‘Real Church’ can make you want to pay any price to be a part of it

By Ronald E. Keener

Larry Crabb says there is a Real Church experience and he has described it in Real Church: Does it Exist? Can I Find It? (Thomas Nelson, 2009). In summary, he says “A Real Church experience tells the captivating love story of God (spiritual theology); it envisions what people could actually become (spiritual formation); it highlights what relationships were meant to be and how “trinity-like” relationships could develop (spiritual community); and it calls to the God-implanted compassion in every regenerate heart to do good in this world, seizing whatever opportunities present themselves (spiritual mission). People regularly exposed to these ‘four spirituals’ will live broken, hopeful, hungry, grateful, eager, content, authentic, relational lives.” Dr.Crabb is a well-known psychologist, conference speaker, Bible teacher, popular author, and founder/director of NewWay Ministries in the Denver, CO area.

What is so unreal about church today that you are seeking “real” church?

Too often, the real battles going on in our souls remain out of sight during worship and preaching. Real worship includes intentionally bringing ourselves as we are to God in gratitude for Him seeing us as we are and still wanting us. Worship that invites authenticity and highlights acceptance weakens shame and instills hope. And preaching, if it is in fact communication from God that God wants His people to hear, speaks into our hidden fears and shameful failures and maddening frustrations with a message of hope and purpose.

What do you want in a church that isn’t there today, generally speaking?

In the Bible, God is telling a love story with 66 chapters. Neither dry doctrine nor inspirational tips on how to lead a better, more satisfying life tell the story. God’s love story answers what I call the Seven Questions of Spiritual Theology: #1. Who is God?; #2: What’s He up to?; #3: Who are we?; #4: What’s gone wrong?; #5: What’s God done about it?; #6: What’s the Spirit doing today?; #7: How can we join in? A real church revolves its teaching around that story so that members learn the story God is telling in each book of the Bible and become so caught up in the story they become willing to pay any price to be part of it.

Are you separating corporate worship from “being the church” in questing after real church?

Corporate worship is an essential part of Real Church. Through authentic community, missional service, and listening together to God’s story, Real Church sets the stage for worship becoming the most powerful opportunity there is for deep change to happen: looking bad in the presence of love. Temporarily stirred passions do not define worship. The humble acceptance of surprising love comes closer.

If you redesigned corporate worship, how would you do that with 60 or 75 minutes, knowing that 30 minutes of it is a message?

One suggestion (among many): For the opening five minutes, someone would make known where they are in the moment on their spiritual journey. For the next five to 10 minutes, everyone would be invited to write where they are in that moment, a few sentences in space provided in the bulletin — frustrated with a teenage son; worried about a doctor’s appointment; thankful for God’s grace — whatever. For the next five minutes, two or three people would volunteer to read what they wrote, without response. For the next 10-15 minutes, worship music would begin with this introduction: “Let’s prepare to listen to God’s Spirit speak to us where we are. He sees, He cares, He will never back away from us.” The remainder of the time (30-40 minutes) would offer a text-driven, story-telling, life-realistic, grace-highlighting message.

In driving away from Sunday services, what is it you would have us experience that may not be there now?

Superficial healing (Jeremiah 6: 14, 15) is the often unrecognized but happily felt impact of church. The core battle in the Christian soul, between a demanding spirit of entitlement (flesh) and a humble spirit of grateful surrender (spirit) must be identified and engaged if the purpose of church, to spiritually form us into “little Christs,” is to be realized.

How would you staff a real church differently to care for the flock?

Theme verse (paraphrased): “Let’s think hard about how we can stir up the fire in each other that God’s Spirit has put there” (Hebrews 10: 24). Soul talk is far more (though no less) than listening skills. It involves “seeing into” the hidden battle going on in another (and ourselves), reflecting on our own motives as we relate; expressing sincere curiosity without an agenda (e.g., “I’ll fix you” or “I think you should”) and an understanding of how the Spirit works in the depths of the human soul.


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