Did you know Jesus never taught church (or synagogue) attendance? Not even once.
He probably assumed the people he taught would attend their respective houses of worship, but he didn't feel the need to teach this as a core value. In fact, the gospels only present Jesus in the temple a few times--and in the one time they all report, Jesus tore the place apart!
Yet, for many of us, church attendance is the height of our spiritual commitment.
We have reasons for this. We point to one big reason in the bible itself: "[Do not give] up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but [encourage] one another" (Hebrews 10:25). We tell others that the bible commands their attendance at church meetings.
So we have church members attending bible studies out of obligation, not love. When obligation is the foundation, little encouragement happens. Lifelessness is prominent.
We have church members attending bible studies and worship services when they are sick. These poor members take the day off work, or struggle through the day, yet muster up their remaining strength to attend a bible study, rather than staying home and resting.
Is this really what God intended?
What if we misunderstood this teaching in Hebrews? One reality in Hebrews is that people were deserting the faith, giving up on it (and Jesus) in the midst of persecution and trial. There are numerous calls throughout this book to retain faith and keep strong (Heb. 2:1). The warning passages (Heb. 6:4-6, for example) are intended to remind people of what they have and what they stand to lose if they leave.
Then we come to Hebrews 10:25.
We need to remember that the early church was nowhere near as developed as we are, two thousand years later. We have buildings, an internal structure, a board of directors, a leadership structure, programs, meetings, budgets, bank accounts, legal forms, policies, things to maintain, and people to pay. The early church had little of this.
What the early church had was each other.
This is the core of what the writer is teaching in Heb. 10:25. If you don't have each other, you can't possibly stay faithful. That's why you need to focus on encouraging each other as a core value. Encouragement builds the body of Christ and keeps others strong when they feel like quitting.
"Meeting together," in Heb. 10:25, is not about attendance at the church building. It's about not giving up on others, or yourself, or Jesus. It's about not giving in to temptation and trials. It's about remembering who and whose you are. It's about being together as a group, sharing the unity and fellowship that are in Christ.
So if you're sick, stay home and rest. There's no need to be around others. No mature believer will look down on you.
If you're tired after a long day, take the night off. Don't feel obligated to attend a Wednesday night bible study out of fear of what others will say or think. No mature believer looks at church attendance as the barometer of your faithfulness. (In fact, they shouldn't be measuring your faithfulness to begin with; they have enough to worry about with themselves.)
Jesus taught that we are to love and serve each other. This happens in and out of meetings, worship services, and bible studies. Church attendance, in any form, is not the goal we are after.
Focus on love, service, and encouragement--and let your attendance serve these goals.
Do you agree? Disagree? Please leave your comments.
Improper bible reading gives up on the bible too easily, focuses too much on acquiring knowledge, and promotes pride. Proper bible reading, on the other hand, transforms you: it leads to worship, good works, and stronger faith. Be transformed by reading the bible, making a plan to minister, and taking action.
Below is a short outline of my sermon for Sunday. I tackle the difference between improper and proper bible reading and what that means for our transformation. Any feedback? Is anything unclear? What would you like me to expand?
True bible reading is transformative and teaches us how to do God's will.
- Compare a bible to a novel in number of pages, size, time to read, etc. Why do we read one [the novel] over the other [bible]?
Transition: Reading the bible, when we get to it, is challenging. These challenges can lead to several ways we improperly read it.
Improper bible reading will not transform you.
- Improper bible reading gives up too easily [challenge of sticking to a bible reading plan].
- IBR focuses too much on acquiring knowledge [all answers, no action].
- IBR promotes pride [looking down on others because you know more or attend more].
Transition: We learn about transformative, proper bible study in Neh. 8:1-10.
Proper bible reading transforms you.
- leads to worship (6).
- leads to good works (10).
- leads to stronger faith (10) [also include Romans 12:1-2].
Transition: So if we know what happens when we read the bible reading properly, how do get there? How can the bible transform us?
The Best Bible Reading Plan Ever.
- Read (not study) the bible [explicate the difference].
- Meditate and make a plan ["world's best bible reading plan"].
- Take action [do something].
Application step: Read the bible, make a plan, and take action.
As I've been studying biblical church leadership over the past year, I keep coming back to the New Testament books of 1 Timothy and Titus and these passages: 1 Corinthians 12-14; Romans 12:3-8; and Ephesians 4:7-16. It's rare for a book on church leadership to give proper attention to these passages, so I find myself reading and thinking about these texts (and commentaries on them).
Recently, I found a book called The Equipping Ministry of the Pastor
(EMP), by Jerry File. EMP is a short book, only 93 pages long. But it's well-written, and it covers the pastor's work by specific study of the problems in the Corinthian church (mainly due to the arguments over spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14), the work of the pastor detailed by Paul in 1 Timothy, and the five-fold ministry of leadership presented in Ephesians 4.
Dr. File states that the goal of church leadership, and the ultimate purpose of the pastor (referred throughout as the teaching-shepherd, via Ephesians 4:12), is to equip the saints for perfection. The pastor does this mainly through teaching the word to the congregation. (It's the congregation's responsibility to learn and to allow the pastor time for study and teaching.) Teaching the congregation is done both corporately and privately, either in small groups or in individual meetings.
File also places emphasis on the role of the evangelist. He points out that, biblically, evangelists would proclaim the gospel, call the converted together to form a church, and appoint elders before moving on to a different area. These appointed elders could become the teaching-shepherds of the congregation, or the congregation could employ a teaching-shepherd from outside the congregation.
As File is presumably Baptist, based on the seminaries he attended, it's no surprise that he does not cover the role of the apostle and prophet in the contemporary church. In fact, he states that these roles were foundational (Eph. 2:20) and have since passed away since the foundation has been laid. He locates this foundation in the completion and formation of the New Testament. While I see this logic, I also have some reservations about it and see no problem acknowledging that God may gift, through his Spirit, different individuals to function apostolically or prophetically. The difference for me is that these are not given titles of "apostle" or "prophet." Instead, they function this way because of their gifts.
Much attention is paid to the equipping of the church. The pastor is to teach the word because it's through the word that the church becomes equipped for ministry, and it's through equipping that the church is perfected. This incorporates insights from 1 Corinthians 12-14, as File points out that the church is not to expect the pastor to do all the ministry. In fact, the church, through their various gifts, is expected to minister to each other. They learn about this, and become equipped for it, through the teaching ministry of the teaching-shepherd/pastor.
This book is a little light in places and I would have liked more depth. Overall, it presents a nice study, almost in outline form, of the work of the pastor and the expectations of the church. For me, the attention paid to biblical texts lets me offer a strong recommendation for this book. If you are looking for a book that details biblical leadership, you will be happy with this one.
Nehemiah 8:1-10 (Introduction)
Good bible reading goes beyond merely acquiring information. To read the bible properly, we need to do so transformatively, seeking application that leads us to action.
In Nehemiah 8:1-10, Ezra the priest called the Israelites together for worship. This worship was quite unlike anything we'd expect today. Rather than singing praise songs for an hour or listening to a 30 minute sermon, the Israelites heard Ezra read from the law for hours at a time. And they "listened attentively to the Book of the Law" (8:3).
The immediate result of listening to the law being read was worship (8:6). The people understood from the law that God was holy and they needed to be his servants. But they became self-absorbed with their worship. Perhaps they began to feel that they had accomplished a lot simply by worshiping God. Perhaps they dwelt too long on their sins.
Nehemiah noticed that the people did not properly understand the purpose of the bible study they were involved with. He reminded them that bible reading and study was not to result in prolonged introspection and weeping. Proper bible reading is to be transformative--it needs to result in action.
This is why Nehemiah commanded the people to stop mourning and weeping (8:9). They were not wrong to feel this way. But these feelings were not the goal of the bible study--action was. So he told them to stop mourning and weeping (8:9).
Instead, they were to feed themselves...and others. They were to "send [food] to those who have nothing prepared" (8:10). This is what all good, proper, transformative bible study does--it provokes us to action.
The Dangers of Bible Study
There are some dangers in bible study, however. The first danger is to simply stop reading. Bible study and reading can be difficult. We do well to read the bible, but because the bible is a large book that contains many different genres, we can become unsure how or what to read. The temptation is to stop. We need to overcome this temptation by pressing on, reading, learning, and doing.
The second danger of bible study is to focus on knowledge for its own sake. When we read the bible, we become excited about what we're learning. But we go wrong when our excitement flows over into merely acquiring knowledge. Our spiritual growth isn't about how much we know, but about how much we are being changed--by God, through his word.
The third danger of bible study is to become prideful because of the knowledge we are gaining. This is different from the second danger because that danger focused only on knowledge acquisition. This danger is worse, because it causes us to look down on others who don't know as much as we do. We should never compare ourselves to others based on bible knowledge or how many bible studies we attend.
The Purpose of Bible Study
In contrast to these, proper bible study leads us to worship God. As we learn about the bible, we learn about God--who he is, what he's done, and what he's going to do. We learn about his plan of salvation. We learn about Jesus, and how we are to live like him. This leads us to worship, to be in awe of God.
Proper bible study should also lead us to good works. Just as Nehemiah encouraged the Israelites to ministry, we need to learn from our bible reading to be involved in ministry. This is merely an extension of Jesus' ministry, so as we learn about him, we learn what we need to do--serve and love others in his name.
Finally, proper bible study strengthens our faith in God. The motivation given to the Israelites for overcoming themselves and serving others is to allow the joy they have in God to be their strength. Bible reading should promote strong and growing faith in God. And as your faith increases, your joy does as well!
As Paul reminds in Romans 12:1-2, God desires for us to serve him. He transforms us as we allow him to. As we read the bible and seek to apply it, God teaches us how to serve him better. Proper bible study leads us to worship God, to good works, and to stronger faith in him.
This is a follow-up to Sunday's sermon, explaining how Paul extends his teaching about how we need to contribute to and cooperate for the common good. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Paul teaches that we, though diverse, are unified as one body in Christ. Because of that, we are obligated to live a certain way, which includes performing our individual duties so that the whole body functions properly.
If the title of this post completely confuses you, just hang on! I'll walk you through it.
Yesterday, I posted about the value of online connection
and what we are trying to do with our online networking accounts. Today, I want to follow up with a simple way of connecting. You can start this immediately if you are already on Twitter, or if you'd like to set up a Twitter account.What is a Hashtag?
One of the things that makes Twitter so valuable is that it runs in real-time. That means that I can type and publish and update and you can read it immediately. This makes is extremely valuable for search--you can search within Twitter for posts about topics and events and receive information in real-time.
Going back to yesterday's post
, if you are posting updates to Twitter during the sermon, others can read these updates in real-time. This means that other church members who may be on Twitter at the same time can read your updates and respond. It also means that others who read your Twitter updates but are not church members can see your updates about the sermon or worship service as you post!
This is where hashtags come in. A hashtag is, very simply, a way to create a search term within Twitter. For example, when you go to Google to search for something, you'll type in something like, "cheap plane tickets." That is your search term that you use at Google.
You can do this also at Twitter. Go to Twitter
and search for "bible." It will return several results, based on when it finds the word "bible" in someone's update. However, a hashtag allows a poster to add the tag at the end of their post to mark that entire post for that search term. For example, when I post an update to Twitter about my sermon, I will include the hashtag #bible or #sermon. (Note that hashtags always use the pound "#" symbol ahead of the word.)Why Use a Hashtag?
As I stated above, marking a post with a hashtag is a deliberate way of linking your post to a particular search term. Now, when you search Twitter for #bible instead of "bible," you will receive posts that posters have deliberately marked for that purpose. Rather than receiving feedback about someone deciding to buy a bible (search term "bible"), you will most likely receive information about bible studies, sermons, and information about the bible.
You can also use a hashtag to build a collection of posts around a topic. This is what we are working at doing for the Horton Road Church of Christ. We are using the hashtag, #hrcc, for church-related posts. For example, in this update
I ask church members posting on Twitter to use that particular hashtag when they post about the church.
You can also search at Twitter for that hashtag, #hrcc, and find updates about the church that various church members have posted using that hashtag.
How to Use a Hashtag?
It's very simple to use the #hrcc hashtag. When you post a message to Twitter, simply use that tag somewhere in your message. For example, you might post this: "Really enjoyed worship service this morning. It's encouraging to be with other Christians. #hrcc" This would allow anyone searching that tag to read your message and begin interacting with you about the worship service.
You can also use this hashtag simply by searching for it at Twitter. You don't even need to have an account for this. You can simply go to Twitter.com, type #hrcc into the search box, and it will return the search results for that hashtag. You can then read what others are posting about the church and our activities, even if you don't have an account.
I encourage you to consider how these online networking services may be useful for you. If you have any questions, I'd be more than happy to talk with you about these services, or even help you with them.
Connection has always been an important part of any church, but particularly of Churches of Christ. It's one of the reasons owe have multiple bible studies during the week. It was a heavy influence motivating the beginning of Sunday evening worship services.
The idea was, the more times you could get together, the stronger you would be as a group.
Certainly, there is much to argue with this. Generations of loose acquaintanceships, masquerading as friendships, demonstrate that simply gathering together, even frequently, does not build real relationships. But there is still something about connecting with each other that makes us feel better and feel closer to each other.
Some churches meet this need through the offer of different fellowship activities. Other churches use small groups. The idea behind these is to offer varied points of connection, assuming that if we offer a large enough variety of ways to connect with others, people will find an avenue that fits them and become involved.
But in today's world, many people don't have the time to spend attending multiple classes, services, and activities at the church building. Some live far enough away from where the church they attend that it's impractical to meet more than once each week. Others have work schedules or family obligations that often conflict with meeting times.
But these people still yearn for some kind of connection outside of weekly Sunday worship services. And this is where the power of the internet comes in. Just as previous generations would stay connected to each other during the week by phone, today's generation stays connected by email, text message, or online communication.
These networks provide means of communication and connection by the ways they link people together. Other than email, a couple of the bigger networks online are Facebook
. Many people use these services to build a profile about themselves, who they are, what they like, and so on, and to stay in touch with other friends.
I personally vouch for both these services. I have accounts at both, and have stayed in touch with old friends and church members through both. Facebook generally keeps accounts private, but you may check out my Twitter account at this link
. (Twitter accounts are public by default, though you can set your account to be private, if you want.) If you have a Facebook account, you can connect with me by clicking here
These services can also be used evangelistically, for fellowship, and for Christian communication. In addition to sharing thoughts and messages with others, I also use these services to share links to my sermons, to good articles I found online, and to other resources that can be used devotionally.
At the Horton Road Church of Christ, we're slowly building our online infrastructure, piece by piece. We desire to deepen our communication with each other. We have set up a Facebook page
and a Twitter account
and we encourage those who have accounts to use them both to connect with each other and to spread the word about our church by posting a brief update about your church experience on Sunday or after some other activity.
An example of how this all might work is this: A church member is inspired by the Sunday worship service. She goes home and posts about her excitement on her Facebook account. She then contacts another church member through Facebook, asking what she thought about the sermon. This church member responds later in the night, thereby creating a positive flow of communication about the church that can be seen by others who may not even be members of the church! Meanwhile, a friend who doesn't attend church reads this member's Facebook update and responds, opening the door to information being shared about the church.
Another church member hears something during the sermon that really sparks his interest. He pulls out his phone and sends a post to his Twitter account. This post is broadcast to all who are following him. Information about the church and the church's teaching goes out, live, to anyone who is following this church member's updates. Later, when he checks in at night, he sees a couple comments and questions from friends about what he posted. This opens a dialogue about the church and what we believe.
These examples may seem far-fetched, but they are in the realm of possibility. I encourage you to investigate these services and consider signing up, or if you already have accounts, use them for God's glory by communicating with other church members and posting thoughts about our worship services and activities. You never know how someone might be reached. It's up to us to use the tools we can to take the gospel into our world.
Competition with other Christians is dangerous and does not achieve anything useful. The Spirit gives us gifts so we can cooperate in ministry and achieve the common good. How are you contributing?
Watch the sermon slidecast below, or download or stream the audio only at the link below the slidecast.
Please leave some comments.