Growing up in a small village, population 200-plus, it was easy to recognize and know your neighbor. I remember one family had a couple of boys who were known to be “rough and rowdy”; another family was referred to as the “gossips”; another as the “holy rollers”; one was called “those rednecks”; another had the reputation of being “stand-off-ish,” etc. Because of man’s carnal nature the practice of giving families “nicknames”; seems to be a popular practice. Whether positive or negative, right or wrong, it creates a reputation.
Think of the families you know or have known and ask yourself “What is or was their reputation? How about your family? Do you know what reputation it has in the minds of those who know you or who may observe you from a distance?
The local church is the “called out family of God” (i.e. ekklesia). Here’s Paul’s reference to the church being a family: “Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulation for you, which is your glory. For this reason, I bow my knees to the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the WHOLE FAMILY in heaven and earth is named” (Ephesians 3:13-15).
In writing to the young preacher, Timothy, Paul admonished him to behave himself properly in the house of God (i.e. family): “[B]ut if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
Just as families in neighborhoods, etc. have reputations, the church family in local neighborhoods have reputations. The reputation is established whether deserved or not by the actions of individual members as well as by the enter congregation. I am ashamed and embarrassed to mention some of the reputations I have heard applied to some Christians and congregations. Whether true or not, deserved or not, the truth remains that every Christian and congregation has a reputation.
PRIORITY BUILDS A REPUTATION
Most congregations have a priority or several priorities. The English word priority means to “create or recognize an order of importance, precedence in time; to make first, etc.” I have observed over my years of ministry how congregations have created and maintained their various priorities, which related to the place and practice of local autonomy—each congregation is independent of a governing board or dictates from a sister congregation. I have noted that some congregations have established some of the following priorities:
- The building and upkeep of physical properties which are designed to attract outsiders and provide comfort and expediencies for the church family. A major portion of the budget goes to this priority.
- The hiring, keeping and supporting a preacher, or preachers, to preach, teach, and do numerous ministry assignments for the congregation.
- Congregations tend to make the worship services a priority which consists of an impeccable schedule of events done in an order of priority.
- Some congregations by their actions and attitudes give “debating and defending the faith” top billing among their priorities.
- The selection of subjects, materials, curricula, and teachers for Bible classes seem to be a major priority in many congregations.
- Even though the interest, attendance, and support of a yearly event continue to wane, some congregations maintain it as a major priority.
- The emphasis or lack of emphasis on having fellowship with sister congregations is another establisher of congregational priorities.
I am not passing “right or wrong” judgment on any of these practices. I am only sharing what I have seen as various congregation priorities. According to Revelation chapters 2 and 3, the Lord Judges each congregation on its own merit and practices. It is a congregation’s priorities which build its reputation.
WHAT JESUS GAVE AS THE PRIORITY FOR HIS CHURCH
Since Jesus built His church (Matthew 16:18); purchased it with His blood (Acts 20:28); is the head of His church (Colossians 1:18), etc. He has the right to establish the priority for members of his church—His body and family. Here’s the priority Jesus gave to His followers—His church: “A new commandment I give to you that you LOVE ONE ANOTHER, as I have loved you, that you also LOVE ONE ANOTHER. BY THIS all will know that you are MY DISCIPLES, IF you LOVE ONE ANOTHER” (John 13:34, 35).
According to Jesus the priority of any local congregation must be LOVE, because love for God, neighbor and self is the core identifying characteristic and behavior of the church we read about in the Bible, which belongs to Jesus. This priority is consistent with the Greatest Commandment taught by Jesus in Mark 12:28-31: “And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceived that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’ And Jesus answered him, ‘The FIRST of all the commandments is “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: THOU SHALL love the Lord thy God with ALL thy heart, and with ALL thy soul, and with ALL thy mind, and with ALL thy strength: this is the FIRST commandment. And the second is like, namely this, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is NONE OTHER COMMANDMENT GREATER THAN THESE.”
The priority of loving one another in the church is taught over and over in the New Testament with reference to how it is the priority of God’s family, and love is what established the church’s reputation both in and out of the church. Jesus said, BY THIS shall all men KNOW you are My disciples if you have LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER.
There are approximately 60 Scriptures in the New Testament which reference our responsibilities to ONE ANOTHER in the local congregation—the church. Here is a sampling of these Scriptures:
- “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9).
- “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13),
- “… Encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 10:24, 25).
- “… Pray for each other” (James 5:16).
- “… Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 3:8).
- “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
- “…Love each other deeply…” (1 Peter 4:8).
- “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
- “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9).
- “Greet one another with s kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14).
LOVE (agape and philia) is the undeniable badge of Christianity demonstrated by local congregations and individual members. A reading of Paul’s letter to the church of God in Corinth reveals one problem after another. Ranging from division to going before secular courts to solve problems. What was the ONE solution to all these problems and issues? LOVE! Read Chapter 13 to see how Paul used the greatest of all virtues—LOVE—to resolve their problems.
When the weather permitted the preacher of a city congregation would stand at the bottom of the steps of the church building and greet the members and guests attending Sunday morning services. He noticed Sunday after Sunday a young boy, maybe 12 to 14, passed by with a large family Bible tucked under his arm. One Sunday morning the preacher stepped out and stopped the boy, asking him where he was going to church (Evidenced by his dress and Bible). When the boy mentioned a church across town which required the catching of a bus and transferring to get there; the preacher invited him to attend his congregation, asking “Why do you go way over there, we are close to your home?” The boy replied, “Thank you, sir, for the invitation. I know you folks must be wonderful here, but I’m going over there because at the First Street Church they know how to love a little fellow.”
Isn’t that where we all want to be? In a congregation where they know how to love a little and big fellow; a tall and short fellow; etc. WHAT IS YOUR CHURCH FAMILY’S REPUTATION? How about your reputation?