The Ideal Church

     The idea that there exists somewhere a Supreme Being who has had some sort of hand in the evolution of humanity has led to the creation of countless religions. What we refer to as religion is simply man’s search for a communion with this Supreme Being. In our ignorance of who or where the Supreme Being is, humans have imagined Him in practically every conceivable object, from the sun, the wind, the trees, other animals, to even other humans. Regardless of where we see a god, persons of like belief have assembled together to honor their concept of god, to worship their god, and hopefully receive a sign that would indicate their god is pleased with their behavior.
     Whether you call your assembly area for the honoring of your god a church, a sanctuary, a cathedral, a synagogue, a temple, or a mosque, it is a place where the believers can assemble with like-minded souls and follow whatever practices their group has prescribed as prerequisite for the communication into the spirit world.
     I will tell you right up front that I am not an expert on church organization or various church ideologies. I have, however, been a church goer for over sixty years, and through simple observance I have seen how much influence a church can have on an individual’s life. And, having said that, I realized that for many professing church members, a church is like a spare tire in an automobile; you only use it in an emergency, and it really has no influence at all in their daily lives.
     To those who believe in God (with a capital “G”) and have a sincere desire to live proper lives pleasing to their Creator, a church becomes more than a spare tire; it becomes the engine that powers life itself. To identify myself, starting with the broadest paintbrush possible, I would classify myself as a Christian, which throws me into a group of about two billion people. Going further, I am a Protestant, which trims the total down to a billion or so. Then, within the Protestant ranks, I would be classified as a Pentecostal, which dramatically drops the total of like believers to maybe fifty million, and then we can split hairs even further into Apostolic Pentecostals (five million?) and finally to my team, the United Pentecostal Church, International.
     Having read the word “Pentecostal,” some of you have already quit reading because you are convinced it’s a fringe religious group known primarily for its wild church services, etc. Others of you have already decided that whatever I have to say is to be taken with a grain of salt because “Pentecostalism” is a radical movement within itself, but hopefully there might be a couple of you with enough curiosity to read on and see what this sinner saved by grace has to say. My observations (perhaps I should say, recommendations) for church are applicable to every form of church, and not just Pentecostal.
     A church is first and foremost a spiritual organization. Its primary concern is the spiritual well being of its members. Even Jesus, when He was on earth, and though He fed the five thousand, healed the sick, and raised the dead, was more concerned with his followers’ spiritual souls than their health. And just as Jesus did, the church can offer help, aid, and comfort to the needy, but these worthy actions are not its primary calling. The primary concern of a church should be the nurturing, caring, and development of the spiritual soul of each individual. Many churches have become well organized, well funded, well intentioned aid stations for the unfortunate…and, though these activities are admirable, they have neglected what Christ commissioned believers to do.
     Almost as predominant in many churches today is the emphasis on self-help…what I refer to as motivational inspiration. Churches today offer classes in personal development, self image improvement, check book management, financial budgeting, marriage counseling, child development, ad nauseum, and offer little instruction in Bible salvation, Bible history, or contemporary Christian living. A church must have a heart to be sensitive to the spirit and leading of God in spiritual matters. A church member needs to be able to know that he/she can go to the church and feel a spiritual communion with the Almighty.
     In religious organizations, the leader of the group may be called the pastor, priest, rabbi, bishop, father, or several other nomenclatures. Protestants usually use the title "pastor." The best analogy to a pastor and church would probably be a shepherd and sheep. The pastor is to lead his flock, protect it from danger, and nurture it to spiritual maturity. The pastor is expected to know and understand his congregation and to offer spiritual guidance and assistance whenever needed. His “Prime Directive,” to quote a Star Trek term, is to prepare his church members to be ready for the life to come. His job is not to motivate, though he does that; his job is not to encourage self help, though he can do that also. His job is to interpret the Bible and seek the divine guidance of God as he guides, encourages, and pushes his people in their relationships with the Creator. He preaches and sets a standard for what he believes to be truth based on the Bible and does not deviate or dilute. As a good shepherd, he is not afraid to sound a warning when he feels the flock is in danger. He does not always preach what people want to hear; he preaches what they need to hear. Somehow in his spirituality he is able to sense what guidance or encouragement a person needs and can somehow say it at just the right time. Though he may have other activities and duties associated with cooperating with other pastors and ministers in the organization of affiliated churches, his primary area of concern is always his church. In the Pentecostal organizations, a pastorship of a church is more than just an election of a person to a position by church members; it is considered a fulfillment of the will of God when a minister is chosen to be pastor after prayerful consideration from the congregation. He should not take that position lightly.
     In our age of easy world travel and instant communication, pastors are being lured to carry their brand of gospel to the far corners of the globe to the detriment of their home churches. Honors and accolades await the pastor who travels to distant places, and, once back home in the confines of the his own church, his attention wanders back to those mighty meetings afar off where hundreds, even thousands, hung on his every word. His own sheep, for whom he has been divinely placed as pastor, begin to dwindle in importance. Even in the New Testament, there were teachers, pastor, prophets, and apostles. Each group had its own responsibilities and fulfilled a particular task in the spreading of the Gospel and the evolution of the church. Each group had distinctive characteristics, and their activities did not overlap.
     Of course, the life blood of a church dwells in the members themselves. Though the pastor can set the tenor and tone of a church, it’s the members who draw strength from each other in a common worship and belief. Though members may come from diverse backgrounds and cultures, their common spiritual experience will make all of them spiritual brothers and sisters to the extent that race, education, economic level, and previous history will have no bearing in relationships with fellow members. All will be equally valued and nurtured. New members and visitors are welcomed with true friendship and concern, and spiritual assistance is readily available to the new convert as he/she begins a new walk with God. Devout church members have a deep respect for their pastor and church leaders, and understand that the leadership has a concern for their spiritual well being. The church member is sensitive to guidance from the pastor and maintains a personal daily relationship with God through prayer and study.
     Due to our living in various areas over the years, my wife and I have been members of many churches. Not all churches we visited have reflected the characteristics I described above. When we moved to our current retirement location, we had the opportunity and privilege to visit and become members of a church in which its pastor and members reflect the highest levels of spirituality. We felt at home the moment we walked into the church and the words we have heard from the pulpit in sermon seemed directed just for us. It has been a wonderful experience, and both my wife and I have been spiritually strengthened. Some changes in the United Pentecostal Church over the past years have not been for the good (Read my blogs “The Rise and Fall of Christian Music,” "The Epiphany," "Praise....or Worship?" and "America...and Decline?"), but this church has renewed my faith.  In this age of contemporary Christianity, myopic music, part time preachers, and slothful saints, it is still possible to find places where His Spirit can still be felt and followed.  Interested? .