Showing posts with label #Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Church. Show all posts

On critiquing other churches.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 September

There are Christians who believe we should never, ever criticize one another. Nor other churches. What they do is their own business; it’s between them and God; it’s not for us to say they’re right or wrong. If you need a proof text, they point to this one:

Romans 14.4-5 KJV
4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Okay, here’s a fun paradox: Isn’t this passage of scripture… a form of correction? Isn’t Paul right here telling the Roman Christians they’re wrong, and oughta do better?

Yeah, I’m clearly not one of those “live and let live” Christians. I tend to be mighty libertarian about a lot of things, but whenever it comes to immorality and irreligion, I’m gonna say something. And I believe I have biblical precedent for this. In the scriptures, Jesus and the apostles most definitely rebuked people. Paul, who wrote the above verses, did too—in every letter he wrote. Even to really good churches like that of Ephesus.

But I believe in loving, constructive criticism. Hopefully we’re all trying to get better at following Jesus. Well, you can’t do that without other people, the Holy Spirit included, prodding us to do better. And sometimes pointing out blind spots which we’re too dense to notice. But we gotta do it as the Spirit does it—with kindness, patience, love, and all his other fruit.

I appreciate the Spirit’s criticism, ’cause he does it so encouragingly we sometimes don’t even realize it’s criticism. Other times he’s completely blunt and matter-of-fact with me… because he knows me, and knows that’s what it’s gonna take to get through my thick skull. It always depends on the person he’s working on. He knows what works. Us, not no much; we need to follow his example much better than we do.

I suspect a lot of the reason certain Christians frown on critiquing other churches, is because they don’t see the encouraging, fruitful forms of constructive criticism. They only see angry, outraged Christians ranting against some church’s practices, calling them heretics and cultists and condemning them to fiery hell. That, not gentle guidance, is what Paul was rebuking when he wrote Romans 14.

As for Jesus telling us “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” Mt 7.1 —a passage taken out of context constantly—he was critiquing our tendency to practice double standards. If you judge, expect to be judged by the very same yardstick. It’s only fair. You are not an exception.

And again, we tend to see a lot of that same inconsistency and hypocrisy when Christians critique fellow Christians and our churches. We rebuke ’em for doing stuff, but we do similar stuff. We might complain their worship music lacks spiritual depth, but I’ve heard contemporary Christian songs, ’80s-style worship choruses, and hymns, all of which were mighty shallow. We might complain about their overt sexism, but what about our subtle sexism—where we claim we recognize women can be in Christian leadership, but our churches have no women on the church board, and our few women pastors only minister to the women and children?

Like I said, I have no trouble with constructive criticism—but we gotta be prepared to stand up to the very same criticism. If we’re holding Christianity up to Jesus’s standards, we don’t get to be exceptions to those standards. No loopholes.

What does your church believe?—and no, I don’t mean the pastors.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 September

A few years ago a pastor friend of mine posted on social media, “One of the core values at our church is…” something. I don’t remember specifically what. Some virtuous practice, like generosity or frequent potlucks. Every church should have frequent potlucks.

But all I remember is immediately thinking, “No it’s not.”

Because it’s not.

I’ve no doubt it’s one of his core values. But he’s not the church.

I’ve no doubt he wants his church to have this value. Probably preaches it in his sermons, includes it in his vision statements, sticks it on the church website. Likely practices it in his personal life. But as I keep reminding Christians (and pastors!) the church is not its leadership. The church is people.

Your pastor’s core values, no matter how much he claims they are, are not your church’s core values. Your church leadership team’s convictions are not your church’s convictions. Your faith statement and official doctrines are not your church’s beliefs. Again the church is people. And your people believe all sorts of things. The pastor can state, “Generosity is our church’s core value” till his face turns bright blue, but if the bulk of the church’s people are stingy as hell, no it’s not. Naming it and claiming it won’t make it so.

Your pastor and leadership might be good, solid Christians. But if your church is predominantly not, your leadership is outnumbered big-time. Your church’s faith statement, which spells out all the stuff your denomination affirms? If the people of your church don’t know it and don’t care about it, your church likely believes all kinds of godawful heretic things.

I live in California, not the Bible Belt. A bothersome percentage of Californian Christians believe in astrology and superstition. Or in Hindu-style meditation and energy forces. Or think they’ve had past lives, and are getting reincarnated instead of resurrected. Or that vaccines don’t prevent illness, but essential oils do.

Oh, the Bible Belt ain’t any better. The bulk of ’em might’ve said some version of the sinners’ prayer, but too many still believe the very same things pagans do—that God’s not a trinity, Jesus is a lesser god but not the God, and the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. That people get to heaven on good karma, or because they believe all the right things; not grace. (Part of the reason they’re in church is because of the karma points, or because it’s a mandatory belief. Gotta earn that salvation!)

So your church’s true core values? Oh, they won’t be on the church website. You’d have to poll the church to find ’em out.

And the poll results might really bug you.

Why are there so many churches?

by K.W. Leslie, 31 August

Properly, Jesus’s church is his followers. Not a church institution nor organization; not the hierarchy of a denomination nor the people in leadership who try to steer the masses; certainly not a building. It’s people. The church is people. All the people who are enroute to God’s kingdom… and all the hangers-on who may yet get in as well.

So since Jesus’s church is that, instead of all our individual denominations… why are there so many different denominations of church? And why do some of ’em even actively compete with one another, as if they’re a bunch of different retail businesses trying to win over customers?

Well there are lots of reasons. Some are good and valid. Some really not.

I’ve simplified them down to five. Maybe oversimplified; you can tell me whether I’m missing any particular nuances here. The first two reasons I consider valid, and even have scriptures to back me up. The last thee… not so much.

Finding the pony.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 August

One of Ronald Reagan’s favorite jokes was about two little boys. One was an extreme optimist; everything was just wonderful! The other an extreme pessimist; everything was just the worst.

A psychiatrist was asked to tone ’em down a little—not make ’em not optimistic nor pessimistic, but just less extreme. So he put the pessimist a room full of toys, and put the optimist in a room full of horse manure.

He came back in a few hours to see how the boys were doing. He found the pessimist sitting in the middle of the room, playing with nothing, crying because he was afraid he’d break the toys if he even touched them. As for the optimist, he found the boy up to his armpits, furiously digging away at it: “With all this poop, there’s gotta be a pony in here somewhere!”

I use the term “finding the pony” to describe the process of looking for something, anything, good and valuable in a bad sermon. ’Cause sometimes I gotta do it.

When I go church-shopping, the first thing I look for is friendly people. After that, I want leadership who knows what they’re doing. The music pastor has to know how to sing, maybe play an instrument, and knows more than 10 songs—or at least has us worship to more than 10. The board has to know how to handle charitable works, the church’s ministries, and the infrastructure—and remember charity comes first, not expenses. The pastor has to know how to counsel people, and if the pastor also preaches (and they almost always do) has to do their homework: Don’t just wing it through a sermon, but study that bible.

First church I visited when I moved to town: Pastor didn’t do his homework. It was obvious. I later found out he was going through a heavy family crisis, so I can understand not having the time to do homework—but man, if that’s happening to you, have someone else in your church preach! If there’s nobody else in your church you can trust with the preaching, borrow the pastor of another church. But don’t preach when you’re not ready.

My church’s usual preachers are really good about doing their homework. I rarely have to dig for the pony. But every once in a great while, we’ll have a guest speaker who doesn’t really know what they’re talking about. Or I’ll visit another church, go to a conference, or some other circumstance will obligate me to sit through a badly-researched sermon full of dross instead of silver.

Cults: When churches go very, very wrong.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 June
CULT kəlt noun. A religion centered on one particular individual or figurehead.
2. A group (usually small) whose religious beliefs and practices are outside the norm: Too controling, abusive, devilish, or just plain strange.
3. A misplaced devotion to a particular person or thing.
4. A heretic Christian church.
[Cultic 'kəl.tɪk adjective, cultish 'kəl.tɪʃ adjective, cultism 'kəl.tiz.əm noun.]

I throw this word “cult” around a lot, so I’d better define it. First, what other folks mean by “cult,” all of which are included in the above definition:

  • Sociologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists whose job descriptions end in -ist, tend to use definition #1: A cult is any religion with a guru in charge. Not necessarily controling, abusive, or devilish; just a group which follows a person. Technically Christianity falls under this definition: We follow Jesus, right?
  • Popular culture leans towards definition #2: A cult is any creepy religion. If it weirds people out in any way, they just call it a cult. Even if it’s Christianity. If we trust Jesus a little too much for their comfort, they call us cultish.
  • And popular Christian culture leans towards definition #4: A cult is any heretic church.

The popular Christian definition originated when Charles S. Braden used it, in his 1949 book These Also Believe: A Study of Modern American Cults and Minority Religious Movements to mean

any religious group which differs significantly in one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture. Braden xii

And that’s the definition Walter R. Martin went with in his popular book The Kingdom of the Cults. It’s a book I oughta plug, since it’s mighty useful: It explains how certain churches deviate from orthodox Christianity.

But thanks to these guys, when an Evangelical Christian says “cult,” they typically mean “heretic.”

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses and Oneness Pentecostals don’t believe God’s a trinity. So they’d be cults.
  • Latter-Day Saints say Jesus (and for that matter the Father) is a created being. So, cult.
  • Christian Scientists claim death is an illusion, and therefore Jesus didn’t literally die: Cult.
  • Muslims and Buddhists don’t even believe Jesus is God: Cults.

Yep, doesn’t even matter if these groups don’t consider themselves Christian. Evangelicals will freely slap that label “cult” on any religion they consider heretic. Depending on how Fundamentalist they get—by which I mean how narrowly they define orthodoxy—everything can be a cult but their group. I grew up in such churches: If they strongly believe women shouldn’t wear makeup, yet your church lets ’em, they’ll call you a cult. Because their religion is so strict, makeup is orthodoxy, and you aren’t orthodox. Today it’s foundation, eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick; tomorrow you’re denouncing God and kissing Satan with tongue.

Of course if your church is that strict and controling, the cult is sorta on the other foot. (If you don’t mind me mixing a few metaphors there.)

Not going to church is heresy.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 June

Yeah, this article’s title, “Not going to church is heresy,” is gonna be provocative. Mostly because most people don’t understand what heresy means. It means “not orthodox”—when people don’t believe what Christians have historically believed, and oughta believe, because to believe otherwise is gonna lead us away from Jesus. Most people presume heresy means “a belief that’ll send you to hell.” No; we’re saved by grace, remember? Not good works. And our belief system (our “faith,” if you wanna call it that) is a good work.

Going to church is one of those good works. Jesus created the church when he picked the apostles and told ’em to go make him more followers. Which they did; which we still do, I hope! And he expects us followers to fellowship. That means we talk about Jesus with one another, share what he’s done in our lives, encourage one another, confess shortcomings and sins if necessary, pray together, worship together, do sacraments together, listen to some teachings about Jesus together… in other words, do church. Go to church!

But people don’t wanna.

Which I get. There’s many times I didn’t wanna. I wanted to sleep in on Sunday mornings like a pagan. I wanted to listen to anything other than my pastor’s sermon series—either it was full of stuff I already know, or it’s full of stuff I don’t believe. I likewise wanted to listen to anything other than the worship music: Our worship pastor didn’t care to stay current with music, and was stuck in the 1980s… as you could tell by his wardrobe. And I wanted to avoid the jerks in my church who just frustrated me about how much partisanship has infiltrated American Evangelical Christianity, and made us less patient, generous, kind, and gracious.

Plus nowadays there are entire church services on YouTube! Didn’t have those 20 years ago; at most we had radio, and Christian radio shows are often just sermons, abridged to 25 minutes, or edited into two or three parts. But I could watch video church instead! I could even watch ’em from the bathroom, during my high-fiber-cereal-induced B.M. I love modern technology.

But. But but but.

All these things are convenient substitutes for the Sunday morning services. And while the coronavirus pandemic was raging in 2020, they were a godsend. But do I need to remind you Sunday morning services are not church? Guess I do: They’re not.

The church is people. Not the denomination, not the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, not the leadership, not the building. It’s people. It’s the collective Christians who make up the Holy Spirit’s temple, and when we got the temple, we got church. Yet usually, those who wanna ditch church don’t even think of the people when they think of church. They’re thinking of the Sunday morning services, the unimpressive pastors, and the uncomfortable building—which is never at the right temperature. Poorly ventilated, or someone went a little bonkers with the air conditioning. Why is the only pastor undergoing menopause in charge of the thermostat?

But I digress; back to the point. The church is people. If you’re avoiding the people, you’re not doing church!

And that’s why we’re instructed to not skip meeting with one another He 10.25 if we can help it. If we’re gonna have healthy and productive relationships with our fellow Christians, and encourage one another to follow Jesus, we gotta interact. The ancient Christians, who spent most of their lives under persecution, realized this support system is absolutely necessary—and intentionally put “the fellowship of saints” in their creeds. It’s not an afterthought; it’s not something they threw in there ’cause it sounds nice. People were ditching church even back then.

Thing is, going it alone leads people astray constantly. Constantly. CONSTANTLY. Do I have to emphasize this harder?

People go astray even when we do attend church services faithfully! But when we’re not attending at all, we’re guaranteed to go wrong. Not sometimes gonna go wrong; will. Without fellow Christians to correct one another, reinforce one another, confirm what the Spirit is telling us, it’s a given that we’re gonna develop wrong beliefs and heresies, and become less and less Christian over time. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count.

So no, it’s not just me saying skipping church is heresy. I don’t get to define orthodoxy and heresy, y’know. (Neither do you. Neither does your denomination.) Christianity determined it, centuries ago. They recognized it’s vitally important we interact—because Jesus made it important. It’s why he created the church to begin with.

The sermon.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 April
SERMON 'sər.mən noun. Homily. A lecture on a moral or religious subject, usually presented to a church.
2. A long, boring lecture.
[Sermonic sər'mɑn.ɪk adjective, sermonize 'sər.mən.aɪz verb.]

In sermon-focused churches, the central part of their Sunday morning worship service (or Saturday evening, or Wednesday night, or whenever they hold it) is duh, the sermon. If they didn’t have a sermon, or if the sermon wasn’t impressive enough, they “didn’t have church.” They could shorten the music; they could skip holy communion entirely. But they’d better have a sermon.

I should point out neither Jesus nor his apostles instructed us to preach sermons as part of our worship services. Seriously; they didn’t! But I suspect that’s because they presumed religious instruction would automatically be part of the services anyway. Christians are expected to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the church, 1Co 14.3-5 and good religious instruction does that.

And religious instruction was the whole point of synagogues. Pharisees invented them so Israel wouldn’t be religiously illiterate, and fall into sin. Early Christian churches behaved an awful lot like Christian synagogues: At some point someone would go up front, read the scriptures, sit down, and answer questions about what was just read. Over time this instruction got less interactive, and more lecture-y.

For many Christians, sermons are the entire point of attending a church service: They wanna learn about God! They don’t know enough about him… or do, but wanna hear more. The newbies need to learn the basics, and the oldtimers need to be reminded to stick to these basics. As knowledgeable as we might get about theology, bible history, religious practice, and our own experiences with God, we need to be regularly reminded: Love God, love your neighbor, pray, share Jesus, be fruity, do good works, and grow his kingdom.

Go to church!

by K.W. Leslie, 20 January
Church. tʃərtʃ noun. A Christian group which gathers for the purpose of following and worshiping God.
2. God’s kingdom: Every Christian, everywhere on earth, throughout all of history.
3. A denomination: One such distinct Christian organization, namely one with its own groups, clergy, teachings, and buildings.
4. A Christian group’s building or campus.

Ἐκκλησία/ekklisía, the Greek word we translate “church,” properly means “group.”

Yeah, you might’ve heard some preacher claim it means “a specially-called-out people.” It’s ’cause ekklisía’s word-root καλέω/kaléo means “call.” So those who like to dabble in language assume “call” must be part of ekklisía’s meaning. But words evolve, y’know. Our word congress used to mean “group” too… and nowadays it means “our do-nothing national legislature.” Ancient Greeks also used ekklisía to refer to their legislatures. But regardless of what it used to mean, hundreds of years before Jesus used it to refer to his group, it’s only a generic term for any group.

Yeah, Jesus used the term. Thrice in Matthew; 19 times in Revelation.

Matthew 18.17 KJV
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Nowadays people use “church” to mean a church building: “I’ll meet you at the church” seldom means “I’ll meet you in the group.” But church means group. That’s what it means in the bible, every time it’s used. Never the building; the church met in all sorts of different buildings. The church is a group of Jesus-followers, who get together to worship him, learn from him, and encourage one another to follow him better. Sometimes “church” meant only the local group; sometimes, as in Revelation, it meant all the groups in a given city; and sometimes all Christendom. Every Christian, everywhere, whether they regularly met together in groups or not.

But regardless of what the word means, a lot of people want nothing to do with it.

I know a lot of people, and have met a lot of people, who tell me they have no intention of going to church. They don’t believe in “organized religion”—by which they mean church.

  • They don’t wanna get up early on Sunday morning—their one day off—to go hang out with a bunch of strangers and hypocrites.
  • They don’t wanna sing a bunch of cheesy Christian worship songs, no matter how good the musicians might be (and sometimes they’re not, ’cause sometimes small churches have too few musicians to choose from… or the pastor picked a family member to do music, and yikes). And why must music pastors insist on repeating the chorus so many times?
  • They don’t wanna then listen to the pastor’s wife sing karaoke one of the songs, mediocrely, for all to applaud her, ’cause wasn’t she earnest? (Though not good. And not always earnest.)
  • They don’t wanna tithe to an organization whose pastors clearly have enough money to afford fancy suits, silk Hawaiian shirts, or whatever Urban Outfitters currently puts in their shop windows. (Depending on how old or young your pastors—and congregation—are.)
  • They don’t wanna sit through an hour-long lecture. They had quite enough of lectures in childhood. Now they’ve gotta again be told what to do, what to think, and that if they don’t, they’re going to hell. (Which, if they even believe in hell, they’re entirely sure God isn’t that wrathful, ’cause grace.)
  • Alternatively, they don’t wanna sit through a homily which does none of those things… which, instead, tells them nothing. It’s just some feel-good stuff devoid of substance, and as boring as all get-out (-of-the-building-now).
  • They don’t wanna force the kids to go to church. It’s hard enough getting ’em to go to school.

Look, I get it. I’ve been going to church all my life. I have all the same complaints as you. Probably more, ’cause I have a theology degree, so I can write a dissertation about every single one of my problems with church. You think I’m kidding? In seminary I was given an assignment to write about my problems with church, and my biggest problem with that paper was I was only permitted to write about one of my peeves. Not all thousand. So… much… bile…

Really don’t wanna go to church.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 January

There’s a guy whose blog I’ve been following for years. In the past three years he’s been really amping up his message to everybody to quit their churches. Stop going, he says. Just stop; stay home. You’ll be a lot happier.

And I get it. There’ve been times in my life where I didn’t wanna go to church either. I didn’t try to drag people away from church along with me, like this guy; I figured if you like church, you do you, but for me, nah.

For the usual excuses.

I HAVE ANOTHER CHURCH. I moved about 100 miles away from home for college, and for a semester I used the excuse, “I already have a church.” I didn’t care for any of the local churches I had visited. And whenever I went home, I did go to church, with my family. But when I was at school I figured it was okay… if I missed 10 weeks of church services.

CHAPEL COUNTS. Plus my school had daily chapel services. So they became my other excuse that semester. Me and a lot of other students.

DON’T GOTTA GO EVERY WEEK. When I wasn’t in church leadership, I found it was really easy to skip a Sunday morning here and there. Sometimes skip a lot of mornings. There are some Christians who only attend a service once a month… and of course there are those twice-a-year Christians who only attend Easter and Christmas services. If that; nowadays they can watch services on YouTube.

“I have freedom in Christ, y’know,” was my usual excuse for inconsistent attendance. And I do… but in context that passage is about freedom of conscience, Ro 14 not the freedom to be irresponsible.

I CAN DO THIS ON MY OWN. Years before, when I wasn’t at school, this was my excuse for a few weeks while I was really annoyed with the people of my church. ’Cause I totally can do this stuff on my own.

  • Pray?—no problem.
  • Sing worship songs?—easily done.
  • Learn from fellow Christians?—I have their books; I have the internet; I got content.
  • Study the bible?—sure.
  • Tithing? Well yes, I could donate money to myself for “religious” expenses; or I could give that money to charity. Or I could spend all of it at a Peets one afternoon while I sat there reading some Christian book; wouldn’t that totally count?
  • Take holy communion? I could eat saltines and grape juice on my own, and call it communion. But the vital element in communion is, y’know, actual communion—with fellow Christians. So that makes it tricky.

As are all our other rituals which require the participation of other Christians. Plus evangelism: Once you lead someone to Jesus, where do you take ’em so they can be taught Christianity and mentored? Well I could do it myself… but that’d mean I’m starting a church, right?

There are plenty more excuses. Some of them get pretty complex, and as a result they kinda merit whole articles, because it takes a little time to take these excuses apart. But for many a Christian, any excuse will do.

“It counts as church, right?”

by K.W. Leslie, 02 December

Though four out of five Americans identify ourselves as Christian, only one of these five actually go to church.

Nope, not kidding. Yes, the polls indicate about half of all Americans are regular attendees. In part because people play mighty loose with what “regular” means: They think it means once a month or more. Once a month counts as “regular.”

How often are Christians expected to participate in church? Well check out the standard expectations found in the scriptures:

Luke 9.23 KJV
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Looks like the first Christians took Jesus’s “daily” idea and ran with it:

Acts 2.46-47 KJV
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

They were even able to make daily counts of their attendees:

Acts 16.5 KJV
And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.

And when it came time to instruct non-Christians, new believers, and new students, it also took place daily:

Acts 5.42 KJV
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
 
Acts 17.11 KJV
These [Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
 
Acts 19.9 KJV
But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.

The usual practice among Christians nowadays is to only meet weekly for church. This means those who consider ourselves “regulars” because we attend once every week, are actually meeting a seventh as often as the ancient Christians. Less, considering those Christians would meet for hours-long services, whereas American Christians get antsy if the service lasts any longer than 90 minutes. (Some of them are even reading this article and gasping, “Ninety minutes? We’re done in an hour!” Yeah, we suck.

I know the polls say half, but as presidential polls have lately proven, people lie to pollsters all the time. They’d like to think they’re regular churchgoers. But whenever I’ve pinned down some of these so-called “regulars,” and ask ’em the last time they set foot in a church building, they gotta think about it, so it’s not recent. Nor all that regular. And when they’re being honest, the last time they attended was either Easter, Christmas, or for a wedding or funeral. “Regular” means twice a year. If that.

Heck, I’ve caught people claiming they were regulars at my church. After all, they visited for Christmas! Sometimes I’ll mess with them a little: “Oh, and how’d you like Pastor Dave’s message?” Oh, they’ll respond, they loved it. But our pastor’s name isn’t Dave. Four other churches in town have a Pastor Dave; we don’t. Still, a regular should know the pastor’s name, don’t you think?

Likewise if none of the pastors in your church know who you are, y’ain’t a regular. I’ll grant you some leeway if you attend a megachurch, where the pastors can’t possibly know everyone. But someone in your church’s leadership oughta be able to identify you in a police lineup.

Regardless—and regardless of what people imagine—any twice-a-year Christian isn’t a regular.

How about once-a-month attendees? Meh. I consider they’re doing the bare minimum to be considered “regular.” The standard in the scriptures is daily, remember?

But when I talk with strangers, and they identify as Christian, quite often they won’t bother to pretend they’re regulars at any church whatsoever. They’ll admit they have no church. At this rate, they’re not planning to find one either.

The Didache: How’d the earliest Christians behave?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 October

In the first century, Christian leaders wrote a “teaching” for their newbies: Stuff they felt new Christians oughta know and believe. Over time it’s become known as the didache, from its first line, Didahí Kyríu diá ton dódeka apostólon toís éthesin, “The Master’s teaching to the gentiles, from the 12 apostles.” Medieval western Christians lost their copies of it sometime in the 800s, and assumed it was gone forever, but Ethiopian Christians kept a version of it among their sacred literature, and an 11th-cenutry copy in the Codex Hierosolymitanus was rediscovered by Philotheos Bryennios in 1873.

Historians notice a lot of similarities between the Didache and what the Qumran community taught in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s considered a Jewish-Christian catechism, a lesson to be memorized, and eventually practiced. Whether it’s precisely as the Twelve taught, we’ve no idea. But it’s safe to say it’s what a lot of early Christians taught. In fact, many early Christians felt the Didache should be included in the New Testament.

So why wasn’t it? ’Cause for the longest time, Christians thought it was written in the second century, and nearly all of ’em limited the NT to first-century writings. I’m not saying we should add it now… but it’s interesting to look at the way ancient Christians expected their newbies to behave. It’s why I include the whole of it below.

The translation and chapter titles are mine. I took the text from the Codex Hierosolymitanus. Read it yourself, and notice how many of these ideas are still taught in your own church.

Fearful churches.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 August

We Christians are meant to be holy, and consider ourselves separate from the rest of the world.

No, this isn’t because we’re better than them. We’re so not.

No, this doesn’t mean we’re to move into little gated communities where nobody but Christians live, isolate ourselves from everybody else, and drive out anyone we might consider sinners. This is how cults start—assuming the cult hasn’t already started, and the compound is just another creepy symptom of how we’ve gone astray.

We’re distinct from the rest of the world because God calls us to follow Jesus. Not other people. Not one another. Not even popular Christian culture—especially its political or Mammonist variants. As the rest of the world does its thing, we’re to ask ourselves, “What would the Father rather I do?” or “What does Jesus do?” Then do that.

Believe it or don’t, sometimes this means we do as the rest of the world does. If the culture suddenly realizes society is institutionally unjust—that violence and discrimination and sexism are wrong, that evil needs to stop—we need to cheer them on, participate, and see whether the Holy Spirit uses these moments to bring people to Jesus. ’Cause he will, and does.

But of course we need to bear in mind pagans have entirely different motives than we do. They don’t do grace; on their better days they do karma. They want things to be fair and equitable, not because it’s inherently good that they’re so, but because fairness ultimately benefits them. And when it doesn’t, they don’t try to make things fair. The status quo and current social order is fine. Why discomfort themselves when reform does absolutely nothing for them, or even costs them, or makes ’em give up power? Nah.

Our motives have to be like God’s: Way higher. Wheenever we find ourselves on the same side as the world, we oughta see this for what it is: It’s a chance to draw a few pagans to Christ Jesus and God’s kingdom. But not every church realizes this, and figures we’re to stay away from the world, lest “bad company ruin good character.” 1Co 15.33 Best to stay away from pagans, turn the kingdom into a fortress, and isolate ourselves from them with both spiritual and rule-based hedges of protection.

When you visit such churches, that’s the mindset you’re gonna find among ’em. A whole lot of anti-world rhetoric. Everything inside the church is good, pure, and holy; everything “out there” is wicked, corrupt, destructive. Dabble in it just a little, even unintentionally, and it’ll ruin you. Stay away. Touch not the unclean thing.

Ostensibly the goal is holiness. The real result? Fear and dark Christianity.

Sleep-deprived Sunday morning services.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 May

When I was a kid, I liked church. My friends were there, the pastor was a decent preacher, and the Sunday school classes were interesting. (The music wasn’t so great; as an adult I went to churches with way better music.) But even so, some Sunday mornings I really didn’t care to go.

’Cause sleep. I wanted to sleep.

I stayed up way too late the night before. Usually because I watched Saturday Night Live, or Doctor Who reruns on public television, or some other late-night movie or show. I’d be up till 1 a.m.; usually 2. Yeah, television is a lousy excuse for being exhausted the next morning. But in college, I hung out with friends till very late Saturday night—and that’s no better of an excuse.

So come Sunday morning, when Mom trying to get us out the door so we could be at church by 9, church was the very last thing I wanted to do that morning. I wanted sleep. Needed sleep. What good was church gonna do me if I dozed off during the sermon? You know, like my other friends. And half the adults.

I discovered this handy trick: Open your bible on your lap. If you felt yourself drifting, just bow your head so it looks like you’re reading your bible. And no, this technique fools no one. Especially if you drool in your sleep, and the onionskin paper they use on thin bibles does not handle liquids well.

In seminary, same problem. Saturday nights were spent with friends; Sunday mornings I was dead tired, tempted to sleep in. But lo and behold, I found a solution: Evening services! There was a church in Santa Cruz whose worship service began at 6 p.m. Sundays. So that’s where I went.

Sunday mornings I slept in like a pagan. Woke around 10, dragged my bones to brunch, did homework, had dinner, then went to church. And for the first time in the longest time, I was fully awake for Sunday church, and better able to appreciate it.

And then I graduated, and moved to where there was nothing but Sunday morning services. Ugh.

In any event I totally understand why so many people, Christians and pagans alike, are loath to give up their Sunday mornings for church. I’ve been there. Some mornings I’m still there: I rarely do anything Sunday nights, but sometimes I’ll have an uncomfortable night’s sleep, and be in no mood for Sunday morning church.

I’m not a morning person anyway. King David was, so it’s his fault we have this in our bibles:

Psalm 5.3 KJV
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

Gee thanks David. That, plus Jesus rising from the dead before dawn, Jn 20.1-2 has most of us Christians insisting upon morning services. Sometimes sunrise services. It’s like a test to see whether we appreciate God more than sleep. Whether we do or not, it still feels way too much like punishment.

Why skipping church messes us up.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 April

Whenever I share Jesus with people, most of the time I discover they’re Christian. Or at least they imagine they’re Christian.

In the United States, most folks have had some exposure to Christianity. Some of us grew up churchgoers. Others said some version of a sinner’s prayer at one point in our lives. Others had Christian parents, or were baptized, or attend Easter and Christmas services and figure that’ll do. People figure they believe in Jesus and that’s all it takes to make ’em Christian. Confess, believe, and we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Right?

So by this metric they figure they’re Christian. They believe in Jesus. Following him is a whole other deal. They’re not religious. They’re “spiritual,” as they define spiritual, which usually means imaginary—’cause like I said, they imagine they’re Christian. Their Christianity wholly exists in their heads. You’d be hard-pressed to find it elsewhere in their lives, but it’s in their heads at least—and somebody’s assured them it counts if it only exists in their heads. Or “in your heart,” which they figure means their feelings—which are still only in their heads.

So to them, Christianity’s how they feel about Jesus. Not what they do for him. Not following him. They don’t. Or they’ll do the bare minimum to feel Christian: They pray every so often, and it won’t entirely be prayer requests, but some actual sucking up praise. They drop a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle.

As for going to church… well they don’t. Maybe on the holidays. ’Cause Sundays are their time. Their one day off; the one day of the week they get to sleep in, or have no obligations, or can get drunk during brunch. It’s “Sunday funday,” their weekly holiday.

Nobody’s ever explained to them that if “Christians” don’t go to church, it makes us heretic.

Seriously. Heretic. No, heretic doesn’t mean they’re going to hell; it only means they get God so wrong, it can be argued they’re not properly Christian. Contrary to what a lot of go-it-alone “Christians” imagine, there are valid standards for what makes us Christian; it’s called orthodoxy. Among these standards is “the communion of saints,” or the church. It’s in our creeds. True Christians deliberately interact with fellow Christians. And not just to have coffee or watch a game: For the purpose of encouraging one another to follow Jesus better, and to worship him together.

If we avoid the communion of saints—and it might sound like we have perfectly legitimate reasons—the cold hard fact is we’re heretic. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to go it alone. He ordered us to love one another. He made it a full-on command. It identifies us as his followers. Jn 13.34-35 When we won’t obey Jesus, we’re not followers. When we figure we can love one another just fine without ever intentionally coming together to do so… we can call ourselves Christian, but I seriously doubt Jesus recognizes us as such. Lk 6.46 And if he doesn’t identify us as his, Mt 7.21-23 we’re not.

Hey, somebody had to warn you. Better you hear this now, than when you stand before Jesus.

Three focal points of church services.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 April

Obviously not all churches are alike. Practices vary. Even within the same denomination: Y’might have one church which is known for its Christian education, bible studies, Sunday school program, and teaching pastors… with a sister church known for its musicians.

Talk to any Christian about what they like best in their church, and they’ll usually emphasize a few things they particularly like: The friendliness. The informality. The kids’ program. The decor. The amiability of the head pastor. The many outreach programs. The coffee—for once it’s not Folger’s! (’Cause Folger’s is crap. But when the person in charge of the church’s coffee doesn’t even drink coffee, guess what they always buy? Right—the cheapest stuff on the shelf. Kirkland or Folger’s, or some other awful blend which tastes like Juan Valdez’s burro rolled around in it. Churches, don’t do that to your people. But I digress.)

These things aside, y’might notice churches structure their entire Sunday morning service (or Saturday evening, or whenever they do their services) around one of three things: Sacraments, teaching, or music.

AS FOUND AMONGSUITS BEST
SACRAMENT-
FOCUSED
Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans.Kinesthetic learners. They enjoy the physical motions and movements, and the visual cues. They wanna feel not just spiritually, but physically connected to our Lord Jesus and our fellow Christians.
SERMON-
FOCUSED
Reformed, Baptists, Methodists, Anabaptists.Intellectuals. They enjoy knowledge about God—theology, bible background and history and study, and wisdom. (Often they enjoy the pursuit of knowledge in general.) They seek to love God with all their mind and will.
MUSIC-
FOCUSED
Pentecostals, charismatics, non-denominationals.Emotive people. Music appeals to their desire to worship God with all their heart. They pursue a sense of God’s presence.

Yeah, you might think there are other types. Like the snake-handling churches. But in such churches, snake-handling is a sacrament, so… yep, there they are among the three.

How d’you know which one is your church’s main focus? Simple: If you skip it, the people of your church act as though you didn’t really “have church.” Wasn’t a proper service; didn’t count.

Skip the music, or only sing for 10 minutes, in a music-focused church, and people will think something went horribly wrong. They didn’t feel the Spirit that week. They feel unfulfilled. They’d be outraged if they didn’t sing at all. Ever been in a church service during a power failure? If you don’t have a guitar or piano available, sacrament- or sermon-focused churches will figure, “Fine; we’ll sing a song or two acapella, then ‘get on with it’”—meaning the real part of their service, the message or sacrament. But in a music-focused church, people won’t settle for an abbreviated songset. They’ll try their darnedest to make the musical experience as significant as the electrified experience. And blame the devil for the power failure—“Satan tried to stop us from having church!”—and pointedly make even more joyful a noise as their voices and acoustic instruments can produce. And y’know, they’ll succeed.

Now skip the music in a sermon-focused church. No I’m not kidding; tell people, “Sorry, the music pastor’s out sick today, so we’ll have music next week.” Don’t even bother with a simple acapella chorus. And no, you won’t have a revolt: People might think it’s weird, but hey, they heard a sermon, so they’re good. Music-focused Christians would lose their minds, but sermon-focused Christians wouldn’t mind at all. Turn it around and skip the sermon (as I have seen music-focused churches do multiple times) and sermon-focused people would be really, really irritated: They came to church to get spiritual food, and music is baby food at best: They want something to chew on. You can skip communion; many such churches only celebrate it once a month, or only on Easter and Christmas. Music’s optional too… which is why I find it tends to not be very good in such churches. When I was growing up, Mom had no trouble with being as much as 45 minutes late for the service, ’cause “we’ll only miss the music.” But we’d better not miss the sermon.

And in sacrament-focused churches, holy communion (or Eucharist) must happen. Skip the music, skip the homily; don’t you dare skip communion. Otherwise it’s “not church,” and now the people will have to go to another church that week so they can receive communion. No I’m not kidding: They will.

When and where the church meets.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 April

Years ago I got an email asking about what day of the week we oughta attend our church services.

My church has a Saturday night service, and I started going to that instead of Sunday mornings. My sister says Saturday nights don’t count; we’re supposed to go to church on Sundays. I told her God doesn’t care when we go to church, so long that we do. Which of us is right?

Which of you is right? The weaker believer. Always.

Romans 14.5-6 NLT
5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6A Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him.
 
Romans 15.1-2 NLT
1 We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. 2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.

If our Christian sister or brother has a hangup, we might not think it’s a legitimate concern—at all—but to them it totally is. It might derail their Christianity. Shouldn’t, but could. So we have to take that into consideration, and be gracious to them. Not shout back at them, “I have freedom in Christ!”—as if that gives us license to be jerks.

No, that doesn’t mean we have to change our usual worship practices to accommodate them. If you usually attend Saturday night services, keep doing so. But don’t do it to outrage anyone—“Lookit me, I’m worshiping on Saturday, neener neener neener.” I’m mainly thinking of those Christians who attended “worship protests” during a pandemic, not to worship Jesus, but to flout government guidelines under the guise of worship. When you’re truly doing it to honor Jesus, your ulterior motives won’t include fleshly things like division and antagonism. You’re not gonna be a dick about it! And God will judge those Christians for their horrible example to fellow Christians, and their horrible witness to the lost and the sick.

So yeah: If your sister insists Saturday nights “don’t count,” she doesn’t have any biblical basis for this belief. Sunday morning worship is simply Christian custom. Nothing more. We can worship God whenever we like. We oughta be worshiping him daily! And we can worship him together, as the people of his church, whenever we schedule a service, be it Sunday morning, Saturday night, Wednesday night, Friday night, Tuesday morning, Thursday afternoon, whenever.

But till she finally realizes this, take her to Sunday morning services.

The church is people.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 April
Church. tʃərtʃ noun. A Christian group which gathers for the purpose of following and worshiping God.
2. God’s kingdom: Every Christian, everywhere on earth, throughout all of history.
3. A denomination: One such distinct Christian organization, namely one with its own groups, clergy, teachings, and buildings.
4. A Christian group’s building or campus.

If you compare the definition of church I gave, with that of an average English-language dictionary, you’ll notice a few differences. The average dictionary tends to first refer to buildings—because that’s what your average English-speaker means when they say church. “I’m going to church” means “I’m going to a church building.” Or “We’re gonna be late for church” means “We’re gonna be late for the services at the building.”

But when Jesus used the word ἐκκλησία/ekklisía he didn’t mean a building. He meant a group of people. That’s what Jesus’s church is to him: His people. Mt 18.17

The church is to Christianity, what the nation of Israel was to the ancient Hebrew religion: God’s people. The people the LORD rescued from slavery, whom Jesus saves from sin and death. The people he wants to follow and obey and worship him, and build his kingdom out of.

The church isn’t a building, though we meet in buildings, and headquarter our organizations in ’em. The church isn’t our denominations, our leadership structure, our organization church. It’s not the institution, not our leadership, not the time of week we meet, not the mission statement, not the specific things we claim to believe, not the specific things our pastors preach about.

The church is people. It’s us, collectively. We are the church.

Sometimes the leaders of our churches point this out. More often they don’t. Not because they’re hiding anything; it’s just not one of those things they feel they oughta emphasize every single week. But maybe they should, ’cause Christians aren’t always aware we’re the church… and start to develop the false idea we’re not the church; that something else is. Something outside ourselves. Something we could quit, or oppose, or even fight.

Whenever Christians forget the church is people—and we’re the people—the church typically goes wrong.

When a church holds firm. Or doesn’t.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 March

1 Thessalonians 3.6-10.

The biggest worry for any apostle, for any ministry leader or missionary or evangelist, is their work might be for nothing.

That everybody they’ve worked with were only running high on emotion: They were excited about this new thing they were trying out, were feeding off the adrenalin and other people’s zeal, were feeling their own endorphins instead of the Holy Spirit… or were faking it because everybody else seemed to be so into it. That as soon as the apostle leaves, everything they built just collapses, because nothing else was holding things together.

Because this happens. Has happened before to a lot of apostles. No doubt happened to Paul, Silas, and Timothy.

Acts records the places Paul went, and the churches he either found there, or started there… or didn’t. It doesn’t mention the churches he started which flopped. Sometimes that’s because Luke simply didn’t have the data. But if failed churches weren’t a real thing, the apostles who 1 Thessalonians wouldn’t have this worry! If they had nothing but success everywhere, they’d presume the Holy Spirit would guarantee more of the same.

So they were worried about Thessaloniki, Macedon. They didn’t get a lot of time there before they were driven out of town. They were anxious to return, but none of ’em went back but Timothy. But when he came back, he had good news—as it comes out in the letter.

1 Thessalonians 3.6-10 KWL
6 Timothy came to us from you just now, bringing good news of you—
your faith and love, and that you always have good memories of us,
greatly desiring to see us, same as we you.
7 This is why we’re aided by you, fellow Christians,
in all our distress and and trouble; we’re aided by your faith.
8 So now we live, when you stand firm in our Master:
9 Why are we able to repay you by giving thanks to God for you,
for all the joy which we rejoice because of you before our God?
10 Night and day, begging God all the more to see you in person,
to restore whatever’s lacking in your faith.

Timothy reported the Thessalonians were still together, and were still fruitful in the way Christians ought to be. And they fondly remembered Paul and Silas, and wanted to see them too. And that empowered them.

The word in verse 7, παρεκλήθημεν/pareklíthimen, “we’re aided,” tends to be translated “we were comforted” (KJV, NASB) or “we were encouraged” (NIV) because its word-root is παράκλητος/paráklitos, “paraclete,” a word used to describe both Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and usually translated “comforter” or “advocate.” Jn 14.16 Properly it refers to a partner who comes alongside to assist us, and that’s what Jesus and the Spirit do—when we let ’em. The apostles aren’t expressing, “Aw, you’re praying for us too; that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.” It’s “You’re praying for us too; that helps!

Apostolic succession.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 January
APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION æp.ə'stɑ.lɪk sək'sɛ.ʃən noun. The action, process, or sequence of inheriting a title and office in church leadership, founded by one of Christ Jesus’s first apostles.

Jesus sends his apostles on various missions, and in so doing, many times these apostles start ministries. Sometimes a church or denomination. Sometimes hospitals and hospices, schools and universities, shelters, charities, or whatever Jesus tells ’em to start.

Sometimes the apostle’s job is to only start this ministry, then move along to the next task; Paul of Tarsus obviously did that with churches and schools. But a lot of times it’s to run the ministry for the rest of their lives. Or until they reach a point where they can’t physically do it anymore, and have to retire. Does this mean the ministry is over? Occasionally yes; the apostle kinda was the ministry, and without that apostle it becomes a shell of itself. (Or worse, a mockery.) But if Jesus wants it to keep going, he’ll send other people to keep it going. Ideally he sends another apostle: Someone he instructs to pick up where the last apostle left off, maybe with a vision to take the ministry even further.

But Jesus doesn’t always have to do this. Because many an organization is built to keep running, even after its founders are gone. True of governments; true of businesses and schools; true of ministries. If its director steps down, one of the assistants—who’s often been doing the bulk of the director’s work anyway—can step in and keep things going, and hire people to do the assistant’s old jobs. Or the organization’s trustees hire a competent successor. Might be an outsider; might be the founder’s spouse or child. Regardless, this person succeeds the original leader, and the organization keeps right on ticking.

With anything Christian, of course people feel we have to have some veneer of spirituality attached to everything we do. It can’t just be us hiring a successor; it has to be God’s idea. Even if it wasn’t really. Even if the ministry was only supposed to last as long as the apostle did, and God’s ready to do something else… but the people on the apostle’s team don’t want things to end, and the next best thing to propping up the apostle’s corpse and tricking people into thinking she’s alive, is to prop up the ministry and do the very same thing. Why, God clearly wants it to continue! Look, the successor has the anointing!

Anyway. The way apostolic succession is meant to work, is where Jesus sends an apostle to start a ministry, then sends another apostle to succeed that first apostle. The apostle Apollos probably started the church of Ephesus; the apostle Paul found it, then spent two years training the new Christians; Ac 19.1-10 he left the apostle Timothy behind to lead this church for a few years; 1Ti 1.3-4 and after Timothy, the apostle John led it for a few years himself. If Jesus wants a ministry to keep going, he’s gonna personally appoint people to run it. He’s not gonna let the ministry’s internal machinery keep it going; he keeps it going.

And those churches which believe in apostolic succession, believe that’s kinda what happens. Not just anybody gets tapped to lead their ministries: Again, it’s gotta be God’s idea, and his appointed successor.

But we’ve seen plenty of cases where an incompetent, unqualified, corrupt, godless, foolish individual gets put in charge of one ministry or another. Something in the system broke down. And it certainly wasn’t Jesus.

There’s a certain amount of prestige to a ministry when it’s founded by a well-known apostle. Simon Peter, Francis of Assisi, John Knox, John Wesley… all these guys were definitely chosen by God, and people recognize the ministries and churches they founded are definitely part of God’s will. But for this reason, there’s a great deal of glory given their successors. If you’re the current pastor of a church founded by a great saint, surely there must be something special about you. (One would hope!)

So if you’re the president of a school founded by D.L. Moody, or the bishop of a church founded by Barnabas and Paul themselves, or the head of a denomination founded by Martin Luther, you must either be worthy of their greatness, or some of their greatness musta rubbed off on you. In churches who are really big on apostolic succession, they believe this in quite a literal way: Their first apostles blessed, laid hands on, and commissioned their successors to continue their work. In so doing, they passed down the charge Jesus originally gave them—in a long, unbroken chain to the present-day office-holders. Ergo Pope Francis has the very same commission Jesus gave Simon Peter to oversee the church of Rome. (And of course all the other churches connected with it.)

What does Jesus send apostles to do?

by K.W. Leslie, 13 January

When people investigate what an apostle is, mainly they wanna know whether Jesus still makes them, or whether they’re just a first-century, back-in-bible-times phenomenon. Especially when they don’t want there to be any more apostles, ’cause they don’t like the idea of Jesus designating leaders himself, with no input from them. (I already discussed this in my article on apostles.)

The rest of the time they’re usually looking for a job description. ’Cause some Christian has claimed, “This is what an apostle does,” and they wanna know whether that’s true. Do the scriptures tell us that’s what an apostle does? Or is this person all wet, and claiming some heretic weirdness instead of something truly biblical?

Here’s the thing: The bible doesn’t spell out an apostle’s job description. Because it’s not actually a particular job. It’s a person.

The word ἀπόστολος/apóstolos means “one whom [God] sent.” That’s a person. An individual. A woman or man to whom Jesus appears, or to whom the Holy Spirit speaks, and is given a mission to go and do. Which mission? It varies.

Yep, there’s not just one vocation, one mission, one job, for all apostles everywhere, to do. Like the military, there are hundreds of missions. The overall goal is to grow God’s kingdom, and the individual mission is gonna contribute to that. (Well, it’d better. Otherwise it may not actually be Jesus who sent this person. Just saying.)

So those Christians who claim, “Here’s what the apostolic office consists of”: Nope. This may be what they do, or their pastor or boss does—and it may be exactly what Jesus wants them and their pastor and boss to do. But is it what Jesus wants every apostle to do? Of course not. There is no single apostolic job description. There are just apostles: Individuals Jesus ἀποστέλλω/apostéllo, “sends out,” with a mission—and missions vary.

Evidence from the bible? No problem; there’s lots. Here, Jesus straight-up declares he sends people with a bunch of different vocations.

Matthew 23.34 KJV
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city…

Yeah, I don’t like how they end up either. Them’s the risks when you follow Jesus. But set that aside a minute and notice Jesus lists three different types of vocations, whom he apostéllo/“sends out.” Prophets to share with people whatever God tells them; sages to share wise advice, help plan stuff, or judge fairly; and scholars who know their bible, can teach it to others, and can confirm the prophets and sages.

And no these aren’t the only people Jesus sends on missions. I’m not making a comprehensive list here. The bible doesn’t make one either.

Jesus designated the Twelve to apprentice with him, so he could train ’em to proclaim his gospel, cure the sick, and exorcise devils. I should point out that was their initial mission.

Mark 3.14-15 KJV
14 And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, 15 and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils…

Later he sent ’em to evangelize.

Luke 9.2 KJV
And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.

Much later, when the Twelve found themselves running Jesus’s relatively brand-new church of thousands of people, they decided their primary mission was to pray and teach.

Acts 6.2-4 KJV
2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

As our Lord, Jesus has every right to change our mission on us! ’Cause not every mission is open-ended, and we oughta expect to do it for the rest of our lives. Sometimes we actually complete our missions! The Holy Spirit sent Philip to go to a particular Ethiopian; Ac 8.29 Philip did it, shared the gospel with him, and was done. He wasn’t sent to Ethiopia to preach the gospel; the Ethiopian did that, and that’s why Ethiopia is to this day full of Christians. As for Philip, he went off to preach in other cities, Ac 8.40 and apparently stayed in Caesarea and raised his daughters to be prophets. Ac 21.8-9 Missions change—but apostles remain the people Jesus sends on missions. So like I said: Apostles are individuals. Not vocations.

Yeah, sometimes he sends us on big, grand projects. Sometimes he has us found a church, and run it the rest of our lives. And other times, he sends us to go get him dinner.

Luke 22.8 KJV
And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat.

If you’re under the delusion that an apostolic job is a big exalted thing with a mighty biblical mandate, and that apostles are huge important people, you may not be aware how leadership works in God’s kingdom. He once had to correct his apostles about that particular false idea:

Matthew 20.25-27 KJV
25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27 and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

You wanna become an apostle? Then get it out of your head that it’s a big important office. It’s a person, who’s willing to obey and follow Jesus. Become such a person. Start following Jesus. Start serving others. He’ll give you a mission.