I have been a minister for twenty-six years. I suppose that in some respects that is not a long time. Yet, today it feels long. I serve God this way because I really believe that this is what he wants me to do. Yet, I do this with much concern about churches today.
For a long time, it was difficult for me to understand why so many people both in and out of churches are so frustrated with the church. Now–I do.
What energizes me in my life and work are not the things that so many churches have as front and center concerns. These are the concerns I hear expressed repeatedly in churches around the country:
- How can we create a situation where people won’t gripe?
- How can we get our way?
- How can we have a church where we live whatever lifestyle that we want.
- How can we create a high level of comfort for everyone?
Notice anything about these concerns? Nothing about mission. Nothing about rescue. Nothing about the community. Nothing about people who are around us whose lives are a mess and who want to find God. Nothing about a world that desperately needs Jesus.
The above three concerns were not front and center concerns for Jesus and his followers. They were not central concerns for the early churches. Yet, too often these self-absorbing concerns become the subject of endless conversations and meetings.
There is hope…
I worked with a church in Alabama for seven years. It was a fairly new church and was pretty "messy" in a lot of ways. This church, during those years, became a place where people could find a new beginning. There were recovering alcoholics, recovering drug addicts, and recovering pharisees. Most of all there were recovering sinners. A lot of people in that church were a mess. But–it was a home and a place to begin again for sinners. It was a place where a lot of us discovered the gospel of grace and how to live out that grace.
Again, there were a lot of things we should have done different. I wish that we had done a better job of developing leaders and maturing people in Christ. I do think the focus was right on target.
I believe that our churches would be very different places if we could get focused on two areas.
- A lower view of ourselves. We have a sin problem. Yet, too often we measure ourselves by looking at one another instead of God (remember the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector who went to the temple to pray?). When we do this we either feel prideful (I’m doing much better than she is) or we hide (I couldn’t let anyone know that I wrestle with ____).
- A higher view of God. God is good. His grace is our hope. He wishes to not only forgive us but transform us into a new kind of people. He will be active in our lives every day throughout the week.
What will we look like? We will be an humble people, very aware of our own sins. We will be welcoming to other sinners who wish to walk with the Lord. We will be a people who have great confidence in a wonderful God who is at work in our lives.