[su_note note_color=”#d5d5d5″ text_color=”#91201f”]Rob Bentz’s The Unfinished Church is graciously available free to Christ and Pop Culture members through our partnership with Crossway Books.[/su_note]
For many Christians, the concept of “church” and participation within the church is a mystery. Beyond the theological conversation regarding ecclesiology rests an entire relational conversation as well as pragmatic engagement. Few people expect the church to be perfect in the real world, but our high standards are not withstanding. It’s often because of our painful experiences with the church that we are left wondering what our relationship to such an institution should really be. Furthermore, we might be tempted to ask if the church is even necessary.
I for one am deeply committed to the reality of the church, and not merely because I am a pastor. I see the great Biblical promises of Jesus’ love for the church, and his redemption of the church by his blood and resurrection. I’ve seen the power of the church for good in the world, and the grace that can be poured out through the church for the broken and despairing. But maybe you haven’t, and maybe you’re very skeptical about the church…and that’s okay.Our love for each other is our greatest apologetic.
Rob Bentz’s The Unfinished Church is for those of us who are trying to figure out the church. Rob, a personal friend and lead campus pastor at the White Lake campus of Woodside Bible Church in the Detroit Metro area, wants to help all of us understand God’s plan and purposes for the local church. He sat down with me to discuss his book, church, culture, and Ben Rector. Here are some of excerpts from that conversation.
You’re a pastor, which means (I think) that you care a lot about the local church. Why do you think people who aren’t pastors should care about the church? To what extent should they care?
Because Jesus said we should. The church is the bride of Jesus. A good man cares and honors His bride. Any good man wants others to respect His bride. When we’re talking about Jesus, the perfect man, it seems obvious that He would desire the same things for His bride to an even greater degree!
The extent we care about the church should come from our understanding that it’s God’s and He promised to build it! No other organization, institution, or entity has that kind of support. And nothing else has that kind of holy guarantee.
The church should matter to us because it matters deeply to Him.
One of the critiques I hear about people who have left the church is that it is full of hypocrites. What would you say to someone who has been really hurt by a church?
Unfortunately, the church is full of hypocrites—because we’re all broken, sinful, unfinished people in need of God’s grace. We’re striving to do the best we can to live authentic lives of faith. And yet we fail miserably sometimes.
I certainly don’t want to gloss over the pain that someone has experienced because of the church. However, the church’s foundation is rooted in our need—not our perfection. We begin with an understanding of our flawed-ness. That’s why we gather together to worship Jesus at a local church. To worship the One who has forgiven us our sins and given us new life! This understanding is also why we gather in community to help others walk the journey of faith, because we all stumble and fall and need others to encourage us along the way.
As unfinished people, we hurt others and get hurt by others. And yet we try this is the way that God designed it. So we submit to His authority and strive to live with, and love, the people God has brought to us. It’s difficult, but it’s God’s way.
You ask in your book: “When was the last time you saw an Episcopalian church and a Pentecostal church partner together on any significant ministry in your city?” Why do you think that is important?
Because our love for each other is our greatest apologetic. If the watching world sees that we don’t love and respect each other, why should they respect us or our beliefs? What difference has God made in our hearts and minds?
John’s gospel captures Jesus’ heart on this, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
If the different branches of God’s church can’t work together to love people and serve people and advance the gospel, we’re simply missing what Jesus says defines us.
How can churches corporately engage culture? It seems like we’ve made our own sub-cultures and haven’t really appreciated and worked to cultivate the best in culture. What do you see as the church’s place?
Jesus was incarnational. He came to this earth to live among the people that he came to save. This big-picture reality gives you and me a starting point for engaging with our culture.
I believe that God’s people should be similarly incarnational in our involvement with our surrounding culture. Schools? Christ-followers should be involved. Politics? God’s church should be engaged. The arts? Followers of Jesus must be involved in creating music and film that tell compelling stories of redemption and grace.
Creating a sub-culture for Christians-only removes us from the very people that we could be influencing with authentic Christ-centered lives. It’s very difficult to impact the world for Christ if all we’ve done is create a safe, sub-culture of people who only think, act, and vote like we do.
What would you love to see happen as a result of people reading your book, The Unfinished Church?
I would love for people to take away a more honest view of God’s church. Recognizing anew that we’re a broken people in need of a Savior. But also a unique group of redeemed men and women who God has called to Himself for His purposes. And that as we submit to God’s work in our lives he is molding and shaping us—and building His church in the process!
Ultimately, I hope that readers will have a renewed sense of the God-given significance of His church.
What have you learned from others in pop culture that has helped you in the church?
I recently attended a Ben Rector concert at Calvin College with a professor friend of mine. After the show, Ben did a brief interview with a faculty member, and then answered a few questions from the audience. My friend and I were both surprised to hear Ben share that he is nervous and insecure on stage, evaluating and second-guessing his every move. Even in an area of his gifting, and after thousands of hours of personal study, Ben’s insecurities still cause him a measure of anxiety. In a strange way, that was encouraging to me as a pastor and as a writer. Because I know that even in areas of my calling and my gifting, I must remain fully dependent upon God to offer my best.
Oh, and one of my favorite hobbies is making outstanding playlists for my friends.
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