Sufficient Fire Fallout: Session 3–“The Normal Church” (Frank Turk)

UPDATE: Here’s the audio. Enjoy!

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If Phil and Dan knocked my mind out with a one-two punch of knowledge, Frank Turk hit my square in the solar plexus. He didn’t use mere emotionalism or guilt-based manipulation. He just proclaimed the truth: if you believe the Gospel, you will love the people in your church. If you don’t love the messy, frustrating people of your church, you don’t have the Gospel.

I need to start, though, by saying that Frank Turk reads the Bible in public the way I think that Paul intended when he told Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture. Turk read the text with passion and urgency, as a herald instead of a scholar or teacher. He commanded your attention with the words he was proclaiming. That’s the first lesson I’m taking away from this experience.

Turk preached from I Thessalonians 2:3-13, a passage in which Paul was commending the church at Thessalonika for their faithfulness, love for each other, and devotion to the truth. Paul describes in this passage the way a church ought to work, based on the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. A healthy church has four things:

1) Proclamation of the Gospel–The normal church has been entrusted by God with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sharing this Gospel creates a family under God.

A great (and convicting) line from this point: “You can’t just use historical Latin phrases to improve lousy theology.” (In other words, just because you claim Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean you live it out.) Turk argues that we must love the people we evangelize enough to disciple, mature, and train them. Like Paul, we are called to toil with and over the people we bring to Jesus. Which leads to…

2) Pastoral Care–A picture of this is in Proverbs, as Solomon seeks to train his children. Paul also reflects this here in his first letter to the Thessalonians, when he refers to himself and his fellow laborers as having both paternal and maternal feelings toward this flock of believers. Pastoral ministry is not a career move or a money-making scheme; it’s about forming the people you’ve been entrusted with by giving them yourself and investing yourself in them. As Paul demonstrated practically that what he was saying was true, the people of the churches started living as though they believed it was true too.

3) Personal affection and concern–In the normal life of the local church, we ought to be part of each others’ lives. We ought to love and share ourselves with the people of our church in a Gospel-driven way; that is to say, our love and self-sharing is born out of a brotherly affection that recognizes fellow sinners who have been saved by grace and are being remade into the image of Jesus.

4) “Perfecting” the Gospel–There are necessary consequences of the work of the Gospel in our lives. We make what is there “perfect” or complete by adorning the message with behavior that confirms that it’s really true. We also “perfect” the Gospel through corporate worship, collectively affirming what is true and beautiful about our God.

In this passage, Turk says, Paul pulls the cover off the ordinary to reveal the extraordinary. He argues that the Gospel compels us to a “normal” life that is worthy of Christ. The Thessalonian Christians “turned the world upside-down” by “normal” Christian lives of love, good works, and Gospel truth. (Great line from Turk,  at this point: “Huh. Someone should write a book about about that.”)

The “normal” church is not a social club, trade school, or book club.  Our churches must be places where people suddenly “get” what the Gospel is about, in the lives of the people of God, who are living out the reality of Jesus and that He is ALIVE and at work in the lives of His people.

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And, as they say, “boom goes the dynamite.”

This message hit me hard. I’m a Sunday School teacher, and have been for almost a decade. And I have to be honest, folks: I’m tired. I’m ready to step back for a bit. As I said previously, there was part of me that questioned whether or not I should even pursue ministry as a full-time vocation.

Frank Turk’s message about a “normal” church family hit me hard because I realized that I have not consistently or properly exemplified what a “normal” church member looks like. I haven’t loved my people well. I’ve tried, but I fear that in recent years, ministry fatigue has made my love grow a bit cold, turning pastoral care (even at the Sunday School level) into duty. In my effort to maintain right balance and good boundaries since getting married, I wonder if I’ve perhaps pushed people a bit too far away, becoming a bit too jealous of my time. In the last year, I don’t know if I’ve taken enough time to invest in the lives of the people in my care. I know my time and energy is limited, but I wonder if I could have been doing more. It’s hard for me to know where the line is. I want to take care of my wife and meet her time-needs first, but it may be that I’ve used her as an excuse not to connect to others more. I don’t know the answer. But I need to ask the question.

So my takeaway from this message is: I want my love for the Lord and my gratitude for what He’s done in me and for me fuel my love, compassion, and willingness to give of myself for the good of my church family. I want to be a “normal” church member, one who truly shares their life with their brothers and sisters.

After this message, I tweeted out that my heart felt like a rung bell.  I didn’t realize it would get rung again the next morning…

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Your Turn: How has your church family shown characteristics of a “normal” church? How have you? Comment below!

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