A friend recently sent me a suggestion for a blog post, and I have been too long in responding, mainly because the issue he raises is a good, complex problem that demands a careful answer, but also because the issue is one that affects me, and has caused me to (drag my feet…) look into my own heart.
The problem? In Northern Virginia, which is part of the Metro-DC area, our lives are hectic – for better or worse – and this makes it difficult to set aside time for church-related activities. My friend believes that churches which don’t take this into account are probably not facing up to reality. And yet, my friend doesn’t want to be too pragmatic about this – he gets the command that we are to be in, but not of, the world.
So, here’s the problem, in his words: “Should churches embrace this hectic style and adapt accordingly (e.g., shorter meetings, leadership that runs at a fast pace)? Or should they provide a strong contrast and purposefully create an environment that is counter to our lifestyle in Northern Virginia by creating an environment where people just naturally congregate at the church on no set schedule (e.g., a Tuesday night coffee hour where families come and hang out with no set agenda)?”
I would answer him this way: Whatever our churches are, or will be, they are primarily its members. The members are the church, and their witness will determine to a large extent how churches look, going forward. Many of our church members are exercising gifts God has given them, and to do that in the NoVa/Metro-DC area requires working and living at a fast clip.
This is just as true of families, and the good news about getting your children fully involved in all sorts of activities that help them mature and become responsible students, performers, and team-players, is that they … mature. Parents who exercise their gifts to the fullest to provide for their family, strengthen their community, and contribute to Christ’s Church, are doing exactly what they should be doing. And children who are encouraged, loved, and – yes – trained to do those basic (homework, chores…), and extraordinary tasks (play the cello, participate in chess tournaments…), are being raised right.
However, when these things crowd out a daily, personal and family-based engagement with the Lord, then problems start to grow slowly: other gods fill the vacuum. The solution to this certainly belongs to the direction the Church gives, and the kinds, quantity, and quality of programs it offers – all of which will lead to an environment that should suit and challenge the community it serves and forms.
The solution also belongs to families: Where the “means of grace” (Bible study, prayer) are taken up daily, and worship – the primary, communal means of grace – is attended regularly, God will keep and bless a family. Jesus will become the center of that family’s life together, and they will grow to honor him in all they say, think, and do.
Now, God’s grace is real for people who are not doing these things on a daily basis – I know this all too well: Mea culpa. But a family can only grow and thrive in the Lord, when they are in regular contact with him.
We’ve been given the means – the tools – to do this, and they are user-friendly: Begin with a short Bible study, as a family, every other day, and build toward doing one every day of the week. Begin setting aside just five minutes every morning for personal prayer: It’s going to feel awkward at first, but God’s Spirit will blow on the coals, and a real fire will begin that will keep you and your family sustained through every course your lives take.
Finally, there is no substitute for regular worship attendance: Pastors provide the bricks, your daily prayers and Bible Study provide the mortar – this is the way God builds your life so that it becomes his temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and continues to stand (Matthew 7:24-27; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
Exercise the gifts God has given you. Encourage and nurture the ones you see in your children. And use God’s gifts of worship in community, daily reading of Scripture, and daily prayer to draw closer to him, and to grow in the life he wants for you. The solutions to how we program, lead, and run, as a church will only grow from these beginnings, and can only finally rest on them.
P.S.: If you’re looking for a really good, user-friendly, theologically substantial devotional for the new year – one that allows you to ease into the discipline of spending time in the Word – my wife and I are using these: