I was in Starbucks the other day and noticed how hard it is to find plain coffee on the menu. There was a sign for the return of the “Frappula Frappuccino” and another sign inviting people to try a “Caramelized Honey Latte.” Starbucks popularized coffee, yet it’s remarkably hard to find just coffee in their stores. The coffee they were promoting was not “ordinary” coffee but the Starbucks Reserve Coffees, which are “our rarest coffees, small-batch roasted in Seattle.” No one wants to be ordinary. Ordinary coffee doesn’t even sell very well these days.
This desire to be anything but ordinary also influences churches. Church gurus tell us that ordinary churches won’t reach people. Some of the fastest growing churches are always doing something bigger and better in order to keep people coming back. Churches feel this pressure because the statistics are not encouraging: For every new church planted, four existing churches close. People attend church less frequently. These statistics put pressure on churches to be anything but ordinary.
We are excited about the new vision at our church. You can read more about it here. Part of our vision is a commitment to the ordinary. We’ve described four landmarks that every Christian should be committed to. These landmarks keep us on the right track in our journey to know Christ. They are:
Am I worshipping?
Am I praying?
Am I sharing?
Am I discipling?
We’ve described these landmarks in greater detail here. Our commitment to these landmarks is a commitment to being an ordinary church. In Reformed Theology we call these the ordinary means of grace. Historically, the ordinary means include the Word of God preached and read, the sacraments (baptism & the Lord’s Supper), and prayer. The pastor Ligon Duncan explained, “So, when we say ordinary means of grace-based ministry, we mean a radical commitment to following the direction of God’s Word as to both the message and the means of gathering and perfecting the saints. Ordinary means ministry has a high view of the Bible, preaching, the church, the ordinances or sacraments, and prayer.”
Ordinary doesn't mean boring. Ordinary means accessible. It means that anyone is able to participate in life of the church. You don’t need special knowledge or abilities to have abundant life in Christ. No,we all have access to life in Christ through ordinary means. We believe being an ordinary church is the best thing we can do in a world that is continually fascinated with the extraordinary. Why? Because God uses the ordinary things to bring about extraordinary change (1 Cor 1:18-31). The Gospel is a radical message that calls people from spiritual death to life. No amount of extraordinary can bring a dead person back to life. Only the miraculous Word of God can do such a thing. (Rom 10:17) The key to a strong church in these changing times is by committing to the ordinary because we believe that is how God works extraordinary change.
One of the most beautiful pictures of this is Jesus in a manger. The angels announce to the shepherds, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). We’ve become so familiar with this story that we miss how radical this statement is. When a politician announces that he is going to run for president of the United States, this announcement is always accompanied by pomp and circumstance. He wants the announcement to be anything but ordinary. Jesus’ entrance into the world was the exact opposite. In an ordinary town, with an ordinary family, and in an ordinary manger. Some would look at such an ordinary scene, and dismiss it saying, “There is no way this child will save us. There’s nothing special about him.” And yet those shepherds, after seeing Jesus, return home praising God (Luke 2:20). They saw a savior who looked like them. This beautifully ordinary child would change the course of human history.
Part of Christian faith is faith in the ordinary, seeing the ordinary as beautiful. God works through the ordinary. We want to be the very best at being ordinary. We might not have all the fancy programs or latest worship styles. But that’s okay, because we believe there is far more power in being ordinary. What God has called us to do is impossible for us. How can we bring spiritually dead people back to life? How can we bring lasting change in people's life? We can’t. No human can. But God can. And God works extraordinary through our beautifully ordinary actions!