Many churches want to reach out to their communities. In order to draw people from the community in, church programs are run to serve their needs. Over time, the distinction between churches and community centers has become more and more blurred, and churches operate more and more like community centers. I sampled a handful of Christians from different churches asking the question: “What is the difference between a community center and a church?” Most people gave me that look as if the question makes no sense. Hardly anyone gave me a strict answer.
Two True Stories Here are two stories of Jack and John (names changed to protect the privacy of the individuals), told as a contrast to drive home how critical it is to distinguish the two.
Jack is a young adult facing tremendous stress. Struggling with a budding career in the fast lane; he always finds himself run out of time to keep up his relationship with his girl friend, and to entertain the many never ending demands from his parents. Jack is a member of the young adult’s fellowship of a community church. He is surely not alone in the issue of stress. A stress management training session, opened also to the community, was organized to meet their needs. The speaker was very well prepared. The material was very comprehensive and solid. All aspects of stress management were solidly covered: how to detect stress, how to cope, how to find solutions to manage stress. Every young adults attended walked away feeling very informed to cope, though their stress has not left them.
Like Jack, John faces similar stress issues. John approached his church for help. His church did not offer any stress management training. Not that it is not important, but John can acquire such life skills from other sources. John’s church hold on to the one thing that only the church can offer: that is the love of Jesus Christ demonstrated at the cross.
John’s church has a prayer ministry team. They committed to a two hours prayer sessions with John each week. This went on for over two months. Through prayers, they asked the Holy Spirit to reveal the deeper issues behind John’s stress. The Spirit brought back memories of John and his father. John remembered how his father made harsh remarks in disapproval over John’s desire to study music that was so important to John. This hurt John in a very deep way. The Spirit revealed that behind John’s extra volume of workload that tremendously stressed John out was John’s inability to say no. John was still chasing after the approval and love from his father, even though his father had long passed. The prayer ministry team helped John to receive afresh the touch of the unconditional love of Jesus. They led John to pray a prayer of forgiveness over his father. A heavy load was immediately lifted off from the depth of his soul. John was a captive now set free by Jesus’ love. Assured as Jesus’ beloved, John was more confident to set healthy boundaries at work that he could not do before. John ended the prayer ministry program as a transformed soul.
When a church is run as a community center, we can attend programs after programs but never have an opportunity to encounter Jesus to let Him make a difference in our lives.
Jack and his fellowship’s stress management training program is typical of such examples.
Sizing up a church, click this link: Christ-centered or Community-centered?
There are at least five spiritual dangers when a church is run like a community center.
#1. The Danger of Losing Its Saltiness
There is no reason to believe that the big brothers and big sisters program run by local community centers love their kids less than our fellowship programs organized by our local churches. Yet community programs address people’s needs based on our very limited understanding.
1 Corinthians 2:11 said, “No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” What the Father’s heart cares about for those we serve is not what we see on the surface. We will only know through discernment by the Spirit. Churches loses its saltiness when, instead of displaying godly wisdom to our life problems that draws the community to Christ, we adopt community programs developed from limited human knowledge into the church.
When the Church fails to bring heaven on earth in people’s lives; when the Church fails to draw people to the cross and to Jesus Christ, when the Church fails to manifest the power and the glory of God, but instead getting ourselves so busy to offer what other institutions can also offer, where else can people go to experience heaven on earth? where else can people go to encounter Jesus? where else can people go to see God’s glory and power manifested?
When salt loses its saltiness, it becomes useless for its purpose.
#2. The Danger of Becoming Lukewarm
Often, community-center-like programs offered by local churches are done in the name of the Lord. One can safely say that they are acts of kindness done in genuine good will. Therefore it is not entirely cold. But it is not hot on fire from being compelled by Christ’s love. Jesus died for all sinners. But only His Church grasps the significance of such a love. But when His Church’s love for Jesus grows cold and is no longer fueled by the passionate love for Him, His Church operates in a default state of lukewarmness. That is exactly what Jesus rebuked the Church of Laodicea about in Revelation 3.
It is not without a reason that Jesus asked Peter three times if Peter loved Him. Only after Peter answered Jesus that Peter loved Jesus, then Jesus asked Peter to feed His sheep (John 21). Jesus did this three times. We cannot miss the point that all ministries are sourced from us first loving Jesus with everything we have as individuals. Unless our hearts are on fire and compelled by Christ’s love, unless our hearts share the Father’s heart in desperately desiring to see captives set free, church programs done from love fueled by our flesh cannot bear fruits that last to eternity with kingdom impact. That is the danger of lukewarmness, running the risk of being spit out by our Lord.
#3. The Danger of Kicking Jesus Out entirely
Churches running like community centers does not take Jesus as the Head of the Church seriously. Organizers, administrators and leaders organize programs for the needs of the communities based on a set of Christian principles, instead of seeking out Christ’s heart for His people through the Spirit.
When churches operate primarily in self sufficiency and independence, developing church programs, forming church models using our own smarts, superficially seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit; when people coming through church programs do not encounter Christ, inadvertently, churches have shut Jesus out entirely.
The Church is the Body of Christ, the Head (Ephesians 4:15).
A body disconnected from the Head has no life.
To be connected to the Head means to primarily listen and to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit; to discern what is the need of the people through the Father’s eyes; to ask Jesus how to meet people’s needs, just like the parable of feeding five thousands. That is why Jesus said in John 15, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Yet, Jesus wants us to invite Him back in. He stands at the door and knock, nudging with His gentle voice, waiting for us to open the door and let Him back in (Revelation 3:20).
#4. The Danger of the Absence of Spirit Power and God’s glory
Church operates like community center operates from resources based only on what our eyes can see. Yet Jesus intends His Church, His Body, to run ministry based on His richness in heavenly resources. Jesus promised us that those among us who trust Him will not only do what He did on earth, but even greater things (John 14:12). We just have to get out of our self sufficient mode, kneel before Him in humility to ask, seek and knock in order to receive. Operating like a community center depletes the very power in Christ and restricts God to show His glory. When the Church has no powerful, fresh testimonies of God’s glory to tell, the Church has become weak.
#5. The Danger of Becoming an Adulterous Bride
The bride awaiting for her wedding does not entertain any other love other than the love of her Groom. Churches who love their programs, their facilities, their accomplishments and their popularity instead of being compelled by His love runs the risk of being adulterous at heart.
May the Spirit of the living God restore Christ’s church to its divine calling such that the community through His Church can see the glory of God and the supremacy of Christ!
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