I still remember the pastor’s patient smile when Jeff and I, over-eager 20-somethings, approached him with our “concern.”
We explained. We cited sources. We felt so strongly.
He smiled. He’d been around the block a few times, and he simply responded,
“There are a lot of ways to do church.”
He wasn’t being dismissive or condescending, I think he just recognized our youthful zeal and earnest desire to do things right. And I think he also had spent enough time in prayer to know that wasn’t the path God was leading him on. He gave us freedom to disagree, without deviating from his course.
Now, ten years later, I recognize his wisdom, and have taken that route a time or two myself. I have smiled, listened, and said,
There are a lot of ways to do church.
I wrote last fall what 100 churches have shown me, reflecting on all the variations I’ve seen and enjoyed within local churches. But this struck me afresh in a whole new way while reading Sacred Privilege, a book for pastor’s wives written by Rick Warren’s wife, Kay.
First off, the book is great. If you are a pastor’s wife, it will be a healing balm to your heart and give you the hope and strength to see your role with newfound joy. I so appreciate her honesty, humility, transparency, and straightforward wisdom. She’s not trying to win friends or make a name for herself, she’s pouring out her heart on pages for the sake of other women. Thank you, Kay.
But on another level, it was a powerful reminder: there are a lot of ways to do church. It is so easy to look on from the outside and criticize. It’s so easy to take God’s clear leading of us, and immediately assume that’s God’s will for everyone.
I think it might be impossible to overestimate how prone we are to this!
For example, I’m not a fan of spending millions of dollars on church buildings. In my perspective, that money could be better spent. However, I know God-fearing, Spirit-led leaders have clearly heard from God to purchase land for various causes. Who am I to decide that God does or doesn’t want churches to own land? Is there a clear scriptural mandate one way or the other?
I personally love the house-church model. I appeals to me as simple, low-cost, and familial. But when we planted Renew, God led us to ask Him for the Revival Building, an old run-down building in our city. We could never have afforded it, or event wanted to, but over the course of 6 months, as we prayed circles around it, a series of amazing circumstances gave us access to it every Sunday for a remarkably low price. We’re still there, and so grateful.
Jesus preached in synagogues, in open-air, and in homes. How beautiful is it that the Body of Christ can gather in homes, schools, movie theaters, dedicated church buildings, granges, strip malls, and amphitheaters? What a lovely expression of the variety of God’s creation when we can gather in various forms, at various times, an in various ways. I think as long as He’s truly the center–and not our own egos–He’s probably pleased.
The same could be true of church methods and models. Could it be that the best method for any particular church is the one that best suits its members and its calling? That is, the one that reflects the unique spiritual gifts of its leaders and members, the one that fulfills that church’s unique calling within its unique community? Of course we are all called to make disciples, but the variety with which we fulfill that calling is vast, perhaps just as vast as the individual disciples who fulfill it!
Friends, let’s be very careful before we criticize another Christian’s earnest attempts to make disciples, further the Kingdom, and establish Jesus’ Church on the earth. The longer I minister the more I see the manifold wisdom of God displayed through the manifold variety within the local church.
There are a few church things Scripture’s clear about: qualifications for elders and deacons, how to handle disciplinary issues, and the priority of the Word and prayer. It’s even quite clear on sexuality, male-female relationships, the priority of family, financial provision for clergy, praying for the sick, and how to exercise spiritual gifts within the context of congregational worship.
But we don’t get specific instructions regarding children’s classes, membership, buildings, preaching-methods, or worship style. And yet we continue to argue ad nauseam about these things.
What I appreciated about Kay’s book was that she wasn’t trying to sell us on her model, her methods, or her way of ministry. She was selling us on Christ’s faithfulness to carry us through the highs and lows that are the life of a pastor’s wife. She’s essentially saying,
There’s one right way to do church:
Thanks for reading.