Why I’m a Member of a Church of Christ
“Are you going to leave the church of Christ?”
The question came up more than I like to admit in college.
I was attending Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas and studying Bible. In only a few short weeks I would change my major to history after my church home, a small church of Christ in my hometown would tell me I wouldn’t be allowed to worship “in full fellowship” after I stated publicly that I thought perhaps there may be a different plan of salvation for those who had never heard of Jesus. I was a college freshman.
My friends and I all had high hopes for ministry: working together or close-by, speaking at each other’s gatherings, using youth group get-togethers as convenient opportunities to hang out. But as college trudged on, and we began to spend more and more time working in churches we all became a little tired and disillusioned. Usually our issues relied around several common principles of the church of Christ. A nine-year-old told me he couldn’t be taught by a woman because he was a “baptized man,” Derek had to tell a kid he wasn’t allowed to bring a guitar on a youth group trip because he might play it at a worship time that the adults didn’t know about, my friend Chris worked at a church where the preacher took it upon himself to Democrat bash from the pulpit on a regular basis. The list goes on.
Again, the question would come up, “Are you going to leave the church of Christ?”
Not surprisingly, my friends had me pegged as a defector. I became a Christian right before I came to college and was the only person in my family who attended church at all. I wouldn’t have family who were disappointed or concerned about my salvation if I left, nor did I have the life-long vested interest that many of them had. Additionally, my vision for urban work and desire for a life-style of service toward the urban poor put me at odds with the churches of Christ because they are a largely suburban and rural today. There just weren’t many opportunities for me there.
And, I guess they were right. As soon as I finished school at Harding I accepted a job in church planting with Kensington Community Church and moved to Detroit. I worked there for a while, struggled through some ideas and really came to realize what I loved about the church of Christ; reasons that ultimately led me to coming back.
A Fraternity of 10,000. Last I remember the churches of Christ had around 2 million members. But, I believe the number of members who are actually doing meaningful kingdom work is around 10,000. This is great because we all know or know-of each other. So, when I moved to Detroit and started doing work in the city someone said, “Do you know Wayne Johnson? He would love what you’re doing.” Now, I had never met Wayne, but had heard of his work and when we did meet he had heard of me and my work and we instantly had that bond. The 10,000 workers in the churches of Christ all know each other, love each other and are excited about the things that each of us are doing. That is something I don’t think I would get anywhere else. Most of these people remain in the church of Christ and are doing their work in spite of the larger group, not with the love and encouragement of it. We all understand that there is bigger money, love and support outside of our given heritage, but this is bleeding into my last point.
Congregational Autonomy. When I talk to some people about this, their eyes glaze over as they let me rant, but let me tell you: this is awesome. The freedom that the church of Christ in your town has to change to become a church best suited for your town is awesome. Because for a lot of religious groups that isn’t the case. They pride themselves on you being able to have the same church experience in metro-Dallas as in small-town New York. Church of Christ congregations believe that each congregation is going to have to change a little, adapt a little, and do things a little differently to be the most effective church in their city. That is awesome!
Priesthood of all believers, with no robes. I think churches in America really believe in a priesthood of all believers by now. But walk into many churches today and you will hear, “we are all priests” but will only see one person wearing robes, doing priestly things, and standing elevated above the congregation. This communicates that even though you say we are priests, there is only one priest. In a given month or week at a church of Christ you’ll see many people come across the stage making announcements, leading prayers, and giving a lesson and you can count on them all wearing about the same thing as each other and as the congregation. I think the church of Christ does a good job of promoting within, building up leaders and trying to keep a priest-laity barrier from forming.
First Century Lens . I hesitate to put this one in the list. I think the pursuit of the first-century church has been cop-out answer for many on issues that come up today, but is also conveniently over-looked when making other decisions: carpet, air-conditioning, hiring a staff, building a building. But I think the search for the intentions of the first church planters is an important one. I appreciate several things that we have sifted out of history and hold on to today: elders, deacons, communion, baptism and scripture.
Something Bigger. I was having dinner with some new friends the other night. They were missionaries over-seas for a long time and had gone to Harding a few years before I got there. We talked about Harding and the churches of Christ in general for some time. When we left my girlfriend said to me, “It seems like the people who are doing a lot of great things in the church of Christ, don’t really like the church of Christ.” There is some truth to that. A lot of the time, I don’t really like the church of Christ, but I will always love it. Like I said earlier, the 10,000 workers are doing what they do in spite of their faith heritage, but I would also suggest that they wouldn’t be doing what they do if not for the gifts they learned from their time in churches of Christ. And we stay by choice because we believe we can make it better and that the body of Christ would be more benefited if we stay than if we leave. That is something that builds love and fraternity.
My friend Adam Hill recently tackled this question on his blog and I want to share a quote from his post:
“After these more personal reasons, I can attest that I also remain in churches of Christ because I think the best part of what we believe is true and relevant. Alongside of this would be the correlate that I am convinced that the worst parts of what we have believed can be corrected and changed.“
Adam talks about the CoC like a family. He points out that though you may spend the bulk of your time complaining about them or wishing they’d do this and that, you don’t leave.
I am accused sometimes of being wishy-washy, not sticking things out when they get hard or leaving when something better comes along. But I am glad to be counted among 10,000 others who have dedicated themselves to something bigger than themselves: working to show people a different side of Jesus who might not otherwise get to see that side of Him. Sometimes that can be hard, other times really rewarding. That being the case, most of those folks are some of the most humble, loving, and Christ-centered people I know. I think that is a natural bi-product of doing the right thing when many wish you wouldn’t. Deciding to stay instead of leave is much less about making the church of Christ how I want it and much more about me becoming the kind of person I want to be.