This title – “The Perfect Church” needs some explanation. It might refer to that part of the body of Christ which is now in heaven, for those who are with the Lord have been perfected. Or it might refer to the spiritual position or standing of the bride of Christ even here on earth, “For by one offering, He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified”? (Heb. 10:14 NKJV).
Actually, in this article I am not using the term in reference to either of the above, but to the imaginary, ideal local church that so many people are seeking today. Elders and others involved in the Lord’s work have heard it (or what amounts to it) often: “We love this church, but we need to find something that better meets our needs……so we’re leaving.”
A Time for Honesty
What we do not need, is another article that soothes our wounded pride by assuring us that we have the truth, and “they were not of us, so they went out from us…..” There are times when people recognize the sad fact that they are becoming spiritually stagnant, and the place where they are attending offers little hope for growth. The doctrines might be orthodox, and the meetings following one after another, but there is not much life, and no vision. It’s hard to keep warm when the fire is nearly out, and it is very difficult to raise children in such a setting.
Autonomy means that each local assembly will judge itself before the Lord; a practice that must start with the elders as God’s appointed under-shepherds. It is noteworthy that in the record of the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 2,3), despite some real problems, no church was told to disfellowship another. Rather each was to remember that the Lord Himself was walking among the lampstands to inspect the light and correct each congregation as needed. When a church stays “lukewarm” it is understandable that people will move on.
But this is not the problem to which I am referring now. Rather it is a heart problem in the drifting believer that uses for its reasoning the true fact that there really are some problems, both difficult people and things that could be improved. They lack the maturity to realize that the perfect church exists only in their mind and that every imperfection is an opportunity for service!
This is where good leadership is so crucial, for the work must proceed along two equally important tracks. As overseers, elders must be sure that the church is as good as it can be, and as shepherds they must help immature believers to grow in grace. Some brief observations on both may help.
The Truth Makes Free
There is nothing like an honest evaluation and frank admission of the truth to bring a sense of hope and joy. No matter how bleak the picture, we have to at least begin where God would have us begin. “Consider your ways!” says the prophet (Hag. 1:7). Wise elders may find much to encourage humble hearts, but the assembly is not perfect; with God’s help it can be better, perhaps much better. Here are some ideas to consider.
One of the keys here is a willingness to change. In some people’s minds, the church is the rock of which our Lord spoke to Peter (Matt. 16:18) — immovable, inflexible. But it is Christ Himself Who is the Rock, not the assembly! The church is not only likened to a building (I Cor. 3:9) but also to a body (I Cor. 12 :27) which is characterized by life, growth and flexibility.
Before studying the Word, it helps to judge our pride of being correct in all our ways, and to seek for the truth no matter how difficult its implications. Then, as we search through the Scriptures and discuss insights about the church and its fellowship, we can go to the Lord and ask Him to convict us where change is needed. This attitude of humility can be extended in many directions. Often the saints in the congregation will “open up” if they are visited and sense a loving spirit that wants to listen rather than defend. Then there is the vast resource of other older Christians, who have walked with the Lord for many years and learned some hard but fruitful lessons. Perhaps the most difficult step of all might be to welcome dialog with similar churches in the area that have already (evidently) learned some of the same lessons. Then there are the limitless resources of good books and articles, of conferences, and even the internet used with discernment.
The goal, of course, is to find that refreshing spirit of openness to the truth, of vision to reach out to the lost and the needy, and the creation of a place of refuge and training where all believers can take those baby steps toward maturity.
Getting to the Point
But with all the above in place, it is still true that the flesh is restless and people left to themselves will float around looking for “the perfect church.” Elders should know this and takes steps to minimize the problem. Here are a few ideas:
1) Make sure there are open lines of communication between the shepherds and the sheep. In small churches this can be done directly as the elders regularly check with those for whom they are responsible. Visitations in the home are invaluable. In larger churches where direct personal follow up of each individual by an elder is not realistic, small groups meeting in homes, led by younger men who are learning the principles of shepherding with a few families can be a great help. A study of Exodus 18 and the advice of Jethro to Moses will be enlightening.
2) Check the quality of the preaching being given on Sunday. Is the flock being fed, that is, really being nourished? Are the life, ministry and words of the Lord Jesus, the perfect Servant, being expounded carefully as the model for every believer to imitate? Some churches devote most of their time to telling visitors how to be saved. Such should remember that the gifted men are charged with the equipping of the saints (Eph. 4:11,12). Spiritual growth comes only through the Word. When inviting speakers, it can help to ask the question, “What has his ministry done for his home assembly?” Spiritual growth comes only through the Word.
3) Perform an occasional evaluation of the life, activities and meetings of the church. Biblical principles listed in Acts 2:42 must be faithfully preserved: the teaching of God’s Word; fellowship and relationship building among the believers; remembering the Lord in breaking the bread; the gathering for prayer. But what about those programs and activities that have settled in from long years past and may have outlived their usefulness or relevance? How about old traditions that are not found in Scripture but were meaningful to saints long gone? Some of these may help to safe guard our precious heritage; others can be retired. Elders can apply the test “Why are we doing what we do?” to everything. Are these things relevant to the people who we serve today?
4) Finally, reviewing the basics is a job never finished. In so far as possible, every believer must get involved in the practical outworking of faith. Paul writes: “And let our people also learn to maintain good works to meet urgent needs, that they be not unfruitful” (Titus 3:4). In these days urgent needs are everywhere. Ministries (service opportunities) in the church must be explained to all. Spiritual gifts must be discovered and put to work. “It’s all about me” may be a popular slogan in the world, but it is incompatible with God’s kind of love and service.
The Bottom Line
Here is the so called “bottom line.” Those who are learning to forget self with all its demands and requirements and serve their fellow believers in patient love, will find both joy and contentment.
Think of the contrast between two hypothetical believers (or couples) who spend time in your assembly. One wants to be served and have their needs met. The other comes to serve and to sacrifice for others. The first is critical of people with problems or programs that aren’t just so. The second sees wonderful opportunities to serve the Lord by serving His needy ones.
With the former, it is only a matter of time before they will “feel led” to move on. But the latter will constantly be rejoicing that they have indeed found the perfect church……..for them.