Our Culture 04: Filled With Love

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The fourth of our cultural pillars is “Filled With Love”.  God is looking for a church filled with love, that loves one another as Christ has loved us.  That knows the love of God that passes all understanding and yields and allows that love to manifest through us.

Now this cultural pillar is something that I think all Christians pay lip service to.  We all want to be loving people, we all want to love people and we all want to come to a church that loves us.  But saying it and doing it are two different things.  And we had to look hard and long at how a church filled with love should look, and although there are several issues involved, the key issue for us has been small groups.

To me one of the most shocking verses in the Bible is this one:

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3.18)

You can read that verse in different translations, but it is always clear: we are not supposed to love in words.  We are not to tell people we love them.  We are to show them they are loved.  Why?  Words are easy.  The only true love is love that is expressed in deeds, and the Greek word for deeds is ergon, which means things we produce.

If you are doing something for someone that produces something for them, you are not loving them.  That’s a staggering truth, but it is the truth of the Word.

Now imagine your average Sunday morning service.  You worship, you give in the offering, you listen to the Word, you grab a cup of tea and you say hello to someone.   There might be hundreds of people in the service, but where is the love?  The guy making the teas has loved you.  The preacher has loved you.  The worship leaders have loved you.  But there has not been a place for you to serve and be served to be known, to love and to love.  Not fully.

But imagine a small group of people meeting in a house.  They can all love each other, they can all know each others name, they can all have dinner together, they can all share their needs and issues.  They can love, because love is in deed or truth.

At this stage people get confused.  When people see the power of small groups they often call for an end to big meetings, but nothing could be further from being right.   The early church met in the temple and the house and so should we.  The big group inspires us, gives us vision, gives us a place to worship and move forward whereas the small group gives us a place to love and be loved, a place to serve and a place to flow in the gifts.

So when we say a place filled with love, we mean that we are utterly committed to small groups and empowering those groups.  So that we can love truly, love indeed – in deed.

Our Culture 03: Full of the Nations

A big part of our culture in Tree of Life Church is building a church full of the nations.  Now if you are in a village in the middle of Kenya, then it is going to be impossible for you to build a multi-ethnic church; but if you are in London and you are building or part of a church that is only one tribe, one tongue and one people then you have no heavenly vision at all.

It disturbs me so much that so many Christians go to churches that 100% match their culture.  This is for three main reasons:

  • We need as great a diversity in the body of Christ as possible.  When you get a splinter in your foot, you can’t get it out with the other foot: but when Christians have a problem, they go to people just like them – same nation, same gender, same age.  No you need a range of people who have wisdom and experiences that you don’t have.
  • Unless you regularly meet people from outside your culture, your cultural norms are never challenged.  The truth is that in the UK and across the world the white church has problems, the black church has problems – but when we worship together we can learn from each other and build something strong and kingdom minded, not culturally minded.
  • I wonder what will happen to these people in heaven.  I’ve had people leave Tree of Life because it is too black, because it isn’t black enough (their words not mine) and I wonder how they will get on in heaven because it is every tongue, every tribe and every nation!  Let’s try and do some heaven on earth – let’s meet up with people across our nationality.

A lot of people ask how to do what we are doing – building churches that welcome people from all nations.  The simple truth is that I just said we would do it, prayed for it and believed it and praise God it has happened.  Looking back, and looking at maintaining what has happened I believe we have 3 keys that we need to know:

  1. Build everything on the kingdom – not nationality.  Your nationality and culture has some great things and some bad things.  That’s the truth no matter where you are from.  This means you will offend some people.  You will hear people tell me that you are going against their nation, their culture – you will hear offended people furious with you as they hold their traditions so dear.  But it will be worth it as you are building something that is truly Biblical.
  2. Celebrate every culture.  We have leaders and elders that represent our church and our city.  We have a broad mix of ages, cultures and backgrounds.  Why?  We celebrate every culture.  No culture is perfect, but they all have something to contribute and teach us
  3. Create a climate of humility.  The way you always have done it isn’t always best!  We have to show people that although their cultures are to be celebrated, they are not always right, and it is good to realize that.  Let other people teach you how they pray, how they fast, how they fellowship, how they minister, and be willing to submit everything to the Word.