Renewing the Vision for Christ-Centered Churches

There are really only two types of churches. One type of church is focussed on gaining and keeping people. Everything about the church in its design, atmosphere, ministries, programs, buildings, and budget is utilized to this end. The other type of church is focussed on following Christ and participating with Christ in His mission. Everything about this type of church in its design, atmosphere, ministries, programs, buildings, and budget is utilized to this end. The two types of churches look entirely different. It’s not difficult to hear what people are looking for in a church home and discern whether they are worshipping Christ or themselves. Their love is made evident in the types of things they complain about or ask for. Usually, self-centered people will not be able to stand a Christ-centered church very long; just as Christ-centered people will not be able to stand a self-centered church very long. In a similar way, we can usually look at a local church’s budget and discern whether the congregation is worshipping Christ or self. There are only two types of churches. The difference is that we are either focussed inwardly, on ourselves, or outwardly, on Christ and His mission. We cannot serve two masters. In fact, if we love one, we will hate the other (Matthew 6:24).

Acts 2:41-47

So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Christ-centered or self-centered

Notice, here, that there were several things that the new believers were devoted to. The point I want to make is that all of those who truly received God’s word through Peter’s sermon and were baptized were devoted. This descriptive word reveals something to us about the nature of every Christian- even those who are newly converted. If someone has truly come to Christ, his or her desire is to be devoted, not to devote the things of God to him or herself.

This is the single pervading problem in the hearts of most people who claim to be Christians and in most organizations that refer to themselves as local churches. Self-centered people and churches are looking for ways to 1) promote themselves, 2) serve themselves, 3) gain for themselves, and/or 4) entertain themselves. As I mentioned earlier, these tendencies are not difficult to spot. It is in self-centered churches (or churches with self-centered tendencies) that we see people complaining about style of music, claiming ownership over one seat, and devoting large portions of the church budget to the entertainment, the comfort of the congregation, and to programs or trips that are designed to please or entertain those within the local church body. 

Those who actually receive the word of God and are baptized experience heart change. This heart change, as described in this text, occurs in close proximity, if not immediately upon, conversion. Instead of using and abusing Christ’s name to in some way gain for themselves, those who actually have a relationship with Christ devote themselves. It is some of the first-fruits of a truly regenerate heart. I am no longer conformed to the ways of the world, but I am transformed. I am here to devote myself.

So, we can tell where our hearts are because that is where our treasure is. This means that anyone who leaves or chooses a church based on style of music or because of a personality or because of someone else who attends or because of a ministry or because of a program actually proves not to have a regenerate heart or a relationship with Christ because his or her treasure is somewhere other than with Christ. In fact, by Jesus’ words, they have hated Him. In the same way, churches that do things simply because people like those things, want those things, or are attracted to those things prove not to be regenerate churches because their treasure is not with Christ. They, too, have hated Him.

Why Biblical elders are important

People have a natural bend toward self-centeredness. I mean, we’ve all sinned. That alone is the very proof we need. Elder-overseer-pastor-theologians, who meet the Biblical qualifications help to keep a church body on track. They are not businessmen who are motivated by increasing the attendance of the meetings and income of the organization (though some business gifting does not hurt). They are pastors with the motivation of seeing people follow Christ more closely. So, they work to see every individual turn more and more toward Christ and to see the church body turn more and more to Christ-centeredness. This means constant and systematic change for the church body as we are conformed to the image of Christ. It necessitates a plurality of elders. There are two reasons. First, it guards against the organizational church simply becoming the image of some kind of pastor/CEO. Second, it guards against the local church becoming the product of uninformed decisions being made by the congregation at large. There are varying levels of spiritual maturity in any congregation. What we end up with is chaos and self-centered buildings, budget, ministry, programs, music, and teaching. Many times, it is unintentional, but it is the result when baby Christians or untrained people are voting on everything, sitting on committees, searching for pastors, selecting church music, and deciding on textual or topical studies.

Notice the first thing that those who have a relationship with Christ are devoted to in the text above- the apostles’ teaching, which is modeled by Peter’s exposition of the Old Testament. Not coincidently, it is the elders’ responsibility to teach God’s word as the foremost part of their ministry as they shepherd the flock of God.

“Would you rather pastor alone or have a group of godly, qualified elders to help you as you wrestle through doctrine, discipline, and direction? Can Sara biblically remarry following her divorce? Should Ben be excommunicated for sexual sin? Should we renovate the education wing or give more money to missions? To be a pastor is to bear weight. You bear the weight of faithfully preaching God’s Word to God’s people. You bear the weight of sheep who sin. You bear the weight of those who mourn. Praise God he designed all that weight to be borne by many, not by one” (Elders in the Life of the Church, 63).

We do not worry

We are not to worry about those who threaten to leave or leave for any reason. We care for them unconditionally in Christ; we strive to follow Christ alone. As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, it is the responsibility of the elder-overseer-pastor-theologians of the local churches to lead their perspective local churches doctrinally, practically, and by explaining and applying the word of God rightly. If we worry about those who threaten to leave or leave, we will not be able to lead the true body of Christ well, because as we explore the depths of God’s holy Word, we and the church body are being sanctified (changed in response to God’s heart as revealed in His word alone). Those who do not have a heart given by Christ will not be able to stand it. They are religious, but lost. They depart from Christ-centered local churches to their own peril, not that of the Christ-centered church. Our focus is to exalt Christ to the glory of the Father, not to use the name of Christ in order to exalt people to the glory of the church. Soli Deo Gloria.

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5 comments

  • It can be very easy to mistake the love of people for the love of God. Often it seems as if many churches do have a true love for people, and do an excellent job of serving others, but miss the focus on Christ. Some become so focused on doing that being in Christ’s presence is forgotten.

      • Yes, but also the existence of worshipping others exist; choosing to serve others and become too busy with doing. Such as the case of Mary and Martha: when Christ stated that being with Him was better than serving the people.

  • If we love people, we will teach them the truth contained in Scripture. We will teach the full counsel of God and this will require some hard lessons from time to time. If I love you I will speak the truth in love. Scripture does not sugar coat it – depart from me, I never knew you.

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