I'm not a big fan of New Years resolutions, but many people get unusually-introspective at this time of year -- who knows why. Maybe they feel guilty for all the money the spent on stuff that they will garage sale in May.
Anyway, if you're looking for some advice for 2010, here's my short list. You can probably figure out what I'm about to say because I say it all the time, but I'll say it again here.
1. Get over your denominational biasesYou know: some people will read this as a call for mass ecumenism and a throwing out of the baby of discernment with the bathwater of divisiveness, but that's not what I'm saying at all. What I am saying is that John MacArthur doesn't have the only legitimate church in America, and the Shepherd's Conference doesn't have a monopoly on orthodoxy.
No: it would not be swell if every church was a reformed baptist church. It might be good for you to live a little for the sake of your own discipleship to get involved in a local church in such a way that you believe about those people what Christ knows about them -- which is that you are just as much in need of His salvation as they are, and that you are called to be a saint together with all those in every place who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are no perfect churches -- but there is a perfect savior. Follow Him, and stop pretending that there's only one way to do that, even if it means you don't have Sunday free anymore.
2. Go back to churchThat's really the objective of #1: go back to being in fellowship with other actual humans for whom Christ died.
You can do it -- you just don't want to, mostly because it is hard work. It is much easier to read blogs and books and listen to podcasts and pine for an idealized church than it is to stand next to a real person someplace and shake his hand and say, "peace be with you," and then live like Christ made that true.
You know: God hates the sin of the lousy pastor and the sin of the nosey or neglectful brother or sister just as much as God hates your sin -- yet you know God forgives you of your sin, right? It turns out God forgives their sins, too, so maybe you should use that as a basis for fellowship: this is how we know what love is -- that at the right time, Christ died for us. God sent his sons that the believers might not perish but have eternal life.
You can go back, and tell everyone you're sorry for being too good for them. You don't have to tear open your shirt and produce your scarlet letter, but you could just say, "you know what: I never realized how much God loves us. I want to treat you the way I think God treats you because Christ has made all the difference, and I'm sorry for all the times in the past I didn't do that."
3. Put yourself under the spiritual authority of eldersI know: this is starting to get under the skin a little now, right? It's one thing to say, "Put secondary issues aside." It's another to say, "find a church you can stand in." But now to say, "And get under the authority of other human beings," always sounds like the deal-breaker -- because let's face it: these are flawed men. They have flaws. Some of those flaws are theological; some of them are professional; some of them are emotional or personal.
It's funny, but that sounds a lot like the problems you personally have -- and you don't have any problem being under the authority of you. But when someone says, "well, Paul does tell Titus to establish elders in every place for the sake of setting things in order, and Paul does instruct all the churches to be subject to one another, and especially to their elders and leaders," suddenly your flaws don't look that bad.
Here's what I think: until you start your own church and are qualified to lead others, you need to get under the eldership of someone who does have his own church and has been somehow appointed or chosen as qualified to lead others. Because you are not.
You can "yeah but" that until 2011 if you want. There are no perfect churches, but that doesn't give you the liberty to be in no churches with no one looking after you spiritually in any way.
4. Pray for your eldersAha.
You see: what if all those lousy elders out there had an army of people like you praying for them daily, crying out to heaven, "God: you have him/them this church full of your people, and now you have to either give him the gifts to lead them and the love to lead them and the power in your Spirit to lead them, or you need to convict him to move on. Please God: teach this man to be a shepherd and a brother to those whom you have given under his position. They are your people, and for their sake, and the sake of Christ who bought them, make him worthy."
Or maybe like this: "Lord, give this man/these men the burden of knowing you are real! If they knew you were real the same way the building is real and their podcast is real and the Upward program is real, they might want to spend more time in your word looking at what your Real son did on a Real cross for the Real sins of His real people. Help me, God, to see this pastor/these elders as men who are your men, and whose ways will not be like the world's ways. And let them live as if this world is not their home."
You know: what if. It might shut the blogosphere down for a year or two as people would expend all that energy on prayer (God's command for action toward one's elders) rather than on whatever it is all the ruckus is about -- but the world was doing just fine without the blogopshere a few years ago. It won't be missed.
You put yourself under them because of faith in God and now it behooves you to let God do the work -- and it doesn't hurt you to ask him to do the work. It looks like you actually have faith when you ask him to do the work.
5. Love one another
I said it above, but this is the thing about church, y'all: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor (a much-neglected verse of Romans amongst the avid readers of Romans). Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.
Don't wait for somebody to love you to see if they are "worth it": love somebody -- with the kind of love Christ showed us. By this all people will know that you are Jesus' disciples, if you have love for one another.
If you do that, it'll be a new kind of New Year for you. You will probably get hurt, and some people will hate you for it.
You might have other suggestions. I'm sure those will be good ideas, too.