What Does a Real Church Look Like?

1 Kings 19:11-14 ESV  And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  (12)  And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  (13)  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  (14)  He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

The lesson Elijah (and all of us) had to learn is this – just because we cannot see a hurricane, earthquake, or blazing fire of activity it does not mean that the Lord is not present and working. Elijah had seen God’s fire from heaven at Mt. Carmel, but now Jezebel was out to kill him and no heavenly inferno seems to be coming down on her. Elijah fled.

Now, we all know that many if not most local churches today are favorite venues for evil to oppress victims. Most of you have been through it yourself. The wicked are embraced and the oppressed are shown the door. It is quite typical for a domestic abuser to “serve the Lord” in a church where everyone believes he is a fine saintly man whose wife just pushed his buttons and then, poor man, she deserted him.

So it is very important that we see things as the Lord sees them and specifically here in this article I want to talk about the question, what does a real church look like? Or, I suppose it could be stated in the negative, what does a true church NOT look like?

Most professing Christians think they have the answer to these questions – but I am sure that they do not. They will answer, “a true church is a church that preaches the Word, exercises the sacraments, practices church discipline, and is shepherded by pastors and elders.’ That is the formal answer. But….what are most people really looking for “in a church”?

Recently I was looking on social media where I came across a church that belongs to the home missions organization I used to belong to. I spent some time looking around the site, especially at all the pictures they had posted there. And I was, I don’t know, I guess you could say “triggered.” What I mean is, I found myself as an outsider now looking in on a world I used to be part of. And what was that world like? Well, it was a world of activity. Of busy-ness. A world of full-range Sunday school classes, of choirs and solos, of committees and men and women’s ministries. There were summer picnics, campouts, and conferences. People standing up and giving their testimony of how they came to faith in Christ. There were connections with other churches and pastors and special services featuring a visiting speaker or music group. There was a mid-week or Sunday night youth group. It was a very active, busy, event-filled place, and everyone in it called it, the church.

I lived in that world and was a pastor in that world for years. It was a place where the hurricane, earthquake, and fire were sought. Why? Because everyone believed that unless they saw the Lord’s working, nothing was happening. So the pastor was expected to “produce.” When he couldn’t, people complained or grumbled or even left the place because, as they said, the Spirit wasn’t working there.

So I want to tell you something – I was triggered when I looked at those pictures because…I now know that in that world, the Lord wasn’t present at all. How do I know? Because behind the scenes, in the back of all that “holy busy-ness,” evil lurked. Most of the Christians there, weren’t. There was constant bickering and friction. In reality, regardless of all that activity, people were not truly coming to know Christ. And evildoers were tolerated, in the name of “grace.” Very, very few actually knew the Lord. As a result, it was a setting for the oppressed to be further oppressed and for oppressors to wear their Christian disguise.

I know now that the true church, a real church, is a remnant. I know that the Lord is always working in amazing ways, but like a gentle breeze that few even notice. The fact is, we walk by faith and not by sight. All of those programs and activities and “doings” that most professing Christians crave in a church are in fact after all plain old expressions of the flesh seeking gratification. And if anyone might doubt this, just read Revelation 2-3 and compare the church at Smyrna with the church at Laodicea.

15 thoughts on “What Does a Real Church Look Like?

  1. This is so good, so true. I’m sad to say I can barely go into a church now, having seen the typical works- and appearance-based culture that permeates so many as you shared here. But there are a rare few, Pastor, and I know yours is one of them! I completely understand your occasional discouragement, but we also know the end from the beginning, and one day the dross will be burned away and the pure gold will be revealed.

    I truly appreciate this statement you made: “I know now that the true church, a real church, is a remnant. I know that the Lord is always working in amazing ways, but like a gentle breeze that few even notice.” That is the church I belong to, although I am not a member of any.

    You are not alone.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Innoscent

      Same here Cindy, it’s over a year since I last set foot in a church buidling. I recently attended a women’s prayer group at the place of one of the ladies, and enjoyed it. I will see how it goes, as eventually I’m sure that some of them will invite me to attend their church service.

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      1. Hello, Innoscent.

        Several years ago I was invited by some Christian women to their weekly church-based group study. I went only one time, feeling the plasticity of the routine and the icky pressure to conform almost immediately. I just couldn’t do it. But God has led me to some amazing women in our neighborhood. We get together to study and fellowship regularly and, of course, I have my online community – people who are gracious and balanced and simply love the Lord and live for Him.

        As Pastor Crippen acknowledges, there is a remnant, but it may not always be found in the mainstream institutions we have typically trusted. Hopefully, the church you may be visiting is the real deal! That would be a true blessing.

        And if it isn’t a good fit for you, you’ll know.

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        1. Innoscent

          So glad to hear you found a group of believing women you can study and fellowship with. That is so precious, just as your online community.
          As for the women’s prayer group I visited I won’t hold my breath. I’ve learned to not put my trust in flesh and blood.

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  2. Free

    This is an excellent recap!!! Thank you for sharing this – all of it! Down to the details of the holy busy-ness (aka smoke and mirrors) trap that is so easy to get sucked into.

    And you’re right, when you’ve been there, done that and broke out of it – seeing the pictures, or even such things as hearing the sermons, hearing the testimony of the numbers they claimed to have “saved” that day, listening to other members try and guilt trip you into their insanely hectic “holiness” ventures… yes, it is triggering – for a reason. Praise the Lord you are out of that mess and standing on the other side of it – with genuine discernment.

    There is something to be said about a calming stillness…. name one abuser who truly enjoys sitting in silence and stillness… just one. The holy busy-ness is also known as chaos, and that is what satan thrives in – and that is why abusers stir the busy “holiness” pot – there’s power and oppression when chaos is the baseline.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. lg

      I never thought about stillness and calmness being a trait that escapes all abusers in general.

      I always assumed that was just a unique to my abuser. My abuser could never be still or calm, was always so restless, always needed to be surrounded by noise and got by on such little sleep – 5-6 hours a night average and even his sleep was so restless and loud that I would have to sleep in a different room so I could sleep. During the marriage, I just assumed that was a personality difference, one of the things that made our relationship just a “difficult” one. But now I know it wasn’t about a personality difference at all. And it was not difficult. It was destructive. And should have been ended the first year of our marriage when the first destructive signs showed: cutting off access to money, pushing me, and making me feel guilty for breastfeeding and sleeping 9-10 hours like a normal nursing mother.

      I remember in marriage therapy saying, when asked by the marriage therapist, my dream for us as a couple was to be able lie side by side on the sofa, still, listening to the stillness of the wind, or bird or rain together, being fully present and at peace in the moment together, listening to nature outside the window. Yet – I was made to feel like was crazy and that there was something wrong with me for wanting that with him.

      But it all makes sense now — it makes sense that stillness and calmness are traits that no abusers are able to enjoy, and not just something that escaped(s) my abuser.

      I think this is why he has so much energy to bully me nonstop in family court….I think he is actually energized by abusing.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Jeff Crippen

        Isa 57:20  But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
        Isa 57:21  There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Oh my, that makes so much sense. Mine and the in-laws have been that way for as long as I’ve known them. Drama queens, regardless of gender. Valknin said in a speech that the narcs mind is a buzzing hive of activity. My own seems to need 9 hours of sleep a night but describes his dreams as really vivid. After learning about narcissism, I asked a psych about if two abusers can mutually be abusive and there is a term called “chaotic enmeshment”, there’s the chaos in it. Definitely in my experience he brings a lot of chaos into my life, and that’s not mutual for sure.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Ms. E.

    So true that sometimes the oppressed are “further oppressed” in a church. It is unfortunate that some people exploit the abused person’s vulnerability with a guise of “helping.” In these cases their motives are anything but pure. At best, their motives are selfish. At worst, they are alarmingly unhealthy. A few are entertained by other people’s drama and have an inordinate curiosity about the victim’s life. This comes to the surface when they do not rejoice, but rather become disappointed when you are delivered from your troubles. And if they never had your best interest in mind, they will also dislike losing the grip of control they had on you as you become more independent.

    I have found that so commonly embedded in these marred motives are the want to have someone to look down upon (and perhaps this is subconscious). They speak of uplifting the weak, but when the weak is truly uplifted to their [education, skills, economic] level, they suddenly become uncomfortable. As long as they knew you before as a victim, the prejudice and discrimination remain. They do not see you as worthy of any important ministry work or being part of their clique.

    A person’s public testimony in the church can be impressing to those who do not know what truly goes on behind the scene. But to those who do, it can be triggering to find so much inconsistencies between the words s/he speaks, and the way s/he daily treats others.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. NGal

      This is exactly so.. the so-called ‘helpers’. I am wary, and weary of them.
      People, who claim to want to help and encourage, and then turn on you and lash at you for daring to make your own choices, instead of following their ‘instructions’..
      Then, when God blesses and rewards you for being obedient to Him, they are upset that you are well and did not end up in a psych ward, as the anticipated. lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Innoscent

    This is a very sad, but realistic statement.The history is just repeating itself and God suffers to see his church becoming gangrenous to the point that He will have to cut out the dead parts…

    The busyness is a smokescreen of piety that lures the church crowd into thinking the Spirit is leading. It gives them good conscience that they’re doing the Lord’s work, similarly to those in Mt 7:22-23 who did “many wonderful works” in the name of the Lord. But he told them they were workers of iniquity whom He didn’t recognized as His own.

    No wonder why they want the abused to be busy “saving” their abusers. There is no time for empathetic listening to the oppressed, the needy within the walls. That is not on their program. Certainly the “wrong doing” must be on both sides anyway. She’d better “work” on herself first, right?

    Liked by 2 people

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