A pang strikes my heart every time I write about the church. It’s the same discomfort I get when confronting a friend about a sin issue; a necessary pain. I wouldn’t want to take joy in correcting a flawed ideology, but neither should I ignore anything that hinders the gospel’s advance.
But in writing about the church – from women’s ministry to the millennial message – I have a weighty responsibility. The church is not a building, after all. The church is people. The church is me.
This means that for every thing I find wrong in the church, I need to take a long, hard look at myself. Do I preach a self-centric gospel? Am I the new legalist, judging by appearance just as I have been judged? Have I given shallow platitudes to offset insecurity, instead of leading women to the beauty of Christ?
I believe there are some significant ways our churches need to change. But change doesn’t happen by writing these words, and it won’t happen just because you read them. Change might begin with an idea, but it happens through action.
That’s why you and I are the change our churches need.
Be the Community You Want
It’s easy to complain about the church. I’ve heard professing Christians claim they are “done” with it; that they “follow Christ, but don’t need the church”. Facts are, if you follow Christ – you are the church. If you don’t like something, you’re the one who needs to change it.
Christ loves the church. The church is His bride, closest and dearest to His heart:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a glorious church, without stain or wrinkle or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph. 5:25-27)
To scorn the church is to scorn those who Christ loves. To think we can scorn fellow believers – the fellowship of Christian faith – belies a profound misunderstanding of what Christianity even is. There will always be congregations who mishandle God’s Word and fail to act according to the call of Christ. But their disobedience does not remove our own responsibility. We might not like the community these churches build – but that just means it’s up to us to build the community that’s missing.
We millennials are big on community; we want to belong, to have a tribe. The church is the best and biggest tribe you can ever have. When we forsake it, we’re really saying we know better than God what a community should be. We’re also saying that loving others – particularly those with whom we disagree – is below us.
If we really want a community, we’ll be the community we want. It starts with only a few: a few willing to welcome, to pursue, to give, and to serve. A few to make a difference in the dying church that others say isn’t worth their time. It takes only a few to revive a spirit of grace and redemption. But that change doesn’t start with the next girl who reads this post – it starts with you.
Be the Outreach That’s Missing
I get as annoyed as the next person by “outreach” that’s little more than a programmed event with “Jesus” slapped on the front. There’s constant debate about the best way to spread the gospel – is it by building relationships? Street evangelism? Going to door to door? The truth? The best evangelism acknowledges the unique needs and priorities of the community where it takes place. Frankly, unless we are involved in our cities, our towns, and our neighborhoods, we won’t know how to best reach these people with the gospel.
Our churches try desperately to facilitate outreach because – I propose – it’s not happening organically. And it’s not happening organically because the church – you and me – are happily sitting in our seats on Sunday, chatting with our friends, and going home to our comfortable houses – never looking right or left to the neighbors on the street. We think outreach is something the church runs and we participate in. It doesn’t cross our minds that outreach begins with us.
This makes me as uncomfortable as it probably makes you, and here’s what I do about it: I press into the discomfort. On holidays, Josh and I intentionally take baked goods to our neighbors. This last time, it was -1 Fahrenheit – and we had our baby with us. It was uncomfortable spiritually, emotionally, and physically, but Josh and I firmly believe that we are the church, and outreach begins with us.
It starts with the lady who runs Babies and Books at the library. It starts in a secular moms group. It starts with the lady in the grocery store checkout line. Every single time we come in contact with another immortal soul we are called to live the gospel. This is our evangelism. This is our outreach. This is the role of the church!
Josh and I aren’t perfect at this – like I said, this is not our comfort zone. But the church needs to get used to being out of their comfort zone. It’s where we’re supposed to be.
Be the Change in Your Church
If your church isn’t welcoming, be the most welcoming person there.
If your church isn’t communal, facilitate a small group.
If your church isn’t Spirit led, get on your knees for revival.
Yes, there are times when it’s wise to leave a congregation. But the Spirit of God will never call you to give up on the church as a whole. He will inspire you to be the change it needs – not out of bitterness, arrogance, or spite, but out of the love Christ has for His people.
Be the woman who steps up to disciple the younger girl.
Be the one who prays for each attendee to know God and make Him known.
Be the change.
It’s a challenge I accept just as I give it to you. Across denominations and across the world, we are one body (1 Cor. 12:27).
Let’s act like it.