Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness

Jerry Cook sets forth to articulate his philosophy of the church in Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness: Being Christians in a Non-Christian World.  While it would seem from the title that the book is about these three values they only appear intermittently throughout the book.  Rather than an articulation of love, acceptance and forgiveness, this book is a look at the difference between church as a field and church as a force.

Chapter one looks briefly at the prerequisites of the church’s ministry: love, acceptance and forgiveness.  “If people are not guaranteed these three things, they will never allow us the marvelous privilege of bringing wholeness to them through the fellowship of the church.” (12)  The church must learn to enjoy people, so they can like people, so they can love people.  The church must learn to communicate the significance of each individual through the act of acceptance.  The church must learn to forgive as they have been forgiven.  Cook reminds the reader that love is not license for misbehavior.  Acceptance is not agreement.  Forgiveness is not compromise.

Chapter two addresses the need for a guiding philosophy of ministry.  Such a philosophy is essential if the pastor is to avoid three common pitfalls of pastoral ministry: (1) pastoring from crisis to crisis; (2) becoming trendy; (3) simply accepting what is handed down to them.

Chapters three through eight address the concepts of church as a field and church as a force.  The church as a field is characterized by its need for visibility and attractive programming. Its goals are focused on attendance, budget and facilities.  The church as a field accomplishes ministry by bringing people into the facilities and pulling them out of the culture.  What motivates the church as a field is getting people in and keeping people in because people serve the facilities, pay for the facilities and keep the facilities from shrinking.  The main danger with this approach is second- and third-generation mediocrity.  The founding generation may be well enough excited but the second- and third-generation have no stake in the accomplishments and they begin to settle for mediocre.

The church as a force, on the other hand, is characterized by an emphasis on worship, training and fellowship.  The goals of the church as a force are personal: each member coming to wholeness, equipped and released into the world to minister.  The church’s ministry then is the automatic result of great healing, which is, great outreach.  The motivation is wholeness and holiness in every person.  These realities are recognized by the church as a force:

  • The saints are already equipped for ministry by virtue of being filled with the Holy Spirit.  They only need opportunity, permission and guidance.
  • The power is in the gospel, not the presentation or the delivery.  Let the people share the gospel.
  • Ministering is not inviting people to church services.  Inviting people to services is called “inviting people to services.”  Ministry is serving people.
  • Every generation must equally disrespected.  In other words, they all count!
  • Teaching a biblical lifestyle – going beyond mere biblical knowledge – is best done within the context of the family (Deut 6 and Eph 6).  Therefore, train your families to train their children and train your families to bring those without family into their family.
  • Schism and conflict are never left alone, but confronted directly and firmly for the sake of the body. (Titus 3:9-11)
  • The people are primary and the building is secondary, maybe even lower.
  • The church is present in the world as a servant bringing healing.

In the final chapter, Cook offers his closing thoughts on leading a church as a force.  First, he offers to sure ways to kill the church: micromanagement and unfocused methods of delivery.  Two questions we must always ask are: (1) Are we reproducing the life of Christ in our congregation? and (2) Are we ministering as Jesus in our world?  Those who lead the church as a force will demonstrate the following characteristics: authenticity (the ability to live life with the members of the church), a clear and reproducible lifestyle of following Jesus, an appreciation of the natural network of friendship, and will be a collector of stories that demonstrate God’s power in fresh and contemporary ways.

First, what the book doesn’t offer is an explanation of love, acceptance and forgiveness.  These themes are briefly mentioned but not explained in great detail.  One is left with the understanding that they are important and you’ll know them when you see them.  There is no discussion on how to cultivate these virtues within the body.  The book’s chapters also seem to lack any coherent connection as they jump from church staff, to marriage, to programming, to discipleship in the family.  Each of the chapters are wonderful and provide the reader with food for thought, but they simply don’t flow together to form a meta-narrative.

What I appreciate about the book is its consistent look at what it means to be the body of Christ.  I agree with the author that too few pastors have seriously considered their theology of the body of Christ.  I recently wrote a brief pamphlet for my denomination of the subject of the body of Christ and was surprised by the paucity of resources.  Jerry Cook gets it absolutely right when he writes,

One thing working all kinds of devastation in the life of the church is the failure of  the leadership to have a solid philosophy – a well-defined concept of how a church ought to operate and why.  In the absence of such a philosophy, pastors tend to do one of the following: (1) they pastor from crisis to crisis, (2) they pick up on the current fad, or (3) they simply subscribe to a concept of church life handed down to them. (27)

The people themselves are the ministers and Sunday morning is a meeting of the church staff.  If this is true then Sunday mornings should include ministry reports, personal reports, brainstorming, evaluation and feedback, admonishment, updates, directives, calendaring, training, fellowship, etc.  Staff meetings are much more participatory than the typical Sunday morning worship service.  If it really is a staff meeting then that means we must really work for someone, i.e. Jesus the King!

People must be trained in their gifts and given permission to use their gifts.  Permission and authority have to be given away by the leadership.  Responsibility must be retained by the leadership.  This is scary but it seems to be the secret to every member functioning.

The church is people, redeemed, filled with the Holy Spirit, equipped to serve, meeting needs everywhere in Jesus’ name.  The church focuses on worship, training and fellowship because these are the things that produce Spirit-filled people who can meet other’s needs in Jesus’ name.  Therefore, the pastor’s job is to equip the saints, not meet their needs.

The body must disrespect every generation equally – in preaching, song selection, style, structure, programming, etc.  They all matter to God so they must all matter to us.  This is why every generation must be connected to the life of the body in a vital and visible way.  Age-appropriate experiences and programming is great, but they must not become substitutes for the body of Christ.  The goal of children’s ministry and youth ministry then is to integrate them into the life of the body of Christ.

The family is the God-designed context for discipleship of children.  This is most clearly seen in Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6.  The church often fails, its children’s and youth ministries often fail, and even its private Christian schools often fail at discipleship because the church fails equip families to engage in the process of discipleship.

“The answer is in the room.”  This phrase must become the heart of the members.  They must learn to see themselves as the solution to the problem, not the professionals.

The church must always ask two questions: (1) Are we reproducing the life of Christ in our members? and (2) Are we ministering as Jesus in the world?  Everything we do must produce a resounding YES to these questions.

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