Recently I’ve been doing some speaking around the topic of The Church. As I spent time thinking, preparing, writing and sharing this material, I was both challenged and inspired. Since some of it seemed to resonate with people over this summer I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been saying. The intention of it is to encourage you wherever you are. So here goes. Happy to hear your input.
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.” Ephesians 4:2-4
Let me suggest 2 ways that I think this looks like for the church today.
1/ CELEBRATION OVER COMPLAINT
I recently read the front page of a newspaper that led with 2 main feature stories. The first celebrated a British female tennis star who the newspaper claimed was “ours”, despite conceding the fact that she had been born in a different country. The second story focused on the migrant crisis, with the headline writer making it clear that these people weren’t “wanted here”. The irony was strikingly obvious and yet that didn’t seem to bother the publishers. They were complaining about the same thing they were celebrating.
Too often we do this with the church.
We realise its importance & recognise its value but often we end up complaining about what it isn’t or grumbling about what it is. Too often we open our mouths to sing with our church community, and yet mutter our frustrations about that same community. Too often our first mindset is to complain about what the church isn’t rather than to celebrate what it is. Instead can we recognise the brilliance and the beauty of the church?
I love this quote that I read on the Catalyst blog: “We have great worship on YouTube and inspiring sermon podcasts to listen to. Yet nothing compares to meeting with God’s people for worship, mutual encouragement, friendship, prayer and teaching. When you read the New Testament, belonging to Christ and belonging to his church always go together. Jesus is coming back for his church. It is not an optional extra-it is the community of God’s people in every place, showing God’s love and demonstrating his kingdom. Love the church, because in spite of all her flaws, Jesus loves her.” Craig Cooney
When my hairdressers asks me where I work I always seem to downplay what I do. But I work for a large multi-national company that’s been in existence for hundreds of years that runs hospitals all over the world, helps people out of poverty, feeds hungry mouths, empowers thousands of leaders, serves those in need and stands with those who are broken. What if I adopted this posture towards the church?!
As a youth worker I often heard complaints from teenagers about the church. Yet I often wondered whether these complaints were formed in their own minds or by the opinions of their parents at the Sunday dinner table. I certainly wasn’t going to add to their complaints. The very mouths that celebrated Jesus on Palm Sunday were the same mouths that turned on him later that same week. And so I want to ensure that I don’t celebrate Jesus on Sunday and yet grumble about his bride on Monday.
Does the church still need to think about how we do things? Absolutely.
Does the church need to be better at welcoming the outsider? Yes.
Does the church need to change its posture at times? I think so!
But it’s my family. And I love it.
People in our culture will never value the church if we spend our lives grumbling about it. We won’t teach the next generation to value something that we can’t speak well of. Martin Luther King had a complaint, but his speech didn’t start that way! His first words declared that he had a dream. Complaints don’t lead people. Vision does.
So what’s your posture? We can either adopt a position of complaint or a place of celebration. I’d never trash talk my best friend’s wife and so if Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, what does this mean for how we should speak of the church?
I recognise the heart and I want to see the good. I embrace those who may think differently but still sit around the same table. And as I look around and see what is going on in the big picture of our church, I am amazed at all that is going on and I want to see more. I am blown away by the people I have met people with incredible hearts & significant stories. I have listened to the desires of leaders seeking to make a difference in their context. I have seen the work among foreign migrants in the city suburbs. I have seen the next generation being raised and discipled through the church family. I have watched first hand alcoholics being welcomed, addicts become clean and the poor lifted out of poverty. I have heard the accounts of people finding faith in Jesus and then bring their whole family to church.
So let’s learn to speak well of one another. Let’s continue to love one another. Let’s search for the brilliance, and also call each other to more. Let’s develop a greater heart for our family and our tribe. Because there is so much good and because there is so much still to come.
I want to be part of a generation that values the church in our land as the incredible gift and resource that it is. A generation that rolls up its sleeves and embraces the cringe-iness, the ugliness and the mess, and begins to appreciate the challenge that she brings, the community that she offers, and the beauty she provides.
TRANSFORMATION OVER INFORMATION
Secondly, if we want to see our churches flourish, it won’t happen with smart, strategic moves, but by fresh spiritual movements. The church doesn’t just need strategic innovation, it needs spiritual renovation. We need to recapture a focus on Jesus and a love for our husband as the bride. We don’t require any more head information, we need heart transformation!
In his letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation, Jesus is clear what the issue was with this church. They had forgotten their first love. It wasn’t that they weren’t relationally relevant or culturally aware. Not that they weren’t strategically focused or missional sharp. They had fallen out of love with Jesus.
As church we have a purpose. A purpose that is bigger than merely filling a pew, that is wider than just volunteering in programmes and deeper than just gaining more knowledge about God. It’s a purpose to know Jesus and share him with the world, yet too often I get so wrapped up on things IN the church that I miss opportunities to BE the church in our culture.
Paul’s words remind us that there is One Body and as I read the New Testament, it occurs to me that God doesn’t seem to have Plan B or a better idea. As Alan Hirsch writes, “the church doesn’t have AN agenda. It is THE agenda. The church doesn’t HAVE a missional strategy. It IS the missional strategy.” In other words, the church is the primary way God chooses to work in the world.
There is nothing like the local church and I’m with Bill Hybels – it really is the hope of the world!