full and people like it, we might think that it has God’s blessing.
As an example of what I mean, look at Revelation 2:1-5. This is Jesus writing a letter to the leading church in the area. This was a big, important church. They had lots of people, great teachers, and a missionary seminary that sent out lots of people. Look what Jesus says to them:
“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.”
By our human standards we would call that a good church. They work hard, “toil”, and endure persecution for Jesus name. They have good teachers who work church discipline and get rid of false apostles. They support one another in crisis and bear up under persecution. That sounds like a good church, right? Strong teaching, supportive people, and tireless missions. But look what Jesus says next:
“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
Jesus was about to shut down this church because they had lots their love. They were so busy, busy, busy with ministries that they had abandoned the worship of God, their love for Jesus, and possible, their love for one another. This church was a machine, cranking out missionaries who knew their bibles and could defend the word of God… but they also acted like machines – without love, without humble repentance and thanksgiving to Jesus for their salvation. All head, no heart.
Using our four terms, we would say they were amazing at “Discipleship”, and “Outreach”, but they woefully lacked in the “Worship” and “Fellowship” department – and it was about to cost them their connection to God. Jesus would “remove their lampstand”, meaning they would lose their status as a “church of Jesus Christ” and would be treated just like unbelievers.
Do you see the danger of using human standards and feelings to evaluate a “good church?” We end up accepting huge errors and practicing disobedience – to the point where God is very unhappy – because we are using our standards instead of His.
Mistake 2: Crafting a Church in Our Image
Mistake number two is to try to craft the church into our own image. If we decide that we know what a “good church” looks like, outside of biblical standards, then we are likely to try to create a church in our image, rather than in the image of Jesus.
We get this a lot from church planters and believers who get frustrated that their denomination or church isn’t doing what they want – so they decide to go start a new one that does it “right”. So they go plant a church, or decide to start a “home church”, or something that fits their own personality – not because God called them to, but because they want the church to be more like them.
We’re not talking about the Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox who were “protesting” against massive errors in church doctrine. Luther never even wanted to start a new church. He wanted to “Reform” the Catholic church to go back to what scripture says. And when they didn’t he was forced to start a new church. That’s not what we’re talking about. These people aren’t seeing biblical error, but are driven by their feelings and preferences.
They don’t like the music and preaching style, the community isn’t enough like them, the ministries don’t cater to their wants and needs, so they plant a church that fits their preferences. Instead of seeking to help their church become more like what God wants it to be, they try to make the church into what they want it to be – and when that doesn’t work, they plant their own church in their own image.
I hope you can see the danger in that, because I’ve seen that a lot too. Young guys who think they know better than all the old, dead guys, out planting churches in their own image. Believers wandering from church to church looking for one that has all the same idols they have, and when they can’t find it, giving up on church and choosing to quit the church so they can “worship at home” by themselves — something unheard of in the Bible.
It’s all just idols and pride mixed around with religious language and it leads to all manner of temptation and error.
Adding some Adjectives
We don’t want to fall into either of those errors, so let’s take a look at the four areas that God has given us to understand what a “good church” looks like to Him – and to help out, I’m going to add an adjective, or describing word, to each. What God desires from His church is “Biblical Discipleship”, “Loving Fellowship”, “Inspired Worship”, and “Spirit-Led Evangelism”.
Open up to Acts 2:42-47 and let’s talk about them individually.
We said last week that one of the key markers of the first church we read about in the New Testament is that (looking at verse 42) they “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching… the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” That is some very specific language to describe the very basics of what makes a church a church.
The historic definition of a church, held universally for almost 2000 years, is that a church has Four Marks: “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” We see this in the creeds, dating back all the way to the Nicene Creed from the year 381. This is the standard definition, and we see it in Acts 2. The words “one” and “catholic” are tied together. That doesn’t mean “the Roman Catholic Church, but comes from a Greek word simply meaning “universal”, or including everyone. There is one, universal church of Jesus Christ, seen everywhere in the world and beyond for all time – those who are still on earth and those who have gone into heaven. Jesus didn’t commission many churches to be built, but only one.
The church is also “holy”, meaning that it contains those who are full of the Holy Spirit, set apart by Jesus for salvation, and called to be saints (1 Cor 1:2, Rom 1:7). The church isn’t like any other organization, but is like Jesus – different, set apart, unique, holy.
The church is one, holy, universal and the word I want to emphasize right now is “apostolic”, meaning it is built on the apostolic pattern. Think of verses like Ephesians 2:19-20 which says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” or Matthew 16:18 where Jesus says to Peter after his declaration that Jesus is “the Christ the Son of the Living God”, “on this rock I will build my church”, meaning the apostolic declaration that Jesus is God and Saviour. Even in Revelation we read the description of the shining city, the New Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God, the dwelling place of all God’s people forever… “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:14)
In 1 Corinthians 3, when Paul was writing to the Corinthian church about them not fighting about their favourite preacher and teacher – “I follow Paul”, “I follow Apollos”, “I follow Peter” – he says,
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:5-11)
There is only one foundation, Jesus Christ, and that foundation is built upon by the teaching of the Apostles. And that teaching is found in scripture. A church cannot be a church of Jesus Christ if it is not built upon Jesus Christ as the foundation, and the teachings of the Apostles as found in scripture.
This was the problem during the Reformation. The Catholic Church was saying they were the only church – just as many do today. But is the Catholic church, or the Jehovah Witnesses, the Mormons, or any other of these groups that claim to be Christians, actually a Christian church? No! Why? They do not qualify because they do not follow the teachings of the apostles in scripture. They’ve made things up and added or subtracted things from the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles about how to be saved and be the church. They disqualify themselves because they don’t follow the Bible.
So, at the very end of Matthew, after Jesus had risen from the dead, Jesus looks at His Apostles and gives them what we call The Great Commission. He says – and I want you to listen to all the Apostolic, Discipleship, Scriptural, Authoritative language here:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
That’s exactly what is happening in Acts 2. The Apostles have gone out and taught the scriptures and people have been convicted by the Holy Spirit and desire to be saved and baptized. Then God gets hold of their hearts and they start to become the Church. They are under the direct authority of the Apostles – who are still alive and have yet to write the New Testament yet – and the first thing it says they did was to “devote themselves to the apostles teaching… the breaking of bread, and the prayers.”
They obeyed the Apostles, they “broke bread” – which here means they obeyed Jesus’ command to participate in the Lord’s Supper, and said “the prayers”, which meant they practiced personal and corporate spiritual disciplines. In other words – they made biblical disciples.
That’s the first question we must ask ourselves when evaluating our church or any church: Is it making Biblical disciples? I don’t care how boring or entertaining the preaching is – is it biblical? I don’t care how many people come to Sunday School – or even if you are doing Sunday School – the question is, does this church teach people of all ages to fully obey the Jesus of the Bible? I don’t care how wonderful the music is – is it biblical music that draws people into prayer and devotion to the Jesus of the Bible?
I could talk about this all day, but we need to move on to the next one.
In order to be a God-pleasing church, we don’t just need to follow the Bible, but we need to be in Loving Fellowship with one another. In the Acts 2 church we saw that they “had all things in common, attended the temple together, met in homes, and distributed to the needy among them.” This was a group that showed love and care for each other in practical ways. They lived out the 54 “one another’s” that we find in the New Testament (Rom 12:16; 1 Cor 1:10; Gal 5:13; Eph 4:2; Col 3:16, etc.) and obey Jesus’ command from John 13:34-35 where He says,
“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Not only does the church have to read, teach, know and love the Bible – they actually have to live out what it says! Jesus says “go, make disciples and teach” them the bible, but also teach them to “love one another.”
This is the most attractive thing that we have to offer one another and the hurting world beyond our doors. It isn’t our doctrine, but our love. God didn’t just “so love the world that he sent” down the Bible, but “He sent His only begotton Son” as an ultimate act of love. (Jn 3:16)
I have a hockey jersey at home with my favourite team and my favourite player’s name on it. When I walk into a room with it, there is no doubt which team and player I will be cheering for (or did before he retired) because it’s literally written on my front and back. But without the jersey on, no one can tell, right?
This is where we get confused. We think that a “good church” has a certain look. It has a pointy roof, wooden pews, blue hymn books, a centre aisle, and an organ. Or it has a big sign out front, a nice webpage, a gymnasium, screens on the wall and a coffee bar. Some say that it’s not a church unless there is a cross on top and inside. But is that what makes a church a church?
The Anglican Church in England is going through this right now. They have over a thousand churches that are dying or empty and they don’t know what to do with them. The country likes the beauty and heritage of these buildings and wants to “save the churches”, so they’ve made a plan to sell them and have them host community things like pubs, yoga classes, concerts, etc. They figure that if they can repurpose these buildings, then they will have saved the Anglican churches.
But they’re not saving the “churches” – they’re repurposing a pointy-topped building. The church is the people. A church is made up of Christians – whether they have a building with a cross on top and stained glass windows, or are meeting secretly in a basement in China, the church is the people.
Jesus says they will know we are His people, Christians, the Church, by “our love for one another.” So that’s our second question: Is this church characterized by having a Loving Fellowship?
That’s what our Deacon of Fellowship is trying to do. She’s not a hostess, nor is she an event planner. She’s not trying merely to attract people to an experience or give them something to do on a Saturday night. Her job is to invite the people of the church to do something where they can show love to one another. Maybe that’s a fun event or maybe that’s visiting a sick person. Maybe that’s a potluck after church or maybe it’s gathering funds and gifts to support someone in the church who is hurting. The Deacon of Fellowship is the “love coordinator”!
And we the church are meant to respond to what the God is asking us to do. We are to consistently, sacrificially, humbly, love one another. We are to put ourselves last so others can be first. We are to give our time, talents, and treasure for one another, “attending the church together, meeting in each other’s homes, and distributed to the needy among us.”
So when you evaluate your church or any church, make that your second question: “Is this church a Loving Fellowship?” Do these people show the love of Jesus to one another, or do they all merely attend the same church? That’s completely different!
Do they live in harmony together, accept one another, greet one another when they see each other, agree with one another so there might be no divisions, serve one another, are patient with one another, are kind and compassionate to one another, do they forgive each other just as in Christ God forgave them? Do they submit to one another, teach and admonish one another, spur one another on towards love and good deeds, offer hospitality to one another, and cloth themselves with humility towards one another? (Romans 12:16, 15:17, 16:16; 1 Cor 1:10; Gal 5:13; Eph 4:2, 32, 5:21; Col 3:16; 1 Thess 5:11; Heb 10:24; James 4:11; 1 Peter 4:9, 5:5…)
Let’s Personalize It
I’ll stop there for today and we’ll come back to the other qualifications next week, but let me challenge you to personalize this. It’s much easier to evaluate others than it is to evaluate ourselves. So I’m going to ask you this week to take all those questions and personalize them. If you are a part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church – as it is represented locally, here – then ask yourself:
Am I obeying God’s word when it comes to why I attend church? Am I obeying Jesus in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism? Do I honour the reading and teaching of His Word? Am I doing what I can to develop myself spiritually? Do I desire biblical teaching and correction, or merely entertainment?
And, Do I love the people in my church in practical, sacrificial ways, or do I not care about them one way or another? Am I part of a church clique or do I greet everyone the same way? Is there anyone that is hurting that I need to serve? How am I living out the Biblical One Anothers with the people around me? Is there anyone I need to forgive? Anyone I’m not bearing with? Am I showing hospitality to the people in my church?
These are the questions that God is asking of us, and by which we as Christians and we as a church will be judged.
Every Christian wants to attend a “good church”, but we all seem to have different ideas of what a “good church” looks like. The guys take on this question and give a biblical perspective.
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A while back, before it was interrupted by Thanksgiving, Children’s and Friendship Sunday, we were going through a “Burning Questions” series that was based on questions submitted by people here in the congregation. We’ve already covered a bunch of questions and I want to get back into it and finish it off over the past weeks. We’ve talked things like: what kind of superhero suit God would wear, how to be in the world but not of it, and ways to deal with discouragement and depression.
We’re continuing today with another question that has been popping up, and one that I believe is an important one to cover, “If you were looking for a church to attend, what kind of things would you look for – and how does our church look to visitors who are seeking?” I appreciate that question, but I’m going to rejig it a bit to simply be: “What makes a good church?” because I think that answers both sides of that. If I were looking for a church, I’d want a “good church”, and I certainly want the church I’m currently serving to be a “good church” – so the question is: “What is a Good Church?”
A “Good Church”
That’s what people want, right? Christians search for a “good church” until they find one and then stay there until they move – or their “good church” becomes a “bad church”. Small churches believe that in order to become large churches they simply need to become a “good church”, and then people will flock through the doors. But what is a “good church”?
- Outreach minded people define a “good church” as one that is sharing the gospel with people in practical and obvious ways.
- Service minded people define a “good church” as one that has lots of ministries to help people.
- Discipleship minded people say that being a “good church” is all about the sermons.
- For musically minded people, a “good church”, is the one that has meaningful, excellent music.
- Some people think that a “good church” is a big church, others think the only “good churches” are small ones.
- For new believers, a “good church” is one that makes it easy to understand what is going on and helps them to grow step-by-step in their faith.
- For a hurting person, a “good church” is one where they feel loved.
- For a family oriented person, a “good church” is one that is full of children.
- For a single, college student, a “good church” is one that has people their age and speaks meaningfully to their heads and hearts.
- Traditionally minded people want liturgy, robes, incense and art.
- Modern people want a sound system, a projector and stage lighting.
- To an intellectual a “good church” has messages that challenges their minds and drives them to further study.
- To a practically minded person, a “good church” has messages that challenges their lifestyle and drives them to action.
- To someone who has been through divorce or abuse, a “good church” is one where nothing bad ever happens, no one gets offended, and people are nice all the time.
- To a man looking for a strong mentor and a challenge, “a good church” is one with no nonsense, tough talk, some yelling, and a willingness to offend people.
- Some people would define a “good church” by looking at its ministry list. A good church has counselling, small groups, children’s programs, multi-ethnic ministries, is politically active, has a dynamic preacher, plays the right kind of music, supports local and global missions, develops leaders and missionaries, etc. ect. For them, a “good church” has lots of diverse ministries – usually ones that fit their lifestyle and interests.
And the list goes on and on and on. Is it any wonder that churches and church leaders have such a hard time trying to design ministries and Sunday services that are meaningful, helpful, and attractive to such a diverse group of people? It’s a tall order. Actually, that’s an impossible order. We can’t please everyone all the time – especially a church our size. But, is our job to create a church that pleases as many people as possible? Is that how we are to define a “good church”; by how many people like it? No way.
A Bible From the Sky
So, lets go back to our question: “What is a good church?”. I want to look at Acts 2:42-47 today, but before we read it, I want you to do something: clear your mind of all your preconceptions about church. Pretend you’ve never been to a church service. You are like many Canadians today, and have never even set foot inside a church building, and have no idea what goes on in there.
And then, one day, an airplane flies over your head, hits some turbulence, and a bible falls out of the luggage compartment and lands right in front of you. The pages explode away from the cover as it hits the sidewalk and they are blowing all over the place. You reach out your hand and grab one of the pages and start to read it. You look down and find that you have the whole of Acts chapter 2.
You start to read Peter’s first recorded sermon, preached at Pentecost, and have been introduced to the person of Jesus Christ. He’s presented as the Crucified Lord, the Chosen Messiah, come to make possible the forgiveness of sins. You read that after the sermon was given, a multitude of people feel terrible convicted, repent of their sins, give their lives over to following this Jesus, are baptized in His name, and start to meet together regularly.
As you continue to read Acts 2, you read about the change that starts happening to these people. You figure out that these were the same people that crucified Jesus in the first place and were his enemies. They were once people destined to be destroyed, but are now “saved” because of Jesus. This good news changes their hearts so radically that they decided to meet together all the time to celebrate what Jesus has done for them. This is AMAZING and you start running around, gathering as many pages as you can, and start to sort them together until you have a good portion of the New Testament. You read it, believe it, and give your life to Jesus. You are now one of the people who are “saved”!
Later that week your boss comes and tells you that you are about to be transferred to another city. He’s sending you to Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, Ontario. You’re going to be working there for a while, and they’ve already set you up a home just outside the city in a nice, little place called Beckwith.
You pack all your things and move into your new home, and as you drive around your new neighbourhood, you see an adorable, little building with a white cross on top and a sign that says, “Beckwith Baptist Church.” Your heart starts to race as you pull your make-shift Bible out of your pocket and start to flip through the pages. It dawns on you that this is a building dedicated to housing a group of Christians – just like you read about.
Your excitement is almost palpable. You bang on the door, but no one is there. You race out to the sign to see that you have to wait until Sunday at 10am until service starts. You can’t wait! You finally get to see all that you have been reading about come to life. You get to meet a whole group of people that know Jesus, love Jesus, teach about Jesus, pray to Jesus, sing about Jesus, and who have the very Holy Spirit of God living in them. You get to meet a group unlike any you have ever met in the world – a group of people that call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ.
And as you stand out in the parking lot, you open up to your favourite passage. The first that landed at your feet, the very first chapter that you ever read in Acts 2. You read aloud Acts 2:42-47:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
You can’t wait to meet these people! You can’t wait to come to this church. You can’t wait to be a part of this body of believers and be “added to their number”!
This text is one of the primary verses in scripture that drives me to do what I do and say what I say. I love these verses, not because it is a prescription of what we are supposed to be doing – but because it is a description of what happens when we get it right. This is a description of a “Good church” . This is what it looks like when we stop trying to please people, be clever with our ministries, and find some kind of secret code that causes more people to come through the door. This is what it looks like when a church allows God to take over and lets the Holy Spirit reign in their hearts.
These verses are not prescriptive – they’re not telling us what to do. They are descriptive – they are telling us what happens when God gets a hold of a group of people that love Him. People get this confused. They think if we can do the things described in these verses, then God will bless the church. No, it’s the opposite. If we allow God to work in our hearts, then this is what will happen to us.
Bill Hybels’ “Reveal”
When we get this backwards and believing that a “good church” is about the ministries it does instead of the God it worships, we fall into a “consumer” model of Christianity. We become people pleasers who try to design our church to primarily “meet people’s needs”, “make people happy”, “feed people”, “attract people”, etc. Whenever you hear the term, “feed”/”fed”, it’s consumer-minded. It means, “I’ve come to your church and you’re not giving me what I want.” It’s just like going to a restaurant and saying, “I don’t like what’s on the menu, so I’m not happy, and I’m going to find a new restaurant”. That’s consumer minded Christianity, and that kind of church and Christian doesn’t please God.
Let me give you an example. Willowcreek Church in Chicago, Illinois, headed by Pastor Bill Hybles, is one of the largest churches in North America, with over 23,000 people attending weekly. They were the uncontested champion of the “seeker-sensitive”, “consumer-driven” church movement. They’ve generated a huge amount of ministry ideas, content, songs, and are modeled all over the world.
In 2007, they released some internal survey results (in a book called “Reveal”) where they made an amazing confession that rocked the Christian world. Let me quote from an article that describes what they learned:
“Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake-up call” of his adult life. Hybels confesses:
‘We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.’
In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.”
In other, other words, the consumer model – where a “good church” is defined by how many programs we have, how great our music is, how winsome the pastor is, the attendance, the vision casting, the constitution, the ethnicities, the small groups, or anything else that is defined by human standards – doesn’t work! It doesn’t please God or fulfil our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Only One Opinion Matters
All of those things that I described are going to change. The programs of today’s church are far different from those a hundred or a thousand years ago. The preaching styles will change. The music has changed and will change again. The attendance of church will fluctuate from time to time and place to place. The constitution and bylaws do not define a church. Nor can the ethnicities within it. Culture will change. Technology will change. All of these things are going to change due to geography and time. None of these things cannot define what a “good church” is.
Therefore, a “good church”, cannot and must not be something that is decided by any individual or group of people. If the church is as important as we think it is – as important as God declares it is in scripture, then there must be a more universal list of attributes that describes a “good church” in standards that apply to all people, for all time, everywhere.
As a pastor, that question bothered me for a long time. I read a lot books and articles about how to grow a church and make a church “effective for the culture”, and they all sounded good – but they were almost contradictory in their advice and conclusions.
Some said the church needed to do more activities, others said we needed to gather together more. Some said the church needed more prayers services, others said it needed to be out in the community. Some said the church needed short sermons with video clips, others said the sermons needed to be deeply theological. Some said small groups were the answer, others said to give up the church building altogether and just meet in people’s houses, while others said the best thing to do is start a building program and open up more services. It was frustrating and confusing, and made it really hard to know what to do.
Four Universal Characteristics
Then I changed the question instead of asking myself “What do I think is a ‘good church’?” or “What do the experts think is a ‘good church’?” or “What does today’s culture think is a ‘good church’?, I asked, “What does God think is a ‘good church’?” That change, while it may seem obvious now, was somewhat revolutionary for me – and perhaps it is to you too. Instead of asking, “What is a good church for me, or my family, or my culture, or my country?” let’s ask, “What is a Good Church by God’s standards?”
And so, to find out what God’s standards are, I went to God’s word and came up with four universal characteristics that make up a good, godly, Christ honouring, effective church. And you’ll notice that they are all found in our passage in Acts 2. These four universal characteristics are:
- A good church is a “disciple-making church”.
- A good church is a “fellowshipping church”.
- A good church is a “worshipping church”.
- A good church is an “outreaching church”.
I’m going to take next week to go through these four in detail, but I want you to just notice quickly what I’m seeing. Remember, this isn’t just a recipe of ministries for a “good church”, but instead is what God says a good church looks like. They aren’t a list of ministries, but more a list of attitudes and priorities.
One of them isn’t more important than the other – all four must be present in the church for it to be a “good church” by God’s standards. A “good church” can’t focus on having good worship, but not good at outreach and fellowship. Likewise, a “good church” can’t be a disciplemaking church, but not care about worshipping God or fellowshipping together. All four must be held as the most important areas of our church life. Look again at Acts 2:42-47 and you’ll see them all there.
This Christian Church, maybe called the first in existence, was devoted to “the apostles teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” – that’s areas of discipleship. That’s committing to biblical sermons, practicing the ordinances of the church, and the development of a private the spiritual life.
They were also devoted to “the fellowship, having all things in common, attending the temple together, breaking bread in homes, distributing to the needy among them” – that’s fellowship. They showed love and care for one another in practical ways.
See how “awe came upon every soul, they attended the temple, and praised God” – that’s worship. They saw, heard, felt and experienced the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives and gave awe-inspired worship to Him as a result.
And, they saw “many wonders and signs, distributed proceeds to all who had need, had favor with all the people, and the Lord added to their number.” That’s outreach. That’s evangelism. That’s caring for people outside the church, building the reputation of being godly community members, and seeing people turn to Jesus and be saved.
I want to talk about that more next week, but that’s what I want you to chew on this week. How have you been defining a “good church”? Has it been by how you feel about it? By how many people attend? By what ministries it has? By how “fed” you feel afterward? Let me encourage you to repent of those attitudes and ask yourself if you want a church patterned after your preferences, or God’s.
And for all of us here, when we think of Beckwith Baptist Church, and what we want it to be, are we seeking to craft it into our own image – with our type of music, our favourite style of preaching, ministries that cater to us – or are we seeking to be the kind of church that God favours. A church that practices discipleship, fellowship, worship and outreach – no matter what that looks like.
I would ask you to think about that for the next week, and then we’ll come back (Lord willing) and dig more deeply into these four areas.
Here’s the audio for the sermon:
You may have noticed that I changed the title of this series. Instead of being “Being People of Integrity”, I’ve simply called it “Christian Integrity”, and that’s because I believe that it’s important to distinguish the fact that we are specifically talking about the characteristics of a person and church of faith. These things don’t universally apply to everyone in the world.
Worldly Vs Christian Integrity
If “integrity” is simply taken as being honest and consistent, then there is a worldly kind of integrity. The non-Christian mechanic or plumber who doesn’t overcharge can have integrity. The school teacher who loves their students and sticks to the textbook has a form of integrity – even though they could be teaching falsehoods. The soldier who is sold out to their country and willing to die could be said to have high integrity by their superiors – even though they represent an evil nation.
Christian Integrity is a higher form of integrity. It is a supernatural thing, beyond simple honesty and consistency. Christian Integrity requires being a person who has God as their Father, Jesus as their Lord, and the Holy Spirit guiding their thoughts and deeds.
In this series, we are taking apart Psalm 15 which begins with the question, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” What do the people who dwell with God look like? When people join the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, what are the expectations? What can they expect when Jesus rules the hearts of people?
What we see in Psalm 15 are six descriptors of a functioning, obedient, growing Christian. This is obviously not an exhaustive description, but it is a good place to start. The first was Integrity, and we said that it is the roof of the house, which is built on the foundation of our salvation through Jesus Christ.
Our Integrity is held up by the other five traits of being Truthful, Loving, Honouring, Trustworthy and Generous. We’ve already looked at being Truthful and Loving, and for the last couple weeks we’ve been in verse 4 as we’ve discussed the flip side “Honouring the Faithful”, which is “Rejecting the Vile”. This week we are looking at the second part of verse 4 where it talks about Honouring the Faithful. A Christian “despises a vile man but honours those who fear the LORD”.
Finding an Honourable Person
Remember that the word “honour” is a word that means “to be heavy or great”. It is a word that means that when you a certain person, their presence has great meaning to you, and their words have a special weight and significance to them. You honour them, respect them, treasure them, and highly esteem them. In your life and heart, they are given VIP treatment.
Most of us don’t have a lot of people like this in our lives. Especially with the advent of the internet, social media, the 24 hour news cycle, and other technologies, it’s hard to find someone who has strong Christian integrity. It’s hard to trust anyone these days. Who do we look for to find a strong marriage with statistics that say most are unhappy and over half of them ending in divorce? Who do we look to for Christian leadership when so many preachers and pastors have crashed and burned in their ministry? Who do we look to be an example to us in the godly use of money when most people are up to their eyeballs in debt? It’s really hard to find an “honourable” person these days.
Which makes it so much sweeter when you find one. When you find that teacher who has been consistently loving God, defending the faith, and strong in their convictions for the long-haul. RC Sproul is one of those men for me. He celebrated his 75th birthday this week and is still going strong. If you type the words “RC Sproul Controversy” into Google, nothing comes up! Yes, there are people who disagree with him, but all in all, he has a stellar reputation and a great Christian man and strong Gospel teacher.
Personally speaking, there are only a few people in my life who I would consider to have Christian Integrity, and they are a great blessing to me. My wife is one of them. When they speak, I listen. When I get an e-mail from them, the world stops and I read it. When they recommend a book, I read it. When they correct me, I listen and try to change my behaviour.
I hope you have someone like this in our life, because they are a great blessing! I do hope that you are able to honour these people in your life because they are a great gift from God.
Elevating Fellow Believers
But I want to be clear that Psalm 15:4 is not only talking about the kinds of believers who have earned the right to be given special treatment. RC Sproul has spent years developing his reputation, and he deserves to be listened to. This verse is talking about something a little different. God is not saying “Honour those who deserve it…” but “Honour those who are believers…” It says, “…honours those who fear the Lord.” That’s all beleivers, no matter what stage of maturity they are in. It’s talking about elevating the view of Christians in our life.
This is hard for us because we have so many of our priorities messed up. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on the Bible says that a Christian
“…values men by their virtue and piety, and not by the figure they make in the world.”
Let me give you an example of how I came face to face with this in the past week.
As you know, the Olympics are on, and of course I’m cheering for Canada, but I love watching these men and women do their best in their events and am in awe of their skill. I cheer for them as they compete and am happy for them when they win. I was honouring them.
However, this week I read something about the Olympic village that makes me remove my honour from them. It was an article entitled “Olympic Village brimming with love for Valentine’s Day” that changed my mind.
I don’t want to get into the graphic details, but it begins like this,
“… love is in the Sochi air this Valentine’s Day. What do you expect when you ram beautiful, young and fit athletes into a confined space, and allow their emotional highs and lows to be released in a fit of competition. Oh yes, the athlete’s village is a physical place —if you catch my drift.”
The rest of the article goes on to describe the unbridled lust (not love) the alcohol fuelled parties, nudity, and general lasciviousness that is part and parcel of living in the Olympic Village. It gives me a new view on these athletes. I don’t want to paint them all with the same brush, but this is being described as the norm.
This is what Matthew Henry and Psalm 15 are describing. Don’t misplace your honour. Don’t honour the dishonourable. The true value of a person is in their character, their piety, and their virtue when they are in front of people and when they are not. We should not be fooled by people who look good on the outside – but give honour to people who are in relationship with Jesus Christ and are seeking to be more godly every day.
Again, not perfect people, or only great preachers and missionaries, but the average believer who is walking in daily obedience, struggling with temptation, maybe inconsistent in their walk, but growing in God more and more as the days go by.
I would rather honour a junkie who has turned their heart over to Jesus and is in a daily spiritual battle with addiction and their old life-style, than a gold medal athlete who competes for their own glory, gives their body over to lust, and doesn’t give Jesus a second thought.
We Don’t Do This Well
God is very serious about how Christians treat one another. If there is one place, one group, on family that should know how to love one another… it’s the family of God. And yet, our track-record of getting along as believers is quite terrible.
We have sects, and divisions, and denominations. We even have a term for what happens when people in a church can’t get along and then start two separate church – we call it a church splits. I’d love to know the statistic comparing church plants (on purpose, missional, evangelistic minded, celebrations) to church splits. Even within the church we have cliques, gossip sessions, and back-room meetings. We smile at someone on Sunday, and then slander them on Monday.
The Christian church has a history of killing one another in the name of Jesus Christ! Instead of embracing new ideas, different ways of thinking, and uniquely gifted people, more often then not the Christian church freaks out, ostracises them and then attacks. Like Martin Luther who was chased down, exiled and nearly killed because he dared to challenge the church authorities to defend some of their practices. Or William Tyndale was burned at the stake because he wanted to print the bible in English.
Those are extreme examples, but lesser crimes happen all the time, in many churches around the world, in our city, and even within these walls. And God takes this very seriously.
God’s Kids Fighting
Parent’s understand why God feels this way. I often go to the park with my kids. Sometimes I play with them, other times I stand back and watch. And almost every time we go, there’s some kind of disagreement. And those problems come in three different forms.
First is when two kids I don’t know start to fight. How do I feel about that? Well, I don’t like it, but I’m not really emotionally invested in the kids, and I’m not their parent, and unless they start to really hurt each other, I don’t really get involved. It doesn’t grip my heart.
Second is when some strange kid starts a fighting with one of my kids. What happens then? Then I step in! I find out what happened, I tell my kid to apologize if it was their fault, and if it wasn’t [which it usually isn’t because my kids are awesome] then I protect my kid, maybe get the other parent involved, or tell my kid they need to be gracious and kind and let it go. If my kid gets into some kind of conflict, then I get emotionally invested and I jump in to protect my kid, teach my kid, and parent my kid.
The third scenario is when my kids fight each other. This happens more often. My kids start to fight, one isn’t being fair or hurts another – on purpose or accidentally – and now I react a much different way. I jump in. I grab them both and pull them aside. There might be discipline involved where one has to apologize, ask forgiveness and sit on the side for a while. Sometimes, it’s serious enough that we have a long talk about it. And if it’s a big enough deal, we leave the park, talk about it in the car, and then maybe even carry though some disciplined at home.
It’s a bigger deal when it’s two of my kids! I don’t want my kids fighting! They are a family. They’re supposed to love each other and work together. I have a totally different reaction to when my kids are fighting with each other, then when strangers are involved. Why? They’re mine! I love them! They know what I’ve said about how to act. They know the standards of our home. And I hate it when my kids fight! Not just because it’s noisy… but because it shows me there is something wrong with their heart.
I think God feels the same way when His kids aren’t getting along. When two people outside the church are sinning against each other… that’s to be expected. They are sinners, who love to sin, and who don’t know God. When a non-Christian is in conflict with a Christian, God gets more involved and will protect the Christian, or might discipline the Christian.
But when two of His kids are sinning against each other, I believe, because of my reading of scripture, He takes it very seriously, and it hurts him very deeply. Why? Because it shows how far His children’s hearts are from Him!
What’s Behind Christian Conflict?
Let’s Look at what James 4:1-4 says is going on behind the scenes when Christians fight. When God looks at a family of believers who is not honouring one another, He doesn’t just see the surface issues we see like arguing over what song to sing, who should be doing what, or what color the carpet is in the sanctuary. He sees something much deeper.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (vs 1)
In other words, when Christians argue, it’s almost never for a good, holy, righteous reason. Rarely is the fight over bad doctrine, disregard for scripture, or unholy living. It’s because one of them, or probably both, is being selfish. It’s a heart problem. Passions and desires out of control.
I want a certain style of music or type of ministry because they like it best. IO feel like I should have some kind of leadership position and not someone else. I want to be heard because I think I’m important and me opinion counts for more. I want it done my way, because I’m always right.
“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” (vs 2)
That’s the root of most problems between believers. They aren’t arguing over core theologies or anything truly important to the kingdom. Most of these issues have nothing to do with what is on God’s heart. It’s just two people being selfish. They want something and aren’t getting it, so they fight.
Often, God’s not even involved, because they know as soon as they go to God, He’s going to show them how petty it is, and how prideful they are being, and how they need to submit to one another in love… but they don’t want to hear that.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (Vs 3)
This selfish mindset affects our prayer life. We ask God for things that are not good for us, that are wrongly motivated, that will elevate us instead of him, that will bring shame to others or harm others who we feel deserve it. We “ask wrongly” for these things because they are not motivated by our love for God or to Honour the Faithful Christians in the church… but to spend on our passions. We want to feel good, look good, have more, gain more power or prestige. And God doesn’t answer those prayers.
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Vs 4)
When Christians fight, argue, quarrel, gossip, slander, hurt or sin against one another, they show themselves to be people who act like the world – not children of God. Christians that fight with other Christians about non-essential issues are called “adulterous” – which means they have left their first love, God, and are now embracing a new love – themselves. In fact, when Christians fight, divide and sin against one another, they are not only acting like the world… but are, in fact, acting like the enemies of God.
It is the enemies of God who fight against Christians, who make church a difficult place to be, who gossip and slander against believers, and hurt and abuse Christians. It is the enemies of God who make Christians stressed out and miserable. That’s Satan’s job! Christians shouldn’t be doing that to each other! It is literally satanic for Christian’s to fighting against one another over non-essential issues.
Dealing with Problems Among Christians
So what do we do when problems come up? Do we burry them in the sand, sweep them under the rug, and just pretend to get along for 2 hours each week. Everyone smiling fake smiles, no one arguing or getting close to one another, no one changing anything, no one saying anything that could be a criticism for fear we learn we have an argument? No, of course not. What God wants us to work through our issues (which we talked about last week) and “honour” one another.
If something between two believers, they should treat each other with “honour”. The fact that this person is a brother or sister in Christ should have great meaning, because this person has great meaning to Jesus. Jesus gave His life for that person. Their tears and frustrations, their complaints, their encouragements should have a special weight and significance to them, because it’s possible that the Holy Spirit is speaking through them. They are worthy of respect because they are a man or woman of God. They should be treasured because God treasures them. They should be highly esteemed because they are children of the Most High God, adopted into the Creator’s family, are co-heirs with Christ, and will one day judge angels! Ask yourself, “in your life and heart do you honour other believers?”
The “One Anothers”
I want to show you what that looks like. Consider what would happen if your favourite celebrity, or a famous teacher, or someone you respect were to offend you. Your love and admiration makes it a little easier to give them grace, be patient, give them a chance, forgive them. But it doesn’t come so naturally within the average Christian relationship.
We’ve talked about this before. Do you remember the “One Another” verses. There are at least 54 “one another’s” in scripture. They are wonderful descriptors of how Christians are to honour one another, and they all flow out of what Jesus said to His disciples in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.””
How? How do we do that? How do we “love one another”? The bible spells it out in great, great detail through the “one anothers”. Most simply say “love one another”, but others are very specific. Listen to some of these:
- Romans 12:16, “Live in harmony with one another.”
- Romans 15:7, “Accept one another,”
- Romans 16:16, “Greet one another”
- 1 Corinthians 1:10, “…agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you…”,
- Galatians 5:13, “…serve one another”,
- Ephesians 4:2, “…be patient, bearing with one another in love.”,
- Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”,
- Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another.”,
- Colossians 3:16, “…teach and admonish one another …”,
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “…encourage one another…” ,
- Hebrews 10:24, “…spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”,
- James 4:11, “do not slander one another.”,
- 1 Peter 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another”,
- 1 Peter 5:5, “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another”,
These “one anothers” are all talking about how we relate to other believers. How we live out Psalm 15, “honour those who fear the Lord.” That’s what it looks like. That’s how we are to act towards each other. This is the heart we are to have when something comes up between us, or when we are serving with one another. It’s our default position when in relationship with other Christians.
Let me pause and ask, as you look at this list, and how you have conducted yourself over the past while – have you been doing this? How have you been treating the favoured ones of God? How have you been treating God’s kids, your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Bear With One Another
Let’s read Colossians 3:12-17. I want to focus in on something that I think is important to us, and will give us a key phrase to grab onto when dealing with people in the church. Start in verse 12,
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
The Bible says, God says, that we are to “Bear with each other”. It’s the same word used in 2 Thessalonians 1:4 which talks about enduring persecution for the faith. Same word. Sometimes being part of a church is going to be difficult. When those times come, we are to “bear with each other.”
What that means is that when conflict happens, you go through it together. We don’t take off, pretend it didn’t happen, reject the person, or find a new church. It means we stick together through thick and thin, work it out even when it’s hard, figure it out even though it’s confusing, make it work even when it seems impossible, and let God take over the situation to make the impossible possible.
“…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Do you see that? What kind of forgiveness did Jesus give you? Did He forgive some of your sins… but couldn’t get over certain things, so He still holds them against you? Did He forgive you… but then keeps bringing them up and making you feel guilty all the time? Did He forgive you… but then go behind your back and tell a bunch of people? Did He forgive you… and then never speak to you again, refusing to sit with you or acknowledge you? No! Our model for forgiving one another is the forgiveness we received through Jesus Christ!
“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.” [Other translations say, “… since as members of one body you were called in one body.”] (vs 14)
What that means is that we are supposed to think of our church in the same way we think of our body. It is strange to think of our body at war with itself. When a person’s body fights with itself, we call it an auto-immune disease. It’s an allergy, it’s cancer, it’s Chrohn’s, it’s eczema, it’s Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it’s MS. When the body starts to attack itself, something is very wrong. We don’t want some parts of our body to fight against other parts of the body. We want our body bound together in “perfect harmony”, and at “peace”.
When Dr. God looks at a group of Christians who can’t get along… it’s not a small deal… it’s a major disease in the body. Jesus wants his church to be a healthy body that works together to build up the rest of the parts, not a sick body that harms itself.
4 Practical Steps to Christian Harmony
Let’s close by looking at verses 16-17 which gives a bit more practical advice and helps us to know what we need to work on so that we can be a united body, honouring each other, living out the “one anothers”, and growing in love with the believers around us: (Start with the last part of verse 15):
“And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
If you are struggling with loving other believers, here’s how to pray and what to do.
1. “Be thankful” for them. This is the first step in changing your heart. Pray, “Thank you, God, for this person. They are different from me, but that’s ok. I don’t understand them, but you do. You built them, created them, chose them, equipped them, and are working in their heart. They irritate me, but they love you and you are working on them. They are my brother or sister who I will spend eternity with. Make me thankful for them, who you made them to be, and help me treat them with honour.”
2.Let the Bible guide you. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom…” (3:16a) Not guided by your heart. Not your own wisdom. Not your friends. If you are struggling to love someone, go to the Word. If you’ve got a problem with what another Christian is doing, check out what God has to say about it first. Use the Bible as your guideline (not your hammer, your guideline) for your attitude and behaviour. You might be surprised to find that it’s not them that needs the attitude adjustment, but you! And if the person is going against scripture, then you bring them the word of God, not your own opinion.
Kid’s do this naturally! They invoke my name as the authority. One comes to me and says “Daaaaad! So-and-so is doing this!” Then I say, “That’s ok, I asked them to do that. I’ve got something different planned for them that you don’t understand right now.” Or I say, “Thank you for telling me, you’re right, they shouldn’t be doing that. Tell them that Dad says to quit it or they’re in trouble.” It is not my kid who has the authority… I do. I’m the Dad.
3. Be Gentle and Persistent. In this passage it says we should be able to be “…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
This tells us two things. First, a loving church is full of people who can sing and worship together. They sing the same song. People who don’t get along can’t worship God together very well. The animosity creates a barrier between us and them, and us and God. This also tells us that we need to be persistent in working through our problems, so when we are on the other side, we can be singing the same song.
If you say, “I can’t worship with that person in the room”, and you are not working towards a solution to whatever is harming the relationship, then you are not obeying God’s will to reconcile with your brother. If the presence of that person is causing you to not be able to worship God, the fault is not with them… it’s with you. Something is wrong with you. Nothing should stop you from worshipping God. And if that person is a believer, and has demonstrated themselves to be a person of faith, then you should be working through Matthew 18 so you can, if at all possible, sing the same song. We talked about how to do that last week.
Consider the words of Jesus when he said in Matthew 5:23-24,
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
God desires we be reconciled, before He desires our worship.
4. And finally, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
All of our actions should be able to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus” Christ. When dealing with our brothers or sisters, in our minds we can think, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ… I…”
- forgive you…
- love you…
- serve you…
- ask your forgiveness…
- will put myself second to you…
- will love your family…
- will walk with you…
- will help you…
- will do it your way…
- will keep at you until you repent…
- won’t stop loving you…
You can’t say, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ… I…”
- gossip about you…
- hate you…
- will never speak to you again…
- will sin against you…
- will slander you…
- will ignore you…
- will give you a dirty look when I pass by.
That’s not Jesus.
I know this is hard for some people, but we are called to so much more. Let me end by reading Ephesians 4:1-6 which is Paul’s urgent appeal from his prison cell to a group of Christians who had some relationship issues, and needed to put Jesus back at the centre:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Gossip is… uh…
Last night at small group study we had a surprising discovery. Everyone around the table was absolutely agreed that gossip is a bad thing, and that we should confront it, but when I asked the group to define gossip, we couldn’t do it.
We danced around a lot of ideas like “malicious talk”, “things that are none of our business”, or “things we wouldn’t say to their face”, but none of it seemed to give us a succinct and satisfactory definition that we could use to easily define gossip. This was both illuminating and frustrating – and a little embarrassing since I’ve been preaching against gossip for the last bunch of weeks and I couldn’t define it either!
I know it’s a bad thing to speak gossip and listen to gossip. Paul, in Romans 1:29-32 lists gossip alongside some pretty heinous sins!
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
But what is gossip?
I went online looking for a satisfying definition that will help guide Christians to know when they are gossiping or hearing gossip, so they can obey Jesus and repent — I couldn’t find one. So I read through a lot of scripture and articles (which I will site at the bottom) and came up with a definition that I hope helps.
Gossip is using verbal, print or electronic communications to share unconfirmed information or your own opinion of a person who is absent from the conversation, without their knowledge or consent, with the purpose of increasing your social status or altering other’s opinion of the person.
Let’s break it down:
- Gossip can be spread by speaking, writing, or through social media.
- Gossip never gives the whole story – that would require the individual being gossiped about to be present.
- Gossip includes the gossiper’s personal opinion of the person’s life and choices, either explicitly (by stating it, e.g. “Susie is selfish.”) or implicitly (through posture and tone of voice). One website gives this example. “The sentence ‘Clara got a puppy’ sounds pretty neutral. But if Clara lives in a college dorm that doesn’t allow pets and the person speaking sounds scandalized, the sentence becomes gossip.”
- Gossip is done without the knowledge of the person being talked about. “I never say anything that I wouldn’t say to their face” isn’t good enough. It should be “I never say anything I haven’t already shared with that person first and gotten their permission to share with others.”
- Gossip has ill motives. This is the most difficult part of the definition as many people can fool themselves into believing that their sharing isn’t gossip, but is well-intended and even helpful. However, when they look deeper they will see that they are falling into one of these two categories:
- Gossiping to positively increase their social status through sharing information (or misinformation) that makes the gossiper look smarter, more informed, more connected, more spiritual, or somehow superior in the eyes of others.
- Gossiping to negatively effect the reputations of others. Instead of making the gossiper look superior, it makes the person being gossiped about seem inferior.
I really hope this helps, and I would love some feedback on this!
Coffee and Fellowship… Fellowship and Coffee… they go together like coffee and cream. Cream and sugar. Coffee and cookies. Chocolate and coffee. Coffee and cake. Cake and ice cream. Ice cream and chocolate sauce. Mmmm… coffee flavoured ice cream… Ooops, sorry! Got carried away.
Some Surprising Similarities
I’m sure you agree fellowship (aka people getting to know one another, supporting one another, serving one another..) seems indelibly connected to coffee. It’s treated like the glue that binds the fellowship together. But did you know there are other similarities?
1. Both seem simple at first, but are far more complex than we realize. Check this out these suggestions: 70g/Litre, course ground trimodal particle distribution, no covering to allow the grinds to bloom so you don’t get an uneven extraction from the cake of coffee. Wow!
Similarly, one would think that sticking people in a room with readily available hot beverages would create Fellowship. Not so, but this is the approach of most of the churches I’ve been to take. Provide a space, perk some coffee, make juice, pour water, steep tea (for the hippies), add some no-nut cookies and sliced veggies (again, for the hippies), and just watch the fellowship bloom. But it’s not that simple is it?
True fellowship is not just meandering around the same floor space sharing insights about the weather and the local sports teams. True Christian fellowship requires time, risk, sacrifice, determination, leadership, emotional energy, purposeful interaction, mission and the imbuement of the Holy Spirit. People need education on how to move their conversation to a deeper level, they need encouragment to let down their guard because many of them have been hurt, they need a reason to meet together beyond sharing a location (a good cause, a decision to make, an issue to support, etc.), and they need lots of time (15 minutes on Sunday after church isn’t enough).
2. Both are terrible lukewarm. No one, not even Jesus, likes lukewarm drinks (Rev 3:16)! They are best hot, or cold. Lukewarm fellowship is even worse. No one likes a hypocrite, and most people can tell pretty quickly when someone is detached, inauthentic or uninterested, even though they walk up to you with a cheery, “How are you?” It only takes a couple of emotionless, mindless, useless conversations for a person to know that the relationship is fake and that they don’t want to waste their time. I’m sure you’ve felt this.
3. It’s not good when it’s too strong. Some people like strong coffee, but even they say it can be too strong. In the same way, when a fellowship goes from being committed and loving (Acts 2:42-47) to being a clique full of nosey busybodies (James 2:1-13, 1 Tim 5:13), they’ve taken a good, God-given thing, and made it into something bad.
Connecting Coffee to Fellowship
So here’s some ideas:
1. Pretend you’re a barista and serve everyone else first. Be the first one to the coffee pot and the last one to take a sip.
2. Make some coffee gifts. A dollar store mug with some chocolate covered espresso beans and a nice, non-preachy note is cheap and does the trick. Give them to folks you see on the periphery of your daily life (Store clerk, bank teller, newcomer to church, neighbour, mechanic, etc.).
3. Have an International Coffee Tasting night where people bring over their coffee machines and a unique blend of coffee and try them all out! I recommend “Kopi Luwak” or “Weasel Poop Coffee”. (I bought it for my brother for Christmas one year.)
What about you? Have you ever drank a drink that came from the rear end of an animal? What has been your best fellowship experience? What has been your worst?
I am compelled to write my first “Fellowship Wednesday” post about what I believe is the most poisonous thing to a fellowship of believers — gossip.
As pastor of a former church I spent time in the office meeting with people. One day a man came in for a chat. On the way out afterwords he said, “Oh, I probably shouldn’t tell you this but…”. And I stopped him cold. “Then don’t tell me.”, I said. He persisted, “No really, I shouldn’t tell you this but…”. So I said, “No really… don’t tell me.” and started to walk away. He walked after me. I started running. He started running after me yelling, “I shouldn’t tell you this… but I want to tell you!!!”. I literally ran him out the door trying to avoid gossip!
Gossip is deadly. It destroys trust between people and therefore kills friendships. If left alone it can cripple ministries and destroy good leaders. I hate gossip, and so does God.
I’ve been around the effects of pervasive gossip among believers, and it breaks my heart. Most of us know how much it hurts to be talked about behind our backs, the damage it can do to a community, and how much it grieves God, but so many still get caught up in it. It’s like Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels…” Sometimes we’re in the middle of the conversation, and half swallowed the morsel, before we even realize what we’re doing!
I think part of the reason is that we don’t know what gossip is. Let’s take a look at what scripture says it is:
- Proverbs 11:13 – “A gossip betrays a confidence…” Anytime someone shares something they heard privately, it is gossip.
- Proverbs 16:28 – “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” Anyone sharing information to embarrass a person, cause division in a group, or harm a relationship is gossiping.
- Proverbs 26:20 – “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” Anyone sharing a problem that is already being (or has been) dealt with is gossiping.
Romans 1:29 (among other places) says that gossip is evil. A strong fellowship must be free of gossip. If you find yourself around gossip, take a page out of Joseph’s book and just run away from it. Let us all be careful with our words and to bring our concerns to God first, and then to the person we have an issue with. More info here.
What about you? Are you a gossip? Have you been gossiped about? How far have you gone to avoid gossiping?