If I could cast a single vision for the future of the Churches of Christ — a vision that I would want to be in God’s image, rather than mine! — I would want to see us focusing less on subtraction and division, and concentrating more on addition and multiplication.
I think we’ve spent the past couple of decades squandering too much of those precious years with navel-gazing and holy-moaning about how many people are being subtracted from our numbers and why, as well as how many divisions there are among our ranks and what’s causing them.
Those answers are really painfully simple, I fear. We have spent our time more concerned about the church and less concerned about Jesus Christ.
We thought we could fix ourselves. Heal our own wounds. Stanch the outflow of membership lifeblood. Appeal to broader audiences. Perk up our worship. Have seeker services. Have instrumental services. Have services at nontraditional times. Start new programs. Get people involved. Spend lots of time with each other. Form bonds. Be more accountable to each other. Serve coffee. Have small groups. Break out into age-appropriate, gender-separated, common-interest cliques. Open community centers and exercise rooms and gymnasiums and cafes in our buildings. Have retreats. Host special events. Hire guest speakers.
Probably none of those was intrinsically wrong. But they were about the equivalent of treating the loss of members of our own bodies with a styptic pencil; putting a band-aid on an amputated stump.
They were our plans. Not His.
We tried everything but believe in the authority Jesus gave us to do what Jesus suggested we do empowered by the very presence of Jesus in our lives that Jesus Himself promised us:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We didn’t really accept His unique and total and divine authority; we kept some of it back for ourselves, to do what we thought best in the way we thought best.
We didn’t really go; we stayed — inside our buildings, inside our groups, inside our comfort zones, inside ourselves.
We weren’t into all nations; we were into ourselves.
We didn’t really make disciples; we told people how to behave in church, in marriage, on the job, in school, in life.
We baptized people in the names, but not into the natures, of the Father, Son and Spirit.
We sometimes taught them to obey, but we bound upon them far more than the everything Jesus commanded us — which was to love God with all of self … and to love and do for others as we would for self. We perpetuated tradition as if it were law. Our proud tradition, which made us comfortable — when comfort was the least of Jesus’ concerns for us.
And finally, we did not act as if we believed He is among us, with us, within us, every moment of every day of every month of every year until days, months and years are subsumed in eternity.
Instead, we keep doing what we’ve been doing, or trying something different, wondering why neither one is working.
I know. I’m sounding very negative. Very judgmental. (And I judge myself with these words, for I am deeply guilty.)
The challenge of a future vision for the Churches of Christ should be bright and positive. So let’s turn our past on its head. Let’s repent of subtraction and division. Let’s commit to addition and multiplication.
In the early days of the believers, the Lord added to their number daily. He multiplied their blessings with His very presence through the Holy Spirit among them, transforming and drawing them ever closer to Himself.
How can we be a part of that kind of numerical and spiritual growth?
We can try doing what they did. We can tell the gospel of Jesus Christ daily, at our temples of worship and from house to house, praying for boldness and for His Holy Spirit to come upon us in power and shake our world. We can proclaim Him whether we incur the favor of the people, or arrest and imprisonment and humiliation. We can seek to heal, if not miraculously, then at least spiritually. We could even sell some possessions and bless the poor — at least pay a few medical bills in this season of economic uncertainty. We could count others as more important than ourselves.
In short, we could try living the very gospel we speak, giving it credibility through our love, kindness, concern, respect, generosity, the display of every fruit of the Spirit.
I see this as the vision God had for His people from the very beginning. It was His original intent for the created residents of the garden near Eden; for His children led by patriarchs of monumental faith building arks and journeying to distant lands; for His nation delivered from slavery and led by laws of hospitality and justice; for His scattered tribes learning obedience the hard way; and for His gathered church of believing saints both then and now.
I believe this is the mission of male and female, young and old and in-between, every shape, size, color, gift, ability, passion and personality of every believer in Jesus Christ in every nation.
This is our future, starting right now, and going on forever; to be shared with anyone who will see and listen and accept the blessing of life in Him.
If we truly are Churches of Christ, believers in God, bearers of the Holy Spirit, we’ll do this. We’ll look like Him, sound like Him, teach and preach and heal and love, and perhaps even — if we’re found worthy — sacrifice like Him.
We’ll do this, because nothing else matters more in the world. No cost will be found too high. No alternative will be deemed superior. No temptation will be seen as too great.
We used to sing an old, old song in our worship together at the church where I grew up:
There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.
Have you listened to the news this week? Read it in the papers or on the ‘net? Seen it on television?
We live in a world absolutely overflowing with sin-sick souls, desperately in need of healing and help and comfort and salvation from sadness and self and sin and Satan and death.
One of the verses of that old hymn makes this humble suggestion:
If you cannot sing like angels
If you cannot preach like Paul
you can tell the love of Jesus
you can say He died for all.
That’s it, isn’t it? The future of the Churches of Christ in a few simple words.
Will we sing it, embrace it, live it? Or …
Keep doing the same old thing the same old way? Try something different, born of our own planning and cleverness and wisdom? And continue to wonder why it’s not working, and the church’s lifeblood keeps flowing out of it?
Jesus knew what would be needed to get His work done in this world, using His methodology, following His instructions, through His power, supervised by His own presence and Spirit within and among us … to the glory of the Father.
What’s my vision for the Churches of Christ?
I see us trying it His way.