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Five Things Spanish Lessons Taught me about Church: Part Two

(For a refresher, check out part 1)

 

Now where were we? Ah yes…

 

4. SPANISH SPEAKING WILL BECOME A SMALL PART OF ME

 

A Spanish-speaking friend of mine helped me realize something:

 

It’s one thing to say, “I’m learning Spanish.” To say that implies there is still some distance between me and Spanish. It’s another thing to say, “I am a Spanish Speaker,” which is what I hope to be able to say one day. This now touches a part of who I am. It removes the distance. I am not just observing Spanish from afar. It’s a small part of me now.

 

When you commit to learning something over a long period of time, somewhere along the line, it becomes a part of your personhood. It has taken up residence in your mind and body. You are no longer just learning the flute; you are a flautist. This doesn’t mean you’re finished learning and growing as a flautist. But it infuses you with instant purpose. Your “doing” now comes out of your “being.” You say, “well, I’m a flautist, and I like being a flautist, so I should probably keep practicing the flute.”

 

5. SAYING “I’m a Student of Spanish” REQUIRES NO EXPLANATION

 

When I tell you I’m a Spanish Student, you don’t need me to elaborate any further about what that looks like. The same would apply to me telling you “I’m a Student of Medicine” Or “I’m a Student of Law.” By telling you my title, you can connect the dots that I have purposefully enrolled in a training program to help me become a certain kind of person. You probably understand immediately that becoming a student of medicine or law will require countless hours of classwork, fieldwork, and guidance from licensed supervisors. You would understand, generally, what my pathway and plan is just from me saying, “I’m a student of….________” The title takes care of the rest.

 

This leads me to a bonus lesson I’ve learned from Spanish….

 

6. CHURCH SHOULD LOOK MORE LIKE A SPANISH CLASS

 

What does this mean? Does this mean all English-Speaking churches should change their name out front to “La Iglesia?” I mean, they can if they want. But that’s not the point.

 

A Church that desires to see its parishioners transformed must apply the same principles that they might employ were they to organize a Spanish Class.

 

Which means….

 

A Church must be intentional

 

In the same way no one has ever accidentally become fluent in Spanish, no one has ever stumbled into spiritual maturity. Paul instructs Timothy to “train yourself in godliness..” (1 Tim. 4:7) which simply means “train to become like Jesus.”


Failure to train, in anything, will result in us not becoming what we could have become had we intended to train.

William Law offered an observation over 300 years ago for those frustrated with their lack of spiritual maturity…

 

“If you will stop here and ask yourself why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but because you never thoroughly intended it.” 

 

This is not judgment. It is simple reality. If I look back and realize that I am no more like Jesus in character than I was when I first became a Christian, I must face the truth that, though I professed belief in Him, I never truly intended to follow Christ as his student.

 

A Church that wants its people to grow in Christlikeness must be intentional. Ultimately, only God initiates and sustains any significant changes in us (1 Cor. 3:6-7). But these changes will not happen without our intentionally cooperating with Him. So, we make the necessary plans and re-arrange our activities to make room for this kind of growth to occur. If we do not do this, the simple reality is that we will not become more like Jesus. Medical School would likely tell me, “Andrew, If you do not re-arrange your life to make room for medical training, you will never become a doctor.” They’re not telling me, “We won’t let you.” They’re telling me, “You simply won’t be able to do it.”

 

Time is a Church’s friend

 

Remember what I said last week: “The best learning is slow learning.” In other words, anything that is worth learning is worth learning at a slow pace. I cannot become a fluent Spanish-speaker overnight. Spiritual maturity does not happen overnight. So any church that promotes “transformation” as a one-time event, perhaps through baptism, an altar call, or the descending of the Holy Spirit in a church service has a misguided view of the slow change of our character into Christlikeness (2 Cor. 3:18). Baptism may grant me access to Heaven when I die, but it will not immediately cure me of my anger problem. An altar call may elicit great feelings and re-cement my commitment to following Jesus, but it is not likely to take away my destructive porn habit in an instant. That kind of change is, overall, not an event; it’s a process. It takes intentionality and time.

 

Could it be a one-time event? Could God “fix” me instantly if He wanted to? Of course he could, and I’m sure He has for others. But the New Testament, as well as the nature of human personalities, implies that these are exceptions, not the general rule. Whether it’s a 500-year-old Redwood or a small child, God has designed his creation for slow, unhurried growth. And we can trust that the slower the process (as long as we remain intentional), the more likely that the effects will last.


It will also produce in us virtues that we could never develop were our change instantaneous: patience, perseverance, trust, and strength, to name a few (Js 5:8).  

 

Church is not for learning how to get good at Church

 

Dallas Willard said, “The Church is for discipleship. Discipleship is for the world.” This means that I don’t go to church to get good at going to church. I don’t go to church to become an expert at ushering, performing ritualistic activities, or hitting the high note on “O Holy Night.” I go to church to worship God with other believers, and that worship service is one part of a larger process of discipleship that includes my life. And the majority of my life is not lived at church. It’s lived in the world. And it is the world that needs my discipleship, not the church.

 

 So a church is functioning as it should when its primary aim is not to teach its onlookers how to put on a “successful” worship service, but to train its apprentices (“Equip the saints”) to develop the heart of Christ, so that they will naturally and routinely behave like Christ, both in a church service and out in the world. 

 

Saying “I’m a Christian” should require no explanation

 

In the first century, a Christian did not need to elaborate what it meant to be a Christian. It was assumed that a Christian was someone who had apprenticed themselves to Jesus Christ to become like him (The word “Christian” literally meant “Little-Christ”). In today’s world, qualifying as a Christian could mean almost anything. Perhaps it’s enough to simply attend church on Easter and Christmas. Perhaps it’s enough to vote a certain way, or be Pro-this, or Anti-that. Perhaps it’s enough to simply state out loud that you’re a Christian. Perhaps it’s enough to be known by what you avoid, being straight-edge, a prude, a goodie two-shoes, or a “holier than thou.” 

 

You see the problem here?

 

The word “Christian” no longer carries with it the crystal clarity that it used to. No longer is it as clear as saying, “I’m studying Law at Harvard.” It’s more like saying, “I live in North America.” More explanation is needed.

 

The challenge for Christians today is to make it obvious what a Christian is: That Christians are not known by how nice they are or how they vote. Christians should be known, first and foremost, as devoted learners. This change can only occur when the culture on our church campuses shifts from that of a lecture hall to a training center, from a building that provides religious goods and services to an Academy for the soul.


And it starts with us, the professing Christians, placing ourselves in a corporate posture of humility, admitting, “We still have a lot to learn, but we know Jesus will teach us. Therefore, we have come together to learn from Jesus, with Jesus, how to become more like Jesus.”

 

So might it be time that the Church got a lesson (pun intended) from Spanish Class?

 

May we, the church, become intentional about making the main thing the main thing. May we take our time and trust the process, believing that God’s slow growth will do a deeper work in us than any “quick fix.” May our facilities become Transformation Factories for “Little-Christs” that need no explanation. And may we take what we’re learning into our homes, workplaces, and everywhere in between to illumine the light of our Master Teacher.  

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts, friends.

 

Be Well.

 

-Andrew

 

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