So, it’s another Sunday and you go to sit in the same old church pew, to sing the same old songs, and to listen to some Cliff’s Notes version of the Bible. You overhear a conversation, “Bro. Jack, I hear that the ACLU is filing a lawsuit to ban prayer in our county and no church is standing up to them! We’ve gotta do something before the School Board caves in!” “Well, Bro. Johnny, it all has to be this way! I’m just waiting for the Lord to come!” You shake your head in disgust as you jot a note to call the School Superintendent tomorrow. After church, you hear Sis. Sue talking with a visitor, “Well, that’s bad. I’ll pray for ya!” You then see her running out the door as she tries to beat the lunch crowd exiting the church. You walk up to the visitor and introduce yourself. In a sullen voice, you learn that his name is Robert. You ask Robert “Is everything okay? Do you need to talk? Can I pray with you about something?” After talking and praying with Robert, you welcome him back to again and excuse yourself. Getting a drink of water, you overhear, “Bro. Chet, these revisions will take board approval before we can proceed.” “Pastor, is that the same board where two members seldom show for a vote and where three of the members were on the Church Improvement committee and left us?!” You leave before the arguing escalates. Walking out the door, you ponder where God is in all of this dysfunction and melee.
Does this sound a little familiar? If so, you are not alone. “Church hopping” is becoming a part of contemporary Christian culture. It would seem that “common sense” is becoming less and less common in the church as fear of the Lord turns into complacency in one’s own salvation.
During the time of the Apostles, churches had many of the same problems that we do today. Much of the New Testament, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, centers on letters to churches where the Apostles were addressing basic issues plaguing particular congregations.
However, the church of Thessalonica was a bit of an exception for a long time. From 1 Thessalonians we learn that the church was so great, active and blessed that the Apostles were hearing rave reports of their anointed ministry. Truly, the church of Thessalonica had become an inspiration to other churches. But, what made this church different? Looking at 1 Thessalonians 1:3-10 we get a clue as to why and how.
First, the church of Thessalonica had works produced by faith. Like today’s churches, Thessalonica looked for the Lord’s return but they also believed that they had a divine duty and obligation to Jesus to do His bidding until His return. In other words, someone like Bro. Jack would have been admonished for his lack of faith. “Just waiting for Jesus to come back” would not have been the appropriate response in the church at Thessalonica.
Along the same lines, we learn that the Thessalonians engaged in labor prompted by love and compassion. Much like the church of Ephesus, among others, many contemporary churches have lost their love and compassion for people. Like Sis. Sue, we oft tell people “I’ll pray for ya” as a way to ignore the problem, show a false face of compassion, and to get out of a situation without having to do any work. Why do we do this? Because we no longer see value in loving others as we love ourselves.
The Thessalonian church also showed remarkable endurance that was inspired by hope. Sadly, in many churches today, you wonder where the hope really is. Like with Bro. Chet, we become frustrated as people proudly put on mantles of “leadership” without proper daily demonstration of such attributes. Over time, we just give up hope that things will ever change or get better. This is only made worse when pastors and other stewards of the church fail in their duties to hold leaders accountable. One sign of a troubled, leaderless, and hope-lacking church is when people lull themselves into a rhythm where the songs are predictable, the sermon is annotated and no longer lacks spiritual fulfillment to anyone other than a new believer, change is met with opposition, and church protocol is favored over what may be morally or Biblically right.
Finally, the Thessalonian church did not have to brag on itself or its works. Today, there are numerous churches looking for any way to fill the pews. It seems people are buying into hyped up nonsense, that some perpetrate, with many clamoring to far off cities to meet with missionaries and faith healers doing “wonders” rather than resting on their faith and saying, “The same God working those miracles there is the same God that can work miracles here.” For many, they have forgotten that God makes the church – not marketing or the press.
It seems simple and easy to understand the hallmarks that makes a church powerful and God-filled. However, as Jesus dealt with during His days on earth, we so love to get in the way and make up our own rituals and set up our own versions of what is right and wrong. Verily, that is when God begins to work less and less in our lives and in our churches as we exclude Him and shut him out – worshipping ourselves rather than Him.
Imagine for a minute a world church of believers that loved sinners as themselves and only worked to show others God rather than the works of themselves. What a difference the world would be in! Faith, love, hope, and humility – it’s a true formula for hope and change.