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Building with Bananas

Building with Bananas

A book that I have found both fascinating and helpful over the years – and one that I find myself frequently returning to – is Derek and Nancy Copley’s little book (first published in 1978) called Building with Bananas. Derek and Nancy chose the title after listening to a bricklayer on a local building site standing next to a pile of badly made bricks. Looking at the curved up ends he muttered ‘How can anyone expect me to build with these? They’re just like bananas!’ But, in spite of these bricks being seriously ‘odd-shaped’ he was still able to use his skill to build a fine wall. These bricks reminded Derek and Nancy of what Christians are like – imperfect and very different from one another – and yet God wants us to fit together in a loving community. As a result, they wrote this humorous, yet helpful, little book (complete with some wonderful cartoons of ‘banana-shaped’ people), to help each of us who name the Name of Christ to understand  how to achieve harmonious relationships with other church members.

I was reminded of this the other day following a conversation with two Christian friends. A married couple, they are both very sincere and devout Christians who have been faithful followers of Jesus for many years. They have always been very faithful in attending worship and have worked very hard in the local church in a number of capacities, particularly in youth and children’s work and in social work with the poor and needy. They have a large family of grown-up children who make a number of demands on their time. Despite these demands they continue to attend church regularly, carry on with their responsibilities in church life when able, attend a home group as often as possible, and give financially to the church on a regular basis. Sadly, however, they are resigning from the membership of the church they attend!? The reason for this is that a couple of weeks ago one of the church leaders preached a sermon on ‘commitment’, the gist of which was that unless members of the church and congregation attended every meeting in the church – worship, prayer, business, and so on – they were not really committed to Christ and should be ashamed of themselves!? This was not an isolated case of such a message being preached? In fact it would appear to be almost a weekly happening! The effect on our friends, sadly, has been to totally undermine any sense of worth or value they had in terms of usefulness to Christ and the Kingdom?!

Sadly, this is not the only story of this kind that we have come across in the last few years. As a total convert to the use of social media – particularly Facebook and Twitter – I have gathered a motley collection of somewhere between 300-400 ‘friends’, many of whom are people who I have known for more than 50 years or so. A number of these are contacts that I have made through the Church over the years. Some were members of the churches and congregations that I have Pastored at one time or other. Quite a few of these people no longer attend church anywhere these days – although they are very happy, even delighted, to be back in contact with me because apparently they found (and still find, thankfully) something genuine about me, someone who could be trusted, someone who would listen to them and give them sensible advice. Although they no longer attend church, many of them still ‘believe in God’ they tell me. In nearly every case, the reason why they no longer attend church is because they have had ‘a bad experience of church’!? And a prominent complaint amongst them is that what ‘put them off’ was the constant haranguing from the pulpit for them ‘to be more committed’?! Week in, week out, the message was the same, and in the end they just got ‘tired of being told off’ instead of being helped and encouraged, and just stopped going!

We too have noticed that this approach appears to be becoming a trend in many of our evangelical and charismatic churches here in the UK. The incessant demand that members of the church and congregation be ‘more committed’ to the local church than they ‘obviously’ are!? We call it ‘You suck! Try harder!’ preaching?! Basically, the congregation is harangued week after week along the lines that they are not good enough and that more is required of them … in terms of time, effort and money, etc. Such an approach is not only unhelpful, but it is damaging both to the health of the local church and to the cause of Christ. In our opinion the vast majority of professing Christians are very genuine about their personal commitment to Christ. They may not be perfect but they are sincere. And instead of being ‘harangued’, ‘told off’, and ‘got at’ week after week, they need to be encouraged, helped, and enabled to become all that God wants them to be in Christ, and to fulfil their God-given ministry and calling!

It is vital for us all – especially church leaders and ‘keen’ Christians – to recognise that the local church is essentially made up of ‘volunteers’. The local church is not a business, where those who don’t ‘pull their weight’ can be sacked? Neither is the local church like an ‘army’ where if you don’t ‘obey orders’ you end up on a charge?! Neither are we like a pile of uniform ‘bricks’ that can be neatly built into a wall?! The local church consists of men and women, of variable age and education, some older and some younger, some very gifted and others not so gifted, some wealthy and some poor, some with major responsibilities in society or at work, some who are ‘retired’ or who have time on their hands – all of whom have, at some time or other, made a conscientious decision to follow Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. We do what we can, when we can, out of love for Jesus Christ, the church, and the society we live in. We do not do what we do because ‘we have to’ but because ‘we want to’! And because of this the level of personal commitment to the local church – in practical terms – varies considerably from person to person. For some of us it is a question of time – we have other pressing responsibilities at work, or to the family, for example, which limits what we can do in the local church. For others it is a question of ‘discipleship’ – adjusting our priorities as we grow as Christians and discovering what God’s particular plan and purpose for our lives is? Hopefully all of us, given time, will eventually find the right balance in serving Christ in the home, in the church, and in the world!

As Baptist-Christians (in membership with the Baptist Union of Great Britain) we adhere to Five Core Values. We believe that as a Gospel People we are called to be: A Prophetic Community, An Inclusive Community, A Sacrificial Community, A Missionary Community, and A Worshipping Community. Several of us would like to add a further two values, namely that we are called additionally to be: A Community that stands for the Freedom of the Individual, and also A Committed Community!? Commitment to Christ and his Church (particularly the local church) IS important! It is not the need for commitment that I am questioning here … simply the best way of encouraging such commitment. Haranguing people, making people feel small and bad about themselves, criticising people and harshly judging them, is NOT the way to go about achieving this aim!? Teaching people, encouraging people, enabling people is so much the better way!

Jesus told a fascinating parable about the Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13:1-23). Essentially the point of the Parable is that the fruitfulness of the preaching and teaching of God’s word is to some degree dependant on the type of ground that receives this ‘seed’ as it is sown by the Preacher. Some of the ‘soil’ that it falls on – mirroring the attitude of our human hearts and minds – hinders the growth of this seed. Some hearts are hard, some are shallow, some are taken up by the cares and sorrows of life, and thus the hoped for spiritual growth is limited as a result. But, even when the ‘good seed’ of God’s word falls on ‘good soil’ … the fruitfulness is variable. As Jesus tells us here in this Parable: ‘But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty’ (Matthew 13:8). Clearly, whilst some of those who responded to the Good News of the Gospel gave themselves 100%, others only gave 60% or even just 30% of their time, talents, possessions, self, and so on!?

As Pastors and Preachers, it is right that we should continually be encouraging our people to ‘lay their all on the altar’ for God (as the old-time saints used to put it) … but the reality is that this ‘just ain’t gonna happen!’ … and we Pastors, and Preachers, and Leaders in the local church need to be realistic about this!? If we lose sight of the reality, if we forget that we are ‘building with bananas’, if we ‘lose the plot’ and (instead of encouraging and enabling our people) start ‘having a go’ at our congregations, we will do immense damage to them and to the cause of Christ! As W T H Richards, the Senior Pastor at the Gospel Tabernacle, Slough, when I was on the staff there (and a very wise man) used to say to us younger Pastors, ‘Although we are right to call our people to 100% commitment to Christ and the church, the reality is that some will only give 60%, and others only 30%? I have learned, however, to be grateful for the 60% and the 30% … after all, they could be giving nothing!?’

All to Jesus I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Saviour,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Make me, Saviour, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

~ Judson W Van DeVenter (1855-1939)

Jim Binney

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