On some Wednesdays, I have the opportunity to speak at a local community luncheon. It is one the highlights of my week. Today, it was appropriate I had the opportunity to speak, because I felt something wrestling in my soul.
Earlier this morning, some friends and I discussed the future of the church. We all have ideas and solutions to what is going on in the church today. It was a great conversation, and it inspired me to think more about the issue facing the church. We live in an ever-changing world, and an increasingly post-Christendom world. Some have accepted this, but some have not. But, all in the church recognize there is something different about the world we live in.
This recognition requires a response. For too long, our response has been like the church in Sardis. In Revelation 3, we see that the church in Sardis has a great “reputation for being alive,” but the opposite is true. It is actually dead. Even though the church does a lot of great things in the community and has the looks of being alive, it is spiritually dead.
We do not have to look hard to see this is the case for the church. There are several concerns we can touch on.
Too often, the church is more interested in being the United Way than the body of Christ. We want to be known by the good deeds we do in a community. The United Way is a great organization and does a lot of good to help strengthen our communities. But, something is missing. The United Way is great, but it is not about sharing the Gospel.
We cannot disconnect good deeds from our faith and proclamation of Jesus Christ. The two go hand in hand. We must serve the poor and less fortunate, but it should flow our of our relationship with Christ. Acts of mercy and justice should not ignore the proclamation of the hope that flows from Jesus Christ. What good is it to give someone a blanket if we are unwilling to share the hope of Christ with that person? The only thing we have to offer is our hope in Jesus Christ, and everything else flows out of that hope, including our acts of mercy and kindness. Our mission and ministry must be a both/and not an either/or.
Another prevalent response is to ignore the true Gospel, which is the message and hope of Jesus Christ. We’ve replaced the Gospel with a personal feel-good message that places the individual in the role of God. Our sermons, our teachings, and our music is directed at a personal focus to faith. When we do so, we are offering a psychological focus that is merely a self-help guide to life. There is no true and everlasting hope in self-help and self-glorification models of faith.
We need the Gospel and we need to share it with our people. The Gospel is the true message and hope of Jesus Christ. To proclaim any other story above this runs counter to our purpose of worship, which is to offer God praise and glory. If we are unwilling to tell the story of Christ to someone, then the question should be asked of us of why not?
Another response the church has, today, is we have a protectionist mode of ministry. We are that because the world is different, we must hide in the church. There it is safe and we can strengthen the people. Because we can’t relate to the world, we are going to focus on ourselves and be content.
The church should be about making disciples and equipping the saints for ministry in the church. It is an important to ground men and women in their faith so they may be rooted in the love of Christ. As a pastor, it is something I take seriously. However, we cannot stay only where it is safe. We must be sent out into the world to serve God. We must be willing to engage the world. This means going to where the people of God are and purposely be the witnesses of Christ to them. They will not come to us, so we must go to them just as Christ went to the people.
This means, most likely, being adaptable in our worship practices (not our beliefs or teachings) to reach people. If holding a contemporary service is the best way to reach the people, then do it if that is where God is calling your church. The same with sports ministries, or adapting the time of corporate worship, or, even, have church in unusual places like a park. The church that is creative will be the church that is reaching people for Christ.
Finally, we have to stop fighting amongst ourselves. Another aspect of the protectionist model is to argue that only people with similar beliefs about Christ are maintaining the true Gospel. Doing this denounces the church’s ecumenical call in favor of holding up one’s own understandings above others. Sadly, in this area we look a lot like the world. We will stomp, kick, and call others names if they do not share the same beliefs about Christ that we do. We will claim heresy on things that are not heresies, because we cannot stand not having the “real truth.” Heresies are not differences of opinion. They are teachings that go against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We can have differences of opinion in the church, which means different theological perspectives. We cannot have heresies, which proclaim falsehoods about Christ.
If we cannot get along with each other, how do we ever expect people to reach out to us? That is something for all of us to think about.
I believe we are called, as a church, to be the global representation of the body of Christ. The church is the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are all one body together. As a Wesleyan, there are areas where I have a difference of opinion with Calvinists. However, this does not prevent me from working together with my Calvinist friends to share the message of Christ. More than ever, we must work together to share the love of Christ.
As a church, both locally and corporately, we must be spiritually alive. What I offer are merely suggestions on how to improve. Ultimately, it will only happen when churches, and its members, are willing to be led by the Holy Spirit, and are grounded and rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ, and being obedient to the Father in all things. That is what makes us alive, both personally and church universal.
I hope and pray for a revival in the church, a revival that spreads across denominations and faith traditions. It is needed. Come, Holy Spirit, come.