In conversation after conversation I encounter people who have become cynical about the church. I am not one of those because I understand that Jesus is the hope of the world and He has chosen to work through His bride, the church.
Having worked with many churches I have seen almost everything but retain what I call an irrational love for the church.
However, I understand the frustration of many who read Scripture and then have a hard time finding the love and grace and acceptance in a local fellowship. My own view is that there are all too few churches that smell like Jesus. What are the smells that churches have that don't reflect Jesus? I think of legalism, judgement, conflict, self absorption or maybe a country club. This is why congregational cultures that are focused on being like Jesus are so wonderful and powerful. In fact, they are irresistible.
Churches that smell like Jesus intentionally cultivate the following Jesus characteristics, attitudes and practices.
Think of the way that Jesus interacted with people: The woman at the well; the woman caught in adultery; the rich young ruler; the blind man who wanted healing; the woman who poured expensive oil on Jesus feet; Mary and Martha and the list could go on. In all of these cases what stands out is the amazing grace of Jesus. Grace with the hurting, the broken, the guilty, the searching, the sick, the wounded, the criminal, the outcast, the poor, the alien and we could go on.
Jesus gave grace where others didn't. Jesus gave grace where it was not deserved. Jesus didn't require people to meet their expectations before He extended grace. Jesus was safe. He was gracious and He was non-judgmental even when He spoke truth - with the exception of the Pharisees who were deeply hypocritical. Which leads me to wonder what He would say to some evangelicals today. We too can be accidental Pharisees.
Jesus was about the truth of God. Truth is often a limited quantity in our world and we need to understand the truth about God, ourselves, His character, the life he calls us to and our own need for salvation and grace. In almost all cases, Jesus delivered truth with compassion, love and understanding but He always spoke truth. Truth without grace is not like Jesus. Grace without truth is not like Jesus. Grace and truth go together.
Love for one another is the mark of disciples. In fact, "The entire law is summed up in a single command; 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Galatians 5:14). Love is one of the Fruits of the Spirit. It always speaks the best, wants the best, thinks the best and treats one another as Jesus treats us - with patience and grace. One of the most toxic characteristics of any church is a lack of love: conflict; uncharitable language; gossip; backbiting; and poor attitudes.
Having attended many congregational meetings, I tend to think this is where the true character of the congregation is displayed. In many cases, the Holy Spirit must be embarrassed. In my first congregational meeting in one church I was a part of, the chairperson asked someone to call the police! Yet where love prevails in a congregation, it is powerful and infectious.
God is a generous God who did not spare His own Son but sent Him to die for us. If you want your church to have the aroma of Christ, it will be generous with what it has. Many churches are generous toward themselves, investing heavily in their stuff. Fewer churches are generous toward the community, other churches, meeting real needs of those around them as well as being significantly involved in the world. Generosity is contagious within a congregation and to outsiders who see people who are open handed.
I think this is one of the more difficult character traits of churches who want to reflect Christ. We can be very proud of who we are, the glory days we have experienced in our ministries, and often believe that we somehow are better ministries, or Christians than the congregation down the street. These are signs of pride rather than of humility. It is ironic that the one Being in the universe who has no need to be humble is the most humble: Our God. Philippians two calls us to the same humility as that of Jesus! Humble churches are not filled with their own importance but rather of God's importance. That is a key distinction.
One of the key signs of humility is a congregation's willingness to work with other churches in the community across denominational lines for the cause of the Gospel. Prideful church's won't do that but kingdom minded and humble churches do.
God's kingdom and God's people are about action. We are called to a life and a mission that reflects the life and mission of Jesus. He had many hanger-on's who liked to be around Him and be entertained but were not interested in truly following Him. The church does as well!
But churches that look like Jesus are filled with people who are actively living out their faith: loving on one another, loving on the community, caring for the poor, the marginalized and those without anyone to defend them. They care about racial reconciliation and justice as Jesus does. They address community needs in Gospel ways because engagement is to be like Jesus.
There is no Jesus culture without Jesus followership. This is a followership that involves not only the hour of worship on Sunday but life throughout the week. It is a place where becoming like Jesus is the norm in all walks of life. It is highly practical in helping people follow God more closely and is a place where transparency, pain and failure can be translated into lives where God uses all of our biographies to be used by Him. In discipleship, each of the prior characteristics are lived out in real time and real ways.
If you are in church leadership, it would be worth your time to evaluate how you as a congregation are living out these seven characteristics.