There is a lot to critique about the church in America these days and the book, Bad Religion by Ross Douthat, that I recommended last week, does a great job of exposing many of our current maladies. Interestingly, however, he does make some positive suggestions for change at the end of the book and it got me thinking about what the church does right. I am a huge fan of the local church and believe that it God’s main instrument for gospel proclamation and life transformation.
While pondering this issue last Sunday, I noticed an insert in my church bulletin. While this might not sound like a particularly unusual thing, our church has moved away from having a lot of inserts in the bulletin and rarely about something not sponsored by our church itself. The insert was promoting the national day of prayer event coming up later in the week at a nearby church. During the announcement portion of the service, our pastor also promoted this event from the pulpit. What I found out later as I chatted with a friend about the event was that our church and several others were jointly sponsoring it and all of the pastors were attending and participating in some way in the service. What a cool and to my mind novel idea in this world of cut throat competition for sheep (for those reading this blog not from a church background, sheep are church members) – working together for greater kingdom impact.
Far too often, the intramural debates in the evangelical church these days highlight our differences and make us weaker in the job that God has called us to. While we spend a lot of time emphasizing our distinctives, the world often looks at what we are doing and gets sick of the infighting and squabbling that takes place. The secular media is all too happy to shine a spotlight on these issues that divide us and Satan loves to place wedges between us wherever he can.
It seems to me that the most effective churches are those that are both proclamational and incarnational. They are word and deed churches preaching the whole council of God on a weekly basis and touching people’s lives daily through acts of love and service. Instead of quibbling over the rules for entry into the church or debating the merits of the “social gospel”, they are embracing the reality that Jesus came to save the lost and did so by living among the people and meeting real needs.
Some exciting things are happening in the local church these days if you look close enough:
- One church decided that providing counseling services exclusively to its members and only by pastoral staff was not sufficient and established a full blown counseling center which reaches far more people. Recognizing that sin is at the heart of most of our deepest psychological traumas and life challenges, they use a counseling method that starts with the word of God as the foundation of all truth.
- Recognizing that some needs are so big that no one church can handle them effectively, two different thrift stores have been spawned out of local churches and church networks. One of them is growing so rapidly that they are opening up new facilities all over our area and some in very prominent locations. These places bring the scriptures to life so that people truly do not need to worry so much about the clothes on their backs and can meet Christians incarnating the truths of the gospel on a daily basis
- Several churches have recognized the power of solid biblical teaching to change lives and the lack of biblical literacy in America these days. Instead of just offering Sunday school classes to meet these needs, they have created Bible Institutes that provide both entry level classes and what amount to college level degree programs. Many of these are offered at low cost or simply for the price of the text books.
Whether they are offering Dave Ramsey classes or Grief Share groups, effective local churches are moving beyond a model of simply offering more and more programming options for their members. Instead they are finding ways to get their members out of the four walls and into the community. Some are calling this approach missional, I see it as simply Biblical. Our pastor occasionally reminds us of a quote from the late Harvey Conn when he said that the church is the only institution that was created primarily for the benefit of its non members. May this be what the world sees and may it draw them closer to the sweet aroma of Christ who died for them.