One of the Bible verses that has most impacted my life is a verse that most people don’t really know about. Paul is writing the church at Corinth, and they are fighting about who they follow. Paul says, basically, What is Apollos? What am I? We are servants of God. And here is one of the core verses for the Bible in my life. Verse 6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God brought the growth.”
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth. John 1:14
Grace is God’s unmerited favor. It is much more than forgiveness. It means that God is for us and not against.
Truth is reality. It is facts. It is honest but more than that is means being true to what the world is really like.
Jesus is full of grace and truth. He is not all grace. There is a reality to Jesus coming that makes some people run and hide. Jesus is truth that we do not always want to hear. But Jesus is not all truth either. Yes, staring into the face of Christ may mean that you have to change or may have to confront a truth you don’t want. But God is also for you, on your side, and in your corner. God wants the best for you even when you, like a child at Toys R Us, don’t know what is best for yourself.
Grace are not opposites. They are two sides to the same coin. And we need them both. We need the support of knowing that those around us are for us and we need others to speak truth into our lives when we are off base.
Have you ever been in a church or on a team that is all grace and no truth? Here you are great, special, perfect the way you are. It feels good, but people in these contexts are never challenged and never grow.
Have you ever been in a church or on a team that is all truth but no grace? Here you are not doing this right, not living up to this standard, or not doing enough of that. These contexts do not feel good and many people think this kind of feedback will force growth. But in the end people in these contexts are not supported enough to really step out and grow.
We need a balance of grace and truth in our lives over time to see growth and change. Jesus was full of both. I think that Christ’s churches and Christ’s followers ought to be full of both as well.
(For more on grace and truth, please devour the works of
Henry Cloud and John Townsend)
What happened to the church? There was a time when our pews and parking lots were full. When the question was “What church do you go to?” and not “Do you go to church?” When Christians got asked opinions on the news of the day. You could not be president of the bank in town unless you were a member of one of the main churches in town.
Many church members today mourn the loss of “the good old days.” The fuller sanctuary at Easter or Christmas Eve only helps to bolster the frustration. Many people want their churches to be bigger and more important.
At the same time that people want this growth they often do not want to change in order to see this growth. What they would really like is for the world to change back into the world where their church worked. Or, if some were honest, what they really want is for people to come and help pay for the church to continue as it is.
So we try some little things. Maybe if we hire a young pastor then young people will come. Maybe we need lyrics on the screen. Maybe if more people knew about our bake sale they would come to it.
The world is not going back. In fact, I think that it is only going to change more in the future. We need more than a younger pastor or a projector. We need to rethink church. We need to put everything we currently do under a microscope to ask if it is really essential to the life of the church. And we need to try a bunch of new things. Most of these new things won’t work but we need a lot of failure in order to find the things that will work.
We like growth without change, but they seem to always go together.
The church has measured itself for years on “nickels and noses.” What is your attendance and how big is your budget? These are not great indicators of church health. I know big and wealthy churches that are not very faithful to the Gospel. I know small and struggling churches that are very faithful to the Gospel.
This got me thinking: if finances and attendance are not good indicators of church health, then what metrics can we use? These are very unscientific and need to be evaluated alongside of the usual metrics. Here are some questions that a church can use to think through their effectiveness.
- How have individual congregants show spiritual growth in the last year?
- When someone in the church gets sick or is in the hospital, how many church members respond with visits or cards?
- How many meals did your church share together last year and how deep was the conversation at those meals?
- Can you tell a story that exemplifies the essence of God’s call for your ministry from the last 6 months?
- How many non-Christians did you interact with last year?
- How is your community better because your church is in it?
- How many church members have shared a meal with their neighbors this summer?
- If someone asked a person in the community that does not go to your church where it was and what it was like, what response would they get?
- How many things did your church try and fail at in the last year? How can you try things so that you fail more in the coming year?