Church of TodayBy Trevor Lund

The church of tomorrow does not exist. It has yet to be born or reborn into the kingdom of God. The church of yesterday is already at home with the Father.

I have never like either of these terms. They have been used to denote an artificial separation that I have yet to find in scripture or in unmodified reality. The only thing we have to work with in this life is the church of today and all those who have repented of their sins and names Jesus as their Lord are a part of it; and, in fact, are its building blocks. Together, regardless of race or position, age or experience, we are one (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Youth GroupStill, there is an observable fact that church growth experts call the Homogeneous Unit Principle, which states that like attracts like. This is something all of us in the church have seen and, perhaps, utilize. People like to be with people are like them. Kids like to be with kids, youth with youth, young adults with young adults, young marrieds with young marrieds, married with young children with marrieds with youth children. Parents with youth seem to relate will together as do empty-nesters and seniors who share similar life experiences with their peers.

I know in smaller churches it seems to be a constant prayer to have enough of a particular group to form that particular ministry. For example, if we had more young adults, then my child would not feel they have to attend another church after they graduate. If that or similar statements are driving the prayer life of your church, might I suggest looking at another Theology of Church based, not on what seems to work, but instead on, oh, I don’t know, what about, the Bible?

What do you think it means when Paul writes in Colossians 3:11: “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all”?

I see this verse and others flying in the face of the Homogeneous Unit Principle. Why should we be segregating instead of integrating if Christ is all, and is in all?

I admit facing difficulty in making this theology practical. I understand the reality that people in Care Groups will naturally invite their friends, who naturally are like them. I know children learn more when they are taught at an age-appropriate level. I realize the importance of both Men’s and Women’s Ministries in the life of the church. Still I choose to ask: When do we allow the church to be the church? How often do we become more than simply a greater number of our own image? When do we learn from our elders and teach the younger? How do we practically fulfill the New Testament “one another” commands to the entire church?

I have a theory about the Homogeneous Unit Principle. I hypothesize that this principle works because people, good godly Christians, seek their own comfort at the expense of ministering to others. Unintentionally and without thought, most Christians judge most things by the blessing they receive. To put it more bluntly, what do I get out of it? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? I choose to reject this humanistic value at the source.

Paul writes in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Understanding humility as putting the other first, as opposed to degrading yourself, allows us to more successfully integrate this vital truth.

Mature Christians are not to be served, but are to serve, for they have learned the greatest blessing is in blessing others. They see Christ gave of himself for them, so they give of themselves for Him. Their concern is for the comfort of others, not of themselves. Their visible love is for the segment of the church which God has laid on their heart. That segment, for other centered believers, is, more often than not, outside their comfortable social grouping.

When I seek out what makes me comfortable, it seems to never be the place of ministry. Yet, the place of ministry is where God has called all mature Christians to be.

GroupThat being said, there are many benefits for integrating church life. More mature people have experience, which, while not the best (Psalm 119:98-99), is still a very good teacher. Younger people have a vigor that sets embers ablaze. Each individual within a group, whether male or female, young or old, new or mature Christian, add their unique part to the whole. This is more than a call to mentorship, because the realized benefits flow in all directions.

I can testify to the personal benefit of being in a Care Group that has both newlyweds and grandparents involved. The different perspectives on scripture and life is enlightening. I worry a little for Care Groups which are homogeneous. Is your heart ever blessed when everyone in the Sunday School Christmas Pageant destroys every line? Then you know the benefits of inter-generational ministry. I love it when professionalism gives way to enthusiasm.

There is a place for homogeneous groupings in the life of the church, but it is not supported in scripture as the norm for church life. The norm is to train our own in the same ways others have trained us (2 Timothy 2:2), especially in reaching out beyond what is the church today.

It is important for us to realize two truths. First, the whitest harvest field available today is the children God has given to our families. Second, the church is God’s chosen vessel to extend his kingdom. That being said, how do we allow the church, which is a heterogeneous hodge podge of various body parts doing their appointed job for the body, to impact the whitest harvest field in the world today?

How do we allow one generation to commend his works to the next (Psalm 145:4)? How do we encourage older women to train younger women (Titus 2:3-4)? How do we encourage younger women to adhere to sound training? How do we let children know they are a cherished part of the community? How do we allow older men to share their earned wisdom with the younger ones? How do we minister to family systems? How do we allow those without families to be placed in ours (Psalm 68:6)?

Raising questions rather than giving answers encourages you to seek God instead of adopting a program. We do not have a program that could be followed anyway. Our church does not have an intentional policy of integration, since complete integration is practically unworkable. But we have people who are intentional and our smaller size sometimes necessitates following what I would consider a more biblical pattern.

Value every individual in your church and train them to become mature Christians, seeking the benefit of others. Recognize the importance of promoting inter-generational activities and theology. Realize segregation is not a worthy value and allow opportunities for the church of today to be the church.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the July 2000 issue of FCA Leadership when Trevor Lund was pastor of Richfield Christian Fellowship in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It makes great points and serves as a followup to the question posed by Dr. John Lucas in our previous post.

One thought on “The Church of Today

  1. Great reminder, Trevor! As believers we need to be all things to all people so that we may by all means win some.

    On the flip side, however, unbelievers may or may not be inclined to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” My guess is that we need BOTH approaches—maturing believers should learn to extend themselves to others not like themselves; beginning believers and future believers need a safe place to feel welcome with others like themselves.

    So we have cross-cultural and multi-generational ministries—ministries that force us to reach outside our comfort zone. But we also have mom’s groups, motorcycle ministries, book clubs, 12-step and accountability groups—anything that will bring people together to strengthen and develop their spirits.

    Where there are ministry needs (opportunities) and a church has the God-given resources to address those needs, let’s look for God’s direction and call. Some of us can plant; some of us can water; but God is the One who grows the church.

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