Because of my role as an Editor and Online Community Facilitator, I’m exposed to a very wide variety of thinking within the modern church. I read blogs by the reformed, the missional, the fundamental, the emerging, the evangelical, and the conservative points of view. I read books about theology, church growth, business, leadership, culture, and life. So I hear it all. And I’ve noticed that for a couple thousand years now, the church has had this tendency to be quick to point out what is wrong with the church, but slow to affirm what is right.
We aren’t evangelizing aggressively enough. We aren’t taking people deeply enough into the Word. We don’t use the law enough. We don’t talk enough about grace. We are too institutional, too worldly, and virtually anemic in every possible way, according to pretty much everyone.
My own theology pushes me to rest squarely on the promise of Jesus that He would not only found His church (which I believe He was actively doing even in His lifetime), but that He would also preserve it. He would protect it as it stormed the gates of hell, which would never be able to prevail against it.
Is the church failing? Well, in the sense that we’re off balance, yes. But we’re always off balance. The church is a lot like a pendulum trying to find its center point while the forces surrounding it continue to move it to one side or the other. But have we failed? No. We can’t. We are guaranteed victory. We’re on the winning side.
We’re losing ground. We’re struggling to transform our culture. But as I read books and blogs, all claiming to have the biblical diagnosis and cure for what’s wrong with the church today, I’m also determined to stop and realize some things that are right. There are some trends I see that are good and positive, and deserve celebration and affirmation.
1. I see a church today that is growing in its awareness of the real problems within the culture. Sure, we like to push the thoughts of those suffering from our minds, but the fact is, I do see a tremendous amount of human concern that ought to bring us delight. In the 1980′s, we hoped AIDS would quietly go away, but today, the church is working to minister to people with this terrible disease. We may never solve the world’s hunger problem, but we’re trying harder than ever. Organizations like World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse (along with a myriad of others) are addressing the poverty of the planet in amazing ways. We’re addressing education, leadership, and poor living conditions along with plenty of other global giants. This is good.
2. I see a church today that is coming back to the gospel. Yes, many mainline churches continue their theological drift toward humanism and away from orthodoxy while others who believe the Bible often fail to proclaim it thoroughly. At the same time, I see the word “gospel” pinned to everything, and people are beginning to understand that the gospel is the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that it is the only thing in the world with the power to actually change lives and change the world as far as eternity is concerned. The gospel is definitely good.
3. I see a church planting movement. Granted, thousands of churches are on their death beds, some of which should probably be given a proper burial to pour more resources into birthing new movements. But I also see a rapidly growing church planting movements that is sowing fresh seeds in the soil of communities all over the world. It’s an international movement being carried out less and less by organized denominational structures, and increasingly by small, organic, loosely organized networks of like-minded leaders. I hear more and more about multiplication than ever in my ministry.
4. I see a church beginning to tear down some old walls. It seems that the worship wars, though alive and well within pockets, has on the whole subsided a great deal as we’ve come to realize that a perfect message can be communicated through a variety of musical styles. The Bible version debate has been relegated to a few corners of Christendom, and we’re squabbling less over our particular doctrinal distinctives and uniting around a core body of truth.
5. I see a church that is slowly learning to relate to the culture as Jesus would. Technology has changed so rapidly that ten years ago, we still weren’t sure which tools to embrace and ignore. But today, there is a growing movement toward communicating the gospel to the culture on its terms, within its framework. We’re beginning to sit down at the table with people who don’t understand our faith and share more lovingly what and why we believe.
I’m glad for the prophets who understand our times and the wise sages to take us back to our historical, orthodox roots. We need to be evaluating, listening, and re-committing ourselves to that which is timeless and unchanging all the time. But we also need to be a people who show the world around us the overwhelming power of hope. We ought to be the most positive people in the world. It is by the unity that we find with one another on the grounds of truth that the world will understand that we are Jesus’ disciples.
What else needs to be affirmed about the church today?