Gauging Your Church’s Temperature

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, talks about looking at our churches through critical lenses:

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

In a tremendous and much needed post, titled On Constantly Taking Your Church’s Temperature, Jared Wilson expands upon Bonhoeffer’s insights, applying them to the contemporary church. Rather, Wilson applies them to ambitious pastors and zealous church members who are overly critical about their own local congregations.

As Wilson relays, Bonhoeffer also said:

When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him into this predicament.

If this advice was followed not only would the Church be better off, but so would the very ones who put themselves above it.  If we followed Bonhoeffer’s perspective we would be regularly reminded:

  • that God is in control of all things, including where we participate in church life;
  • that God loves the church – in all sizes and forms, and various denominations – even with all the obvious flaws and shortcomings.
  • that God works out all things for his glory and the good of those called according to his purposes (Romans 8.28);
  • and that even being part of a congregation with flaws and weaknesses; one that has a long way to go before it even approaches impressiveness…  God can use even a church like that both for his glory and for the spiritual maturation of those who love others and participate in the life of such a congregation.

This does NOT mean that the local church is beyond criticism. But it does mean that the same principles that apply to interpersonal relationships should be applied to our churches. “Speak truth in love”, would be one important example.  (See Ephesians 4.15; 1 John 3.18) In other words, if (when) criticism is warranted it MUST be compelled by love for others involved and/or by love for the church corporate.  Criticisms should not be leveled simply because the church is not measuring up to our preferences or supplying us the status/identity we desire.

Somehow that has been forgotten or ignored. From stories I hear, and the statistics I see, about the prevalence of church hopping, it seems we have somehow elevated fickleness and selfishness to being spiritual virtues.  That’s a sad thing.

When the urge to criticize seems too strong to resist, whether valid or petty,  consider these questions for reflection that Wilson offers :

1. Am I disappointed my church isn’t more like Jesus, or that it isn’t more like me?

In the diversity of the body is a diversity of callings and passions. It is not fair, nor gracious, to expect the other members of a body to carry the same individual callings or passions as others. If the problem is disobedience to a clear biblical command, that is one thing. If the problem is disinterest in your interest, that is another.

2. Is the problem a matter for church discipline? Is it an issue of gospel-denial?

Rebukes are for sin, not for disappointment. If your church affirms the gospel but denies emphasis on your area of concern, don’t make a federal case out of it.

3. Can you rehearse the blessings and benefits of your local body as easily as their flaws and failings?

If you are constantly unhappy there and cannot shake envy for the wish-dream, it is better for you to leave in peace than to stay and grumble.

4. Do you see others’ faults more readily than your own?

The answer to this question, for nearly all of us, is yes. So it is with great caution and great desire for grace that we ought to make the faults of others our business. Your church has a long, long way to go, no doubt. Every church does. But so do you.

Let me conclude by admitting I understand the temptations to be critical of the local church. I was once one of those pastors who was easily irked by the inadequacy of the congregation God had entrusted to my care.  While I would not admit it aloud, I viewed the weaknesses and lackings of that church as hindrances to my aspirations to do great things for God.  But what was even more true, and what I wouldn’t admit even to myself, was that deep down I really viewed the church as an obstacle to my own glory.  In short, I despised what Christ loved – and gave his life to claim.  (NOTE: Despise does not mean “hate”; it means “not feeling something is worthy of affection”.)  God prospered the ministry in that church, but something greater was lacking.

In his grace, and in time, God revealed to me the ungodliness of my perspective.  He showed me that the love of Christ is demonstrated in giving oneself to something that is unlovely, inadequate, and even often unappreciative.   He reminded me that this is how he has loved me – and continues to love me.  He also taught me that to be godly is to love whatever God loves, and that to be  Christ-like requires giving myself to what might to others seem unworthy.  But while God delivered me from myself, I can at times sense the old me – the one who desperately wants to gain glory for self  – thinking about making a comeback.  I hear him talking at times, often through the words of others unimpressed with the people I serve.  Fortunately, I have learned to ask myself questions like those Jared Wilson poses.  In fact, such questions provide me a means of progress toward Christ-likeness.

I hope many will take a few moments to read Jared Wilson’s post.  He offers a much needed corrective to a Christian culture more infected by consumerism than many of us want to admit.  In it’s place Wilson shows us the essence of gospel-driven ministry and church membership.

8 thoughts on “Gauging Your Church’s Temperature

  1. Very good post Dennis. It’s key to understanding the Church is in fact the Bride of Christ.

    At the same time it is key to understand and do something about the weekness in the local Church. We are called to be salt and light, but when we take an unrealistic view of the impact in the local community somethings is very wrong, especially when the Church does not take it’s rightfull place of being salt and light.

    Some items to help…

    1) Is God’s Word faithfully preached and the Gospel communicated.

    2) are God’s people really growing in Word and Deed. How is that measured.

    3) are people coming to know Jesus as a result of the Word preached. Are people being saved…..

    4) does the church have a heart for the poor in it’s own community and how is that demonistrated

    5) are the activities of the Church for the Church only and not for the community

    6) are the people really involved in reaching their neighbors in the community, how is that demonistrated

    7) is Church thought of as a movement vice an institution

    The list could go on, (note numbers: people & money is not a good measure) but I think these few if looked at objectively would give an idea of the health of the Church in the local community.

  2. It is also key to allow the church, whatever its form or weaknesses, to be used to shape us the way God wants. Sadly, in our culture we all assume that God only wants us to do great things for him; all to be “winners”. And while we know not everyone will be a winner, at least not in the eyes of the world, many assume “I” am called to be among the “winners”. They also assume they are exempt from investing in a place that is not glamorous, that to do so would somehow be to compromise. Surely, God can’t use a small flawed place to teach me. (Note sarcasm.) Consequently, we opt out of the very things God will use to make us more Christ-like.

    If this is the case, who then is called to suffer and sacrifice? To engage in an endeavor, even if it is initially costly, is not the same as sacrifice if we are certain that in the end, even in this life, we get to taste the prosperity. That is not sacrifice, that is an investment. Isn’t it possible that some (probably most) of the people who assume themselves ordained to be among the “winners” should “sacrifice” their own notions of success (and not just talk about sacrificing comfort) in order to demonstrate faithfulness, loving those who do not appreciate, etc? Would this not reflect the humility and character of Christ? Isn’t being formed to Christ-likeness the ultimate goal of mission? Yet, what these posts point out, is that most of us are more willing to be “on mission” than to endure so that Christ can be formed in us.

    What does God think? Maybe we should all consider what Jesus said to the churches in Revelation 2-3. The congregations that Jesus commended would probably be despised by many; while the churches like the one Jesus warned most fierely are among those we lift up as examples.

  3. Very good points Dennis. Really good…… I agree with you. I wonder if the feeling of being or having to be winners comes from wrong expectations we not only put on ourselves at times but even from the Word preached by some.

    Paul himself exhorts us to not beat the air but put everthing into subjection to the higher calling of Christ Jesus. That we all run to win and he even compares us to the athlete. That he finished the race God gave him and encourages us to do the same. I think at times we take that the wrong way.

    I do think we have wrong ideas about what and how to do Church these days. We typically say come to us…..when we should be going to them. I think the more proper issue of making disciples begins with us going to others, our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and showing how to live a Christian life and engaging people in the market place.

    I recall you saying lots of times that you would rather see people involved in the market place than have their whole lives revolve around Church. I think you got that right in so many ways.

    It’s the working of one life on one life when the Gospel is communicated most effectively. Not in lots of crowds. But then there is time for crowds as well. Point is movement. I think the Church needs to be always moving and we as well as we live out the Gospel with others always in mind.

  4. Reblogged this on Resting in His Grace and commented:
    This is a very eye opening and aligning with Scripture post.More importantly, it touches base with my personal walk with Jesus… and His Church. Please take a minute and read Dennis’ words. Perfect timing for this one in my walk… as if God had anything less than perfect timing.

  5. Pingback: Gauging Your Church’s Temperature « Inspirational Christian Blogs

  6. Excellent article, couldn’t agree more! Church is what we make of it. It seems those who complain the most are also the same ones who do the least. I understand that leaving is sometimes what needs to happen, but I personally deplore church hopping. Seems to me these people need a “tickle my ears” type of church where everyone is very careful not to offend anyone. If your church and the pastor(s) never offend anyone…then maybe someone is not doing there job!

    I re-posted this on Inspirational Christian Blogs, you can see it here,

  7. I really appreciate your honesty and transparency. I think we all have those kinds of moments, or maybe seasons, with our churches. In fact, I am currently wrestling with some reservations I have with my own church. This post has allowed me to take a fresh perspective on my issues though, and really examine myself as well. I realize that God is using my church mightily, regardless of its flaws, and recognize that I should love and appreciate the fellowship where God has placed me. Thank you.

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