All Your Heart, Mind, and Soul: ENFP Christians

This is the second post in a series talking with Christians of different personality types. When you start discussing faith with different personality types, you notice not all the personalities feel equally valued and understood in Christian churches. If Christianity is a faith meant for all people why aren’t we doing a better job of connecting with all personality types?

Our walks with God don’t all look the same. We’re influenced by our backgrounds, variations in beliefs, and individual personalities. And even though the goal is for us all to become “like God,” that doesn’t mean we become indistinguishable from each other. God created great variety in people and I believe He did that for a reason. So let’s spend today’s post hearing from and talking about the unique perspectives of ENFP Christians.

ENFP - Join me for a blog series discussing Christianity from the perspectives of different personality types. | marissabaker.wordpress.comIdentifying With The Bible

While some ENFPs have a favorite Bible character, others couldn’t pick just one. Charity said, “I don’t really ‘identify’ with any of them, since we’re different people who have had different experiences, but my inner feminist always liked Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, and Jesus telling Martha that she was where she should be (instead of preparing food in the kitchen!).” Dorien said he couldn’t choose just one and identified more with some during different seasons, “But I love the characters who experience the Love of God very deep: The woman trapped in idolatry. John – with his intimate relationship with Jesus. David – which name means The Beloved and was still chosen, even when He made mistakes.”

Personally, I’ve always found Peter very relatable and wonder if he might have been an ExFP type. I was glad to see two ENFPs list him as one of the characters they relate. Rielle elaborated on Peter the most, saying, “I can relate to him often not thinking (or seeming like it at least) before he speaks.” She also likes the way he “gets so involved in everything and is just so interested in what Jesus says.”

Other characters mentioned included Moses (because he did so much for the people and they still betrayed him by worshiping idols), John (because he writes in metaphor), Joseph (for his clever tricks and forgiving nature), David (because he was impulsive in action like Peter), the other psalmists (who, as Dani wrote, “are not afraid to enter those dark places of despair, grief, and shame”), and, more humorously, Noah who an anonymous ENFP said they liked because after the flood “He landed in what is now northern Italy and started a vineyard, THAT I can relate to highly!”

Finding Their Niche

I’ve been asking people of every type whether they have gifts or talents that are particularly encouraged or discouraged in the church and so far, ENFPs have given me the most varied answers. One said none of of their gifts or talents are appreciated. Others could point to specific gifts that the church supports, including Dorien (who currently serves as a missionary in Cape Town, South Africa).

ENFP - Join me for a blog series discussing Christianity from the perspectives of different personality types. | marissabaker.wordpress.comTwo ENFPs wanted to talk about how we define the church before answering the question. Charity wrote, “I consider ‘the Church’ to be the collective Body of Christ, which is the Believers on the whole; so simply by being alive, and pursuing that which interests me and glorifies God, I’m participating in the Church on a daily basis.” My anonymous respondent said, “The Church is used I think WAY to much for ‘Look at me’ ‘Look at what I can do’ mentality. Our gifts are to be harnessed in our own lives and if it is needed at a certain time in the Church community then God will present the opportunity and how ones strength can help someone and how we can learn to be humble more.”

Specific gifts that ENFPs mentioned include connecting the dots to arrive at unique insights, ministering to people who are “different,” evangelism, the gift of mercy, hospitality, lifting people up in prayer, working with children, and teaching. They seem to gravitate towards interpersonal gifts and think outside traditional “church boxes” to find ways to serve.

Two ENFPs mentioned that their artistic gifts are not appreciated in the church, but neither seemed upset by that. Charity wrote that she sometimes feels “‘stifled’ by what is ‘expected’ from a Christian novelist,” but doesn’t let that hold her back. Anonymous said she knows her gifts for art and design aren’t really supported by the church, but doesn’t see that as an issue because “that is not the focus we need now in the Church.”

Interacting With Others

Though intensely people-oriented, ENFPs aren’t always social in the  way your average Christian church group expects. Most seem to ascribe this to their questioning nature. They’re not the type of people willing to just accept something because “that’s how it’s always been done.” And in Christian churches, asking questions is often seen as a rejection of sound doctrine or a threat to authority. Charity mentioned that although she might seem like “your average Christian woman,” she “can’t seem to help questioning EVERYTHING.” Rielle said, “I can see many sides to something, and then get very attached to them” only to be told her views “aren’t exactly in line with how most people interpret the Bible.” She also mentioned that on controversial topics, “I’ll actually contradict myself for hours.” Like many intuitive types, ENFPs want the freedom to discuss different sides to important questions and get a back-and-forth idea exchange.

When asked, “Are there expectations from other Christians that you have a hard time meeting because of how your mind naturally works?” responses ranged from “That depends” to “Oh, yes.” Dani said, “I have definitely seen how Christians can be more judgmental or misunderstanding about my seemingly contradictory personality. … People presume I am shallow, flirtatious, an attention-seeker, and flighty. And I always feel like I have to go the extra mile to prove that my convictions are real, deep, and near and dear to me. I love to be fun-loving, I love small talk, but I also know how to take seriously what really matters and I enjoy deep, meaningful, intellectual conversations maybe more than the superficial small talk.”

ENFP - Join me for a blog series discussing Christianity from the perspectives of different personality types. | marissabaker.wordpress.comThis is an unfair, but common, representation of an ENFP personality type that they can’t be taken seriously. One friend told me that people he’s known for years are still surprised by his commitment to living out his faith even if they’ve had conversations about it several times before. That response can come from people outside the church, but it also happens inside the church. Especially if you’re not fitting in with gender stereotypes. Anonymous writes, “I am always loud and outgoing looking for adventure and always know a lot of people. I remember also being told I was too loud for a woman and I knew too many guys (when really the guys had more adventures and had less drama following them).” Charity touched on this as well when she said, “I’m not the person who will show up on your porch with a casserole when you’ve lost someone and hold your hand and cry with you; I’m the person who will sneak over the back fence a few days later with a “cheer up box” full of stuff, and will want to just be with you.”

Another thing several ENFPs mentioned was that they’re drawn to people the church as a whole would often rather not deal with. Dorian moved from Holland to South Africa as a missionary and now walks “with girls who are on their way to their drugsdealer. Or I sit with the sexual broken. Or in prison.” One of my ENFP friends has talked with me about having quite a few friends who are gay, lesbian, Wiccan, or atheist. Anonymous went into more detail, saying,

“I have many friends who are Buddhists, Gay, Bi, Atheists, you name it, and I learned so much MORE Christian behavior than I learned in the Church as well have been more openly supported by. As they have a gift that we as Christians of today fall short of….open mindedness. They don’t care of ones past or anything that are issues in the Church, if you are true to friends and yourself that is all that is needed. I have an example for those that might read this and argue my point but one of my friends boyfriend at the time were sitting together and I was texting her (we where having an argument) and he looked to me (he was an Atheist at the time now Buddhist) and said ‘I thought you where Christian, are you not supposed to be peacekeepers, why are you continuing this?’ He didn’t say it in a mean or egotistical way but rather supportive. It hit me hard as he was right…what was I doing? And this moment solidified as well for the people that shut me out or other people in the Church for being too Worldly…and banning all relationships with people out of the Church. How are they perceived? If we are to help and teach these people in the world tomorrow…they are going to remember those ‘Christians’ and how they treated them and ask them ‘I thought you are a Christian?’ And it hurts as the more people go about this train of thought the more they have to go through that moment in the worst of time possible.”

Connecting With ENFPs

Though it’s hard to generalize what sort of teaching style works best for people within a personality type, there were a few commonalities I noticed among the ENFPs who shared their perspectives with me. They want to go deeper, they want to be challenged, and they don’t want their faith confined to a church service.

Charity wrote, “the most powerful spiritual moments I’ve had, or the things that hit me most, weren’t said in church on a Sunday morning, but bled from a writer or filmmaker’s pen and slapped me across the face with sheer truth, beauty, or holiness. (And some of those writers weren’t even Christians.).” Also stepping outside the box, Dorien writes, “I am more into being, than into doing. My times with Jesus are being. I am not working by having beautiful prayers or that I have to read a chapter from the bible. I just be. That is not always appreciated. I feel from religion I have ‘to do more’.”

Several ENFPs mentioned they enjoy interactive groups. Dorien, Rielle, and Anonymous all said they would like the chance to talk about the Bible and learn from more than one person. The only concern one had was that “with so many people pushing their one and only views it might turn more into a debate now a days rather then an open minded discussion.” It’s very important to ENFPs that what’s being said, either in groups or from the pulpit, is rooted in scripture. They don’t mind discussing alternative interpretations of the Bible, but they don’t want people pushing something on them that’s not a sound Biblical teaching.

ENFPs don’t fit the stereotype that Feeling personalities aren’t intellectual. In fact, Dani wrote, “I actually prefer more intellectual preaching styles. Expository exegesis is probably my favorite format of preaching, the sermons that preach directly from the Bible and expound on the context, meaning, and application of a specific passage, chapter, or book of the Bible.” She’s not alone. Anonymous has been enjoying a book/study series by a minister that “goes paragraph by paragraph and explains in minute detail of all the chapters in the Bible.” Holly prefers preachers who present “Well researched information that is fundamentally rooted in human relationships.”

Another thing ENFPs are seeking is connections within the Bible and between their own lives and scripture. Dani said, “I am a big-idea thinker and I love to see connections between pretty much everything.” Rielle adds, “I love drawing links between things, and I love stepping back to look at the big picture of the Bible.” Dorien asks teachers to “Go a little deeper! Deep a topic out. Make it personal: what does it mean for you as preacher? Where can I connect with you?  … And maybe: listen to me and people like me.”

If you’re trying to reach ENFPs in your congregation or outside, it’s vital to focus on faithful preaching in a way that engages both intellect and emotion. And for ENFPs to feel safe and thoroughly welcomed in a group, we need to give them a chance to share their ideas without condemnation. Intuitive types are always asking “What if?” questions, which some churches see as threatening. Before assuming an ENFP is veering off into heresy, approach their questions and thoughts as discussion starters and see where the conversation goes.

“The church could probably connect with me better by allowing me to fully express my thoughts without thinking I’m being judged (although that’s mostly on me, articulating things in a confusing way and always wanting to please people and take things personally). Also I wish we had more time to just talk about anything and everything, and I wish I could connect with more people. Also, I think the church should cater for every type too, especially intuitive types as I think it is fairly sj-dominated as a whole, and np’s and others exist as well and everyone as desperately needs God as anyone else. Maybe bible study groups by type every now and then? That could be interesting.” – Rielle

Biggest Challenges

There weren’t many strong commonalities between how ENFPs responded to the question, “What’s one of the biggest challenges you face as a Christian?” However, it does seem that many struggle with how other people both inside and outside the church see them and respond to their faith.

Charity told me that her biggest challenge is “Not being ashamed. To be honest, Christianity on the whole has a lot to be ashamed about, over centuries of misbehavior. I’ve read enough history to flinch thinking about it. … I often don’t want to call myself Christian, because to a lot of people, that brings a preconception to mind that isn’t me, that I don’t want to be me, that I hate. So yes, I am, but no, I’m not. I hate that I feel intimidated and tempted to hide.”

Inside the church, ENFPs struggle with judgement from other people and with trying to connect in meaningful relationships. Dorien find that “few people can really listen, so many go so quickly in their safe box and want to preach truth and are afraid for heart issues/feelings.” As “a liberal divorcee” and “single mother of 4,” one of Holly’s biggest challenging is being herself and showing other Christians that she “is nice and doesn’t want to judge them.” Anonymous shared that they have trouble finding true relationships because their church is so scattered.

For Rielle and Dani, two big challenges are focusing on God without distraction and not falling into the trap of people-pleasing. Rielle writes, “The biggest challenge I face as a Christian is probably focusing on God and God alone.” Dani says she’s often overly optimistic about how much time she’ll have in a day and that saying “no” to requests for help is difficult, “so finding space in life to cultivate my own spiritual well-being can be a big challenge.” She goes on to say, “I am a people-pleaser, so it is also a challenge for me to not constantly try and conform to the ideals of what everyone else thinks a good Christian should look like. I have to remember to keep my eyes on Jesus Christ, to be transformed by His truth and not conform to the opinions and standards of others.” ENFP - Join me for a blog series discussing Christianity from the perspectives of different personality types. | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Though ENFP Christians face challenges in their walks of faith, as we all do, they are intensely passionate about the things they care about. This is why I chose “All Your Heart, Mind, and Soul” as the title for this post.When Christianity is one of the things closest to their hearts, ENFPs can be fantastic models for enthusiastically living out Jesus’ commands, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “your neighbor as yourself.”

Reason For Your Faith

When I wrote my post about INFJ Christians, I decided not to try and fit the answers to “Why are you a Christian?” into a few neat paragraphs. Rather, I quoted from each of the people who’d responded to my post. That’s what I’m going to do here as well. Most of the ENFPs I spoke with focused on their faith being real at a personal soul-level, but I’ll let them tell you about that in their own words:

I know in my soul the things my mind denies. I’m in a constant flux between soul-knowing, and mind-doubting. I believe in God, I don’t think things happened by chance, and I believe Jesus’ teachings are worth following — so that makes me, by definition, a Christian.” – Charity

“I have to admit I left the Church for awhile … A year went on and events happened in my life that the ONLY person that could give me strength and guide me through was God, and it accrued that it is NOT the people and not being part of congregations that are important but your strength in God and the relationship you have with him. … That is why I am a Christian. That is why I know he is God. I only follow HIM, not a congregation not man preaching away. Only God.” — Anonymous [edited to keep specific events private]

“The gospel was made VERY personal for me. (also a long story what I wouldn’t share too open in the church.) By experience I know Jesus came to my level in my sin to bring me to his level. I love Jesus intense and I am sure in His love for me and see Him working powerful. What He did in my life is a big testimony! (what I am slowly processing to put in words…)” — Dorien

“Hebrews 11:1-3 summarizes well why I believe what I believe, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” The entirety of Hebrews 11 explains the heritage of faith from the beginning of time and why I have such a strong assurance in what I believe and why I believe it.
Ultimately it comes down to the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit in my life. I did not come to an understanding of the truth through any wisdom of my own, but by the grace of God and His providence and faithfulness in my life. I can look back on so many instances in my life where God was planting seeds, working in my heart – through my family, my church, and in my circumstances – to bring me to Him.” — Dani

“I’m a Christian because God wanted a relationship with me, and he went to some pretty extreme extents to get it. And honestly, personally knowing the one who is in charge of everything is just amazing! He weaves everything together so perfectly and it’s like I’m a character in a story who can talk to and trust the author, knowing they’re doing a much better job than I ever could.” — Rielle

“Things I’ve seen in life like unexplained miracles, the feelings of comfort I’ve inexplicably received within my body, and the person of Jesus regarding the model of self-sacrifice get that he was.” — Holly


Your turn! If you want to share your Christian ENFP story or talk about ENFPs in the churches, comment here! And if you’re a different personality type looking to contribute an upcoming blog post in this series contact me or head over to the original post. I’d love to feature you!Send Me Your Stories: Christianity and MBTI Types | marissabaker.wordpress.com

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Addressing Disunity In The Churches of God

Recently, a friend shared a post titled “After 20 Years … there remains but a poor case for a divided Church of God.” It’s arguing that there’s no good excuse for the church of God to exist in different organizations. It broke apart because of doctrinal differences, but now people believing the same things are divided up into innumerable different groups. Why haven’t they got back together yet?

It’s a lamentation I’ve heard pretty much my entire life. My parents met attending the Worldwide Church of God and I was only 6 years old when the major split happened. I’ve grown up in off-shoots of that church group including United Church of God and various independent groups such as Christian Biblical Church of God and the now-nonexistant Bellville Church of God.

  • Quick note for my regular readers: this post is addressed to people in church groups that split off from the Worldwide Church of God (most in 1995) due to major doctrinal differences. If you read something here that seems “odd” it’s probably because of not sharing my target audience’s background. Please bear with me going off on this specific topic for one post 🙂

I don’t really remember Worldwide. But I’ve heard about the huge church groups with hundreds of attendees each week and the Feasts of Tabernacles where multiple thousands gathered to celebrate God’s holy days. I’ve heard (and still hear) Herbert Armstrong quoted in multiple sermons every year. I’ve seen groups trying to re-create the “good old days” when the church had a central government, word-wide cultural influence, and its own university. And I read articles like the one my friend shared that wonder why we don’t have that any more and urging a return to unity.

I’m writing my post today because I feel this type of argument is glossing over the true issues. Perhaps we’re so nostalgic for what was that we’re missing a greater what could be.

Addressing Disunity In The Churches of God | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo by Pearl, via Lightstock

Defining “Disunity”

First, we have to decide what we mean by disunity and division. This writer said he observed division when a church group of 800-1,000 people was split into four different congregations due to an administrative decision. He also describe the many different groups that grew out of a Worldwide background as currently disunified. It seems he means that division exists when all God’s people in a given location aren’t meeting together and when there are different church groups in existence instead of a single over-arching organization.

But is that an accurate description? Should we expect God’s church to all fall under one human label or to all meet in the same location? Or do some people just think that’s a good idea because that’s what they thought was going on in Worldwide? This gets to a key question: How does the Bible define “the church of God”? We can’t even try to be the ideal version of something until we know what that ideal version looks like. Continue reading

Show Christ’s Love, Not Your Judgement

Without going into too much  detail, I’ve recently heard from more than one person who is a Christian and has sexual abuse in their pasts. They’ve reached out in response to my request for different Myers-Briggs types to talk about their faith. As heartbreaking as it is to hear about the terrible things their abusers did, it’s equally heartbreaking to hear how the church has responded.

The people who contacted me didn’t say they were hesitant to open-up to me because I was a stranger on the internet. Rather, they were worried because I’m Christian and they’ve had so many Christians react badly in the past. One, abused by “upstanding members in the church” encountered people who wouldn’t believe her or were angry she actually filed a police report. Another faced judgment so harsh she compared it to “being victimized twice.”

That sort of things should never happen in the household of God. We can’t always prevent terrible things being done by and to other people. But we are 100% responsible for how we respond when someone shares their pasts with us.

No Partiality

In his epistle, James tells the church not to judge others for the way they look. You should be just as welcoming and loving to the “poor man in filthy clothing” as to the “man with a gold ring, in fine clothing” (James 2:2, WEB). But do you really think this only applies to peoples’ outer appearance?

If you fulfill the royal law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:8-9, WEB)

It is a sin to make snap judgments of people based on their appearance, their pasts, or aspects of their personality you just don’t like. Remember, you’ll be judged with the same type of judgment you turn on other people (Matt. 7:1-2). So “use mercy to them all” (Shakespeare, not the Bible, but still a good policy to follow). Continue reading

Mercy and Truth Meet Together: INFJ Christians

Our walks with God don’t all look the same. We’re influenced by our backgrounds, variations in beliefs, and individual personalities. And even though the goal is for us all to become “like God,” that doesn’t mean we become indistinguishable from each other. God created great variety in people and I believe He did that for a reason.

This is the first post in a series looking at Christians with different personality types. Today, we’re focusing on my personality type — INFJ. When you start talking with people of faith who fall into different personality type groups, you notice not all the personalities feel equally valued and understood by Christian churches. And churches on the whole seem skewed toward attracting Sensing and/or Feeling types. If Christianity is a faith meant for all people then why aren’t we doing a better job of connecting with all personality types?

INFJ - Join me for a blog series discussing Christianity from the perspectives of different personality types. | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photocredit: Prixel Creative via Lightstock

Empathy For All

I asked INFJs which Bible characters they identified most with and received a flood of responses. It seems we can’t pick just one favorite character. Several INFJs mentioned that our empathy makes it easy to identify with Bible characters. Rachel writes, “My personality pushes me to strive to understand everyone, so I can identify with all the characters in the Bible in some way.” We do have favorites, though, (mine is the apostle John) and the INFJs who did get into details about their favorite characters were very specific.

I identify with David the most. His emotion portrayed through the Psalms and some OT stories resonate in my heart, especially that of love for God, the Scriptures, and pains of stress under sin and oppression. The way in which he responds to certain situations are very similar to how I’ve responded to mine relate as well. – Sarah H

I identify most with Rahab because she was an idolater who was saved when she trusted God. Not only that, but because of that decision, she was given a place in the line of Christ. I, too, was an idolater, but when I trusted Christ, God adopted me into His household. Now I’m a princess in the royal house of God. – Lillith

INFJ - Join me for a blog series discussing Christianity from the perspectives of different personality types. | marissabaker.wordpress.comThere wasn’t a whole lot of overlap, but multiple INFJs specifically mentioned King David, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. In our favorite characters, as in many other things, INFJs seek connection. They’re identifying with Bible characters who share aspects of their own personality traits and who inspire them to connect with God. And we do that with multiple characters. Take a look at some of what an INFJ named Alexandria wrote me:

I am Mary and Martha. I love Mary for the way she valued Yahweh and sat attentively, listening to all His wisdom. I identify with Martha and always love to think that I am treating my guests like royalty by having everything organized and prepared.

I love David…oh how I love him. I love that he was so gracious to Saul, even though Saul treated him so badly, trying to kill him! I love that David was a flagrant sinner and yet God called him a man after His own heart. I am so moved at how gracious the Lord was with David every time, and I remember that when I feel like my failings are stacking up!! I like his passion for life and the depth of his soul and all that he felt so poignantly. …

And last of all, my heart beats with Paul. I love his drive to get others to really live by the teachings of the scriptures. His quest for spiritual excellence is so awesome and it is so moving how dedicated he is to those he serves and he loves them so authentically and I feel like I really “get” him. He is a person who is passionate in living the Christian life the right way with integrity and love.

Using Our Gifts

INFJs who talked about serving in their church felt their contributions were appreciated. These INFJs are leading Bible studies, cooking dinners for small groups, participating in youth/teen ministry, using their artistic skills, teaching, and contributing musically. Many INFJs also expressed the desire to help more, but said they either haven’t had the opportunity or were actively discouraged. Continue reading

Walking by Faith (and next e-book announcement)

I just got back yesterday from an incredible  service-themed Young Adult weekend. It didn’t start out all that well for me, though. The day before I left I started feeling nervous (which is normal for me going into social events) but then by the time I left on Friday I had a shaking-crying-hyperventilating panic attack (which is becoming less and less normal/frequent for me).

I was really caught off-guard by this. I knew several people there — not just as acquaintances, but as friends — and I’d been eagerly looking forward to this event for weeks. I chalked it up to my too-active imagination combined with uncertainty about Friday evening’s schedule, breathed deep, prayed, turned Fallout Boy up, and started driving …

… and hit heavy traffic and rain (my two least favorite things to drive in). That left me running 20 late to met the people I was supposed to be car pooling with to the house I didn’t have an address for. Thankfully, one of the people I was meeting is also one of only 2 out of 100+ people at the weekend with my phone number, and he texted me the address. I proceeded to enter said address in my GPS and it took me to a house with no cars in the driveway.

It is either a testament to my stupidity or my faith that I walked up and rang the doorbell. Turns out, my friend accidentally sent me to another church member’s home (whose name I recognized, though I’d never met them) and they fed me cheese, gave me the correct address, and sent me on my way. Oddly, that’s when I felt a sense of peace for the first time all day. I was late, I was temporarily lost and yet God showed me that these worries coming true weren’t anything He couldn’t handle.

Saturday brought a great round of seminars and an excellent sermon on foot washing and Passover. Nothing to worry about, until game night happened. I’m sure I’m in the minority judging by how many people said they had a wonderful time, but any sort of game that involves doing something in front of other people or in a group or on a team makes me intensely uncomfortable, especially if you add competition. The first two games were mixers where you asked someone a question and their name. I literally remember nothing from meeting people this way (does it even count as a “meeting” then?). Next was that game where you tie a balloon to your ankle and try to keep it from getting popped while popping everyone else’s balloon. I could have kissed whoever it was that popped my balloon the moment the game started.

That’s the last game I “played” (I stepped on my own balloon when they started round two) and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my evening talking with two other people who saw no appeal in participating. Give me a deep conversation with someone over competitive and/or rambunctious games any day. Now that’s how to meet new people. (Side-track back to the topic of social anxiety: game night continued throughout my conversations and there was a Bag of Doom from which they were drawing names to participate in a novelty challenge which you had to do while standing in the center of a room surrounded by 80-something people watching you. Can anyone say “introvert’s worst nightmare”?)

I think one of the biggest lessons I learned this weekend was that my fears were either 1) groundless or 2) didn’t have the power to hold me back. The fact that I had a panic attack before leaving turned into a blessing because it gave me the choice between either canceling my plans or praying through it and trusting God. I chose the later, and I kept encountering situations that could make me feel nervous and which reminded me to stay in prayer all weekend. Every single one of the things I was worried about worked out for the best, and the only part of that I can take credit for is that I took the step to go to the weekend and start a few conversations. The rest was all God.

This brings us in a very round-about way back to the topic of the weekend — service. Specifically, “Unlocking Your Desire To Serve.” As many of you know, I consider this blog a sort of ministry and it’s been growing in ways that amaze me and make me want to do more. One of the big things that holds me back is my own fears, including my fear of panicking when it’s important that I talk with people about my faith. So for me, blending this weekend’s focus on service with a need to rely on God for help working through my anxiety was a powerful experience.

  • If you gave up reading that long rambling post and started scrolling, here’s the e-book announcement:

Something I haven’t shared with many people is that in my local Messianic congregation I’ve been receiving words, prayers, and hints from brethren for the last several months along the lines of “God’s going to do something big in/with your life soon.” I even finally have a hint as to what that might involve after I came back from services a few weeks ago with a title for an e-book in my head which I promptly sat down and outlined. I’ve barely worked on it since, but this weekend was exactly what I needed to reconfirm that God wants me to be sharing my gifts through writing and that He’s more than capable of overcoming deficiencies on my part.

My first step is officially announcing the project here on this blog. The working title is “Rise Up, My Love” and the focus will be on reigniting the church’s passion for God (so, basically this blog in book form). I’m not committing to a release-date quite yet (it would be lovely to have it out by Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles this fall, but I think a full year might be more realistic judging by how long it took to write The INFJ Handbook). I’ll keep you posted on details.

 

What Is The Church?

The church is a family, not a business. Most people won’t argue with that, or at the very least they’ll make a case that it’s both. But that’s not always the impression you get when listening to church leaders talk.

When I go to church and hear a sermon, I expect to hear a teaching on God’s word, not an up-date on that church organization’s media outreach, how many associate pastors have been hired, or how much money their latest donation campaign brought in. Sermons like that just don’t make it seem like the church group is modeling themselves after the New Testament church established by Jesus Christ. Sometimes (in my more cynical moments) I wonder if we’re even trying.

The Church’s Commission

In John 13-17, Jesus delivers the longest uninterrupted discourse we have record of near the end of His life. Usually we look at “the Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19-20 for Christ’s take-away message to His church, but a good case can be made for viewing this section of scripture in that way as well.

Jesus starts out by demonstrating servant leadership in washing His disciples’ feet. That’s how He wants them to lead after He’s gone — by humbling self and serving others (John 13:12-17). Then He connects their walk as His followers with what He’d previously identified as the Great Commandments: love God, and love your neighbor.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

What Is The Church? | marissabaker.wordpress.comIt might not sell as well as “preaching the gospel,” but love is the succinct mission statement of Christ’s church. It’s not something you tack on as an afterthought — “we’ll do this, this, and this with love.” Love is the essential character of God. If we want to be like God, we have to embody His love.

As we move into John chapter 15, the focus stays on individuals. There are multiple branches abiding in the True Vine, but the message is to each one individually (“every branch in Me,” “a man, “you abide in me”). There’s no diffusion of responsibility for bearing fruit; it’s something every person is told to do.

Sometimes in church, we’re told it’s enough to tithe to an organization that’s bearing fruit. This makes me think of the parable of the talents, when the Master tells the servant who buried his talent, “you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest” (Matt. 25:24-27). Supporting an organization that’s doing good things is better than nothing, but it doesn’t exempt us from personal action.

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. … By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. (John 15:6, 8-9)

The first time in this section of scripture that Jesus mentions selecting and sending people to go and do something, it’s to “bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). That’s shortly followed by telling the disciples they will “bear witness” of Him (15:27). Fruiting and witnessing will involve preaching, but that’s not the foundation.

When we read Jesus’ final prayer, He mentions several more things His followers should and will do. They will “know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). They will keep His word (17:6). They will believe in Christ and His mission as the One Sent (17:7-8). They will not be like the world, though they are sent into the world (17:14, 16, 18). They will become one with God in His love (17:21-23, 26).

What we’re doing as Christ’s followers involves so much more than systematizing preaching of the word. Individually, our responsibility is to love God, attach ourselves to Him, and keep his commandments. Our connection to the Vine will result in bearing fruit for His glory. If our church’s mission by-passes that and goes straight to “we need to preach the gospel,” then we’re missing the mark.

Works Powered By God

I try not to directly engage with the speakers I hear in my local church on this blog, unless I can be in agreement with or say my writings were “inspired by” what I heard. To introduce this next point, though, I have to reference a message I heard last week where a church leader talked about their vision “to fulfill God’s purpose for humanity by bringing many children to glory.”

This phrase is lifted out of Hebrew 2:10. Whenever anyone quotes an isolated phrase of Biblical text, it’s a good idea to check it out in-context to get a fuller idea of the meaning.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren (Heb 2:9-11)

Do you see anything in this passage about our role in bringing God’s children to glory? No — that’s the sole province of God our Father and the Captain of our salvation. We are “those who are being sanctified;” Christ’s brethren who He is bringing to glory. That’s where we show up in this passage of scripture.

What Is The Church? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

It is the height of arrogance to assume we can do “the work of God.” God does God’s work. This does involve equipping His people for certain tasks and giving them what they need to bear good fruit. We can do work that He gives us, as explained here:

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:28-29)

Belief is a key foundation of our faith. Here, it’s also defined as “the work of God” that we’re given to do. Considering the context — people asking about the miracle of the loaves and the fishes (John 6:5-15, 25-27) — you can also read that belief is a prerequisite for doing works powered by God. This agrees with a later verse in Christ’s last Passover discourse.

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. (John 14:12)

When we’re in relationship with Jesus Christ and our foundation is strong in Him, we will do works like He did and for the same reasons He did. Christ’s every action on this earth — works of healing, inspired preaching, miracles — all pointed people toward the One True God. That is our mission also.

But this is done through individuals, not organizations. If an organization is doing good works, it’s because there are true Christians within it whom God is working through. The true church is the body of believers that Christ is building — the collection of individuals He is working with. Within the church, God works with each person to help them bear fruit. The fruit won’t look the same for everyone. Some will preach, some will support preaching, some will heal, some will serve within the body, some will have great wisdom, some will model exemplary faith (1 Cor. 12).

Preaching will result whether you treat the church as a business or as a family, but what fuels preaching in each situation is very different. In one case, you have an organization focused on spreading God’s word as much as they can. The emphasis is on what we’re doing, who we’re training, how many we’re reaching. In the other, you have a group of people so in love with God that they have to share His message. The focus is on loving God, rooting yourself in Him, and then bearing fruit for His glory, which involves pursuing the same things He values. Which church would you rather be a part of?