The Table Podcast

Is Church More than a Sermon?

At this student dinner event, Drs. Darrell L. Bock, Michael Svigel, and Barry Jones discuss the question, “Why does church attendance matter if we have worship music, sermons online, and fellowship with other believers everyday?” and related inquiries from participants.

Timecodes
01:39
Why should we go to church?
07:20
Why can’t seminary substitute for the local church?
11:25
The culture of the consumerism and the church.
16:20
Women and the church
19:55
Communicating the importance of church as a minister
23:15
What if the church is not spiritually forming?
25:20
How do we stress the importance and expectations of community?
32:45
Is it a right motive to go to church to be both built up and build up?
37:00
How do you define a church?
37:55
Is it all right to leave a church where you get nothing out of?
42:20
What is the relationship between church and parachurch?
45:10
How does a minister balance time between sermon prep and pastoring?
47:20
How does one communicate online does not replace in person?
51:30
Should a person church shop?
53:30
As a seminary student, should church participation take precedent?
55:25
Why does DTS not include free food in class?
Transcript
Darrell L. Bock
I want to frame this discussion by alluding to actually what caused us to have this topic, which you called, “The Church: More Than a Sermon.” After tonight, I want to add: “More Than a Sermon and Potluck.”

But anyway, we were talking to a group of Millennials at the turn of the year, Millennial women, who were interacting with us about their experience in the local church and talking about all the other places they get input. When we were all done – we had met with them for two hours – and when we were all done, we asked them, “What two podcasts would you like for us to do that would be of interest to your demographic?” The first one was a podcast on infertility, which I told them immediately was a topic I would have never thought to do a podcast on. So, I thank them for that.

Then the second one was, “Why should we go to church?” which produced its own kind of post facto conversation after they raised it. So, we thought, “That’s actually a good question.” I think that with the way in which institutions in general are viewed, and the way in which the church sometimes is viewed with suspicion in our larger culture, that’s a very fair question to ask. So, my opening question to you gentlemen is, besides the fact that Jesus did talk about church – which is a minor detail, okay?

All right.

Barry Jones
So, we can’t just say “Jesus”?
Darrell L. Bock
No, you just can’t just say “Jesus.”
Barry Jones
Okay, okay.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay? Because I’m the Jesus guy.
Barry Jones
Okay.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay? All right, but why should we go to church, in general, and in particularly, the value of the local church? How should we see the value of the local church? I’ll let you choose between the two of you.
Michael Svigel
Well, he’s closer.
Darrell L. Bock
He’s closer?
Barry Jones
Oh boy.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay.
Barry Jones
All right. Why go to church?
Michael Svigel
Why go to church?
Barry Jones
Why go to church? Jesus is not the sufficient answer.
Darrell L. Bock
Correct.
Barry Jones
So, I’ll give a little bit. It strikes me that one of the sort of succinct ways to capture what the church is about is the church is a liturgical community of disciples on mission; that the church is a liturgical community, so we gather for worship. The word “liturgy” sometimes freaks people out.
Darrell L. Bock
Yeah, I was freaked out just sitting here.
Barry Jones
It just means the work of the people. It’s what the people do when they gather for worship, and so there is a sort of traditional form and order to that. But even if your church doesn’t follow that traditional form and order, there is work that is done. Here is some kind of form and order that is there. So, every church, in a sense, has a liturgy, and at the heart of that is, at least, I think supposed to be, our participation in the ordinances or the sacraments of the church.

My position on that is that these are actually means by which God nurtures and sustains us in grace as we participate in those, and therefore, ought to be things that we look to, that we go to, that we participate in for our own spiritual nurture and growth.

A liturgical community, that we are people who are to live together, not just gathering for a worship gathering, but actually really do that much-abused phrase “life together.” Life on life. But that liturgical community of disciples that continue to grow in becoming more like Jesus and then joining Jesus in his mission in the world. A liturgical community of disciples on mission that – I think it was Alan Hirsch that I first heard say the idea, “It’s not so much that the church has a mission; it’s that the mission has a church,” that God has a mission in the world.

He has called us, as his people, he has swept us up into this grand mission that the church comes out of this way in which God is purposefully engaged in accomplishing his mission in the world. Then he invites us into participation in that mission. So that’s what it means to be a Christian, it seems to me, is that we would be people who identify with Christ and his body and participate in this liturgical community of disciples on mission.

Darrell L. Bock
So, you’re the liturgical guy?
Barry Jones
Well, we can talk about what I think that means. I mean, in addition to my role in seminary, you know I’m the teaching pastor at Irving Bible Church. So, our liturgy is very contemporary. I mean, we sing mostly all very contemporary songs with the band and all of that. So, what liturgy looks like may not look exactly the way what that word sort of conjures to mind. Yet, it’s the recognition that it’s what we do when we gather together that has some kind of form, and that that form is for the purpose of forming us as disciples to live on mission in the world.
Darrell L. Bock
Michael?
Michael Svigel
Yeah, I would say that the purpose of the church, and church means – the ekklesia means an assembly, a gathering. We come together as the church for particular activities in this liturgical gathering. I would also reemphasize what he mentioned, the sacraments: baptism, of course, the initiation into the church, but this ongoing observance of eucharistia, this giving of thanks. Yes, the bread and the wine or grape juice, whatever the case may be, as the center, the thing around which our proclamation and our prayers centers, it’s an embodied, corporate experience.

The other thing I would say that’s very important is I absolutely do not believe you can grow spiritually in any meaningful balanced way apart from the means God has given for spiritual growth, which is the community. The New Testament uses – Paul uses the image of growth – this is an agricultural term for growing spiritually – several places, about nine times. Every single one of them is in the context of the corporate community. It’s not – sorry, it’s not, “Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow,” as the AWANA song goes.

It’s gather together, pray for one another, exhort, encourage one another, exercise your gifts for the benefit of one another, and that is if there’s a key to spiritual growth, it is in the gathered community. Yes, with all of the aches and the pains and the hardships and the frustrations, but also all of the joys and the celebrations and the encouragement and the uplifting experiences that we have. It’s both of those things, and it always has been.

Darrell L. Bock
Now, this will be a seminary-specific question because people who attend seminary, attend chapel three out of four days a week. So, they’re gathering. They’re doing life together sort of here, et cetera. So, why can’t seminary substitute for the local church?
Barry Jones
Seminary is not a church. I’m not your pastor, okay? We’re not your elders. This barbeque you had is not your Lord’s Supper. So, I just got done in my Ecclesiology class this afternoon talking about what makes a local church a local church? What are the essential marks and works? The way I describe it, orthodoxy, order, ordinances; that is, ordained leadership, who are responsible for carrying out the ministry and the ordinances, the baptism, the Lord’s Supper.

So, we may have a – hopefully Dallas Seminary has orthodoxy covered, but we don’t have as our leadership, ordained elders, deacons established for the working out of that ministry. We are not regularly observing the sacraments of the church.

Also, evangelism, edification, exaltation is how I break down the works of the church. We may be, in a scattered way, training and preparing and attempting these things in various ways, but it’s not the focus of Dallas Seminary to be an evangelistic or mission organization or a building up the whole body of Christ. Last time I checked, you didn’t have to pay tuition at church.

Darrell L. Bock
Ooh.
Michael Svigel
But nor were you actually eligible for scholarships either.
Darrell L. Bock
How would that work?
Michael Svigel
So, there’s a lot of different things. So, again, it’s this whole question of how churchy can a parachurch organization be? Because that’s really what we are. Yes, we do some things to help the church. That’s the whole point, coming alongside and helping the church, but we don’t replace, and definitely we are not trying to displace the church.
Barry Jones
So, I’m a preacher, and when I first saw the title of our event tonight, “Church: – “
Darrell L. Bock
You thought you were out of a job.
Barry Jones
“More than a Sermon.” I thought my job was to say, “No, it’s not more than a sermon. Of course, it’s just the sermon. The sermon is what matters.” So, I was glad to find out we’re not actually debating. I would say I just agree completely with what Mike has said that there really is very much a sense in which while we get wonderful instruction, teaching, admonition that happens in the chapel, and we do experience rich community in, for example, spiritual formation groups; that that is not the same as the local church.

We have a fundamentally deficient view of the local church if we see it merely as providing us with spiritual, religious goods and services that we consume. Perhaps there are other places where we can consume religious goods and services. You can download great sermons on your phone, and yet, there’s something very different about that than sitting week in and week out and being pastored by the person who stands in front of you in the pulpit and proclaims God’s Word.

And the ongoing life together in community, the sacramental life of the church – that’s not something that we do, or at least not with any regularity, around here. I think that idea of mission, that part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is not just to be with Jesus and become like Jesus, but to join Jesus in his mission in the world.

While we may, again, have occasional opportunities as a community here at DTS to engage in God’s mission in some sort of one-off kinds of ways, part of our calling as believers is to participate in the mission of God through our participation in the local church.

Darrell L. Bock
Now, that raises another question that I think is important because usually when people asses church, they ask “What is the church doing for me?” Is that the right question?
Barry Jones
Hmm. It occurs to me that consumerism is the water we swim in, and the old adage about culture, it’s like when you ask someone about their culture, it’s like asking a fish about the water it’s swimming in. So, we find ourselves surrounded by this tendency to consumerism. In fact, there’s a wonderful essay by a Latin-American theologian named René Padilla, who talks about the idea that the culture of consumerism has formed and shaped our understanding of what it means to be human, as though we are homo consumens, the being that consumes. What can I get?

So, that’s part of the inward turn that comes with our fallenness and sin, but it’s only exacerbated by the culture that we participate in. So, we bring that formation with us into church, and we become consumers of church, and yet the opposite is actually true of what we are supposed to be as humans, what the orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann, says we are to be: homo adorans, the being that adores, that worships. What a fundamental kind of reorientation that happens in us as we are reinforced in that inward turn through participating in a consumer culture.

So, there are ways in which, I think, inevitably our experience of churches is impacted by consumerism, but I think we have to be aware of that dynamic and fight against it to the degree that we can.

Michael Svigel
If there’s any place where we are called to be countercultural, it’s there just because this is what the world – the problem too though is a lot of churches ministries have positioned themselves to accommodate that. So, we tell people not to be consumer Christians, but then we have producer churches that are marketing it as it. So, we have to keep in mind that this is part of our, especially American, especially – I hate to say this – Southern Bible Belt church culture. You’re Minnesota.

Darrell L. Bock: Yeah, I’m from Minnesota.

Michael Svigel
I know. We’re lucky we have churches up there.

Yeah, so it is – just be aware that that’s going on, and it’s not going to transfer necessarily out of this culture. But yeah, it isn’t about you, and telling people, “It’s not about you and it’s not –” It’s interesting, you can tell people what it is, and they’ll all agree with you. Church is not a building, right? Then talk about changing the furnishing and changing the fixtures, and pretty soon you realize, well, in many peoples’ minds, it is a building. You tell people it’s not about you until you start taking things away that have nothing to do with the mission of the church, but is the reason they’re actually showing up.

So, this is a constant battle. You’re going to be dealing with these questions of, “How do I actually embody Philippians 2 in the gathered congregation, not looking out for our own interests, but for the interests of others?” It’s a constant challenge.

Barry Jones
I remember actually several years ago there was a local news story, and you were featured in it. They were asking about this very dynamic in play in local churches here in the Dallas area. I remember listening and hearing a church leader that when sort of posed with this question about using consumer strategies in the church, he said, “Well, why wouldn’t we? We have the best product on the market.” There was just something inside of me that cried out, “No!”
Michael Svigel
And we package it better than our competitors across the street.
Darrell L. Bock
Right.

So, when we have reduced the gospel to a consumer product, as David Bosh says, we have truly made it the opiate of the masses.

Darrell L. Bock
Yeah, so I think it’s pretty important and pretty core that one of the things that indicates good spiritual development is rather than thinking about what is happening to and for you, you’re actually thinking about what you can to and for others. So, sometimes I think the way we even begin to evaluate church says more about where our heart is than perhaps we ought to contemplate. So, but I will leave that little observation.

Let me ask you another question. I actually think this is an interesting one. This is the one that came from the group of women that we interviewed besides, “Why should we go?” This is a little more penetrating, a little more focused, and it goes like this, “Why should women go to church if they are able to receive more respect and use of their God-given gifts in a more influential way outside the church?”

Barry Jones
First, I think it’s worth just acknowledging the tragedy of the question. The fact that that is their experience in the local church is tragic. It breaks my heart to hear it. I remember actually, again, hearing in a discussion that you were a part of years ago when I was a student that was a daunting realization to me that even if we believe that there are biblical limitations on the role of women in leadership in the church, that that circle of limitations is very, very narrow, and that there is so much outside of that circle that women are not only capable, but gifted for.

God makes no indication that there is any differentiation of the distribution of spiritual gifts among genders, among men and women. So, the women in our communities have received gifts from the Spirit to be used for the edification of the body, for the building up of the whole church, both men and women. So, it’s been part of my task, even as a professor here to do everything that I can to try to really be an advocate for my women students as well as women that serve in very significant leadership roles within the life of our local church.

Michael Svigel
I would say too part of it is already there is a build-in misunderstanding of what leadership and membership of a church are supposed to be doing. Anyway, that Ephesians 4 talks about the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, are to be equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. The bulk of the work of ministry, and that is, doing the ministry, exercising gifts for the mutual benefit of one another is to be the work of the membership.

So, there is sometimes a conflation of – so even you may hold that only men are to be elders, men and women deacons, or whatever your view is, what about all the rest of the membership that is every one of them, male or female, young or old, are supposed to be involved in the work of the ministry? That’s where the conversation needs to move, and so there needs to be some reform in that area. I would also challenge some of the traditional ways we understand leadership roles and ordination and how that works. I’m a very strong supporter for the ordination of women ministers in the deacon/deaconess office. I teach that. I’ve taught that in class for ten years and have written on it.

But I do know that there are some traditions that that sounds liberal, even though as far as I can tell, it’s the original view of the early church which would, by definition, be the most conservative views. So, challenging some of these presuppositions and preunderstanding, I think, there’s a place for that, but, I’m just going to echo, ditto everything Barry has just said.

Darrell L. Bock
Let me ask you one other question and that is: “How can pastors and ministry leaders best communicate the importance of church without it seeming self-serving?”
Barry Jones
Say one more time?
Darrell L. Bock
Okay. “How can pastors and ministry leaders best communicate the importance of church without it seeming self-serving?” Because, obviously, better numbers make the pastor look good.
Barry Jones
We were actually talking about this a little bit in a pastoral conversation just yesterday with our circle of leaders. I serve on the lead team at our church, and we were talking about the way in which sometimes to even discuss growth just feels ooky, right?
Darrell L. Bock
Yeah.
Barry Jones
It’s as if there’s something about that that feels wrong, and part of that is because there can be this sort of emphasis on growth for growth’s sake. John Ortberg brilliantly talks about the idea that every leader and every organization has a shadow mission. Your shadow mission, he says, is your authentic mission hijacked by your ego and your wounds. Every single one of us has a mission that can so easily be hijacked by our ego and our woundedness.

But every organization has that as well, and sometimes I think Christian organizations can have a shadow mission that is sort of growth for growth’s sake, growth because of what that then sort of demonstrates to the world about our importance or, I mean, all kinds of ways in which that can be a shadow. Yet, as we sort of reframed the conversation yesterday, wouldn’t we want to say that we desperately want to expand our influence within our community for the sake of seeing people come to faith in Christ, and seeing them built up in their faith, seeing them transformed into Christlikeness?

That’s something that we ought very much to desire, and so there’s a sort of narrow path, I think, that we have to try to walk in the way that we talk about that so that it doesn’t become a shadow mission, so that we don’t just become that successful church because we have the numbers. But, in fact, that we’re seeing the influence of the church, the impact of the gospel spread more and more in our community.

Michael Svigel
People also have to make this transition that they’re not going to church, they’re not going for the sake of a pastor, this abstract idea of church. They’re going for the benefit of their brothers and sisters in Christ who are gathering at that same place, building up one another, encouraging one another, exhorting one another. That’s why you’re going, and why wouldn’t you want to go for the benefit of one another if you have the love of the brethren.

So, you’re not going for the pastor. You’re not going for the church in this abstract sense. You’re going for the assembly of believers, your brothers and sister with names and faces. So, just again, the reeducating of what is the church itself, and what is that supposed to look like?

Darrell L. Bock
Now, I’m going to turn to the student questions, and they’re not going to be any softer than the questions than the questions I was asking.
Barry Jones
Oh boy, oh boy.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay?
Barry Jones
Oh boy.
Darrell L. Bock
Here’s the first one.
Michael Svigel
I thought you were filtering these.
Darrell L. Bock
Well, they are filtered, and I’m just shocked at what might be left behind, okay?

So, okay, here’s one: “Most of us in this room are giving and contributing to our church, not consuming, almost to our detriment, but the church isn’t enriching us spiritually.” What would you say to that?

Michael Svigel
I guess, first I would ask what would that look like first? What is the expectation? What is spiritual enrichment? It might be legitimate; it might not be. It might be the church itself doesn’t even know what it’s supposed to be doing, which happens. Spend a lot of time and energy on things that have nothing to do with the actual mission of the church. But I have a hunch that that is a frustration and feeling that a lot of people have. I have that feeling sometimes when I go to church, “Just what am I here for? What am I accomplishing?”

So, I would encourage – it’s a being plugged in, going through those struggles, I think, is in the long run going to contribute to a person’s spiritual growth. But I guess I would need some more follow-up. What concretely are they experiencing, and what is the expectation?

Darrell L. Bock
Yeah, there’s an element of the question that causes me to ask a question in reflecting on it, and that is: “What is it that the church is not providing that makes it fail to be spiritual enriching?” Is it something about the people in the community? Because it seems to me if you give yourself to people and you relate to them, then the chances for spiritual enrichment are enhanced, but if you simply attend the churches for the services it performs on your behalf, and whether it executes those services in a way that is meaningful and significant, then it has a chance of coming up short. So, that might be an element in the question.

There’s a variation on this question. It goes like this, and I think these questions have their finger on something that was the frustration we were feeling from millennial women as well. “In a culture where it is encouraged to identify ourselves individually and where community identity is frowned upon, how do we stress to millennials the importance of the community identity in the church?” In other words, we’re already swimming upstream when it comes to emphasizing the corporate versus the individual.

So, and perhaps this is a variation of a question I was thinking about asking earlier, which would go something like this: “How do we who one day are people who are training to be in church leadership actually help people to have the right expectations about what a church is and ought to be?”

Barry Jones
I think part of it, as perhaps overly simplistic as this might sound, is really helping people see more deeply the biblical vision for what it means to follow Christ, the biblical vision for the spiritual life that we find on display in the Bible. I’ll never forget years ago when I was in my Ph.D. program at the time, Doug Moo, who is a fine New Testament scholar, was the chairman of the Ph.D. program. They had a cookout in their backyard hosting all of us in the Ph.D. At that time, Doug was on the chair of the committee that was overseeing the NIV translation of the Bible.
Darrell L. Bock
The most popular translation ever produced.
Barry Jones
[Laughs] They had just come out with what they called the TNIV. At the time it was called Today’s New International Version.
Darrell L. Bock
Even more popular translation ever produced.
Barry Jones
[Laughs] But we’re sitting have barbeque in his backyard, and I said to Doug, I said, “Doug, I think it would change the way American Christians read their Bible if you came out with a different kind of TNIV. The Texas New International Version,” right? Because reading an English Bible, you come across the word “you” and we think it’s about me, but a Greek reader would never make that mistake because it’s two very different words. But in Texas, we have a perfectly good way of distinguishing, right? There’s “you” and there’s “y’all.”
Darrell L. Bock
That’s right.
Barry Jones
In Minnesota we have “yous guys, yous guys.”
Darrell L. Bock
That’s too long.
Barry Jones
But if we actually read on the pages of the Bible, all the places where we see that, and we think it’s about me and realize it’s about us. It’s not me and my God, but us and our God. By the way, John Dyer, who is our director of educational technology and community, John put together a site called yallversion.com, and so you can actually see all the places where the y’all shows up. I think you can actually regionalize it.
Darrell L. Bock
And it’s a lot, y’all. It’s a lot.
Barry Jones
That’s right, and so the point of that again is just to say I think if people actually saw the vision of what it means to live life with God that’s on display in the pages of the Bible, that we would see that there is so much more deeply a communal relational dimension of that than I think we often hear and experience.
Darrell L. Bock
Yeah, at the root of it, of course, is the Great Commandment, which is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. So you’re already in a highly relational mode to stat off with. Michael, you were –
Michael Svigel
Yeah, and we may disagree with this. There is a New Testament scholar sitting at the table, but just one example. I’m not going to say this is the right view, but the “being filled with the Spirit” command, it’s a passive imperative plural, right? So, how do you – we’re constantly wracking our brains about how am I filled with the Spirit? What do I need to do to yield or whatever?

It could be though in the context here this idea that you are filled with the Spirit, y’all be filled with the Spirit in the sense of, as you are gathering together, exercising your gifts, the Spirit – it’s more the Spirit indwelling the corporate body, and it is a plural passive imperative. Show up, gather together, do the things you’re supposed to be doing, and the Spirit is filling y’all, the corporate idea. So, we forget, yes, we are – our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 6, but don’t forget 1 Corinthians 3 and Ephesians 2 and all these other passages where it’s the church that is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

So, both of these things have to be true, but you find your identity – it is actually a myth that you can have an individual identity apart from the other, the “I” and the “thou.” I mean, this is well-established, your identity is formed in community. Socially, psychologically, whatever, in the church, our identity in Christ is to be formed in community, the body of Christ. So, there’s something – and I don’t also want to deny that the mystical – this is the Spirit indwelled corporate body, there is something mysterious and supernatural going on there as well. Make yourself available, plug yourself in.

But in real relationships, I think the people who are most disappointed in their church experience are the ones who don’t have an actual assembly experience. They have an attendance experience, or they have an audience observation experience, and for whatever reason, there’s a disconnect between the pastor. The pastor might be a preacher, but he’s not a shepherd, or they don’t have a shepherd, or they don’t have any of the one-anothers. They don’t have older men teaching the younger men, older women teaching the younger women. All of these dynamics that are really in place, and if they were followed, I think would create a different kind of experience in fashioning that identity that they’re looking for.

Darrell L. Bock
Another example of the type of thing that we’re talking about is what is often called The Lord’s Prayer, which I actually think is a poor name, okay? It’s actually the disciples’ prayer, and the apostrophe belongs after the S because everything is in first person plural, and we’re praying for one another as we pray it. It isn’t a private prayer; it’s a corporate prayer. So, everything about that shows what Jesus values about gathering a group of disciples around himself in ministry.
Barry Jones
I would even say to that, there’s also sense in which to pray that prayer obligates us to one another in the sense that to pray in earnest those words requires my willingness to be part of the way in which God answers that prayer. So, to say it another way, if I’m praying for my teenage son that God would help him to grow and to know him and to follow after him, and yet I’m not willing to actually be part of the way that God answers that prayer, I don’t pray in earnest, right?

So, too, for me to pray these words, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name…” and go through that prayer to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” An unwillingness to actually be a part of the means by which God would actually answer that prayer, I don’t think we pray in earnest. So, there’s some sense in which not only as we pray this prayer, that we pray for one another, but that praying that prayer for one another –

Michael Svigel
It obligates us.
Barry Jones
– it obligates us.
Michael Svigel
Yeah, it becomes a mandate.
Darrell L. Bock
Well, I think these are key themes. Let me add a new question to the mix: “While it seems well-agreed upon that consumerism ought not to be an adjective of the church, is there not something significant and true in saying we ought to come to church to both receive (be built up) as well as to help build up others? Specifically, it seems that both motives are good and necessary.” Would you agree?
Michael Svigel
Yeah, yes.

[Laughter]

I was waiting for him to answer. Yeah, I would agree for sure. On the other hand, Christlikeness is self-giving. I mean, if you look at the life of Christ, if you look at Philippians 2 it is, the idea really is if most or – forget it – if some even are coming together wholly sold out for the benefit of the other, you are going to show up and receive in that context. But that’s the whole idea of the Spirit working through the community.

So, as you are others-centric, you are going and obviously you’re receiving. Yes, the Lord’s Supper, the eucharist, I mean, you are receiving the bread and the cup as if from the hand of Christ himself. He is the one inviting you to the table. Absolutely, there is that expectation. The cup of blessing. Well, whose blessing? So, I think that there is this implication that there are blessings that you receive, but that I guess I’m more of the opinion that when I go to church, attend services, I have to remind myself to err on the side of the other. Don’t look out for your own interest, but also the interests of others. “Have this mind in you which is also in Christ Jesus.”

I feel like that’s the emphasis probably because it is absolutely natural to look out for me and impossible to look out for the other. It’s a supernatural enablement that is necessary for agape kind of other-centric self-sacrificial orientation. So, I would say put the pressure or put the emphasis on the others-centricness.

Barry Jones
Yeah, and I would just say absolutely as well. There is definitely some sense in which there is both giving and receiving, but even in that receiving, there’s a place to recognize a very important distinction between a gift and a transaction. We are shaped by a world of transactions, and we are shaped to approach everything in life as a transaction. What must I give? What will it cost me, and what will I receive in return? I think this is so much a part of our formation that it impacts the way we engage relationships. So, what’s it going to take me? What’ll I get in return?

I think it shapes the way we engage spiritual disciplines. How much do I have to give up, but what am I going to get back? I’m not sure I really want to give up anything if I don’t know there’s some guarantee on the other end that I’m going to get something back. The fact is that’s just fundamentally not the way that spiritual disciplines work.

Michael Svigel
Yeah, so, showing up for receiving is fine as long as you’re not going through a cost-benefit analysis?
Barry Jones
Right, and I think that’s the thing is that we’re so shaped to approach all of life through cost-benefit analysis. So, when we are looking at evaluating churches, and we wind up being preoccupied with the question, “What’s in it for me? Is there things in it for me?” Absolutely, but our problem is not that we’re receiving. Our problem is that we are preoccupied with receiving. So, formation into Christlikeness necessarily involves turning us out from ourselves to both receiving and the giving, but not in a transactional sort of way.
Michael Svigel
Christ is inviting us. He’s inviting the thirsty and the hungry and the weak, and so obviously, this is the implications he’s going to fill those needs, right? So, that’s clearly a dimension to it, yep.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay, I’m going to go kind of a – I’m going to ask for a little bit of a rapid fire round here.
Barry Jones
Oh boy.
Michael Svigel
Okay.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay, and so we’re going to keep them crisp because I’ve got a series of short questions.
Barry Jones
I think he’s saying we’ve been longwinded.
Michael Svigel
Yes.
Darrell L. Bock
No, no, no, no, no.

No, no, no, no, no.

Michael Svigel
Yes or no or multiple choice?
Darrell L. Bock
A little longer, but some of these I think are conducive to being asked and getting crisp answers. “How do you define a church? Are two or three gathered together enough?”
Michael Svigel
It’s a starting point. No, I think biblically – I mean, Christ says, “Where two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of you.” Paul talks about, “When you’re gathered together, and I with you in spirit.” You have this official authority that one alone doesn’t have. So, clearly, you can’t alone by the church. “I am the church.” No, that’s an absolutely nonsensical statement.
Barry Jones
Burn your t-shirt if you have one.
Michael Svigel
Yeah.
Barry Jones
I’ve seen it.
Michael Svigel
Yeah. So, clearly, if you look at the whole New Testament and what a church is, what constitutes a church, what is supposed to be involved cannot be just merely two or three gathered together, but that’s where it has to start. It can’t be anything less than that.
Darrell L. Bock
Here’s another one: “If I’m not getting anything out of my church, is it okay to leave and find a new one?”
Barry Jones
No.

Do you want a little more?

Darrell L. Bock
Yeah.
Barry Jones
So, I remember being at a church at one point in our marriage where I felt like, “I just, I don’t really like the preaching, and these are people that I wouldn’t otherwise be with.” Just but what I realized was I was preoccupied with myself, and then as I actually increasingly tried to submit to that, that I actually found that there was enrichment there. That didn’t mean I came to the place where I went from not liking his preaching to loving it or being different from these people to being the same as them.

But actually, part of what the growth involved was recognizing that I can experience deep community with people who are different than me. Duh, that’s kind of the point in some sense, right? That we find ourselves in rooms with people that we wouldn’t otherwise be in the room with, but that’s for our good.

Darrell L. Bock
I think this question strikes me as interesting one because it reflects something that I think my wife and I learned when we went overseas, which is here you can get your church in just about any shape or form you want. I mean, it can be in and out church. I mean, you can – I want my sermon with tacos and, no, I want French cuisine. I can get it anyway I want it.

The moment we went overseas where you’re talking about 2 or 3 percent of the population being believers, 2 or 3 percent of the population attending a service on a Sunday. The only time the church was filled was at Christmas and Easter where they had triple services, and the rest of the time, you’d walk in on a Sunday, and you might see 30 people and two-thirds of them or three-quarters of them looked like they were on Medicare.

All of the sudden, you realized that in many communities around the world, you don’t have a choice, that the church – if you’re going to church, that’s the church you’re going to. So, how do you adjust to that?

Barry Jones
We have a couple of heroes to me in our church at Irving Bible Church, Bust and Jan Fanning, and Dr. Fanning was a faculty member here, still teaches here. He’s retired, but still teaches. They have been part of our church for over 40 years. My goodness, I’ve been there for a decade, and I’ve seen all kinds of changes in the 10 years. In 40 years, they have seen mission statements come and go, strategies come and go, theological convictions shift around, all kinds of changes that I don’t think they always liked.

But for four decades, they have been faithful in their commitment to this place, and we are better because of it. I think that they would say, and they are better because of it.

Michael Svigel
In the New Testament, there’s a lot of images and metaphors for the church and the predominant image is the family, the fact that they call each other brothers and sisters. This was not something that the Greco-Roman world did all the time. In fact, they were accused of incent because they did it. So, brother and sister, the family image, the household of God image, I would say you take your church membership and church commitment as seriously as you would take a family commitment.

Are there situations in which for your own good, safety, whatever, health you may need to withdraw from a family? Yes, but that should be about as rare as you would withdraw from a church. It would take a lot for me to leave a church. Look, I don’t like most things that happen in most churches, frankly.

Barry Jones
If they would just read your book, I guess.
Michael Svigel
But that’s my family, but that’s my family. I don’t like most things that happen in my nuclear family either. I mean, that’s my family. My dad and mom irritate me just like your dad and mom irritate, but they’re my family, and that’s where my commitment lies.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay. What’s the relationship between local church authority and parachurch ministries.
Michael Svigel
Let me say this; in my Ecclesiology class, I have a good hour-long or two-hour lecture on women in ministry and that whole issue and the different views on that. Then I have about an hour-long lecture on parachurch ministries. For some reason, it never fails, I get very little controversial discussion on the women in ministry issue, but I get all kinds of people up in arms over my parachurch discussion. It is a very sensitive issue because I think a lot of us came to the Lord and grew and found out calling in parachurch ministries: mission trips, maybe Young Life or some of these other groups, Christian camps.

To say that, “Well, that’s a sideshow versus the real, the main event, which is the church,” and then you come to church, and it’s dry and it’s slow-moving, and these people I don’t even know them. I don’t like them. You just want to go back to Young Life, right? Let’s be honest. So, it’s a huge controversial issue. But I would say parachurch literally means coming alongside of the church and helping the church accomplish its mission and its vision ideally. It’s not supposed to displace or replace.

Barry Jones
I know my church life has been enriched in all kinds of ways from all kinds of parachurch ministries. I mean, I’ve benefitted from this parachurch ministry in very deep, profound kinds of ways. I could go on and list an assortment of those that have impacted me. Part of where I find myself concerned though sometimes is the way in which we then wind up farming out aspects of the mission of the church to parachurch ministries, that now evangelism becomes something that really is, well –
Michael Svigel
Evangelistic associations.
Barry Jones
Right. These ministries are – and it’s not to say that there’s not a sense in which those parachurch ministries are bearing witness to the church about what faithfulness in this area looks like, but what sometimes winds up happening is church leaders become quite content to let those parachurch ministries do that, and miss the reality that evangelism, for example, is fundamentally a task of the church.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay. Now, I’m going to try and parse a question here. I’m not sure I entirely get the question. So, if I miss this, whoever wrote the question needs to speak up and help me formulate the question properly. I’m going to read it to you as I’ve got it, and then I’m going to try and translate it, and we’ll see if that helps us. “How do we –” and I’m assuming the “we” here is church leaders – “balance the need to have our sermons outlined – ” in other words, good sermon preparation so that people can check us out ” – with our desire and necessity to be in church?”

In other words, is the danger of a pastor that you are so committed to the task that you’re asked to perform, particularly in speaking and teaching, that you actually don’t pastor? Okay? Then the follow-up question that comes off of that is, “Are we creating our own problem?” Okay, I think it’s an interesting question.

Barry Jones
So, on first hearing the question, I thought it was one of my preaching students who had an outline due that says, “I can’t go to church because I have to do my outline.”
Michael Svigel
And you made me come to this.
Barry Jones
Which sometimes is a problem that we have to address, but the way you framed the question is one that I feel personally quite frequently. The time I spend studying and preparing a message is inevitably time that I don’t spend mentoring students in my role here at the seminary or pastoring people in our local church, being out in the community, or being with my family. All of those responsibilities are important and significant.

There is, I mean, it is a weighty task to stand in front of the people of God and speak to them on God’s behalf; and to do that without thoroughly to do so is foolish.

Darrell L. Bock
Okay, let’s do the backside because the way you interpreted this question – probably there is another way to interpret it, which is how do I deal between the task I have as a student and my involvement and time it takes to be involved in church?
Michael Svigel
Might have the interpretation here.
Darrell L. Bock
Lincoln?
Audience Member
It was my question.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay, very good.
Michael Svigel
We’re going to have an authorial intent. It’s rare.
Audience Member
I think it got lost in translation. I meant online. We’re putting –
Darrell L. Bock
Ahh, okay, all right.
Audience Member
– in order for people new to the community, the website is the first contact with the church, and we put our sermons online to see what we’re about. Are we then balancing having online presence with the in-church, and are we creating our own problem?
Michael Svigel
Right, does the medium become the message, right? This is, look, this is how you found us. This is how we’re presenting ourselves. Therefore, this is clearly a legitimate option. Yeah. Well, we can be clear that that’s not, right? We can not have an online only option, which some churches have done. I mean, thankfully, it’s a minority. Most people have the sense that merely attending an online campus is not in itself acceptable, except in the exceptions, right? People who are shut-in and such and people who – I mean, that’s always been a great way to plug in.
Darrell L. Bock
Or people who are traveling.
Michael Svigel
People who are traveling. They’re able to keep up, yes, great. But we should communicate how that is supposed to be used. Make sure we’re clear about that, but that starts with the leadership actually having a good ecclesiology and an incarnational approach to ministry, but Barry, go ahead.
Barry Jones
Yeah, I mean, I feel very much the same way, and it’s a very real tension that we deal with in our church, that we do make our services available, and it really is primarily for those people who, for whatever compelling reason, can’t be there. But we try to make sure that we’re continuing to tell them, “This shouldn’t be your normative experience of church or Sunday worship. You should be here.”

Yet the reality is – I spoke to a woman. She approached me at an event recently in downtown Dallas. I have no idea who she was. She came up and gave me a big hug, and “Oh, we love IBC so much.” So the more we talked, she said, “Now, we haven’t been there in a few months, but I watch the messages online.” It really struck me that in our attempt to actually try to provide something for those who can’t be there for a compelling reason, it’s now become easier and easier for them just not to show up.

We refuse to call that an online campus and to make that sort of, in any way, communicate that that could be your normal church experience. I went to an online campus of a church one time just to check it out, and the pastor got to the end of the sermon and offered a sinner’s prayer, and had everybody there raise their hand. There’s literally an icon next to a version of the sinner’s prayer that I could click on if I wanted to pray the sinner’s prayer. I just kind of remember thinking, “Is there going to be an icon for me of bread and of wine?”

Just right click?

Darrell L. Bock
No, serve yourself.
Michael Svigel
At your funeral, they’re going to say you were uploaded into the cloud will be the next thing.

[Laughter]

Barry Jones
But I think we find ourselves increasingly where we find a kind of docetic spirituality, right? Docetism is heresy about Jesus. Jesus only seemed to have a body because he couldn’t actually have a body and be God. The church called that heresy. Well, we’re experiencing a different kind of Docetism that sort of almost says, “We only seem to have a body.” So much of our experience in life and relationships are mediated.

So then our experience of church becomes mediated, and we just suck the life out of it in that sense, that just as connectivity is a terrible replacement for real community because actually, that connectivity only leads us further towards isolation. We see the way that actually plays out. So too this experience of church mediated entirely through technology is a pseudo experience of what the church is called to be.

Darrell L. Bock
Okay, I’ve got time for a couple more questions. I’m going to go for this, and see if we can put these two together. This one is for Dr. Svigel. So, here we go. “In Retro Christianity you say people should not church shop. I understand the principle, but it’s tough practically. The first church I visited in Dallas said it was a sin to wear jeans with holes to church. Should I have continued to go to that church?”
Michael Svigel
No.

No, no. Yeah, don’t misunderstand me. So, here’s my position. I, generally speaking, generally speaking – it’s a rule of thumb – if I move into a new area, I’m going to look for the closest church that is generally part of my tradition. I come from a Bible church, low church, Baptistic kind of church tradition. Ideally, that’s where I would kind of land, and assuming they’re just as imperfect as every other church that I’ve been to, which is probably the case, I’m not the best person to ask to evaluate a church because I tend to be overly critical. But at the same time, I totally keep that all to myself, bottle it up.

But I just have a high tolerance for imperfection. Some people don’t. I probably would visit a few churches. If I showed up there, and they had a real big problem with legalism, that’s just a battle I don’t want to fight; or if they had other things that are totally not going to work with me and make me absolutely frustrated, I wouldn’t even start there. What I’m primarily talking about is you get to a church, you commit to it, you become a member – I’m a strong believe in church membership – that’s your church family. You don’t then, “Eh, you know, membership is not working out for me.”

I knew a guy who had three, may have been four, three simultaneous church memberships. That’s a problem. That’s what I mean by church shopping, but when you first get to a place, you have to find what’s going to be a decent fit. It’s not the time to start jumping traditions or trying something completely new. So, I have no problem on the front end of that.

Darrell L. Bock
Okay, Barry, the next one for you.
Barry Jones
Okay.
Darrell L. Bock
“As seminary students, should our activity and involvement in the local church take precedent over our seminary responsibilities; and if yes or no, what does that look like?”
Barry Jones
That’s a great question. It’s one that I feel like I experience on the flip side in some ways because I’m both a professor and a pastor, that I have responsibilities, obligations, commitments in both of these communities. There are times when I find myself realizing this commitment requires things of me that, by necessity, involve a kind of diminishment of my commitment in the other sphere. I just can’t live there. I can’t make that the way that I – that I actually sometimes need to neglect the one and move more deeply into the other.

So, I mean, it’s that ever-elusive balance perhaps, in some sense that in learning to ride a bike, you learn to find balance by losing it, and then correcting. I think that that’s certainly, I think, was an indication of my experience in a lot of ways when I was going through as a student was that sense of deeply connected and spiritual formation and loving what I was getting through my classes and mentoring from a professor, but realizing that that was actually diminishing my commitment to the local church. There was a need for correction.

So, I think we find ourselves – it’s a tension that doesn’t easily resolve, but like most tensions in life, it’s not necessarily meant to be easily resolved. It’s meant to be lived in and figure out how to navigate.

Michael Svigel
Yes.
Darrell L. Bock
Okay, I’m going to close with the most serious question I’ve asked all night.
Barry Jones
Uh oh.
Darrell L. Bock
“Why does DTS not incorporate free food into our ecclesiology, eschatology, and every other form of -ology classes?”

[Laughter]

Michael Svigel
We don’t live by bread alone.

[Laughter]

Barry Jones
Yeah, my response was going to be much more a reflection of that inward turn. They have to pay us, and so they don’t have the money to provide food for everyone.
Darrell L. Bock
Is that what it is? Okay. So, it’s an explanation for why this isn’t happening.
Michael Svigel
Wait a second. You got paid for this?
Barry Jones
No, to teach here. To teach here.
Michael Svigel
Oh.
Darrell L. Bock
All right. Let’s thank our guests for –

Our hope is that this has kind of been a good time to reflect on the local church, your commitment to it. I dare say that one of the benefits of being involved in the local church is that when you come to seminary, you do live in a kind of theological bubble, which is tight and dense at the same time. One of the things that I’ve found valuable as a student attending church, local church was actually getting and not losing sight of what it is that most people are struggling with from day to day.

That’s very different than the kinds of questions I was writing papers on, not because those papers weren’t relevant, but because forgetting what it means to translate theology into everyday life, which is tricky, and to lose that connection is to lose an aspect of your ability to minister long-term. So, I think that’s another benefit that comes from being involved in the local church. Let me close this in a word of prayer, and with that, we’ll be dismissed.

Father, we do thank you for just the opportunity to gather together and to reflect on why it is that you call us together, what it means to be your people, what it means for the Spirit to reside in us, what it means to be gifted in ways that we are able to serve one another. You don’t gift us to gift us for ourselves; you gift us in order that we might be able to be part of the vessels that you use to encourage, to suffer, to listen, to hurt, and to love. Help us to do that well, by your Spirit. Help us to tap into that which you have given us through your grace, and be a means of grace to others so that we might reflect that little bit of light that you give to us as a reflection of who you are.

We ask that we may do that well, not just as individuals, but in community so that your name may be lifted up and that people may come to appreciate the kind and gracious and rich and glorious God that you are. We ask these things in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

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Barry D. Jones
Dr. Barry Jones (ThM, 2002) enjoys listening to Radiohead, eating Thai food, drinking good coffee, and reading old books. The associate professor of Pastoral Ministries also serves as one of the preaching pastors at Irving Bible Church in Irving, Texas.
Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Michael J. Svigel
Dr. Svigel serves as department chair and professor of theological studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is actively engaged in teaching and writing for a broader evangelical audience. His passion for a Christ-centered theology and life is coupled with a penchant for humor, music, and writing. His books and articles range from text critical studies to juvenile fantasy. Many of his written works can be found online at bible.org and retrochristianity.com. He and his wife, Stephanie, have three children, Sophie, Lucas, and Nathan.
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