I’ve read some impactful Christian nonfiction this year, but this book may be the most crucial.
Francis Chan writes here with a gentle, prayer-steeped tone, knowing some of what he has to say can sound hard and may be misused.
He actually pleads with readers not to use his words to berate leaders who may not be doing the best they could. And he confesses those times he’s been where some of those leaders may be. (He does warn readers who discover they’re in a church with false teaching to find a Bible-based church right away!)
So now you’re wondering what kind of book this is. It’s the result of the author’s study of what church looked like in the Book of Acts and what it looks like in other parts of the world today.
He challenges readers to “slow down long enough to marvel” [page 5] about Who God is and who we are in Him, advising, “don’t try to solve the mystery; just stare at it.” [page 7]
Chapters address wonder, pleasing God first, prayer, leadership, suffering, attitudes, and more. The focus is on simplifying, going back to the Gospel basics, and developing into an intimate capital-C Church family. The model is house churches, but it has plenty of insights and challenges that readers can apply in established building-based churches as well.
Remember it’s not about what I would like, what others would like, or what “works.” Church is for Him. [page 150]
My hope is that you will refuse to take the easy route. You need to care about His Church enough to fast and pray. You must believe you play a necessary role in the Church. [page 151]
One of the key takeaways is that each member of the church has a role to fulfill and that everyone working together is the church. The shepherds are to be training up other shepherds, not raising complacent sheep.
Francis Chan built and shepherded a megachurch in California before God called him and his family to missions in various parts of Asia. At the time of this book’s publication they were back in the United States, planting and growing house churches as part of wearechurch.com.
springs from James 1:2-4, which says, “Count it all joy, my
brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know
that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let
steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete,
lacking in nothing” (ESV).
Each entry includes an excerpt from a novel, a scripture,
and an inspirational thought with room to journal in response.
On Day 1, the author asks readers to record their personal
Sure, I get in a funk every once in a while. But, hey, my
life is pretty darn good. What personal battle am I facing?
And then it
struck me. My heart is heavy because I see the hurt, misunderstanding, and
disrespect happening all around me—in the church.
And hard on
the heels of that revelation, I ask, “What can I do about it?”
one of those instantaneous D’uh Moments?
writer, Stephanie. So, write!
And here I
writing to rag on the church? No, they’re my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Am I here
to say I’m on the hunt for the perfect local fellowship, where we all love one
another and get along 100 percent of the time? I’m almost 60 years old. I know
such a place doesn’t exist.
But am I
intent on doing my part to identify the type of community I want to belong
to—and then doing what I can to bring about change as I have the opportunity?
may be a mover and shaker, intent on following the path you feel has been laid
out before you, eyes focused straight ahead, blinders firmly in place.
me wrong, we need people who keep us moving on a God-honouring trajectory. But
we also need people who will identify obstacles in the road and come up with a
creative way to deal with the obstacles. Sometimes barreling right through them
is not the best course of action.
importantly, we need people who recognize that there are men and women, young
people, and children among us who may have ideas that are far better than our
own. We need decision-makers who are humble enough to learn from those without
as much experience as they have. (The Bible has a lot to say about humility and
need people who will recognize the giftings in others and nurture those
giftings, setting individuals free to minister in ways that give their
uniqueness an opportunity to flourish.
without a doubt, we need people who recognize the wounded. Sure, some are obvious,
but some people have developed great skill at withdrawing into themselves
because they’ve been hurt over and over and over.
clearly see the path ahead? Cast that vision in a way that enables others to
see what you see. Be patient with those who don’t quite get it. Don’t rush out
too far ahead. And be humble enough to consider others’ ideas and input.
motoring along, keeping your head down and doing your own thing? While we need
diligent, hardworking peacemakers who keep things moving forward, we also need
them to speak up when things aren’t moving in the right direction. Just this
past year, I learned there is a way to respectfully address concerns about the
direction our churches are going without being prideful and argumentative,
without seeking to cause descension and division. And when we see issues that
need to be addressed, it just may be our job to bring them to light.
there are those who are so hurt and wounded that they do their very best to
blend into the shadows. Some are “so done” with church. Do we provide a place
for them to be open and honest? Do we really listen to what they have to say?
Do we consider if there is something we should change, both individually and as
a fellowship? Do we truly weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who
Church, there is a place for every believer in Jesus. He has made each one unique, with specific gifts and talents He has called us to develop and use. Let’s make a place for everyone at the table. (click to tweet this)
And let’s do what James said in James 1:9, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (ESV).
Steph Beth Nickel is a freelance editor and writer and an author. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Say to all your people and your priests, “During these seventy years of exile, when you fasted and mourned in the summer and in early autumn, was it really for me that you were fasting? And even now in your holy festivals, aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves?” Zechariah 7:5b-6, NLT*
True worship is a heart-and-spirit response to the Living God.
Sadly, we can lose focus and make our Christian gatherings about us instead. Congregations can take sides over music styles, service format, formality of prayers, etc.
It becomes all about us – what pleases us, what we deem the best way to express ourselves. It becomes our activity – the routine we follow for personal satisfaction.
But God wants first place in our hearts. When the structure or control of the event means more than He whom we gather to honour, we have a problem.
When we fight amongst ourselves over it, we have a problem.
When we’re there for what we get instead of Who we worship, we have a problem.
We need to worship God privately and corporately. Different people will bring different styles and ways of expression. Our focus must always be on God, not on personal gratification or on how well we’ve “done the job.”
It’s the pure hearts He’s looking for, not the people who are trying to make it all about themselves.
God who is King over all, help me not seek to worship for the experience, although may I experience You. Gathering with other believers, help me not to insist on my preferences in song and structure at the expense of others who know a different way. Join our hearts to desire and to bless You, and unite us in worship that is pleasing to Your heart.
So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. Acts 20:28, NLT*
Let’s face it, church is a collection of sinners saved by Jesus’ blood, plus those still fumbling toward saving faith. Some are easy to love, but most of us have sharp edges, abrasive surfaces, or other sources of irritation.
We’re in the process of spiritual growth, and what God sees in us is not always visible to those looking through human eyes. But He’s building us into the Body of Christ, and into His Temple.
He sees value in us. Enough that Jesus died to redeem us.
He commands us to love one another. (John 13:34-35) He’s not asking us to do anything He hasn’t done first, and He offers the Holy Spirit within us to produce that love for one another. We just need to choose to obey, even when it’s hard.
Is there someone in your church who’s impossible to love? Pray for him or her. Regularly. If you ask God to grow His love in you – and persistently choose to cooperate with Him – He’ll surprise you.
Most times it’s not that extreme, but may we remember to ask what He sees, instead of focusing on what we see. May we remember the high value He sets on us – as individuals and as His flock.
God our Shepherd and our Saviour, we dare not dismiss any soul You love. Please help us see what You see, and grow Your love in our hearts for each member of Your Body. Show us what You see in us, as well, and help us surrender fully to Your cleansing and growth.
Matt Maher’s song, “Instrument,” made a powerful difference in my life during a very difficult time in my own church life.
I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1, NLT*
Last Saturday night, thinking about church in the morning, I quoted this verse with a kind of self-mocking regret. It’s not how I’ve felt about attending in a long time. I go, but there’s no gladness to it.
A few minutes later, I climbed into bed and turned to where I’d left off in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. You can guess which verse was top of the page. Zing!
I stopped to think about what it meant. The house of the LORD. Not a place where a group of mismatched people gather.
It’s about God – not about them, us or me. About honouring and worshipping the One who created and redeemed us. The One who still has a purpose for us, if we’ll get out of our own way and follow Him.
I know “church” isn’t a building. It’s the body of believers who are the “house” of the Lord. And I know His Spirit dwells in each of us and we don’t need to be with others to worship (although Hebrews 10:25 says not to give up meeting together).
But I’m challenged to make attending church more than habit or duty. More than a grim choice, acting in trust that God will do something. I’m reminded to see it as going to meet with God and worship Him.
That’s a radical attitude refresher. It means not only getting enough rest on Saturday night, but preparing my heart for Sunday. Praying for the leaders, for the service, for God to prompt folks to attend. Fixing my eyes and heart on God, not on congregational issues. It even affects the care I take with my appearance.
How did Sunday morning go this week? My heart was different. I served more willingly, remembering who I was really serving. I heard God in the message. While I can’t say I felt worship, I did worship. And I didn’t come home depressed, because I’d been looking upward instead of horizontally.
Holy God, You call us to worship alone and corporately, not because You need affirmation but because it builds our faith. It reminds us of who You are and of Your love for us. Thank You for not letting us settle into negative ruts. Continue to prune, shape and guide us into followers worthy of Your Name. Make us useful and joyful for Your Kingdom.
Let Matt Redman’s song, “Here for You,” remind us why we gather to worship.
Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. Philippians 4:2, NLT*
Because you belong to the Lord.
We forget this perspective, forget that belonging to the Lord is supposed to make a difference in our behaviours and our motivations. Not so we can earn more love (or more salvation) – we can’t — but because we love this God who loved us first.
We want to please Him. And we want the people around us to see the difference He makes in our lives. In cases like this, to see that we value loving Him more than we cherish our very real hurts and disagreements.
Euodia and Syntyche have had a serious falling out. They’ve worked as a team before, likely been close, so this is more painful than if they’d never been friends. Or perhaps they never really got along but were able to overcome it until now.
The friction is hurting the local body of believers. It’s also giving ammunition to the scoffers who think all this love-and-unity stuff is too good to be true.
And it does the same today. In every group of believers, there will be differences of opinion. Even conflicts. And our enemy loves to get us focused on anything that can divide us. The good news is, God wants to use these opportunities as ways to demonstrate His kingdom living. If we’ll rely on Him.
Because you belong to the Lord.
It’s not about us. It’s about God – the news of what He’s done for us and His power to save us from ourselves. We don’t have the luxury of indulging in hurt feelings and splits. Even if Euodia and Syntyche can’t work together anymore, like Paul and Barnabas, they need to reconcile in the common ground of Christ.
If we can make reconciliation more important than restitution or revenge, the world will recognize something – Someone – holy at work.
Our God, You ask us to do what’s impossible, but all things are possible with You if we’ll choose to believe. Conflict is part of living. Please help us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. Give us willingness and power to forgive, and remind us that forgiving doesn’t mean the “other side” is right. Help us to love those who have hurt us, and to pray for their good. Intervene in disputes among Your children. Help each to understand the other, and to see where confession, change and courage are needed. We ask this for the sake of Your Kingdom and Your reputation in this world.
For me, it’s meant repenting of an attitude of discontent. Reminding myself that it’s not about what I want. Recommitting myself to live in a way that honours and trusts in God.
God our Maker and Sustainer, somehow You will work all the messes of life into something beautiful. Forgive our grumbling and our discontent—and our fear—when we don’t like what we see. You don’t like it either, but You can work with it. Help us trust You. Help us work with You to be part of Your solution instead of being part of the negativity.
Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. Romans 12: 4-6a, NLT*
In late 2011 I had a short-term job as part of a small team. Sometimes we were two, sometimes three. We had the common goal of distributing Christmas help to needy families.
There were a lot of details, loose ends, and sometimes a flood of volunteers needing direction. My supervisor could stop, look at the big picture, and direct traffic. Time and again, she turned a chaotic group of people into focused workers, each with his/her own task contributing to the whole.
I’d have been hiding in the corner, whimpering.
But I could handle the paperwork details. And she balanced my details and kept me from focusing on one tree and missing the forest.
We worked together in unity, each appreciating what the other did. There was no competition or self-pity that we weren’t the best at everything. Nor was there resentment of the other for not having the same abilities.
In our families, our workplaces, our churches… we have different gifts and we need each other. The problem is, some gifts can come wrapped in argumentative, competitive or just plain difficult packages. And sometimes we get difficult, feel unappreciated… “Why am I always the one who has to do this? Couldn’t someone else take a turn?”
God who formed us and who is patiently shaping us into who You designed us to be, thank You for our differences. Forgive us our impatience with one another. Forgive us our resentment of one another’s shortcomings, real or perceived. Help us see how we fit together, especially as families and as the church. Help us submit to You and to one another, help us to love one another and to give grace to cover the difficult spots. Help us value unity more than getting our own way. Make us one, as You are one.
I couldn’t find a video of Geoff Moore’s “The Body of Christ” (from his Saying Grace album) so here’s something a little different that the Lord provided for me. Please don’t look for accurate theology; take what’s true and applicable and remember that the power behind our oneness is Jesus Christ. This is from Disney’s Lion King 2: “We Are One.”
God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. Ephesians 2:20-22, MSG*
I love the way The Message puts this: God building a home, fitting each brick and stone, each of us built into it.
The individual bricks and stones may be a variety of sizes, shapes, colours and textures, but each one has a place and we need to cooperate with God as He fits us into our spot. As the builder, God applies the mortar to join us together, but first He cleans us. You wouldn’t stick a dirty brick into a wall, either for aesthetics or for optimal adherence.
I’m challenged by how much dirt floats around a construction site and what that might look like in our congregations and other Christian groups. Irritation builds up, we start noticing that others aren’t doing things our way. We focus on weaknesses instead of strengths.
Creator God who loves and saves us, thank You for building each of your children into a holy temple where You can dwell. You’ve cleaned us and you’re building us, but help us remember our ongoing need to keep clean. Forgive us for the gunk that accumulates so quickly, and help us keep working at it. Thinner layers are easier to scrub off and don’t dim our shine as badly.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your prosperity. Psalm 122:6-9, NIV*
This psalm always reminds me to pray for Jerusalem—for Israel—for God’s chosen people to recognize their Messiah, and for peace in their land.
Today I noticed it’s one of the songs of ascents the people would sing as they journeyed to Jerusalem for the prescribed feasts. They were coming to worship, and this lets me see their prayer of blessing from a different perspective: it’s not patriotism, they’re blessing the Holy City because of the Temple at its heart.
What about my own church? I pray for individuals when I know of a need, and sometimes I pray for the congregation as a whole, for vision or attitude. I pray for our church leaders and events.
But I’m challenged to pray after the pattern of Psalm 122 for my congregation today, for those who love my segment of the Body of Christ. For unity, for peace, “for the sake of the house of the LORD our God.”
Lord of Heaven and Earth, thank You for making a way for all people to come to You in worship. You’re building us into a living temple, and we need to have that same care for the Body of Christ that the Israelites had for the physical Temple. Help us intercede for one another. Grant us peace, security, prosperity…as You define them, and for Your glory.
Here’s a good prayer for each of our congregations and for the whole church: “Bind Us Together.”