Ordinary Church: Health Club, Halfway House, Hospital or Home?

 

5 When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Phillip Yancey wrote in his book Church, Why Bother? he attempts to answer his own question. After a time of being in a graceless conservative fundamentalist church he walked away. But in later years he came back to what Joseph Beach calls an Ordinary church. Yancey writes, “we should leave a worship service asking ourselves not ‘what did I get out of it?’ but rather ‘Was God pleased with what happened?’” He went on to write, “Church exists primarily not to provide entertainment or to encourage vulnerability or to build self-esteem or to facilitate friendships but to worship God; if it fails in that, it fails.” That seems really hard for us in our world of it’s all about me.

Church is a really crazy place because we want to come, we want to do good and we want people to see us do good. We want church to be a grand experience so that more and more people will come. Yet church is meant to be a place where we check our ego’s at the door and we worship God. The story of Jesus teaching the disciples the Sermon on the Mount is really against what American culture believes. Everything in America is filled with pride and consumerism. We like to win and hate to lose. Money is very important in our society. When we spend and buy things we have learned that is what stimulates the economy. The more we spend the better our country will be. If we can buy materials made in America even better because we are helping our neighbor and giving them a slice of the American pie as well.

Jesus turns that philosophy upside down when he begins to teach. Blessed are the poor? How can that be? Why would Jesus bless someone who is probably on welfare or homeless? Blessed are those who mourn so that they will be comforted? Why would those who have lost a loved one be blessed? They are grieving it might be the worst time of their life, and Jesus blesses them. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness seems a little out there. Why would we care about being righteous? That is way beyond our pay grade, right? Being right with God is a good dream but really more than we have time for when we are growing our nation’s economy.

The list goes on and blessings go to the merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and even those who are persecuted because they believe in Jesus. Before giving several good reasons why we might “bother” with church, Yancey first emphasized the need for a grace-filled community. He’d had his fill, for one lifetime, of judgmentalism, legalism, and hatred. He purposefully looked for a church full of people unlike himself that exhibited the marks of a grace-filled family. He returned to church. He had reached the settled conclusion that one can only follow Christ as part of an actual congregation of believers, a family of fellow pilgrims. He quotes Paul Tournier, “There are two things we cannot do alone, one is to be married and the other is to be a Christian.” Yancey came home by coming back to a family.

In Beach’s book Ordinary Church, he loves the image of the church as family. With all the Norman Rockwell paintings to the down right messiness of the modern family. He emphasizes over and over that to be the church we have to love one another and not get caught up in the programs and glamour of the mega-churches. Beach then takes us down the road of four places that we have a certain idea about what they might look like, but in reality they are turned upside down just as Jesus did with the Beatitudes.

Health club is number one. When you think of a health club we walk in and we look at all the amenities. What can they offer and what cool machines and work out stations are there? Is there a pool, hot tub, sauna, etc.? Towels and juice bar available? The list goes on yet Beach lifts up a health club that is not like that at all.

Beach writes, “There was a man in Denver named Gene Cisneros who ran a health club several years ago (and maybe still does). He was interviewed in the Denver Post. I was very impressed by his business philosophy because it mirrored what I feel is a biblical philosophy of ministry. One of the main frustrations in pastoral ministry is the constant pressure – both from the world and the church – to base local church ministry on programs, products, and performances. In other words, we as pastors are judged to be successes or failures based on our ability to build and lead an organization that offers excellent programs, products, and performances to an ever-increasing customer base (or market share). People don’t use those words, of course. We, instead, refer to the customers as “seekers” whom we are “reaching” for the Lord. The “customers,” likewise, use better sounding language. They might say things about the church such as, “my kids love it there!” or “I really love their music,” or, negatively, “I’m just not being fed by the teaching ministry,” or “our church just doesn’t have much of a youth group right now,” or “I like that they offer a Saturday night service so we can use Sunday for family stuff.” Let’s return to that health club in Denver. Gene Cisneros began his little health club over thirty years ago. He named it Kinetic Fitness Studio. His club is located in the north Cherry Creek area of Denver and is described by the interviewer as a “quite simple, small, and even shabby little gym hidden down a back alley.” Nearby are several popular top-of-the-line gyms with all the bells and whistles, packed with customers. Gene and his little gym, however, have somehow managed to help all kinds of folks get in shape while, at the same time, training Denver’s boldest, biggest names in the civic and financial worlds. So, Gene was asked, “what’s your secret?” His answer was fascinating: I just wanted to open a place to work out. I didn’t want all that foo-foo stuff. It’s pretty primitive in terms of the facility. It’s only 3,000 square feet; we have some TV’s. I didn’t even have a drinking fountain for eight years. To this day, there are no showers. No lockers. No steam. No sauna. This is bare bones. But if people want to get in shape and they’re serious about it, they come to my club. We do have state-of-the-art equipment. But we have no membership director; we don’t have a contract. I had every reason to fail. But people just come in and we go, “let’s get to work.”

Half-way house “I don’t need someone to tell me who to hate.”

Hospital 12 step program

Home

Beach writes, “I believe that the church is our “first family” – taking precedence over all other relationships and commitments. Because of our common bond in Christ, and our shared commitment to him, our local church deserves our highest allegiance – beyond that of our allegiances to our country, our biological families, our jobs, our hobbies, and everything else. Please note: I am not advocating for some kind of sick sociological cult wherein some leader (or leaders) control every aspect of our lives. I am not suggesting that we drink anybody’s “Kool-Aid” or blindly follow something or someone that contradicts the basic story of Jesus or violates our consciences or common sense. What I am saying is that our church home, our church family, should be just that. Nothing less, nothing more. A place to come home to. A family with whom to travel together through life.”

Doesn’t that sound exciting? How can we come home? How does God call us home? Come back next week and I will tell you.

 

Beach, Joseph. Ordinary Church: A Long and Loving Look . Spello Press. Kindle Edition.

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