Zach McCoy who pastors at the EFCA’s Redemption Church in Houston, Texas wrote a post a few years back on why we need each other. Zach was trying to sell people on his view of church. This is me just asking a lot of questions and posing a response.
“If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found.”
“A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.”
Jean de La Fontaine
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:27-31 ESV
A sign for a bar in New Orleans, Louisiana. You will find God more in places like this than churches that Zach McCoy describes.
Zach McCoy teaching at Dallas Theological Seminary
Zack McCoy hails from Amarillo, Texas. He went to Yale University and graduated with a BA in math and economics and spent two years in a mathematics PhD program. He worked at a hedge fund and in management consulting. He then earned a Masters of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Zack is married to Kim and they moved to Houston in 2009. They planted a church in the inner loop of Houston called Redemption Church in 2014. Redemption is sponsored by Crossbridge Church in Sugar Land, Texas. Redemption Church in Houston is one of the newest Evangelical Free Church plants in Bob Rowley’s Texas and Oklahoma District. Redemption Church in in the Neo-Calvinist/Reformed side of the Evangelical Free. On the Redemption Church page where it has Zach’s bio it states that
“Zack believes that questions are good, that Jesus loves doubters, that love from afar is deceptively easy, that we find Jesus in the people around us, that God cries with and for us, that we need each other, that mercy beats judgment, that darkness is dying, that life beats death, and that love will win. He wants Redemption to be a church that embodies the patience, love, and grace of Jesus.”
In addition Todd Parrish is the Pastor of Spiritual Formation, and Mike Haskew is the Worship Pastor. Zack wrote a post on the church blog in October 2013 called, “What Do You Believe?” There is a lot I want to say but lets read Zack’s post first and we can discuss below.
On the church blog a few years ago Zack McCook wrote a post about why we need each other and a reflection on American culture. He breaks the issues down and tries to sell you on the concept of church. American culture is all about independence and he explains why the church needs to play a bigger role in people’s lives. There is a lot of commentary I want to give on Zack’s article. My comments will come from my experience in evangelicalism and the issues I see as I write and analyze this problem set. My comments below will be in red.
I love independence as much as the next guy—I am an American after all. I love it in the patriotic sense that many of us wildly celebrate every July, but I also love it in the personal sense. I love not having to rely on anyone else. I love being able to be my own man. I love being able to pay my own bills and make my own way. I love earning what I get, and it pains me whenever I have to ask for help from just about anyone.
But if I want to be spiritually healthy, I have to unlearn this thirst for independence.
It’s very difficult to do, but in becoming the kind of person, the kind of elevated human, that the Bible envisions, I have to fight against this deeply ingrained love. Sometimes it’s called independence, sometimes individualism, rebelliousness, or pride—but whatever it’s called, it’s the opposite of the way God designed me because He designed me to need other people.
This is a good set up for getting people to be manipulated and spiritually abused. I stop and contemplate what people have told me from Acts 29, Sovereign Grace or Harvest Bible Chapel. People can’t be forced into the “ideal” concept of church. This interestingly enough is also in conflict with the hyper-masculinity movement that you see in the Neo-Calvinist world. Its a concept that pushes individualism in many wasy because a man in God’s image stands strong, protects the wife and charges forward to find the way. Or as John Eldredge would say he rescues the maiden.
You know who is exempt from this model? Many pastors. I can’t tell you the number of stories Zack of rogue pastors who place yes men on the elder board. And as such there is no real concept of accountability. Pastors are often free to pry into lives of people in their congregation but seldom open up their life to the congregation? They push people to be accountable while they are often not accountable. Zack I wish this were different, honestly I do. But experience and reality teaches this to me.
God’s original idea in creating us was that we would need each other.
When God was in the process of creating all that we see around us (and even all that don’t see), He created humans to need each other. After creating the very first human, God declared that it was bad for that person to be alone. He needed a companion. So God created one, and they existed, however briefly it may have been, in the kind of harmony, intimacy, honesty, and mutual dependence that God seemed to have in mind. “They were naked and unashamed.”
The brokenness that’s in the world makes it nearly impossible to live in the kinds of relationships God envisioned for all of humanity.
Unfortunately, things have gone terribly wrong so that not even husbands and wives live in this way anymore, much less the rest of humanity. Families hurt one another and hide from each other as each member vies to assert superiority over the rest—that is, as each member vies for independence. Beyond the family tension and struggles that all of us are intimately aware of (if you think you know a family who’s not aware of this, you just don’t know them well enough), we have similar tensions in innumerable interactions, from personal to business, from casual to formal, from individual to international, and we devote almost every ounce of energy that we have to showing the rest of the world that we are good enough, strong enough, smart enough, tenacious enough, or big and bad enough to do it on our own.
The question that I need to ask i what about churches that abuse people? What about churches who use people? What about churches that are all about grow, grow, grow as people get lost and left behind? How can any of these places in evangelical Christianity represent God I must ask? What about all the scandals that come from evangelicalism – Mars Hill, Sovereign Grace, Harvest Bible Chapel, issues in Acts 29, etc.. What does it say for the Christian faith when secular humanists and atheists have more compassion and grace than evangelical Christians. Can you explain this to me Zach?
The good news is that God is in the process of re-enabling us to relate to each other like He originally designed.
Thankfully, God is in the process of recreating humanity. He is in the process of freeing us from the tyranny of independence. And He started doing so by making His Son dependent. Even though God is the only being that exists that is in fact independent (in the fullest sense), God the Son became dependent for our sake in the incarnation, when He became the man Jesus Christ.
God is freeing us from the slavery of the cycle of fighting each other for independence, but He’s not doing it by making us capable of being independent. In renewing humanity, He does not remove our need for each other, He just creates a new way for that need to be expressed: the church. This church, this new organism God is in the process of creating, is made up of all kinds of people—people from every socioeconomic status, every nation, every language, every gender and sex and sexual orientation, every age, and every personality type.
God is creating this church, and in explaining to us what He’s doing, He uses a couple of helpful images to get across the idea that this church is a single thing with many parts. The church is a building, and its people are the stones that compose the building. The church is a body, and its people are body parts. (The New Testament also compares the church to a house or household, a family, and a bride. These images also indicate unity out of diversity, but perhaps less explicitly so than the first two metaphors.)
Zach I have to say have you heard of some of the scandals and problems in many churches or ministries? Do you know what its like when I walk into a church as I write this blog and see ministries using scandal prone material from people who should never be in ministry? Can you acknowledge the corruption, and issues before evangelicalism? Its a massive problem and until folks like yourself address this problem blog posts like this which sound rosy are really null and dead in the water. The biggest problem in evangelicalism today is not the growth of the nones, atheism, gay marriage or more. The biggest problem is corruption inside evangelicalism and many of its ministers and leaders. If you read Desiring God or The Gospel Coalition you are helping to enable this corruption Zach. I wish this were different I really do, but this needs to be faces and dealt with.
Look at what Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians:
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it, 28 and [those whom indeed] God has appointed in the church… (1 Corinthians 12:12-28a, ESV)
Honestly it amazes me when I see those passages from 1 Corinthians and I contemplate how many churches have used questionable church discipline and mistreat members. If Christian churches honestly believed this would they subscribe to Mark Dever’s view of church discipline as pushed in 9 Marks? This is an honest question Zach.
The whole purpose of God creating the church in the way He has is that we might depend on each other.
In using these images of the church as a body or building, God is trying to get across the point that the people who make up the church need each other. A stone without other stones can sit in the yard all day long calling itself a house, but that doesn’t make it one. An arm without legs and a torso and another arm can call itself a body all day long, but it’s still incomplete. In the same way, people in the church are said to need each other. People God has put in the church (in other words, all Christians) are incomplete as individuals, and the individual church members cannot do everything they need to do alone. God has empowered different people in the church by means of the Holy Spirit to be able to do different things. He has not given everyone the same capabilities, and this is not a result of some person’s immaturity—it’s on purpose. God designed His church that way for the express purpose that we would need each other. Without each other, we do not have the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Our relationship with God is incomplete as individuals. We may yearn for independence, but God has designed us with dependence in mind, both on Himself and on each other.
Is any of what you have taught apply to pastors to? Or are they exempt from the body and rule over everyone? Why do so many pastors act like or believe they are exempt from these rules? If the church actually believed this then wouldn’t pastors be the most vulnerable, transparent and open? I understand what you are saying but when I consider the evangelical Christian culture I just don’t see this behavior coming from many pastors.
Practically, most of us hate this idea, either because we believe that the church doesn’t need us or we don’t need the church.
When we begin to work out the details of how this big idea of needing and depending on each other will work, things begin to get scary. Whether we’re talking about submitting to each other out of reverence for Christ, putting other’s needs before our own, considering others more important than ourselves, or confessing our sins to others, most of us, at least those of us who naturally love the idea of independence like I do, become very uneasy. If by “we need each other” we mean that we need to gather in a big room and all stare at the same preacher and musicians while they perform for us, we are on board. But if by “we need each other” we mean that we might actually have to get to know other people (strangers!) and let them get to know us, we are very much not on board.
Let’s see in an authoritarian evangelical environment confessing your sins to one another is a good way to learning who struggles with what, so that the information can be used against them. People becomes means to manipulate and control others. That is what evangelicalism is like for many people today.
There seem to be two big classes of excuses that I’ve heard and used in not fully embracing the idea of needing each other, the same two major ones that Paul pointed out in the passage we quoted at length above. First, sometimes we feel like the church doesn’t need us. We have nothing to offer. All we know how to do is sit in a crowd, and every breathing person on the planet can do that as well as we can—so how in the world could the church really need me? If I’m not a preacher or a musician, or at least a counselor or Sunday school teacher, nobody needs me, and I might as well not really engage.
Actually you forget Zach that in many churches people do matter. They are the personal ATM for the pastor. Someone needs to pay for the expensive trips, nice cars and more of some of the evangelical pastors that I have written about. The pastors barks, and people open up their wallet. Or there is another capital campaign. That mega church which is having people fall through the cracks needs to grow further.
Second, we sometimes feel the opposite: that we don’t need the church. The church is full of needy people and dangerous people, people that if you let into your life are likely to hurt you in the end. So we distance ourselves and decide we prefer the peace and quiet of independence. It’s easier. It’s safer. And it’s what most of us naturally prefer, even if we’re not quite as forthright in how we put it. Some of us prefer to state this preference as simply a preference for privacy because we don’t want other people all up in our business. Some of us prefer to state this as a preference for family because we feel like we already have all the Christians we need in our lives. And some of us prefer to state this as a preference for alone time because we think that all we need to be spiritually healthy is a Bible and our good intentions. But however we say it, we’re saying that we don’t need the church.
Actually Zach let me share some thoughts with you. If you want to find God forget the church. You can find more in an atheist setting, a gay bar, a regular night club, intramural sports league, chess club, or much more. You won’t find God in many churches because he doesn’t exist in many of them. Sorry to burst your bubble.
Do we really believe God when He tells us we need each other?
Now, we could address all these objections individually (for example, Jesus Himself doesn’t buy the family excuse—when someone at His dinner party told Him His mom and siblings were outside looking for Him, He declared that those biological relatives weren’t His true relatives but that everyone who does God’s will was), but instead we’ll address them all together here at once. Regardless of your excuse for not living in the kind of intimate Christian community that the New Testament offers, it’s an excuse. And in the end, we have to ask ourselves: are we going to keep making excuses or are we going to take God seriously when He says we need each other?
Let me rephrase the question. Zach do many evangelical pastors believe in God? Do they believe in God when they are not transparent? When they hide their salary information? What about when remove themself from the accountability of the congregation? How would you explain the absence of God in many churches today Zach? Or would you deflect the question and make the messenger the actual issue. That is an honest question I have even if its abrupt.
Whatever we’re doing as Christians, we need each other.
We need each other, so let’s act like it. When we read our Bibles, we need each other. When we fight our own brokenness, evil feelings, and wicked inclinations, we need each other. When we are trying to figure out how to love and share hope, we need each other. When we are inviting other people to come to know Jesus, we need each other. When we want to worship in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, we need each other. Whatever we’re doing, we need each other.
This sounds good but in reality I am doubtful. That is just how I view the situation Zach.
We want Redemption Church to genuinely reflect our understanding that we need each other.
Here at Redemption Church, we are doing our best to take this seriously, and we are taking some concrete steps in this direction. We have started DNA meetings on Sunday mornings because our pastors believe that they actually need the rest of the body. We could have just shown up next January for the grand opening of weekly public worship services, but we believe we need each other, even now in this infancy stage. As we continue in the life of the church, we hope to embrace this need for each other through authenticity in our relationships and small groups (one of our core values is “Authentic Relationships”) and in the way that the climax of every Sunday morning is the Lord’s Supper where we act as one body because we all share in the one bread.
As we attempt all this, please pray for us. We need each other, but part of us hates that we do.
Zach if you want your EFCA church in Houston to reflect God this is what I would tell you. Allow the gay person who is trying to figure out everything. Allow the hostile atheist inspired by Richard Dawkins or Bertrand Russell. Allow those like myself who are burned out and fried. Allow the single unwed person who is planning on getting an abortion. Don’t create expectations for many of these people and give them enough breathing room to figure things out.