If This Were A REAL Church…

In spite of Jesus’ repeated warning that if we faithfully follow him we were sure to be crucified with him we keep thinking that the Christian faith is a technique for smooth sailing in life (Joel Osteen).

During a recent discussion with a conflicted congregation one of the leaders said, “If this were a truly Christian church, we wouldn’t be having these problems.” The assumption was that the congregation’s crisis was due to a failure to be real Christians.

Sometimes that’s the case. But not always. Sometimes we find ourselves in a painful, conflicted and difficult mess not because we’re not faithful to Jesus but because we are following Jesus!
In Judges 6, amid all sorts of defeats and struggles related to the conquest of Canaan, an angel appears and tells the Israelites that God is with them. Gideon impudently asks the angel, in effect, “If the Lord is really with us, why are we in this mess?” The implication is that, if the Lord were really behind us, we wouldn’t be failing.

But when the Lord promised to give Hebrews land, the Lord did not promise it would be easy. When Jesus promised us salvation he did not promise it would be painless.

Jesus calls us not only to get along with one another but to love one another, to forgive enemies, to love the truth which is Jesus Christ more than we love comfort and security, to both honor the past and be faithful to a living, loving God. That’s tough.

Most human institutions are content to survive, to make it from one year to the next in solvency. The church must make disciples, be light to the world, tell a deceitful, death-denying culture the truth, etc. In other words, Gideon, sometimes we’re in a mess because the Lord is really with us! And we find ourselves in peril because we’re really with the Lord.

Our church faces many challenges – financing ministry in a recession; managing a complex far-flung organization; attracting people who have so many options in their lives, etc.

Let us remind ourselves in worship this Sunday that our greatest challenge is that which it has always been – loving and serving a living, truthful God!

William H. Willimon

This coming weekend Patsy and I will be at the Clergy Spouse Retreat at Sumatanga. I hope to greet many of our clergy spouses at this great gathering.

19 thoughts on “If This Were A REAL Church…

  1. That's a really good point. So often people just leave their churches when things get difficult and start going to a "new" church. Part of being the church, in my opinion, is working out our differences with the people in the church.


  2. Some good points in this article,however it appears in his last few post of this nature he seems to take the opportunity to "thump" charismatic pastors i.e.Joel O.in this one .It seems like sour grapes.Wish he would just stick to issues of UMC thats where the attention is needed.The point could be delivered without the name dropping.Again sour grapes? Read other post and you decide.


  3. Read Church Renewal as Theological Recovery posted 9-14-09.Correct me if I am wrong,but it appears these post tend to take a "jab" at charismatic preachers.That is not helpful in solving issues of UMC.Sometimes I think the UMC should be a little more charismatic and a little less critical.


  4. Thanks for the reminder that difficulty is a part of discipleship whether we waant to admit it or not. Thanks for the jab at the "its all about me and making me feel better" school of thought. In these times hard decisions must be made and old ways of thinking must change. "No pain no gain" is a better realiity for the Christian walk.


  5. It is so important to remember that just because things are hard doesn't mean we're doing it wrong. In fact, sometimes things are hard because we're doing it right. We are about to enter ministry after pushing off the call for years, and it's going to require a lot of life changes for our family. Some of these changes are going to be hard. One song that has really stuck with me since I heard it this summer is Randy Travis' version of "Through the Fire" (originally by the Crabb Family). Here's part of the chorus:He never promised the cross would not get heavy and the hill would not be hard to climb,He never offered victory without fighting but He said help would always come in timeIncidentally we have planned to name our son Gideon when I give birth in about a month, and I had never noticed in the Biblical story that Gideon is asking God some of the same questions that we have asked recently. Thanks for pointing that out. Perhaps we chose the name Gideon for more reasons than we knew!


  6. These past few days I have observed the Inspiration Network shamelessly telling listeners that a $900 gift to them will grant to them God's favor, insinuating unlimited material wealth to generous givers. Too many of these charismatics are essentially truthful enough but not nearly complete. Yes, the Lord wants to bless us, but blessings are not always material. We fail to see that, and charismatics fail to preach that.At some point, Christians must be willing to move from "milk" to "solid food", and it is the Church charged with leading the way.


  7. This week our epistle reading starts,2 Timothy 4:5–18 CEV "5 But you must stay calm and be willing to suffer. You must work hard to tell the good news and to do your job well."In my circles, sermon focus is based a lot on Law and Gospel- law we are all sinners who need to be rescued…gospel – there is the Rescuer. Distinguishing between what is a Law statement and waht is gospel while keeping them in tension is the highest art of preaching. In this case, like in last week's passage about the rich young ruler – what appears to be LAW (you must sell – you must suffer) is actually GOSPEL – because of who you get to share life with. Paul will round out the advice in verse 5 with a description of his service,with 17 and the idea God is always standing at His side.By connecting ourselves to the health and wealth gospel, we live a comfortable life that doesn't require us to depend on a Savior. Let's instead embrace walking with Christ even in the shadow of the cross, and doing the work of sharing the love He has for us with others.dtpps Ray – most pentacostals and charismatics I know would be aghast to be linked with dominion theology/word-faith theology like Osteen's camp. And Bishop Willimon is more than welcome to critique in his blog those whose theologies differ. (he blasted my stand on Women's ordination to the pastorate – he can of course – expect the same honest appraisal and dialogue back – that's why its called dialogue)


  8. Dont get me wrong I have a problem with the give and get tv preachers.However the issue in the post is the UMC,and we must get our own house in order before we can tell someone how to run theirs.With steady declines in membership and attendance,churches closing, and giving down now is not the time to tell someone how to run their house.We have plenty of work to do at home.


  9. Ray,Where do you get the idea that this is a post only about UMC churches? I have seen this concept in churches of Christ, Christian Churches, baptist churches, and my own Lutheran Church.The concept is simple – people see the glitz and glamour of Osteen's church and say – if God is blessing them – why not us?And the answer is in clear from Bishop WIllimon. It's not about glory – its about the cross. Its not about peace and success in this world, it's about peace with God.Osteen's church is the modern equivelant of the old arguement between Francis and the Benedictine order, or between Wesley and the Anglicans, or between Luther and the RCC. Is success in the church measured by crowds coming to hear about God giving them the desires of their heart and approving what they see as right? Or is success measured by making disciples, baptizing them in the Name, and teaching them to treasure all God has communicated to them? I cannot measure my ministry by Osteen's forumale that faith = prosperity. It is – in a real way – heresy – because it focuses people on themselves rather than Christ. On worldly sucess rather than intimacy with God. (BY the way – as I mentioned, Charismatic theologicans and Christ centered preachers are as aghast at Osteen's gospel as anyone) I have, in ministry, come to realize that faith is seen when people realize they don't have the answers, and may suffer because of their sin, or the sin of the world, and still look to depend on Jesus. To embrace the cross of Christ becaus it is in His death and the hope of the resurrection that we are linked to Him.


  10. “If this were a truly Christian church, we wouldn’t be having these problems.”This used to be the perpetual criticism that was more or less on my lips, until I realized I was saying it all wrong:"If I was truly a Christian, or at least acted like one, we wouldn't be having these problems."A provocative post.


  11. dt.Since the post was from the Bishop of the N. Alabama conference of the UMC,and the next to last paragraph refers to "our"struggles, and it appears on the website of the N. Ala conference of the UMC ,Maybe my assumption was broad.However,the struggles of any of the main stream churches you mentioned are not the fault of Joel O.That reminds me of when my children would do something that we did not approve of,they would always respond with "but look what Johnnie gets to do".My response would be "but in our house we dont do that".If the main stream churches would withdraw from the "church war" and just focus on what they need to do it would prove more effective.Your message is good and true but Joel O is not stopping you from delivering it.


  12. Ray,You say that Joel Osteen isn't responsible for the problem noted – the idea that faithfulness = success. I disagree. Ask you congregation how many people have read his book, or how many people watch his "show". I am familiar enough with Wesley to know he didn't see this to be true, and in my case I know Luther and Melanchthon, Chemnitz and Walther didn't proclaim this. So where does this concept originate?Where does Soulcrushed get the idea that they were a real Christian they wouldn't be have such problems?Christians will have problems, persecutions, and trials of faith. Churches will have to deal with the repurcussions of sin, even that which is forgiven. And families will be divided, because of faith. Yet there are those out there – and yes Osteen is a major voice – that says such proves you don't trust in Christ.That's steer manure. And it needs to be identified as such – less people believe it and despair.


  13. dt You are getting all worked up over this, as a result your effectiveness as a christian will be reduced.Where does most of the un-truths come from? I had a conversation the other day with someone that believed if you were not dunked when baptised you were not saved.And as far as reading Joels books ,look at the non christian books christians are reading and the t.v.shows they watch how many christians watch desperate housewifes and brothers and sisters come on dt where is the focus.I suggest you read Pauls letters to the various churches he planted,Paul said their would be days like this, there was then and are now those who lose sight of the truth.But this thinking is of man and not God,just like many of the "traditions"of your church and mine.If christians were reading their Bible and congregations were being taught the Bible from the pulpit many could see through it.I would be concerned about the secular books and t.v. shows your congregation is clinging to rather than Joel O's book or show.Did you read Rick Warrens book? Even the baptist dont agree with everything he says and does.The simple truth dt is you know what you know and it is your job to share it.I learned later in life you can only control what you do and thats hard enough.


  14. living in a world of hurt and pain and living in a Christian world of hurt and pain are two different things. I'll take the latter every time. I like the article and I especially like the challenge at the end of it.thanx


  15. Ray,I just got back from the funeral of a friend's dad. The preacher got up and talked about the process of grief – and how great a man Jim's dad was. Jim got up, and during the eulogy spoke of how his dad would be aghast at being called a good man. That Jim's dad knew he was a sinner, and that his only hope was in Christ. That a funeral is not supposed to be about adoring the man that died, but about the Christ who redeemed that man.Next to me was a man, who was pleased by the sermon of the pastor, but in awe at Jim's eulogy. He too knew Jim's dad, good and bad. And Jim's words introduced him to a God who would love Jim's dad into heaven in view of his sin.The man left in hope.You claim I am getting all worked about this. Yet you have posted longer and with more attitude about your righteousness. This is simple – if someone under trial is convinced by Osteen's heresy that God wouldn't allow His children to be challenged, I am bound to show them God's grace.If a church considers it success by numbers or money or… I will point them to the children they baptize, the people they commune, the lives that are sustained because they know God's cHesed.That's the point of Willimon's article.


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