Defining the Christ-Centered Church
Disclaimer: I cannot claim credit for this model. While what is written here includes my thoughts and feelings, the original idea and the original pictures (that I reproduced because I could not find the originals) belong to someone else. I could not find the original blog post from which they came. If you are the author please let me know. I will gladly credit you or remove this post according to your wishes.
As a boy, my family sporadically attended the United Methodist Church in the small Nebraska town where we lived. At the time it was (and I believe still is) the only church building in town. As is the habit of the Methodist church, sometimes they’d move the pastors around. By the time I graduated high school, three different preachers had come and gone. I can’t speak for all Methodist churches, but in our small town, we were definitely Pastor centered. Each brought changes that were not always welcome, but because he was the ‘head’, the people had to go along with it. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood why the Methodist churches do things the way they do, especially in small towns, but the impression it left on me was hard to shake.
Like all churches, the Methodists claimed to be “Christ-centered”, while at least to the eyes of a young boy being Pastor centered. But what does it truly mean to be a Christ-Centered church? Is it just teaching the Bible? Sharing some songs? Having a cross on your steeple or sign? What does that even mean?
It might surprise some of you to know that the term “Christ-Centered” does not appear in the Bible. When the Bible does talk about Christ and his relationship to the church, it uses terms such as “Christ is the head” (Ephesians 5:23) that He is a shepherd (John 10) He is the vine and believers are the branches (John 15:5), you might even infer that Christ calls himself the cornerstone (or keystone/capstone) (Matthew 21:42). But no where is he called the “center”. That’s a term that came later. It’s not a bad term, in fact it’s a great term, but what does it mean to be a Christ Centered church?
Take a look at this model:
This is how many “church people” see the church. The larger circle is Christ, the small ones are people, and the largest one represents the church. If Christ IS the center, then those closest to Him are IN the church, and those further away are OUT of the church. There's an easily recognizable border between one and the other.
You’re IN if you’re “Born Again” or “Baptized” or “Filled with the Spirit” or … or… or… (lots of different churches use lots of different definitions about what it means to belong.) And while I agree that the concept behind these terms is important, I don’t think they fully describe what it means to keep Christ at the center of the church and, ultimately, our lives.
Drawing lines isn’t the best way to describe any church. When you do that, someone is always on the “wrong” side of that line. And when someone is on the “wrong” side, that inevitably leads to permission to leave that person out, to exclude them, to say they are “wrong”, to tell them they need to “get right”, that their thoughts and opinions are “unbiblical”…. we in the church find lots of ways to tell people they are on the wrong side. But what does the church look like to those that are on the “wrong side”?
Here’s what the church looks like to people that don’t know where the line is. To people that are not part of the church. When you’re at the mall or driving down the interstate, or sitting in a movie theater, you don’t know who is “in” or who is “out”, unless they tell you, and even then you can’t really be sure. Without a church service going on, you can’t tell which people are “church” and which people are not “church”. Everyone pretty much looks the same. Without some examples in their words or deeds, people that are “in” look just like people that are “out”.
There’s a danger here. When you can’t tell who is “one of you” it’s really easy to take one of two extremes, assuming that all are equally “Christ-Centered” or all are equally “non-Christ-Centered”. You’re not ministering to them because you see them as all “in” or you’re not ministering to them because you see them as all “out”. That’s not to say you’re going to stand up in a movie theater and start preaching or handing out tracts (there’s a time and place for everything), but neither should you avoid an opportunity if one presents itself because you’re assuming that someone else will do it (because that ‘someone else’ knows if that person is ‘in’ or not) or that the person doesn’t really need it because you want to assume they are “in”.
Both of these models are wrong. While looking down from above it looks like Christ is the center, it’s not really how the church IS, or better still, it’s not how God sees people. There’s a better way to look at people rather than “in” or “out”.
Picture this. The arrows, vectors, are the paths of people’s lives. A vector shows not only direction but magnitude — strength or force. The vectors here show not only the direction of people’s lives in relation to Christ but how hard they are working on going the direction they are.
In our first image, the dot closest to Christ seemed to obviously be the most Christ-centered, Christ-loving, person, definitely ‘in’. But in this image, we can see that this person, while they seem to be closest to Christ, is actually moving the wrong way. Their life is going away from Christ. In the first image, the one furthest away was obviously ‘out’, but here we see that not only are they moving toward Christ, but they are also working really hard at it. There are a couple that are closer, they have less distance to go, but they’re barely moving. Others have stagnated, they’re going sideways in relation to Christ.
But there’s one that best represents what the church should really want to be, what everyone wants, or should want. The U-Turn. Someone that was trying to run away, but has turned their life around. We as the church best represent the Christ-Centered church when we are the ones that help that person make the U-Turn. Or when we share the stories of our own u-turns. While we as the church should always strive to be moving toward the middle, more importantly, we need to be the ones pointing people to the middle, to the center, to Christ. Not with picket signs and sermons and other ways to tell people they are going the wrong way, but with love, gentleness, and respect for them as people that God sees as deserving love, gentleness, and respect.
How do we do that? How about this:
“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27 NASB)
“And whoever… gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42 NASB)
“[Jesus said] Come, you who are blessed of My Father,inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:34–40)
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
Are we moving toward Christ in our lives? Or do we think we’re already there? Are we helping others do move toward Christ? Or are we leaving that to others? A Christ-centered life, and a Christ-centered church, is not a destination, it’s not something you can ever be totally certain that you’ve “arrived” at. Rather it’s the journey, the ever prayerful, ever searching journey that should define us as a Christ-centered church and a Christ-centered people.