Ask Your Preacher
We are a small congregation with no deacons or elders. Recently, several issues have been raised in the men’s meetings:
Issue #1: Different men are assigned to the Lord's table each Sunday, ages seventeen and up. One of the men who regularly serves on the table obtained approval to use his two young sons (ages seven and nine) to help pass the plates. They do not participate with the men at the table, only stand at the end of the rows and hand the plate from row to row. They take this duty very seriously and do a very good job. Yet, some members feel that no one should be helping serve on the Lord's table unless they have been baptized.
Issue #2: The offering has always been returned to the front table after collection (although the Lord's Supper plates are taken to the back room) and, after services, is counted by two of whoever served on the table that week, which changes weekly, and therein lies the problem. Several members are upset about the lack of confidentiality (at times, children and other family members have observed while their fathers count the offering), and, in fact, one family has withheld their offering as a result. The decision was made to take the offering plate to a side room to count which does not completely resolve the problem of confidentiality since any two of fifteen different people are counting the money each Sunday.
Issue #3 involves allowing men whose regular attendance is lacking, or were baptized less than a year ago, to deliver Sunday evening sermons. More than a few members are uncomfortable with this, mostly because of the lack of Bible knowledge and potentially false impressions left with visitors.
Issue #4: Allowing AA meetings to be held in the building (although made available to them at no cost).
I appreciate your Bible answers and words of wisdom.
Counting My Concerns
Dear Counting My Concerns,
Your first three concerns are all issues of wisdom – there is no hard and fast line of right and wrong; the congregation must decide what they think is best and wisest because God gives us freedom in these areas.
There is nothing wrong with those young boys helping pass the plates. This isn’t any different than when people sitting in the pews help pass the plate from one person to another. The same goes with counting the collection; the Bible never says we need to guarantee people’s anonymity in giving. In fact, there were times when Paul openly bragged about how much a congregation was prepared to give (2 Cor 8:1-2, 2 Cor 9:2). As for men preaching, the Bible never gives a specific maturity level needed for a man to preach a lesson. Wisdom would dictate that the younger in the faith someone is, the more cautious we should be, but once again, that isn’t a prohibition, just a concern. In the end, with all of these issues, God tells us to do that which makes for peace and edification (Rom 14:19). If an expediency stops being helpful, it is no longer expedient. Typically, an eldership would handle such matters because they are qualified to watch over the souls of the congregation and delicate matters like this (Heb 13:17), and the fact that your congregation doesn’t have elders yet is a big part of what is making these issues so painful. These are exactly the kinds of growing pains that congregations go through until they are able to appoint elders. The only thing you can do is try and strive for unity and submission to one another in these sorts of situations (Eph 5:21, Eph 4:3).
Your fourth concern is a different matter; a congregation has no authority to use its assets (and the church building is part of its assets) to support things other than the Lord’s work. As positive an influence as Alcoholics Anonymous can be, it isn’t the church, and it isn’t the church’s work, therefore, the church shouldn’t be using the Lord’s funds to support it. Read “Purpose Driven Church” for further details on the church’s purpose and responsibilities.
I attend two different churches on a regular basis. I'm not a member of either one and don't plan on joining anytime soon. It's not that I don't want to; I just don't see the point of joining since I am still an active-goer. Do I have to join a church? Or is it okay since I'm still getting the Word either way?
Being a member of a congregation is about more than just hearing God’s Word; it is about being a committed, active participant in supporting and encouraging God’s people. There are no examples of christians in the Bible who weren’t members of a local church. Even the apostle Paul, with all of his traveling, was a member of the church in Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). God tells us that part of the purpose of the church assembly is to stimulate and encourage one another to love and good works (Heb 10:24-25). Is it enough to just stay at home and watch sermons on television or listen to ones you have downloaded from the internet? If the only purpose of church attendance is to hear the Word, then those would be acceptable alternatives to going to church. We are supposed to get together each Sunday and partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 11:20), and God intended for christians to be a part of a local congregation with elders and deacons to help shepherd them (1 Pet 5:2). God knows what is best for us, and it is in our best interest to assemble with other christians in a local church. We are all different, and our differences help to strengthen us, protect us, and better serve Christ (Eph 4:14-16). If all you do is “church hop”, then you don’t have the blessings of the local eldership, interwoven lives with other local saints, and participating fully in the growth of the church’s work. Church membership isn’t just about what you get; it is about what you are able to give.
Any advice for a christian who has stumbled along the way, repented, confessed this sin to the elders, got back up, and continued trying to fight the good fight, but left feeling the elders are disgusted, disappointed, and aloof? It breaks my heart because my entire life I have felt rejected by my family, only to feel such love and respect from my spiritual family. Now when the elders see me, they turn away, never shake my hand, and make me feel alienated, rejected, worthless, and so incredibly saddened by my sin; I don't feel worthy of assembling with the saints. I suppose this is simply the consequence of sin. I hate myself.
We are so very sorry for your pain. The sting of our own actions and the consequences that come along with them can sometimes be so much more devastating than we ever thought. Luke 18:13-14 tells the story of a man that prayed fervently and humbly over his sin to God, and God accepted him. The same is true for you, regardless of how others treat you; remember that if you truly repent and turn to the Lord, God will exalt you.
You don’t need to hate yourself because the Lord doesn’t hate you. Paul taught that part of being a christian is learning to accept the Lord’s view of us above our own. Paul said that no matter how humans judged him, what mattered was God’s judgment (1 Cor 4:3-4). It can be very hard when others are not as quick to forgive us of our sins as the Lord is, but that is life. Think of it as an opportunity to show grace to others when they struggle with forgiveness the way you have struggled with other sins – you can be patient with them because you know what it is like to struggle to become the person you are meant to be. Everyone has their weaknesses, and the church is full of imperfect people.
The other thing that you can do is approach the elders on this issue. God says that if we believe our brother has something against us, we should seek to reconcile with them (Matt 5:23-24). When you talk to them, it may or may not be that the elders are actually being aloof and purposefully rejecting you. Sometimes, our own disgust and disappointment with ourselves causes us to interpret others’ actions as disgust and disappoint… when they don’t mean anything of the sort. The only way to rectify things is to clear the air through communication. You had the strength to confess your sins to them; you have the strength to discuss this problem with them.
I have a question regarding the church family. I attend a church where there seems to be a lot of animosity between families and friends, especially women. I know this is not how the church is supposed to act; they are supposed to be loving and accept one another no matter what. I stay totally out of any drama that comes between other people, but I continue to find myself not being invited to other christian's events (birthday parties, showers, general get-togethers), and I feel it is because I am a part of a particular "family" or friends with particular people. It feels so hurtful, especially when I have made an effort to talk and invite these other families and friends to my own events. It hurts to see that I am affected when I have nothing to do with any of it, and I don't understand why they act so unloving towards each other. I want my christian family to act how Christ would have us to. It makes me feel unwelcome and disliked. What can I do? Why can't we all just get along?
The church has always struggled with disagreements between individuals… particularly grudges between women. When Paul wrote to the Philippian church, he was so proud of them and considered them to be faithful, wonderful, and dear to his heart (Php 1:7-8). In the entire Philippian letter, Paul only had one problem to address – a dispute between two women (Php 4:2). Euodia and Syntyche were both faithful women that served the Lord with whole hearts (Php 4:3), but they had some disagreement with each other. We say all this just to tell you that what you are experiencing has always been a battle for the Lord’s people. Good people find themselves in disagreements, and it affects the church – even Paul and Barnabas battled it out at one time (Acts 15:37-40).
So what do we do when others don’t act the way they ought and when we feel hurt and maligned? The first thing is to make sure you are always part of the solution and not the problem. Don’t allow yourself to become bitter because of how others behave (Heb 12:15). Continue to make an effort with others and don’t grow weary in doing good (2 Thess 3:13). Change only happens when we rise above each others’ faults and strive to receive each other with love (Rom 15:7). The other practical thing to do is to avoid gossip, slander, and murmuring against others. Whenever there is animosity between people, it is very easy for those around to get caught up in choosing sides, passing judgment, and spreading tales. Pr 26:20 says that a contention can’t continue to spread if people keep their tongues quiet. You can’t change everyone else, but you can give them the benefit of the doubt (just like Paul did with those two women in Philippi), and you can try and be a vehicle for pure, forgiving love in the Lord’s church, so the future of your congregation is more unified, not less. All you can work on is yourself and leave others to do the same. Though the road be bumpy, when everyone works on themselves, the church is always blessed.
Why do we need to go to church?
Dear Sunday Sleeper,
The Bible teaches that we shouldn’t forsake the assembly (Heb 10:24-25). God designed the church so that each individual would be strengthened by the power of the whole (Eph 4:16). God never wanted christians to try and serve Him without the support of a local church; that is why He commanded the church to assemble. It is impossible to do God’s work without being a part of a local church. If you would like help finding a faithful congregation in your area, e-mail us at email@example.com.