By Alex Early
“Do everything in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)
Some are under the impression that love is merely a trivial feeling that comes and goes at whim. Unfortunately, many in our churches today think that God’s love works like this as well. The Bible insists that God is not like us and that deeply loves us! In my new book, The Reckless Love of God, chapter two is dedicated entirely to looking at the nature of God’s compassionate, loving care, which he feels and extends to the crowds, the few, and individuals. Scholars state “God’s compassion, however, went beyond simply feeling the emotion; it was always demonstrated by definite acts that testified to his covenant with Israel.” Did you catch that? Don’t dismiss that as disconnected theology that really has no bearing on your leadership. God demonstrated his love by definite acts. How might this impact the way you go about leading? Telling people about the love of God or even telling the people that you love them is one thing but what would it look like to imitate our Heavenly Father and move beyond talk and feelings, into action? And no, I’m not suggesting you pull off any miracles like the flaming torch (Gen. 15:17), making a rainbow in the sky (Gen. 9:13) or shed your blood for the sin of the world (Matt. 26:28). But I am talking about ways of thinking about, speaking of, and approaching the church as a whole. You may be stuck and spinning your wheels and maybe what you need is not a better system, strategy, or structure. But maybe what we need is more love, shown in practical ways for our people.
Business, Language, and How Far is “Too Far?”
Please don’t hear this as an anti-business, “let’s have no plans, no systems, no strategies” and let’s just “be organic” rant. I enjoy reading HBR, Seth Godin, Forbes, and other business-leadership materials myself. There’s many things that the Church can and should learn from the business world today.
And yet, at the same time, there is the temptation to treat the church strictly like a business, but the results would be catastrophic. Of course, the Church is business-like in that it is recognized by the government as a tax-exempt institution, there’s a staff, pay roll, and policies in place that are all extremely necessary. Just like in the business world. But the pendulum can swing too far in that direction and therein the Church loses her edge, her identity, her focus. Here’s what’s interesting–both insiders and outsiders are right for thinking the Church can and should feel different.
Perhaps it all begins with the language leaders use when speaking of the Church. There’s an entire science out there known as “hermeneutics” that speaks to this reality. Jesus himself taught us that our words reveal what’s really going on in the human heart (Matt. 12:34). So what goes on in the heart leads to speech, and speech impacts everything.
Two brief examples will serve us well here:
The Church as a Whole
One, it is not uncommon for pastors and Christian leaders these days to refer to the local church as an “organization.” This may seem like a small thing and no big deal, but time and again it proves to be problematic. The church is not merely an organization. The Bible uses words like “bride” (Rev. 21:9), “body” (1 Cor. 12:12), “family” (2 Cor. 6:18), and “saints” (1 Cor. 1:2). What if we spoke of the Church in these terms? How would you go about tending the flock, serving the family?
Sunday is Not Game Day
Second, and please don’t hear this as an anti-Sunday rant, discouraging creativity, passion, and excellence when we gather for Sunday worship. Everything absolutely matters from the time someone pulls into parking lot until the time they leave – everything should be done with excellence and intentionality. God most certainly deserves our very best. And yet, leaders sometimes refer to Sunday gatherings as “Game Day.” It makes sense. That’s when everyone is there. But again that’s not biblical language, nor does it flow from or lead to loving one another. When the leaders refer to Sunday as “Game Day”, the people start to believe it and show up for the “big show”, looking to be wowed and amazed by the lights, music, and colorful preaching of the Word. “Game Day” doesn’t help people understand that Jesus is actually interested in their chaotic, mundane, routine, Monday-Saturday. The benediction of “Game Day” theology communicates “See you next week. Hope the next 6 days are good for you.” Sunday is not a day to perform. Sunday is not a day to impress the crowds. Sunday is not a day to show off. Sunday is the Lord’s Day. Sunday is the day that the people Jesus died for gather to worship him. Again, think about how the Bible speaks when the Church “comes together” (1 Cor 14:26) that there is to be the preaching of the Word (1 Tim. 4:13), receiving of the sacraments (1 Cor. 11:23-25), prayers to God and for one another (James 5:16) and many other things that reflect lives transformed by Jesus.
Consider the language that is bubbling out of your heart. Does it sound like you’ve “been with Jesus” (Acts 4) or does it reflect common cultural values?
Alex Early is is host of the Acts 29 Podcast, director of the Acts 29 West Academy, and author of the The Reckless Love of God.