There’s a lot of focus on things that are “wrong” with the church today. You’ll find your social media feed or Inbox full of lists like, “Five Reasons Your Church Stinks!” or “Millennials Hate You and Here’s Why!” To be sure, there is much that can be helpful in these kinds of articles. They often shed light on things we might not pay attention to.
I believe in the church. I believe she is just as relevant today as she ever was. I believe we have a mission and a purpose. I know that even the Gates of Hell won’t beat her! I know that she is not a place or event or service, but a multiplying, multicultural group of people united around the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, and whose lives reflect that teaching!
Saying all that, it’s easy to look at the negatives and ignore the positives. So, the question we should ask is:
“What’s right with the church?”
I have many things I could point to but let me boil it down to a culturally relevant bullet-point list.
- The Church is Still the Same.
Everybody wants to change everything, or nobody wants to change anything. You know the conversations I’m talking about, right? It’s led to a lot of hurt and division in the church. The bright spot in all this, at least to me, is that in recent years, we’ve begun to study things in our faith heritage.
The spirit of these discussions was anxious. Now, the tone is moderate. No longer is it heresy to ask questions. No longer is it wrong to affirm that just because something is old, doesn’t mean it’s useless. Instead, I see a beautiful multicultural, multigenerational group of people who don’t agree on everything, but are learning to be okay with that. We all unite around Jesus. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as Peter Declared in Matthew 16. I believe that’s enough.
- The Church is Moving Forward
We believe and practice things we wouldn’t dream of years ago. The Church is leading the way on racial reconciliation, social justice, and neighboring. It’s as if God designed it that way! We’re having deep conversations on human sexuality, social issues, and living in gray areas. We’re having more prayer-infused conversations about life and how others who we thought couldn’t fit, are indeed part of the flock. We’re looking into new, more relevant forms of expressing our worship, while retaining the beautiful traditions of our past. Voices once silenced are now being heard. God is still moving, and we are a part of it!
- The Church is Leaving Numbers
Celebrity Pastors/Preachers are still a thing. The small congregation, however, is making a comeback. Bigger isn’t always better. The people of these seemingly irrelevant, old-school, and underdog churches are the unsung heroes of the Kingdom. We’re leaving behind the old yardsticks of “budgets, bodies, and baptisms,” as a barometer for our success.
Instead, God is moving us to focus on changed lives. The pews may seem emptier, but divine conversations are happening all over. Coffee shops, campuses, and factories are the stage on which Holy Spirit led interactions are playing out. The people we talk to may not come to worship, but we’re trusting that if we’re sowing seeds and watering them, God will be faithful to make them grow. And they are growing!
- The Church is Leaving the Building
We’ve traded in cheesy shirts for dirty hands. We’ve stopped building buildings and started building up our cities. In my city, Middletown, Ohio, I have seen God do miracles. We were one of the hardest-hit cities in the opioid epidemic. People were dying at gas pumps, in drive thru lines, and elementary school lobbies. Mobile morgues were called in because hospitals and the coroners’ office couldn’t hold the corpses.
Violence was surging, and gang activity was inciting a lot of racial tensions. The churches in our city began to rally around the citizens. We began praying. Then we began taking the city back park by park and block by block. I witnessed a formerly fearful woman, seeing the sixty people from the church behind her repairing a playground, walk up to a drug dealer and tell him he had to go. “Why?” he smirked? “Because God’s people showed me I don’t need to be afraid of you anymore. This is God’s park, and you’re done here.” He’s in prison now.
As a result, our overdoses are down 97%, and a big cartel has left our city. God is moving because His people are leaving the building! It’s beautiful! It’s wild! It’s glorious!
- The Church is Still Preaching the Gospel
God is still using his beautiful bride to carry the Gospel. The message that Jesus is Lord is still ringing out across our nation. We are reaching people. It may not be as quickly as we want, but God is partying! The message hasn’t changed. It won’t. It can’t!
The Resurrected Messiah’s Bride, the Church, is still prevailing against the Gates of Hell! He’s still with us! The Spirit is speaking to the churches! Jesus is the only hope, and we are shouting it. It may not always be in sermons, but in our service, our dialogue, and our repentance over past mistakes, we are preaching the Gospel. This hasn’t ever been about us. It’s always been and will always be about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Look, it’s easy to see a lot of things that are wrong. It’s even easier to get discouraged and overwhelmed. Let me challenge you with something. This Sunday when you gather to worship our Father, sit and listen. Listen to life all around you, the crying babies, running kids, and cooing toddlers. Teens on their phones making jokes and choosing to be there. The older couple who are fighting illness but have made it a priority to get to service so they can hand out bulletins with a giant grin.
The body is very much alive. She’s very much growing. She’s moving. She’s serving. She’s loving. She’s building. I feel overwhelmed with emotion at the thought that I get to be a part of it. I, as messy a human being as I have been, am invited to be a part of the Bride of Christ.
I believe in the Church. And She is good! She is still fighting for the oppressed. She is still helping the needy. She is still mourning with the bereaved. She is still standing the gap for those who can’t stand. She is still the church. And she is beautiful!