Posts Tagged ‘The Gift of Church’

Who, in their right mind, turns down a gift?  Apparently, a lot of people do, when they reject the church.

Jim Samra has written a helpful little book called The Gift of Church: How God Designed the Local Church to Meet Our Needs as Christians, in which he argues that the church is, despite occasional appearances to the contrary, a gift from God to help Christians mature spiritually.  In it Samra gives us 6 chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of the church and how it functions as a blessing to Christians:

  • God is uniquely present when the church gathers
  • In the church, there is unity in diversity in Christ
  • We find true community in the church
  • The church is God’s instrument of bringing about spiritual growth
  • The church can accomplish more for God’s Kingdom than individual Christians
  • The church makes an invisible Jesus visible to the world

Mind you, Samra does not ignore the problems of the church; in fact, he even notes that the primary argument against the church is the church itself!  But he, rightly, comes from the vantage point that the church is the collection of God’s people, whom he has redeemed for his name and his purposes.  If God himself hasn’t given up the church, then why should we?  Because of this there are points when Samra almost comes across as too idealistic (I say ‘almost’ because he doesn’t sugarcoat anything), but when I stop and reread Ephesians I realize that Paul himself uses high praise for God’s people, and he was as familiar as anybody with their problems.

Samra offers some useful perspective throughout the book with helpful illustrations (you can tell he’s a pastor).  For instance, in the first chapter he likes corporate worship to a experiencing a full-blown concert, as opposed to listening to a cd on your own.  Sure, listening to the Beatles on the radio is good, but for those experienced them live in one of their many sold out shows, they’d pick the live show.

His take on diversity was good, too.  Many of us think of ethnic diversity when we hear that word, but Samra does point out there are other forms of diversity in the church (without ignoring the racial component).  So, for those who think going to their college Bible study, as an example, is the same thing as going to church, they forget that the church is supposed to include people outside their own demographic.  He didn’t put it this way, but basically by doing this (my college Bible study, the Christian guys at work going to lunch, etc) you are forming your church in a “Jesus + __” manner.  That is, “being a part of our ‘church’ requires you to believe in Jesus and be an accountant.”  But this has never been God’s plan for the church (though this does make me want to have a conversation with Samra on church membership).

Samra’s book is not a “how-to” approach to church.  He doesn’t advocate for a particular style, which means that churches of various stripes (contemporary and traditional, megachurch and house church, etc) can utilize this book and apply it in their context.

My concerns with this book have little to do with content and more to do with might be the perception of it.  For instance, some might accuse Samra of capitulating to our culture, which focuses on “me” more than others, especially God.  Is answering “how the church can benefit you” the wrong approach in a culture that is already me-centered?

The answer to this question comes in the subtitle and is sprinkled throughout the book, which explicitly states the church is designed to “meet our needs as Christians.”  “Needs” is the key word here.  Many people mistake “wants” for “needs,” and Samra does well to avoid this problem.  The local church may not give you everything you want, but God has designed it to meet your needs.

One thought I did have as I finished up the book was that I’d love to see Samra write a follow up from another angle, how God has designed individual Christians to serve the local church.  There is certainly some of this throughout the book, but maybe a stronger focus would help it stand out to those who tend to focus on themselves rather than others.  (Ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church- something like that.)

Who will benefit the most from this book?  My guess is that people who call themselves Christians but have basically given up on the church will probably not be convinced otherwise from The Gift of Church.  They should, and Samra clearly lays out the biblical teaching on the subject.  But in my experience, those who have reached this place probably know what the Bible says and for various reasons have opted to move in a different direction.

But for those who have one foot in the church and one foot out, so to speak, The Gift of Church will probably be of great benefit, and for those of us know need the occasional reminder of why we “do church.”  If you allow yourself to be, you’ll be encouraged and convicted (as I was, and I’ve never really struggled with the church) to stick it out with God’s plan for the church in this world.  Samra is to be commended for a fine book on a worthwhile topic.

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