A couple of years ago, the church I had attended for seven years closed its doors. Though I didn’t like it, the change gave me an excuse to begin attending another church closer to home. Over the next few months – OK, it took me a full year – I went back and forth on if I should permanently settle at the new church or keep looking.
I became quite the church critic. I mentally tallied everything from the songs they sang to the pastor’s speaking style to how they handled baby dedications.
But my most common measuring rod? I judged my new church by what I got out of it.
Our first concern
The New Testament is full of teaching about church. There are passages about church leadership, church structure, church activities and ordinances, plus many examples of churches and the Christians in them.
Ask any New Testament writer and they’d tell you that church is important. Take it from the writer of Hebrews, for example:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Interesting. Nowhere does this passage tell me to judge my new church by what I get from it. What I want. How I feel. How ready I am to meet the coming week after spending time within the church walls. While we certainly need to be growing and benefiting from our church, our personal satisfaction is not supposed to be our first concern.
Instead, we are encouraged to consider how to stir each other up. Not to disagreement or political fervor, but to love and good works. We are given the responsibility to help each other complete the good works God has planned for us. This is amazing!
3 ways to stir
Church is not where we merely sit back and listen to other people tell us about Jesus. At church, every Christian has interpersonal work to do – and many ways to do it.
1. Good listening.
It’s easy to think we’re listening when we’re not. True listening (or active listening) genuinely cares about the person who is talking. When we really listen, we’re thinking more about the person in front of us than what wise or witty comment we can make in response. Often, true listening involves more questions than statements. Good, genuine questions (an art in and of itself) invite the speaker to share more of their heart with us. I’m not very good at this kind of listening, but I’ve been on the receiving end enough to realize its value, and I’m working on my own listening skills.
2. Reframing or initiating conversation topics.
Be an active participant in conversations. Has someone started gossiping about someone else or griping about a church event? Say something positive about the person or event. Or bring up your own ideas for conversation topics. Share what God has been teaching you. Tell others what you feel God has placed on your heart to share.
Whoever wrote Hebrews tells us to, “…consider how to stir up one another…” That consideration sounds like thinking ahead of time about how to stir others up. There are so many people at church whom I only see on Sundays. What if I thought about them on Tuesday, mulling over some questions I could ask them? What if I prayed for them on Thursday? By thinking of and praying for them throughout the week, we will be much more engaged with the things they talk about on Sunday. Let’s pray that God would give us insight into how to encourage those we see every week as well as those we rarely talk to.
Some stirring is easy. Pour a little milk on your cereal and there are no issues.
But stirring bread dough is a different story. The ingredients join and become a thick ball. Just mixing in the last bit of flour feels like a job for Ironman.
Easy or hard, all stirring involves change – whether from dry cereal to milky or separate ingredients to pizza dough.
And change can be hard.
But God is in the business of changing people, and sometimes He uses us to spark little changes in others’ lives. It’s a delicate yet weighty responsibility. We can’t presume to know God’s will for someone else, but the fact remains that we are called to encourage each other to live out the life we were called to live. And to listen when others encourage us.
So start a conversation this Sunday. Stir up some love and good works.
Copyright 2019 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.