The church has fallen on hard times. (I guess that’s not news to you.)
What with the rather public troubles that the Roman Catholic Church is facing, and the theological debates going on that are tearing other churches apart, I suppose it wasn’t that surprising when I read in Reader’s Digest the other day that among the most trusted professionals, Canadians ranked ‘religious ministers’ twenty-third out of forty-one.
As one of those whom the Reader’s Digest calls a ‘religious minister’, I was disappointed – nay, crestfallen! – upon reading that statistic. But I suppose I ought not to have been surprised. Because, at least in Canada, the church no longer holds a place of privilege, there is a sense in which the church must take a “book of Acts” approach to its ministry. That is, if the church in Canada is to thrive in a (modestly) antagonistic culture, it must approach ministry with a ‘new frontier’ kind of mentality, assuming no knowledge of the faith among those with whom it engages, and discovering people’s greatest soul-needs and working within the cultural milieu of its surroundings to meet those needs.
That doesn’t take long to read, but it takes a huge amount of time to discern and execute.
As you look at the surroundings of the church you’re involved in, along with people’s need for Jesus, you’ll probably find that people have a deep soul-need for authentic community.
It’s not that people aren’t getting community at all; indeed, we are probably the most community-oriented we’ve ever been as a society. Consider what goes on in Tim Horton’s morning by morning, or in the stands at the local hockey arena, or even on Facebook. People are engaging with one another, to be sure. But does that sort of engagement – personal or electronic – meet a deep soul-need for authentic community?
I don’t think so. That’s where the church comes in.
Lest this turn into a sermon, let me simply suggest that you take a look at the congregation with which you are affiliated (you are going to church, aren’t you?) and undertake an ‘authentic community’ audit. What opportunities does your church have to encourage people to ‘do life’ with one another in a real way? And by ‘real’ I mean that people have opportunities to share from the depths of their hearts in safety, where they will not be judged or laughed at for making themselves vulnerable.
Authentic community also involves sacrifice for the sake of the world for whom Jesus may be nothing more than a swear word. In their book Essential Church, Thom and Sam Rainer state that “an essential church community is a sacrificial church community that surrenders time and convenience for the sake of telling others about Jesus Christ” (p. 51).
The church no longer holds sway the way it once did. For the church in Canada to thrive, we need to be real about our faith, and be willing to adjust so that others can come to faith. And we need to express it authentically in community. God will use the church that does this. Acts 2.42-47 illustrates this for us beautifully: “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (NLT).
Keep that picture of the early church in mind as you look at your own congregation. God knows the difference you can make.