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Monday, May 19, 2014

The Almost Perfect Church: Chapter 6- Almost

(This is chapter 6. The story begins here in chapter 1)

Mid-Course Evaluation

As I wrote earlier, I believe that the primary reason for TA’s success was our whole-hearted commitment to letting this be God’s church under His rule and not my church or our church.  Specifically by constantly seeking to be a Theo-centric church, existing for His glory, committed to His stated priorities, dedicated to the activities and calling that He set forth for us in His Word.  Where I faithfully held forth this vision and approach and fought to call us back to it when we strayed, I was used of God to bless the church.  And later, when I got distracted or diverted and failed to do so, the church as a whole paid the price for my failure.   

When I had time to reflect I would go through the mental checklist:

Worship: Many churches seemed to equate “worship” with singing some “worship songs”.  With maybe a prayer and a brief word of exhortation.  And of course an offering and lots of announcements.  The end.  We always sought to go way beyond that and because of Pastor T’s leadership we almost always did.  

Edification:  The sermons were meaty and full of biblical content, delivered passionately and relevantly with a focus on practical application.  Our small groups supplemented this with face-to-face discussion, prayer, encouragement and accountability.  I would have liked to add a lay leadership training course but could never figure out how to fit it into my schedule or anyone else’s.

Fellowship:  I constantly obsessed on this.  While I was regularly attacked and criticized for not being enough of a warm-fuzzy-encouraging-people-person-type (I’m a Scandinavian introvert by nature), I’ve always had a very highly idealistic view of what Koinonea should look like -  a view that goes not only way beyond what other churches practice, but way beyond what other churches aim for.  While there was no way I could be everyone’s confidante, I was always trying to make sure that everyone at TA who was open to genuine fellowship or in need of prayer could readily find it.

Visitors and regulars alike seemed to be constantly surprised that even if the pastor wasn’t the cuddliest teddy bear on the block, the church he planted and lead was one of the warmest and friendliest and most welcoming they had ever experienced.  I did everything I could to create and maintain that environment and, in fact, was constantly frustrated that we never achieved the idealistic level I sought.  Whether or not, or to what degree, my efforts and prayers were responsible for those positive outcomes is not for me to judge and I’ve even had people say out loud to me that they wondered how TA was such a warm church in spite of such a reserved pastor.  At any rate, His grace was sufficient.

Prayer:  Prayer is another area where I always felt that we fell woefully short of the ideal, especially in light of the prayer emphases in places like Korea and China or at the Brooklyn Tabernacle (Jim Cymbala).  In actuality, we probably did better than most churches (though “most churches” was never an acceptable standard for me).  I considered scheduling weekly prayer meetings (talk about endangered species!) but after discussing with our church planting team we decided to have prayer meetings once a month and aim for 100% attendance.  We started out fairly close to that, but as the church grew, the prayer meeting always seemed to stay about the same size (generally around 20). I preached about the absolutely necessity of prayer frequently and encouraged people to launch prayer efforts wherever, whenever and however.  Eventually we had prayer meetings before first service as well as prayer times at the end of each service plus the weekly prayer times at small groups.  As good and important as these all were, they had a tendency to pray exclusively for those physically present.  At the monthly meetings I always encouraged intercessory prayers with a wider horizon- for all the ministries and workers at TA, for the Church in Shasta County in all its various manifestations, for missions and missionaries, for the lost and for those in authority.  I encouraged people to gather not only for defensive prayers (meeting personal needs) but to pray offensively against satanic powers and strongholds and for the growth and prosperity of God’s Kingdom on earth.  This used to be standard in churches, but it is rare today.

I wasn’t convinced that the majority of people at TA ever really owned the idea of corporate prayer like this on a regular basis, but our monthly gathering, which I always worked hard to make as dynamic and focused as possible, was, at the very least, a thrust in the right direction.  What do you say about a prayer ministry that is “not enough” but “better than most”?  To the degree we were faithful in prayer, to that degree we were blessed.  Lots of blessings came our way, but not near as many as God wanted to give us.  We had because we asked and we had not because we asked not.

Click here for the next chapter where we begin to get to the crux of the matter.

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