“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” – James 1:22
It’s that time of year where high school seniors, and eager 20 somethings don their caps and gowns and march down the aisles toward a graduation ceremony that will conclude, in one fashion or another, with these words: “We’ve prepared you well, now get out there and do something!”
This seems appropriate, doesn’t it – that after spending 12 years in high school, and then perhaps another few years in college that those graduating would receive the commission to DO something with what they have learned?
Here’s the thing though, I don’t ever remember hearing these words from those standing before me in my childhood church. They were, and many of them still are, good people to be sure, but there was never that turning point in my spiritual development where an older, more mature, Christian stood before me and said…Go! or Do!
It would seem that many of our churches are still full of such people who are stuck in a form of Christianity that leaves people stuck in their seats.
A cursory reading of Scripture, however, is enough to push us toward a more active mode of being Christian – one in which we not only take seriously the charge to read and learn from God’s Word, but that such a reading should both inform and mobilize our faith.
Page after page, Jesus, and then those who followed him, push and pull us out of our seats of learning and into the streets of action prodding us to use what we have learned for the good of this world.
So, here are 3 small, but effective, ways Christians can graduate from simply attending church:
1. Start viewing the Church as a technical college, not a university.
Both are institutions of learning, but where the former focuses on learning first and then doing, the latter intentionally places learning and doing along side each other. Too many churches approach discipleship as a learning process only to never graduate it’s students into action packed lives. Jesus is clear when giving the Great Commission that his disciples are to form disciples by teaching others…are you ready…to OBEY and OBSERVE all he had taught them. That is – Jesus’ own disciples are to instruct others in such a way that they both listen to and practice what Jesus has taught them.
2. Start viewing the Bible as an inspiring (and true) story, not an instruction book.
Few people I know settle in for the night while gripping the pages of an… instruction manual. Sure, there is a time to read instructions. Perhaps, ironically enough, instructions are most useful while one is attempting to do the very thing about which the instructions were written.
A good story, as opposed to instructions, however, not only informs the reader but also inspires one to take action. A story’s power comes in its ability to move our heads and hearts, not just our hands.
Instruction manuals tell our hands how to assemble a piece of Ikea furniture; stories inspire the heart and head to design a piece of furniture in the first place.
The Bible, when reduced to mere instructions, is still capable of directing our hands to tend to good and noble things, but when one reads the Bible as the story it is then the Christian mind is inspired to envision and then create better worlds.
3. Start viewing Christianity as a service organization, not an honor society.
There’s this tiny episode in Luke 7 between John the Baptist and Jesus. John is wondering whether or not Jesus is the Messiah from God, and Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back and tell him what they have seen and heard. The him, Jesus says, that “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
Jesus often taught in synagogues and on hillsides, but he put the proof of his identity in what he did. The church that organizes itself around the centrality of Jesus will do so in its actions as well as its thoughts.
May the church always seek to believe what is right, seek to understand the life that God is calling it to live, and do so primarily by looking deeply into the Scripture given to us by God, but may it never fail to graduate from attending to the learning necessary for discipleship toward the life long quest to live out its faith with all of its being – head, heart, and hands.