Book Review: Loving the Church

God’s People Flourishing in God’s Family

by John Crotts

Publisher: Shepherd Press

You’ve heard the joke about the couple looking for a church to join, haven’t you?  After visiting several, someone says, “You’ll never find the perfect church.  Once you join, it won’t be perfect anymore.”  We all laugh at ourselves over that because we know we aren’t perfect.  But, the truth is, we want the other people in the church to behave perfectly.  Oftentimes, even following a slight misunderstanding, church members want to pack up their toys and go find another group with which to play church.

One popular trend, showcased in George Barna’s book, Revolution, says that today’s professing Christians design their own kind of Christianity, one without the church.  If Barna’s statistics are to be believed, then “by the year 2025, the spiritual profile of [America] will be dramatically different…[O]nly one third of the population will rely upon a local congregation as the primary or exclusive means for experiencing and expressing their faith.”  If true, then this generation of believers is critical for the health of the future church in America.

John Crotts purpose for writing Loving the Church is “to help you see how glorious God’s family really is, and then to see the countless ways you and your family can flourish in it.”  Loving the Church is organized into two sections that answer two main questions: 1) “What Is God’s Family?”, and 2) “How You Fit into God’s Family.”

A biblical understanding of the church as God intended is crucial to experiencing and living our lives within his perfect design and purpose. To showcase these truths, Crotts frames them in a Bible study that takes place among six friends in America’s current favorite meeting place: a coffee shop.  The reader will join John, Kevin, Michelle, Mike, Rachael, and Rick as they meet weekly to discover what the Bible says about the church.  Though the dialogue feels a little forced at points, I could relate to one or two characters and/or knew someone in my life who could.  Their reasons for leaving their church are probably quite common: needing to spend more time with family, too busy doing ministry outside the church, feeling judgment from other believers, a busy college life, needing to build relationships with people in one’s age group, needing a family-oriented church.

The presentation is light and informal; Crotts provides a helpful overview of what the church is, the purpose of the church (for God, for individuals and families), what it means to be a member of the church, a member’s relationship with the elders and deacons, the believer’s role in serving the church with the gifts of the Spirit, and how each member is to contribute to the spiritual growth and encouragement of the others.  In the end, the example our fictional characters set for exhibiting joy in studying God’s word and their submission to that word is worthy of imitation.

In conclusion, Crotts writes, “Forsaking the church is a serious matter.  The implications are far more serious than many people first realize.  The good news is, however, that Jesus died for church forsakers.”  That good news of God’s grace ought to motivate us to be a part of a church that will encourage us to share that news with others and help establish other churches.  God loves His church!  And as His children we ought to be loving her, too.  This little book will help set readers on the path to doing that.

In the News

It has been quite a while since one of my “In the News” posts, and I’d think it’d be fun to fill you in on a few details.

We are still going strong with school at home. I am going to try to post something interesting from our week on Fridays. We’ll see how long I keep that up. Since, you know, I’m so good at finishing the things I start on this blog. In all honesty, some weeks we don’t do anything really interesting.

The biggest bit of news has to do with what I’ve labeled on the blog, “The Church Search.” Back in the spring, Karl talked to the pastor of this church we had been visiting about our family joining. We had decided that we would join, in spite of its obvious faults, and try to make the best of it. The preaching was excellent, our children were learning and growing, we were learning and growing, and most of the people were fine examples of disciples of Jesus.

The pastor was very excited about that, but then proceeded to tell us that it might be wise to wait till the end of the summer. He and the deacons had come to realize the the King James only issue was causing some problems, and the pastor needed to address it. So, the pastor planned to spend the summer teaching a series of Sunday school lessons entitled, “How We Got Our Bible.”
It was excellent. Karl and I learned a lot about our Bibles. However, after each lesson the pastor opened the floor for questions. Several Sundays saw heated exchanges. In the end, the deacons decided that the church just needed to vote on the whole issue so as to get everything out in the open and let the church decide what it believed about the Bible. Well, there were several resolutions, but the main one said something to the effect that the King James Version of the Bible is the only version that is the Word of God. That’s not a statement of preference; that’s a doctrinal statement.

The resolution passed.

And seeing that Karl and I absolutely do not agree with that teaching regarding God’s Word, we cannot join that church. We aren’t the only ones, though. Several families decided that they wouldn’t be returning either. And the pastor resigned.

So we’ve been meeting in order to discuss whether or not we will plant a church together or go our separate ways. There are nearly, if not more than, one hundred churches in our area. However, we know that there is not one like the one we would try to establish. Most of the churches here are patterned after the purpose-driven model, and we’d be doing the opposite.

I suppose one of the biggest obstacles will be finding a leader. The pastor is planning to pursue a doctorate in Old Testament studies. His desire is to teach at the seminary level. He has said that he will help as much as he can until he goes to school.

I’m not really sure what we’re going to do. Church planting is hard work. Part of me wants to tough it out and do my part to see a strong, biblical, God-centered church in my city. Another part of me wants to just settle on a place and make the best of it. I think both options present opportunities to glorify God, so it is difficult to know which avenue is best. The only thing of which I am certain is that not being part of a church for any longer is not what God wants.

So that’s the big news.

And I would really appreciate it if you would take a moment to pray for us.

What makes a church healthy?

I wish I could say that I’ve seen the seeker-sensitive thing for what it is from its very beginnings. But that wouldn’t be true. We were members of a first baptist type church when Rick Warren’s methodologies became really popular on this side of the country. There were “church @”s springing up all over the place. Our church made a valiant attempt at a Friday night seeker service. We found out that there weren’t any seekers, just young church members from other churches who preferred “contemporary praise and worship.” Several other churches youth and college ministries in our area made our Friday night worship their weekly activity. Clearly, we weren’t fulfilling our purpose for reaching the seekers.

So, a small group of us decided to that we would plant a church. It’s a very long story…I’m serving the short version today. We found a young pastor, a young guitar player who could mumble silly platitudes about worship between verses, and a warehouse for meetings. It was perfect. We did our baseball diamond homework and watched the Saddleback videos. We wrote and rewrote values and purposes until I was ready to puke. Rick Warren would have been proud.

To kick off our venture in “church”, we hosted a block party in which kids could get their faces painted, jump in inflated castles, eat free food, play games, and meet firemen. At another “outreach”, we handed out bottles of water and information about our “church” in order to “show God’s love in a practical way.” [The most exciting thing that happened that day was meeting Shawn Alexander at the Winn-Dixie. Yes, I did. Even better than that…I recognized him before any of the male football fans in our group. “Hey! That’s Shawn Alexander!” “No it’s not.” “Yes! That IS Shawn Alexander! Give me one of those church flyers! I’m gettin‘ an autograph!” Y’all, he was so nice. Karl was giddy. And I’ll bet that is the only flyer that wasn’t thrown away or blown away by the wind in the parking lot!]

Anyway, I share all of that to say this: as much as we thought we knew what we were doing, we were one of the least healthy churches ever. We did do some things right. Like when a family in our core group hit some major financial difficulty, we pulled together to help them. When I had a baby, we were fed and cared for by the other families in our core group. The two years we were together, we really grew on each other and loved each other. We did two neighborhood summer VBSes. We started a ministry for the single parents in the apartment complex adjacent to our warehouse. I say that because the parents would leave their kids with us for Bible study and then go out for dinner and drinks. They weren’t the least bit interested in coming to worship on Sundays no matter how contemporary we were. Everybody is interested in free babysitting, though. And that’s when it really hit home to me that no matter what, I can’t do anything to make people want Jesus. Seekers, in the popular, evangelical use of the term, do not exist.

A person becomes a seeker only after God has already sought him. Jesus says so himself in John 4. God is seeking worshipers, not the other way around. And His worshipers only begin to worship after He has sought them out. (Read some very interesting Greek study about John’s wording in his gospel here.) A man’s current actions are a result of God’s preceding action in his heart. You may disagree if you like, but I firmly believe that scripture supports this view of prevenient, irresistible grace.

The saddest part about this is that these “worshipers” who the Father has sought out and brought to worship at your church are in danger of not hearing a clear presentation of the gospel because you are so concerned with being seeker-sensitive! Read Irish Calvinist’s most recent account of a visit to Saddleback Church. I do not understand everyone’s love-affair with Warren. I’ve tried to read his books, but found them terribly boring. They didn’t upset me so much as make me go to sleep.

My friend Kim who writes Lifesong has been burdened by the seeker-sensitive movement as well. Take some time to read her thoughts here and here and here.

Another friend, also named Kim, who writes Mercy Days decided to add her $.02 here.

Updated to add another post. This one is from The Gospel Outpost, and titled “Redefining Church.”

More about my story later.

A Prayer for Worship from The Valley of Vision

We commune with thee every day, but week days are worldly days, and secular concerns reduce heavenly impressions.

We bless thee therefore for the day sacred to our souls when we can wait upon thee and be refreshed;

We thank thee for the institutions of religion by use of which we draw near to thee and thou to us;

We rejoice in another Lord’s Day when we call off our minds from the cares of the world and attend upon thee without distraction;

Let our retirement be devout, our conversation edifying, our reading pious, our hearing profitable, that our souls may be quickened and elevated.

We are going to the house of prayer, pour upon us the spirit of grace and supplication;
We are going to the house of praise, awaken in us every grateful and cheerful emotion;
We are going to the house of instruction, give testimony to the Word preached, and glorify it in the hearts of all who hear; may it enlighten the ignorant, awaken the careless, reclaim the wandering, establish the weak, comfort the feeble-minded, make ready a people for their Lord.

How to choose a church

In light of the several posts I’ve written regarding our process of choosing a church, I thought I’d throw this out here for discussion. These guidelines and questions are some we have asked pastors and ourselves as we’ve visited the churches in our area. I think using tools like this one are helpful in keeping the search God-centered rather than man-centered. Without weighty, thought-provoking questions like these, I’m afraid we may settle on a place that simply suits our fancies. Read “How to Choose a Church.” Then comment back here to let me know what you think. Did they leave anything out? Is it too much? Which questions are the most important to consider in your opinion?