L2W: Christians and the Church

Here is chapter one of my new resource, Learning to Walk. Once again, I encourage feedback either by inbox, comment box, or email me (michael@mahayward.com). I want this to be a helpful resource for churches and para-church ministries to make disciples, not just converts. Enjoy:

I had a friend in high school whose step-dad like to sail. He had a bumper sticker on his truck that read, “Have you hanked your jib today?” It always sounded like bathroom humor to me, and maybe that was part of the point, but a hank is a metal ring on the bow of a sailboat, and a jib is the triangular sail on the bow. The question basically means “did you secure the small front sail?”

We need to be on the same page of terms, or we’re going to have to wrestle through misunderstanding. And no one wants that.

Two terms that are important to understand right off the bat are “Christian” and “church.” There are many people who call themselves Christian, or refer to others as Christian, who clearly have no idea what that name actually means. There are those who talk about “church” referring to the building or the programs. It’s important to know who a Christian is so that we can know who is a Christian, and so we can be sure that we are living as one ourselves. We need to know what the church is because this will shape our understanding of everything else.

In Acts 11:26 we are told, “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” The first thing to note is that before they were called Christians, they were known as disciples. A Christian, therefore, is a disciple of Jesus. A disciple is a student and follower; not just someone who learns knowledge about Jesus or even from him, a disciple is someone who learns from Jesus and lives like Jesus as they follow him. The word “Christian” means “little Christ.” In other words, a Christian is a representation, a model, of Christ.

To be Christian is to be like, or to be one who is being made to be like, Jesus. Becoming like Jesus is the result of being with him and is a process of learning, applying what is learned, and being transformed from what we were before we came to Jesus, to who we are in him.

Far too many people think that if you simply believe in Jesus that this makes one Christian. Even a superficial reading of the gospels demonstrates that the demons believe in Jesus, the Pharisees believed in Jesus, and the Romans believed in Jesus, but they refused to love and trust him, and they certainly didn’t spend their time with him. Their belief did not result in transformation and growth. A disciple—a Christian—thinks, acts, and lives according to their belief in Jesus as Lord.

Another word that is used often and incorrectly is “church.” Oftentimes this word is used to refer to a building, an activity, a set of ritual habits or liturgy, or series of programs. All of these are wrong. The church is not the time, place, or activities. Church is not something we do. The church is what we are.

The Bible teaches us that the church is like a body which is made up of many parts with many different functions. In his letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul says to the Christians there, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). The church is the people, and those people living together in the presence of God and working together for the purpose of Christ is church life.

Upon your profession of faith, you became a part of the body of Christ—the church. There are local church fellowships, and there is the greater Church which includes every Christian on the planet. There is one Church; there are many local churches. In a local church, its members are much like a body—a group different parts with varying gifts, talents, and abilities working together to build up and support each other while glorifying (revealing and making much of) the name (character, nature, and reputation) of Jesus. In the greater, global Church the local fellowships, in similar fashion, work together like a body. You are a part of this great, big, beautiful picture.

As a part of the church, there are four commitments you will want to make. We’ll get into these in more detail later, but for now, consider a decision to commit to membership in a local church. This is a personal but important decision. That local fellowship will be your immediate church family and your support system as you grow. You will want to commit to grow in maturity. This doesn’t just happen by osmosis. You’ll need to put yourself in a position to learn and grow. At some point, you will want to make a commitment to serve in the ministries of the church because this is where you will experience God most powerfully. Finally, you will want to commit to the mission. To follow Jesus means to take part in the work he is doing all around you. Jesus wants others to experience the healing, hope, and freedom you now have, and he sends his invitation through you.

As a Christian, there are four basic habits you will want to adopt that will nurture your relationship with God and will strengthen your faith. Again, we will cover these in more detail later. The first is to get to know God. This is your relationship with God and it is the foundation of all life, let alone abundant and eternal life. You’ll also want to develop a healthy prayer life. Learning to talk to God is essential in the development of that relationship. What we call “fellowship” is an important aspect of Christian life. Sharing time with other believers will broaden your view of God. Finally, you’ll want to make your faith the priority. Nothing can be more important than your relationship with God because if that isn’t right, everything else—every other relationship—will suffer. Jesus must be lord of all, or he isn’t really lord at all.

So let’s look at what all this means and how it looks in everyday life.

(…to be continued.)


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