BEING CHARACTER-DRIVEN | DECEMBER 21, 2005
Ask most folks and they will agree that character is important. We would rather have a friend who is honest than one who is a hypocrite. We would rather have a boss who keeps his or her promises instead of one who lies. We would rather have a pharmacist who really uses the prescribed medicine instead of inserting a placebo. Character matters. How does one measure the character of a church? Can you measure character in attendance figures and offering receipts? Can you measure character by the existence of certain programs? Do you measure character by the absence of conflict?
When the Apostle Paul praised the Thessalonian church for their character he said, We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father our work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ(I Thess. 1:2-3). The Thessalonians were able to weave faith, hope, and love 24/7 as they communed with Christ. Faith that sees Christ in disappointment. Faith that sees Christ working in and through conflict. Faith that endures. Hope for a better future. Hope that God can work despite what the circumstances look like. Hope that obedience brings rewards we cannot immediately see. Love that values authenticity. Love that values community. Love that values truth.
God loves us in our humanity. The church is about people loving others in their humanity. Disappointment sets in and we find it difficult to express faith, hope, and love to humanity in the church. Without Christ, such love, such character, is impossible. When the grace of Christ overflows in our life: faith, hope, and love become intertwined in the community, spiritual maturity takes place, and disappointments are no longer obstacles but opportunities for Christ to do His best work in providing unity in the midst of fallen, broken humanity. This is why I love CCC so much. The differences can be celebrated. The conflicts can be embraced. The victories can be put in perspective. It is His body. It is His work. And He is creating a tapestry with the most unlikely of colors.
The character of this body is not dependent on how well things go or ministry success. The character of this body is due largely to the reality of Christ being sought in victory and disappointment. I would like to remind us again of those things most valuable to us.
Can we not as a community face reality squarely and, in the midst of disappointment, find the life of Christ manifested in our midst? Can we not embrace a worship that is so awesome and powerful that the transcendent gives us hope in disappointment? I am opposed to making Christ Community some kind of church growth model or church wannabe. One stream of evangelicalism seems to be constructing churches like Wal-Marts and marketing our faith as though we are Christians on Botox, presenting ourselves as something other than what we are. Another stream seems to mold and package Jesus so that seekers find Him palatable. Jesus is far too radical to be packaged. Jesus is far too truthful to shade or disguise scripture. I find my heart passionate about a simpler, authentic, more real, raw, stripped-down faith that embraces all of life and seeks to find Jesus in the midst of disappointment because everyone faces disappointment. Everyone is broken. Sin does that.
There is not a week that goes by that I don't have some reminder that people are yearning for a church to rise above the Madison Ave methodology and embrace an authenticity that lives out the Christ-life no matter the cost. Using our mission statement as a starting point, I think we can see clearly what kind of church CCC is to be.
A Christ-dependent community equipping people to impact their world
What does is mean to be a Christ-dependent people?
Grace-motivated vs. Legalism/obligation We want to be a church that cares about who and what motivates us. Remember what it was like to be loved, with all your warts, for the first time? Remember what it was like to know that God loves you: the sinner? You: the broken person? The grace of God washes over broken, torn, desperate hearts. God does not accept us because we promise to change, but because Jesus Christ came to pay the penalty of our sin. This grace permeates our efforts. Grace is contrary to the religious establishment with its list of cultural no-nos. We are motivated out of appreciation for what God has done in our hearts.
Process oriented vs. Results oriented To be Christ-dependent means we care more about how we do things (the process by which we operate) than we do about the results. God looks on our hearts and we want our hearts to be as sincere as possible in our efforts. We want Christ to permeate all that is done as we seek Him and labor in light of His pleasure. We believe God will reward the faithful servant who depends upon Him even though the results may not be numerically pleasing.
Biblical life teaching vs. Party allegiance Being Christ dependent means we teach as Jesus taught. Christ did not care about being accepted by any particular group, particularly by the religious establishment. His words were the fresh Words of God because they were intended for life change not to become theological texts to pick at. Jesus today would notmuch care about whether He fit as a Reformed theologian or Pentecostal or Baptist or pre-millennial or post-millennial. He spoke about spiritual reality with the goal of life change, not of a man-made system used to categorize and segment the body.
A Christ-dependent community. What does it mean to be a community?
Participatory vs. Staff-run The body of Christ is made of up gifted people, each one of us playing a part. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 12 that all parts are important. All parts must be functioning members. Unfortunately, many churches become top heavy with staff doing all the heavy lifting. There is nothing wrong with staff, but staff must train others to do the ministry. So you can't sing or teach or lead a meeting? The body of Christ still has a place for you. Every person, every gift, offered in humble service benefits the body.
Small groups vs. Anonymity As a community, we must be about connection with one another. If we are not relating, we are not connecting. Relationships take place better in small groups than in a large worship service. What is real community if it is not sharing our lives, praying for one another, and being with one another? Small groups are not a program but, really, a way of life, being the body of Christ.
Ownership vs. Consumer When we are connected, when we play a part, we take ownership. Not ownership in the sense of possession, but in the sense of having a stake in the outcome, being responsible for, tackling issues, being a member who seeks to improve, being dogged about good spiritual health. We can easily get sucked into the typical evangelical mentality where the church exists to provide the necessary programs to keep us happy. Church is not a spiritual mall where we go and consume the goods at our leisure. Church is a community of real people who find life in interaction, in being, in giving.
A Christ-dependent community equipping people.
Leadership community vs. Board management/micro-managing The best way to equip is to allow people to become part of the decision-making process. While we have elders, the elders make a small amount of the decisions. The day-to-day ministries are largely overseen by ministry leaders: men and women who meet on a regular basis to discuss strategy and pray together. Ministry leaders are given the authority and responsibility for their ministries without having to go to the elders for every little decision. Growth takes place best as people learn on the job and not out of a manual.
People/character centered vs. Task centered The best resource we have in this church are the people in it. In order for a church to be healthy, we must value people and see their growth and character development as more important than the accomplishment of a task. Failure is seen as a part of the learning process as long as people are open and willing to learn. The organization or programs must serve the organism of people and not vice-versa.
A Christ dependent community equipping people to impact.
How do we define impact? We don't define it by mere numbers and results because these things can take place in even unhealthy churches where Christ is not the true source. Let us consider a paradigm far more consistent with the life of Jesus.
Love Expressed vs. Numbers Let us define success in terms of relationships, connecting with hurting people. Counting converts like a notch on a belt is not the whole story. We must be a church with a greater concern for the value of each individual, no matter the color, background, or issues they face.
Faithfulness vs. Results A Christ-dependent community will be far more concerned about their own faithfulness and willingness to endure under pressure than they are with how many people show up for an event. God rewards faithfulness. Over and over again we are encouraged to endure, be patient, be steadfast, yet in our market-driven society we are geared to do whatever increases the bottom line and provides us comfort.
Community involvement vs. Political arm twisting I have become more and more convinced that some Christians do the cause of Christ far more harm than good by trying to throw their weight around to achieve a desired goal in society, whether it is to do battle with pornographers, the homosexual community, or abortion activists. Political involvement is fine and encouraged. We certainly need a Christian worldview represented in the public square. However, let us be the kind of church where we involve ourselves personally with those the religious establishment wants to fight. Let us assist the AIDS victims with care and begin to lovingly address those who suffer with compassion. Let us be there for a girl who is pregnant offering services to help her so that options are available. Let us talk about sex in the church and help those entrapped in pornography by saying, "We have been there. Here is how I dealt with it." My friends, let us be known as the church that is involved in the community, not the church with the bullhorns and placards.
A Christ-dependent community equipping people to impact their world.
Holistic mission vs. Vocational calling Every one of us has a mission. Every one of us lives in a particular part of the world. Every one of us lives in a neighborhood. Some have a job. All have friends. The point is, we have opportunities every day to live out the life of Christ and impact others around us. We do not have to wait for a special calling or go to a special part of the world. We have people in our front yard who need the touch of grace in their lives. It is not about a special place or a special time for those who are specially gifted. It is about every person who calls him/herself a Christian being Christ where they are.
We envision a movement, not a program. A movement of people who are willing to take risks, who are willing to lay their lives on the line to see the things we have talked about come to fruition. We will fall. We will fail at times. But we will prevail because we are always changing, learning, never thinking we have church down pat. We will endure, together, committed to seeing something so real, so authentic, that tasting the sour flavor of disappointment will not deter us from experiencing deep refreshing tastes of Christ manifested in a community of authentic, real, broken, committed, loving, grace-filled, struggling, heaven bound believers.
-- Kevin Short, Senior Pastor