Friday, July 28, 2006

Things I Learned at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (#10 - Watchfulness)

Building a healthy church is a lot like losing weight. It takes years to get into the shape you want... but putting on unwanted weight seems to happen overnight! For me, one slice of cheesecake or a visit to Cold Stone Creamery and poof! 10 workouts down the drain!

So, one must be watchful. You have to observe what you're taking into the body and how your body is reacting. You can't assume all foods are equal in nutritional content. And you can't assume that because "Johnny" or "Susie" can eat something and be perfectly fine that you can too. Discernment, carefulness, discipline... watchfulness is critical to becoming and remaining healthy physically. And so it is with the local church.

Watchfulness is required in so many ways. It's required in how you take in members.

It's necessary for caring for members once they're in the flock (Acts 20:28). I've been an elder in two good churches. But I don't think I realized how deliberate and extensive a ministry of "watching" is necessary to care well for the flock until I became an elder at CHBC. Every elders' meeting includes a couple of hours of prayer for the congregation and updating/discussing the "care list," a simple listing of members who need particular attention from the elders. Nearly every meeting features some time where we walk through a section of the church directory (say the letter "K") asking about and discussing the attendance and well-being of each member. It takes time to consider the diverse needs of individual members in your care. And I've learned that taking that time is essential to faithfully watching over the flock entrusted to our care and preserving the health of the church. Previously, my approach was ad hoc, reactive. Consequently, I had been fairly unfaithful in this charge until I saw how a deliberate plan and discipline was necessary for carrying this out.

It's also important to watch our conduct and our doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). This is particularly true of pastors, but it's also true for every Christian (see C.J. Mahaney's excellent address from T4G on this issue). And helping the members to watch their lives (everything from career choices, courtship decisions, parenting, spiritual disciplines, etc.) and their doctrine (avoiding errors in their view of church, God, salvation, etc.). I've learned that indifference or neglect in matters of living and belief are slowly but surely poisonous to the life and health of individuals and the church.

Watchfulness in the public gathering improves the health of the church. Even being careful in what you call it ("public gathering" vs. "worship") has implications for how you understand it and how your people practice it. So, we wanted to avoid the wrong connotations that attach to the term "worship" when used of the Sunday morning gathering. We used "public gathering" because we were attempted to stress an "all-of-life" view of worship. This carries over to hymn selection and prayers. We desired to have gatherings filled with reverence and awe, a big view of God. So, we attempted to choose hymns and to compose prayers fitting for the text and theological theme for the service. And that, I learned, takes effort. And it takes a certain purposefulness in planning. It takes watchfulness.

To be sure, watchfulness extends to the preached word. CHBC has the practice of reviewing every segment of the Lord's day service, from Sunday school to hymns sung, to prayers, to the sermon and so on. Those become opportunities for encouragement and for pointing out areas of improvement. From time to time, watchful eyes are able to spot the loose or imprecise or incorrect phrasing or statement that might be problematic. Preachers learn, adjust, and improve through this practice. And the congregation benefits and learns from the practice. They, too, learn to listen differently, more intently.

And the discipline of watching is transferred from the pastors to the flock itself. Our churches are healthy when sheep watch out for other sheep. When there is a culture of meaningful membership that includes a certain openness of life between members. When older women teach the younger, and older men are examples for the younger men. When members disciple, instruct, mourn, and rejoice with one another. When mutual care is established, and when it's combined with grace and love, the church remains healthy.

I've learned a lot about being watchful at CHBC. I've also learned what watchfulness is not. It's not spying on your neighbors, gossipping, being unforgiving, playing gotcha!, or fostering mistrust. These are the opposite of watchfulness. These are the tools of the enemy. And I've learned at CHBC that these need to be watched out for and opposed if we're going to keep off that weight of sin that so easily besets us.

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