Wednesday, November 10, 2010


One of the most thought-provoking ideas in the book Total Church is this:

The church is most effective when it does ordinary things with gospel intentionality.

Think about that. Your life as a Christian (assuming for the moment that you are one -- if you're not, just play along for the moment) is most effective when you are together with other Christians (this is after all how we define the church -- Jesus' followers together), doing ordinary things -- grocery shopping, mowing lawn, driving, baking a hotdish ("casserole" for those of you from the Twin Cities and other places out of touch with rural life), washing dishes, writing an email, playing backyard football, or whatever ordinary things you find to do -- because Jesus Christ became human, died on the cross, and rose from the dead.

Two mistakes we believe about this. First, we believe that Christian actions are somehow different than ordinary actions. So our activity has to be specifically Christian -- reading the Bible, say, or praying, or sitting in a sanctuary or working in a soup kitchen.


Second mistake we make about this is that we believe we are called to do just ordinary things, but we do them for ourselves, without any sense of gospel intentionality. So I drink my coffee by myself while I read a novel because it's kind of a self-indulgent habit that I've gotten into. Or you bake a casserole ("hotdish" for you backcountry rural types like me) because you need something to eat for supper tonight and you're kind of grumbly and upset the whole time because you resent something about the task. In short, we do ordinary things but we do them self-centeredly.

Doing ordinary things together with gospel intentionality. So sitting around with a group of people barbecuing hamburgers and soaking up the sunshine can be church if we are mindful in our get-together that we are together for one and only one reason -- we are together because of Jesus. Suddenly this self-indulgent backyard gathering becomes church, and it becomes a unique kind of church that might have the potential to change the life of some poor soul who gets invited in. (Inviting, by the way, is also a very ordinary activity that can and should and must be done with gospel intentionality.) The gathering doesn't change the person's life because you all gang up on him and ask, "Have you heard of Jesus?" Instead, as you enjoy being together in Jesus' presence with your backyard friends, he observes your care for each other and says, "See how they love one another!" and decides that he would like to be part of this community. This desire continues even after the paper plates are thrown in the garbage and one of the group gets teary when she describes a particularly challenging place in her life and the rest of the group takes a minute to pray for her, right there in the backyard. Poor Soul now is really intrigued and thinks, "These people are doing ordinary things together with gospel intentionality; I must return and investigate."

Do you see how easy -- and how hard -- being church is? It is just doing ordinary things together, but it is doing things together with gospel intentionality. It is letting Jesus and his people invade every detail of our lives, every activity of our days.

I was recently invited into the foyer of a friend's house and we stood there to visit for a while. We didn't talk about anything terribly spiritual; we compared notes on a ministry we share, but most of the conversation was catching up on what is going on in their lives, decisions they're facing, and what's going on in mine. But I walked out the door a few minutes later feeling distinctly lifted, like I had been at church. And I had.

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