The goal of the church is not information but, rather, transformation.
This is not to say that information isn’t important, because it is, but information does not change us unless it is put to use in actual situations. As my Greek professor in college told us, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it!” Information that we retain best is that which we use in real situations. It is reality that much of what we learned in school we no longer remember because we haven’t used it in our lives.
I remember one day about 4 years ago. I was sitting at the dinner table. My youngest daughter (a high school sophomore at the time) was also sitting at the table doing her math homework. She looked up from her book at me and said, “Dad, our math teacher told us today that what we were learning today was important because we would use it in life. Is this true?” At that point, she slid her textbook over to me. I took a look at the page, looked up at her, and said, “Honey, not only have I never used this in life, I have no idea what this even is.”
Information learned in a vacuum and which stays in that vacuum is lost and eventually pointless. This is not the goal of the church, yet many times the way the church has structured what it does, this becomes the ipso defacto goal. The common structures of the church are geared toward communicating information in a vacuum and then hoping that the one receiving the information will, first, remember it, second, conceive of ways to apply it in order to be transformed by it, and third, actually carry through on it. It’s no better than a farmer throwing seed into the wind hoping that the field will be planted.
The true goal of the church is transformation. This transformation has two different aspects to it. First, there is the aspect of having a person literally transformed from the old into the new (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is the supernatural and immediate work that God does when a person believes in Christ which then brings that person into adoption into the family of God as a son or daughter of God. Immediately, at this point, God sends forth the Spirit of His Son into that person’s heart as the Spirit cries, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:4-7) So, the church must have the goal of leading people to belief in Christ by introducing them to Him and sharing what God has done through Him.
The second aspect of transformation is now assisting these people in realizing their new identity and nature. This part does not mean that these people are transformed into something they are not already. That work has already been done. What it means is that we help people realize the reality of this transformation which is done through relationships and real-life situations. It is not accomplished in a vacuum.
One does not learn that he is truly loving in his new nature just by taking a class or even role-playing situations. It is done through experiencing the nitty-gritty situations and encounters found in life and relationships. He realizes his new nature by returning love to a person who has just acted unloving in some fashion toward him. When a person becomes a new creation in Christ, has had his old nature crucified with Christ (meaning God killed it; it’s dead), and now has as his new nature, Christ, this is how God knows us. This is how He sees us. This is what He knows our true identity to be. So, He now gives us real life situations as opportunities to experience what He has already placed within us.
The church needs to be structured in such a way that people are able to experience their new found identity with all of the characteristics of that new nature in, first, a safe environment and then, second, out in an “unfriendly” environment.
In a sports metaphor, it’s the difference between practice performance and game performance. It has often been said that the speed of the game in practice does not match the speed of the actually game. That is very true. Practice is very important, but the skills practiced must be translated to the field/court/diamond. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time.
Unfortunately, it is far too common that the church isn’t even structured in such a way to allow for practice, let alone the actual real life “game.” It is more common for the church to be structured in such a way that it is the “position meetings” which are emphasized, meetings where the game plan for the upcoming game, skills needing improvement, and actions that must cease are discussed. The church then hopes that each person in that meeting would somehow take what was discussed and figure out how to use it in order to have a fuller and deeper realization and experience of their true identity and nature in Christ.
This is the principle undergirding my goals for 2015: not information, but transformation and realization.