To the North American Church:
I know you’re struggling. The symptoms of your problems are easy to see. The obvious ones have to do with numerical decline and leadership scandals. Less obvious, but just as problematic, is the explosion in church and leadership consultants who stand at the ready to offer you solutions for your problems. If you’re a pastor you know what I mean. You could go to a different conference every week, and still miss most of them! We’ve invented new words, like missional and emergent, and new techniques, like multi-site, and chased after these techniques, in hopes of reviving the church or building our little piece of it at least. But for all that, our collective slide towards the abyss of cultural irrelevance continues. These consultants and so called solutions have, sadly, turned our focus away from the main thing, which has always been, and always must be – The centrality of Christ!
I’d suggest we need to stop copying and envying each other, and spend less time listening to consultants. Then, once we’ve created some space in our lives, we need to get re-acquainted with Jesus and the ancient paths of which the prophets spoke. It’s here, in this space of intimacy, humility, teachability, brokenness, and worship, that our anointing and vision are fanned into flame. And it’s here, as we rediscover Jesus in the Bible, that we’ll find some words to guide us into the future. Here’s what I found in the prayer closet…a TULIP for a new millennium.
Think “Health”, not “Growth” – Jesus cuts to the core when He says, “I am the vine, you are the branches ; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus makes it clear that my job is to abide, which means to make a home with Jesus, a relationship of intimacy whereby I hear His voice and step into His story, mindful that He alone is the source of fruit. In this posture of dependency, I expect fruit, but am not obsessed with it’s size, nature, or timing. Christ is resurrection life, and the nature of such life is that it’s reproductive. Therefore, those who drew upon the resources of His life should believe that fruit will come. They should plan for it and expect, but not worry about it. The church in North America has resorted to looking for ways to manufacture fruit, by changing sound systems, or putting coffee in the foyer, or tweaking their mission statement, or re-branding themselves. That sounds tiring and frustrating. I’d rather abide.
Undo the culture of pretense. Foster confession and authenticity. Because I’m a pastor, I know what goes on behind the veil of spirituality that shrouds our brokenness. It’s time to come into the light, confessing and forgiving. Only there will we find the life giving streams of healing and transformation that all of us – all of us, so desperately need.
Love one another, instead of shooting each other, for after all, it’s our demonstrable love for those who claim Christ that validates our testimony. These days, though, you’d think the testimony is validated by who is most right, or farthest to the right, or from right, either theological or political. A wise man once said that we don’t yet see the whole picture, so let’s not presume we do by throwing stones at those who see this mystery differently.
Invite rather than Condemn. I understand that all of us stand under God’s judgement because of our sin. Jesus understood that too, and Paul articulated it for us quite well. Still, I can’t help but wonder why Jesus didn’t go around from town to town railing about original sin. Sure, he calls us all to repent, but the word means nothing more than changing one’s mind. Jesus invited people into the good work that God is doing in the world, over and over again. Then God used life experiences to expose the heart terrain needing transformation. The fear, greed, lust, lying, pride, and anger, that you find in the disciples were all still there after they’d started following Jesus. Unless someone sees their sin with 20/20 clarity, like the woman caught in adultery, I’m starting my declaration of the good news with an invitation to join God’s story. Those who respond, will begin the lifelong journey of repentance that is the Christian life, as layer after layer of sin is exposed and dealt with.
Proclaim Christ. We’re placing all our chips on the belief that because Jesus died and rose again, history has a different trajectory. Our calling now is to live into that story, that trajectory of hope, by being the people of blessing we’re created to be, and by pointing to the resurrected Jesus as the source of every cup of cold water, every healed body, every reconciled relationship, every act of beauty. He is Life! Enjoy Him. Serve Him. Proclaim Him. Make His reign Visible by clothing the naked, bringing water to the thirsty, loving your enemies, and showing hospitality to everyone.
This is the reign of Christ. This is the adventure of being His bride. This is the church.