Authentic Christian community is best way to get most out of church

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The steeple of Hixson United Methodist Church enlivens the skyline in north Chattanooga, Tenn.

By Jeff Anderle

Having been on staff at different churches since 1989 (that’s 24 years for those of you who are counting), I think I’ve learned a thing or two about how the church works and how people can get the most out of their experience while attending a church. So here are some insider tips that I think will help you get the most out of your experience with church.

The first thing is a given for me. You need to be a part of a church that is serious about following Jesus. This can be a church that has high liturgy or is as contemporary as they come, the church can be large, it can be small, it can be medium sized, all of that is just personal preference. But the heart of the church needs to be focused on following Jesus wherever he leads.

Can I tell you a secret? Most churches are led by very sincere people who are doing their best to be faithful to Jesus and biblical truth. These people aren’t perfect, they will make plenty of mistakes, but they love God and are doing the best they know how. Guess what? You aren’t perfect either. Keep that in mind as you’re dealing with an imperfect system.

Now here it is; the golden nugget. Most folks don’t understand how the church affects change in our lives and the lives of our friends. Being someone who loves to cook I’m going to use a cooking analogy. Most of us think the church is a microwave. We think we jump in, and in a very short period of time things should be significantly different for us. This is not the way God works and it’s not the way he has designed his church to work. Our spiritual lives are a journey, and the character of Christ is worked out in us over a lifetime.

Smoker vs. microwave — spiritual development

Also, Spiritual development is not something that happens in isolation. You can’t just go to church and sit in a church service or attend a class and expect the character of Christ to form in your life. First worship isn’t for us, worship is something we give to God. Second, information is helpful for forming a base of knowledge but it’s useless unless it’s applied. So that leads us back to the question how does church work? If it’s not a quick fix. If it’s not a two-minute nuke in a microwave, how does it work?

The church is designed to work like a smoker. If you’re smoking a piece of meat you cook it low and slow. For the meat to be smoky and fall apart tender you have to cook it between 175 and 200 for at least 12 hours. If you put a brisket in a microwave for two minutes it’s going to be disgusting but if you put in a smoker for 12 to 14 hours it’s heaven on earth. The church is the community of Christ on earth. We are the people who live by the rule and reign of Christ. Now to fully embrace the upside down values of the kingdom of heaven (the first shall be last, it’s in giving that we receive, love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, take up your cross) takes a community of people walking shoulder to shoulder over the long haul.

Long-term commitments

I didn’t really understand this fully until my oldest son graduated from high school and went off to college. You see when Zachary was 7 we planted (started) a church in Chattanooga. Over the course of the first few years there were a group of us who committed to doing life together as a church, we proclaimed the gospel of Jesus to our city, prayed with one another, served one another, served our community and those whom God brought into our church.

Now there were many families that bounced in and out of that group; families that became angry with me because of some decision or another that I made, or even angry with one of those core families. But a core group of us have stuck it out over the long haul and have done life together. There were plenty of times we got aggravated with one another or hurt each others feelings but we choose to love, to forgive, and to continue to do life together as Christians and as friends.

Now over the course of years (a decade or longer) something beautiful happened.

These families standing back to back formed a safety net for our kids that produced young men and women who love God and are seeking to serve him as young adults. We have changed each other and because of our commitment to Christ and one another worked out over the period of years and we have become better people. When I saw the young man Zach had become and realized that it was a partnership between these families that had chosen to do life together through our church, something clicked. I realized the power of the church is found in Christ-centered community. That it is over the long haul not the short sprint that profound change comes and the life that truly is good is found.

You see that kind of power is not worked out in our lives because the pastor preaches a little better than the guy down the road or the band in the church down the street is cooler than the choir, or they have huge church building with a food court, or their youth group went to Disney World.

Honestly, none of those types of things matter.

They are not the difference makers.

The difference maker is authentic Christian community centered around the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ worked out over the long haul by those who choose to do life together. If you don’t believe me read the last couple of chapters of each of Paul’s letters. I’ll paraphrase most every letter Paul wrote. In light of the redeeming love of Christ, that has moved us from death to life, live lives worthy of that redemption together (in unity and community). For the followers of Jesus who get that and do that come blessings untold.

Perils of consumer mentality in church hopping

To sum up, you want to see the character of Jesus formed deep in your life? Don’t church hop. Invest deeply in your church by serving and building friendships where you do life together. This is not going to be easy. It will require work. It will require grace. It will require humility. It will require love…funny aren’t those exactly the qualities God wants to form in our lives?

Go figure.

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Rev. Jeff Anderle is senior pastor at Chattanooga’s Vineyard Fellowship church that meets at Tyner Middle Academy. “We believe that the whole world is under the domination of Satan and that all people are sinners by nature and choice.  All people therefore are under God’s just judgment.  Through the preaching of the Good News of Jesus and the Kingdom of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, God regenerates, justifies, adopts and sanctifies through Jesus by the Spirit all who repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  By this they are released from Satan’s domain and enter into God’s kingdom reign.” Rev. Anderle writes a blog.