There’s an awful lot of talk these days by some pretty famous folks casting doubt on the relevancy of the Church. I hesitate to add my voice to the cacophony out there in the blogosphere, but I must…
I’ve been in the Church almost all of my life. For the past 57 years (except for about a year or so when I wandered), I’ve attended church gatherings faithfully. In fact, I did the math, and I’ve been to at least 7,000 church services in my lifetime.
I started my journey in a denomination called the Christian & Missionary Alliance, but I’ve also been a Baptist, an Evangelical Methodist and a neo-charismatic. For a huge part of my life, I’ve been in non-denominational churches like the one I pastor now.
Some of you are impressed. Some of you are depressed (you feel sorry for me), and some of you don’t really give a rip! It’s okay. Hang in there with me.
You would think my background in the Church would make me very confused. Am I a fundamentalist, an evangelical, a charismatic, or what? In truth, my experience has given me a great deal of clarity about the Church, its purpose, and its place on planet earth.
• I know the Church is not a building.
• I know the Church is not an hour on Sunday.
• I know the Church is bigger than our pet peeves, our pet doctrines, and our pet organizational structures.
• I know the Church is far from perfect. We are, after all, the fellowship of the broken yet redeemed.
From Johnny MacArthur to Jack Hayford, from “strange fire” to on fire, we are the Body of Christ, His Bride forever, and eternally linked to one another whether we like each other or not.
That being said, I also know the Church is irrelevant!
• Unless she is more of an organism than an organization, more of a living, breathing entity rather than a club akin to the Knights of Columbus.
• Unless she provides a meaningful place for connection and functions effectively as a community of faith. It’s not about the size of the church (big or small); it’s all about the depth of our relationships with one another.
• Unless she provides a place for celebration expressed through vibrant worship, public baptisms, Holy Communion, and authentic and relevant teaching. God does not live in a building, but there ought to be something unique and special about the Church when it gathers together to worship, pray and praise.
• Unless she motivates and engages her members to live otherly-focused.
• Unless she becomes a safe place for people to discover God’s grace and to develop along their journey of faith.
• Unless she engages all involved to realize and utilize their spiritual gifts for the benefit of others and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
• Unless she pools her human and financial resources to do more together than any one individual can do alone.
• Unless she provides a place for the demonstration of the glory and power of God to transform broken lives and to heal broken bodies.
The first church was established with power and in the context of deep and abiding community (Acts 2). It was known for demonstrating God’s power and experiencing meaningful kinship that transcended race or status.
The early Church was anything but irrelevant.
May I humbly suggest that the Church of today becomes extraneous to a watching world, and especially to a younger generation, when we have a “form of godliness, but deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). We can become a stumbling block through an emphasis on “eloquence, persuasive words and human wisdom” rather than “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2).
As my friend and co-laborer, Jeff Kennedy, wrote in his recently released book, Father, Son, and the Other One, “The contrast between powerless American religion and the first-century church is startling.”
If the Church, for you, has become nothing more than a weekly meeting where you sit and listen to a talking head, then it may very well be irrelevant!
However, God intends so much more for the Church. As Christ-followers, our mission and mandate is the mission and mandate of Jesus found in Luke 4:18-19. To follow Him is to live like Him. It’s just that simple.
And Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” John 14:12 (NIV, emphasis added).
Is that your experience? Does that describe your church?
If not, what will make your more church relevant and vibrant? What hope does your church offer the world that will draw people to Christ by the hundreds and thousands? And on a broader scale, what will mark the next great movement of God in our western culture?
I hope you wrestle with these questions as I do.
Perhaps it’s time to add to what we have learned in the past several decades about teaching the Word, worship, creativity, seeker-sensitivity, and leadership (all valuable and necessary). Perhaps the Church will rock our world again when she is a powerful community of sold-out followers who seek to set the captives free, to heal the broken, and to engage people in meaningful connection to the Bride.
So how do we get there from here?
• We take risks.
• We come to our gatherings (whether in a home, a theater, a former K-Mart, or a cathedral) with desperate and expectant hearts.
• We hold on to the important values and practices we have become comfortable with while being willing to venture out into the uncomfortable and unknown.
• We guard against the flesh. (I refuse to make something happen.)
• We yield to and live filled by the Holy Spirit.
• We let new wine fill new wineskins.
Let me be clear as I wrap this up. I’m not suggesting we all become Pentecostals. I’m not suggesting we have missed the boat as evangelicals.
I have never believed the Church is truly irrelevant.
I am, however, strongly suggesting it’s time to shut the mouths of those who call us outdated and irrelevant. And I am suggesting this happens best not through wise discourse or through a more creative show, but through the same means that turned the first century world upside down: God’s love, His power and a life-giving, authentic community of faith.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me.
He has anointed me to tell the good news to poor people.
He has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners.
He has sent me so that the blind will see again. He wants me to free those who are beaten down.
19 And he has sent me to announce the year when he will set his people free.”
Luke 4:18-19 (NIRV)