Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
One thing you have probably noticed about AVPC is that we are not a highly programmed church. We place a high value on the Lord's Day but we do not overstuff the other six days with activities located at the church.
At first glance one might think this is because we are a small church. The idea being that we can't do much because we don't have many people to do it. On closer examination, however, our low-program church culture is quite deliberate and grounded in our understanding of what scripture teaches about how Christian please the Lord and love others. Let me explain with three points.
(1) The Lord does not measure our spiritual maturity by how busy we are in church-based activities. One is not a mature Christian because they show up at church functions three nights a week. A mature Christian is someone who walks humbly before the Lord, is devoted to the worship of God, submits to all authorities sanctioned by God, loves God's saints without regret, and daily repairs their sin-sick soul with the promises of the gospel. The Lord does not teach us that a "church-based busyness" away from home will produce spiritual maturity. In fact, such busyness can often circumvent maturity because domestic duties and domestic relations are neglected. Is it not the case that home life is where we most readily discover our need for grace? It is not a stretch, in my opinion, to say that some people stay busy away from home - even at churches - because they wish to avoid the desperate condition homelife places them in. Could it be that God has appointed domestic duties as a school of desperation to tenderize our hearts and level our pride, a school where we learn how to be strengthened by grace and not our works.
(2) The Lord does not call us to re-create within the church all the services we find outside the church. Christian cooking classes. Christian sports teams. Christian pilates. Christian book clubs. Christian birdwatching. Christian coffee drinking. Too much of this stuff keeps the salt in the saltshaker. The salty church is to be out of shaker seasoning the world. The Lord's Day is, of course, saltshaker day. On Sundays the risen Christ calls us all together. On those 52 high and holy days of the year the Lord, through the means of Word and sacrament, subdues the worldliness in us and places heavenly graces on us so we can go out and live among - not away from - our neighbors as salt and light (John 17:11-18). If we spend much of the week retreating from the world, into the catacombs of Christian programs and clubs, could it be we still love ourselves more than our neighbors? Could it be we think God's working in us on the Lord's Day is an insufficient grace? In worship Christ draws us to heaven by his Spirit to strengthen us in his graces to live faithfully in his world, overcoming the world while within it.
(3) The Lord would not have us pigeon-hole "love and good works." This is a significant danger of being over-programmed as a church. It becomes easier and easier to assume that "love and good works" are fully expressed and carried out within the programs. But what about the Christian couple who is quietly and steadily caring for a widow next door? What about the Christian brother who mows and trims a chronically ill neighbor's yard all summer? What about the Christian grandmother who watches her grandchild 15 hours each week and counsels a bitter young wife? What about the Christian family that started visiting grandma at the nursing home and now stays twice as long reading to the widower across the hall? Are these unseen and unprogrammed activities something other than "love and good works"? Of course not, if they are done in faith. There must be a sufficient lightness and sparseness to a church's programs so all the saints can spread their wings according to the span of their giftedness, serving faithfully in all the appointments of providence.
Now at this point it would be easy to over-correct: "Banish all programs! Cancel all meetings!" This will not do. Such an over-correction would only encourage an isolating-selfishness, the very opposite of the theme running beneath the above points: sincere love. The scriptures say, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25). The image here is one of selfless vitality because eyes are fixed on eternity and the glory of Christ. It is a vitality where all the saints in a local church want to be stirred up to love and good works and all want to stir others up to love and good works. But this is not a stirring up that happens in a committee meeting and then be launch as static program. This stirring up is an always fresh and vital habit. This stirring up requires a regular meeting together, an ongoing listening of one another, a deepening knowledge of one another, a speaking directly to one another with the result that love and good works are not just talked about but actually performed.
Programs will, at times, be crucial to the performance of love and good works. But not always. In fact, if love and good works are going to flourish and reach into all the nooks and crannies of life, we must keep programs light and sparse. This does not mean our contact with other believers in the church will be light and sparse. On the contrary, our contact should be rich and frequent, but it need not be programmed. Genuine love does not need bit and bridle to move toward others.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor John Hartley