WOW! First of all, THANKS so much to all of you who commented on post #1 (if you haven’t read it, go there now AND read all the great comments: click here)! Everyone of you said something noteworthy and provacative. I’m inspired by you all, and hope you’ll stick with me in this conversation! Let me tell you what struck me MOST as I read through your comments: I hear a lot of HOPE!!!!!! That is awesome. That makes me feel really good about this discussion. Without hope, our hearts grow faint and weary — and we become powerless to change. I also LOVE the yearning I see in the younger ones for a “breakthrough” — faith for “more than this”. That is crucial. We should never feel that we’ve arrived, not until the Kingdom of Heaven has fully come on Earth. Until then, we should be pressing in for more of It to break in. I’m excited. 🙂
Let me tell you a little bit about where I’m coming from, and what has prompted me in this whole discussion. There are a lot of books out there seeking to define and re-define “church”. Obviously, we’re not the only ones who care. That’s a good thing! Some of these books look really interesting, others I have no time for. Honestly, though, (for the moment at least) I don’t want to read another book, or hear someone else’s great strategy for how to “do it right”, or what worked for them….. I mean, people have had great ieas on how to do “church growth” for the last thirty or more years, but by and large, we haven’t been growing! Do I somehow think that I’ve got the answers? No. But, I do know Someone who does, and my heart tells me that He is very interested and willing to bring us to the place of right understanding, together.
“Together” means, let’s not be too quick to shout out our quick solution/opinion. There’s a growth that happens for us all as we give and take, agree and disaggree, letting the “iron sharpen iron”. Wisdom is found in a multitude of counselors, and victory is sure to come as well, in the voice of many (see Proverbs for those nuggets). I understand that I really HAVE opened a can of worms with this discussion — that means it could go anywhere from here, and it could get messy. Thare are MANY things begging to be addressed, I know! Before I started this series, I made a list of about 20 topics related to this as an “outline”. But, if we get too broad in our discussion, it becomes overwhelming, and causes people to shut down. Let’s stay together bit by bit and try to stay focused in the journey, ok?
So, it seems that we all agree, things with “church” could be better. I said “it doesn’t seem to be “working”. What makes me think that “it’s not working” is this: When I look at the “church” (for reference- most of my comments will be generalizations and don’t apply to everyone or every church, but from my perspective, are generally true of the church in our soceity/culture), what troubles me are these things. Or, it would be more constructive for me to frame it this way: The following are (in my opinion) some of the true markers of the Church, functioning rightly…. and my take on where we are at:
1. Passionate Zeal. Though I believe we are sincere in our love for God, we are quite comfortable. Life is pretty easy for most of us, so there’s no real motivation to press us into God (i.e. “consider it pure joy when you face trials… for you know that the testing of your faith… devlops perserverance… so that you may be mature and complete,lacking nothing. James 1:2-4) If our life were made more uncomfortable (i.e. suddenly under great persecution, experiencing large-scale economic distress, or simply truly convicted of our apathy…), we would be stirred up and motivated towards real change. Our God is an all-consuming fire, shouldn’t we be branded with that same zeal?
2. Spiritual Power. Though we definitely are touching lives, we don’t seem to be changing people’s lives on a large scale — where communities are transformed, and people are shocked by the metamorphasis of the worst of sinners becoming saints. There are not those being added to our number daily, or even weekly.. perhaps montly,h and hopefully yearly…. but not daily, from what I’ve seen. Also, to see the power of God manifest in (physical, emotional, spiritual) healing is an idea that is celebrated, but not normal in reality for most people or groups. Also, to see the pre-believer struck to the heart with conviction that brings them to their knees in repentance is also rare (but was quite common in the Great Awakenings of our nation years ago). Now, we can’t necessarily “make” any of these things happen (and you may not think that we should even expect them). However, I do believe most would agree that we lack power.
3. Influence. Though there are some loud voices in the political arena (the “religious right”), who from time to time break through in areas of righteous standards (and, I thank God for that!) — for the most part, society at large doesn’t care about the Church. People aren’t beating down our door when they are in trouble, looking for answers. They don’t care what we think or what we do. They don’t feel the power of our influence in our communities. When crime statistics go down; when teen pregnancies cease; when domestic violence is replaced with healed, healthy families, etc. etc. — then, it can be said of us that we are truly a force in the earth. Isn’t the church supposed to be the instrument through which God’s Kingdom is being manifest on Earth? Surely there is more of His Kingdom to be expressed than we currently see. To me this is the true relevance. I don’t mind (actually I like) cool services, video clips, hip surroundings. But, I believe, church that is Relevant (i.e. it reallys means something to people’s lives), is when people’s lives are being dramatically changed by the ministry of Jesus Christ among them.
I will allow that the three items I’ve chosen here are hard to quantify, and even harder to achieve with a simple mission/vision or strategic plan. There are also probably 100 more items that could be listed as evidence of the church that “works”. I’m just letting you know my heart.
So, here’s the question for you:
What do you believe are the (top three) “markers” of the true church; evidence that it is living and operating as it should? I think some of you may have already expressed some of that in previous comments, please feel free to repeat them in this post. Try to keep your response to the point and constructive.
And, please if you disagree with anything I’ve written, let me know your opinion!