Friday, February 7, 2014

Church or Self Help Organization?

For years now I have been struggling with understanding the balance between spirituality and practical value of ministry.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find much to sort out the matter so I am bring my thoughts to you asking for what you think.

Literally the only thing I have found on the internet was  from Mars Hill church where I found the image above. You can read it by clicking here but I personally didn't find it to be a practical help of how to approach life in the church.

As a youth minister it is my job to help students develop in their faith and apply it to their life. The church in general does a similar thing with all its members when we try to apply biblical principals to how we live. I know in my heart that there has to be something more to church than simply making people better. Church has to be more than a self help organization that teaches you how to "Live your Best Life Now" (yes, that's a Joel Osteen reference). But what is that element that separates the two? A simple answer could be God, but how does that translate to daily ministry? 

In the same vein Church has to be more than just a place where separate ourselves from the world and pray or worship. It has to be about more than just embracing the mysteries of faith. There are too many churches shrunk to irrelevance while focusing on "spiritual growth" and neglecting the practical aspects of life and community.

Perhaps you have thought at one point or another, "what is the difference between my church and a local charity organization?" And the sad answer that comes to mind is that often there isn't much of a distinction. In fact too many churches tend to be less effective at meeting the needs of the community than that local charity. 

How do you balance personal growth and spirituality? How does your church look on the spectrum of self help and spirituality? Am I wrong to be thinking that there needs to be a distinction?

On some level for a church to be a church for our faith to be real it has to impact the way we live but I am afraid sometimes we just get lost in the pattern of making "nice people" instead of making disciples.

*None of these questions are rhetorical, this really is something I am looking for other perspectives on.*

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  1. Thank you for a thoughtful post, Jacob. I am reluctant to write because these thoughts are off the cuff and I'm leery of shallow formulas, easy answers, and spiritual smugness. With that disclaimer, here are a few quick responses to the wonderful issues you lift up here.
    The church, ideally, is that place where we (a) learn and (b) PRACTICE the paradoxical truth uttered by mystics through the centuries: those who would help themselves must help others; those who would be loved - including healthful love of self, must love others. The church can be a help or a hindrance to that journey, depending on whether the local expression of that spiritual body (the church) is practicing that principle in its own life, i.e., whether it is a place that encourages reaching outward (where open minds, open hearts, and open doors is a lived reality and not a hypocritical platitude) in love of others or whether it primarily is so concerned with its own condition (metrics, doctrinal conformity, the list goes on...). The church at its best points us to this reality (lived out love of others/God that leads us to appropriate love of self) not by monopolizing it but by encouraging us to make loving a practice in the encounters that touch us and through which we touch others each and every day. The opposite of love is not hate (though hate is antithetical to love); it is self-centeredness. And a church that centers us on our own self-help as a self-serving strategy, in my view, misses the mark. Now, to the crux of your question: the difference between a church and a charity is that the church helps empower me (more precisely, helps me open myself to the empowerment of the Spirit) so that I have grace to move beyond my immense self-centeredness! It's not helping others as charity for tax deductible purposes or even to make me feel good. The love I'm called to is a charis, a possibility that is realized through grace (for God knows I need empowerment to enact such love!).

  2. Great Comment Dr. McLemore. I especially like how you point out that the opposite of love isn't hate but rather self centeredness.