For the purpose of this thread I will define the church as, the community of Jesus followers and their corporate identity and worship.
Let me start by saying I do not believe the church is irrelevent, I think it has amazing relevence to todays society. But, what the church has chosen to be about, is not only causing it to be perceived as irrelevent, but has in effect caused it to be irrelevent in many areas.
Now, I must state that my critique of the church is not meant to mean I am somehow better than it, but rather to confront some problems I see in the church, and to call it, and myself to a higher calling. I have some ideas, but not the answer, and I hope we will continue to go forward, and in some respects go backwards to our roots.
I must also state that throughout the world there are many different forms of Christianity, and my generalizations are mainly reflecting the current "western" church models and structures.
I will start with one of the things that has I think become a problem. We are Christians. The term Christian was a derogatory term made to ridicule these people that seemed obsessed with following Christ, Jesus. This is our foremost calling. We are to be followers of Christ.
In the monotheistic Jewish understanding from which our religion comes we must understand that Christ is to be central to all of our lives. It is not Christ is the center of my spiritual side, and the republican party the center of my political side. There is no animism here. It is meant to be Christ, over all of our life. We are to follow Christ in our worship, in our behavior, in our politics, and even in our structure and practice of church. Unfortunately this has not always been the case.
In our church structure and practice we have often been Paulians, or Constantinians. We have allowed others to be central to our church practice, rather than Christ. Now before you pull out your bibles and have a go at me, let me suggest to you that I have no problem with Paul. Nor see his contributions to the New Testement as less valid. I do think that we are to view Pauls advice and directions through the lens of Jesus life and teachings rather than the other way around. We tend to not have a problem doing this with the Old Testement, but when it is suggested that we look at other New Testement passages through the lens of the Gospels we sometimes hit a road bump.
This is not a bad place to find ourselves. As we see a world in which the interest in spirituality, God and even Jesus is at a new high, and interest in church at a new low, we can rejoice that one of our responses is to lift up Jesus. Jesus is the center of our faith, and our church. My goal is to lift Jesus up, rather than other important, yet less central things.
Let us start with a current Christian cliche'. Its not a religion, but a relationship. This is supposed to be true. It is what Jesus modeled, and in fact opened the door to. We are to be in relationship with God, and relationship with Jesus. And infact if we are to truly center on Jesus, everything we do is to be based around relationship.
For example Discipleship or Christian training
In church growth, and outreach circles the question often comes up, what do we do for discipleship? We search the epistles, we write books about education, and primacy theory and what not, however, if Christ is central, why do we not ask the question, "how did Jesus view and practice discipleship?"
Jesus lived in close community, actually shared community with a group of people for five years. During this time He taught them, but it is apparent that His teaching is modeling more than speaking. We see when Peter raises someone from death, he follows Jesus' practice exactly. Jesus taught the disciples how to live as a son of God, by being the Son of God in front of their eyes. He modelled it.
So we should see discipleship just as the cliche', not a religion, not a program, but a relationship. A commited, communal and ultimately a sacrificial relationship.
We are called to make disciples of all nations. Interesting we are called to make disciples, not converts, but that is another talk. It is a direct command of Jesus. However what is our methodology for this? We have Sunday school, we have evangelism teams, we have seeker senstive services, we have programs. But the question we should be asking is, how did Jesus do outreach.
The first and foremost thing we see is Jesus was incarnational, not attractional. In fact when Jesus ministry became attractive, He intentionally made it unattractive lest the crowds stopped Him from His true purpose. God did not make a beautiful, professional display, to make the sinners come to heaven. He became one of us. He came to us, and became one of us, and lived in our midst. He incarnated, and if he really is the center of our outreach, we must do the same.
It is not enought to make our services attractive to our neighbors. It is not enough to try and get our neighbors to attend church. We are called to be a part of our neighborhood. To have relationship with our neighbors. To be frequent at their tables, and them at ours. To walk through the trials and tribulations of life, and let Christ in us draw them unto the Father.
This is particularly true in this generation. In a cultural context where relativity has become more and more the accepted world view, and tolerance has become almost a religion, the message itself is not always heard. Why? Well because it is just one of many messages. The first question that is asked is not is the message true? but can I trust the messenger? If we are not a part of peoples lives, if we have not proven our charector, if we have not "been Jesus" to them, they do not know if they can trust the messanger, then they do not know if they can trust the message either.
Please let me point out that I acknowledge the mystical power of the scriptures, and the work of the Holy Spirit, and God can and does do things outside of the framework I am advocating. This does not however mean that it is always the case, nor that we should presume upon God to make up for our error.
So Jesus came into community with us, so we could hear His message. He incarnated, and we are called to do the same. But, also, His outreach was one of relational discipleship as I pointed out before. He understood that will His miracles and charisma, he could do public ministry, and did, but the true effectiveness of His ministry would not be on stage, but behind the scenes in everday life. The disciples would be the carriers of the flame of outreach to the rest of the World. This is outreach by multiplication rather than addition.
Jesus is to be the center of our practices as a church.