Chapter 11 of AWE: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, & Do by Paul David Tripp
Updated: May 24
A Review by Pastor Aaron Adame
I’m going to be honest. This was a tough chapter to read—it was also a great chapter to read! It was tough because the made-up story of Jim and Sherri wasn’t far-reaching in its presentation of the way people often treat “church.” They started at one church, and what first drew them to the church eventually became repugnant. So, they went somewhere else. And as you can assume, it was completely different from the prior church. But eventually, that also became distasteful. And so, the trend went on and on, until they eventually became casual attendees of a larger church where they could just slip in and slip out unnoticed. In the end, they were unhappier than at the start. Did you notice what the problem was?
Jim and Sherri had two obvious issues and two less than obvious issues.
First, they sought preference over purpose. In each case, they didn’t leave a church because there was internal sin; it wasn’t because there was corruption in the leadership or membership; it wasn’t because of doctrinal heresy or error. They left because their subjective and fickle personal preferences weren’t realized. NEWS FLASH: There’s no perfect church, just like there’s no perfect job, no perfect house, no perfect kid, and no perfect parent because there are no perfect people living in an imperfect world. The preferences people have for the church they wish they could attend are often more sourced from cultural assumptions than biblical realities. The purpose of church is not to suit our preferences. The purpose of gathering with God’s people (church) is to receive the ministry of the whole church and share our spiritual gifts for the sake of the body, all to the glory of God. Nowhere in Jim and Sherri’s story did they talk about how God was going to use them in that church; instead, it was all about how that church was going to meet their wants.
Second, they sought programs over people. I remember having coffee with a wonderful, godly man in our church early in my ministry here at Canby Christian. He shared with me some of the struggles he had early on in his life with “organized religion.” I asked him what made him not just give up. His answer was powerful: he believed in the need for relationships with other believers. In Jim and Sherri’s story, not one time did they engage in meaningful relationships with people in the churches they left. And because of that, there was no relational connection keeping them there—or to follow up with them when they were gone. And, truthfully, some people like it that way! They like keeping people at a distance. Why? Because relationships are hard, and people like to operate on the surface.
But here’s another news flash, friends: We will never grow in godliness apart from relationships. In the church community, God desires us to be truly known and truly loved. And the only way for this to happen is to engage in relationships with people and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. But again, people avoid this depth of relationship and opt to focus on programs for their kids, for women and men, and for those dealing with various issues, instead. Why do people do this? Because programs are easy! Programs are manageable, controllable, measurable—and we like that! Relationships with people, on the other hand, are intimate, organic, and non-quantifiable. And we don’t like that! But again, we need that! We need relationships with people because people matter. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to save your VBS program! But He did die to save that person who just walked in the door and is looking for a friend, mentor, or someone to share the gospel with them.
These are the two obvious issues the made-up church shoppers struggled with. Tripp also pointed out two less obvious issues.
NOT SO OBVIOUS ISSUES
First, there was an issue of perspective. Preference was the obvious symptom. But deep down, there was an issue of perspective. Their minds were more tethered to earthly things rather than to things that are above. On the human level, all churches are the same but different. Like having multiple grocery stores in town, they all sell food, some just do it differently than others. Again, this is a human perspective. But what needs to happen is for God’s people to have their awe of what God is doing in His church revitalized. You see, the church gathering is to be a visible, already-but-not-yet representation of what heaven will be like. If we long for heaven, then we should long to gather with God’s people. But if we don’t long for heaven, then we won’t long for the gathering. Furthermore, if we see the present-day church as the end goal, then we will be disappointed. However, when we elevate our perspective to see what God is doing in the mundane (and sometimes messy), the church matters and it is producing in us a greater degree of glory. And that is something to invigorate our awe of the church.
Second, they lacked a desire for ministry. Jim and Sherri failed to see that the church wasn’t a place for them simply to receive the ministry of other paid professionals. Church isn’t a country club. Church isn’t about making the customer happy. Church is a context by which every member has a role to fulfill and gift to offer. This is why online church will never be the ultimate solution or substitute for in-person church. Sure, online gives a window into the gathering for new people, shut-ins, and helps us stay connected if we’re out of town. But you can’t develop relationships with people from your living room, and you can’t use your spiritual gifts (whatever those may be) while lying around in your pajamas.
The bottom line? The church needs you! God’s people need you! Let me be clear, God doesn’t need you (or me!), He can use anyone—He can even make a donkey talk or the rocks cry out if no one else will. But by His grace He allows imperfect people to minister to other imperfect people His perfect grace. Church isn’t an event to attend with fans in the stands to offer boos and cheers. There are only players. Everyone has a role to play on the team of God’s church.
· If someone asked you why do you go to church, what would you tell them to convince them that they should come too?
· What is the most important feature of being a part of a local church to you and why? How has God used the church to grow you in your relationship with Him and shape you as a person?
· What gifts do you sense God has blessed you with to serve His people? Are you using them? If not, why not? What ministry are you a part of outside of the church proper?