I recently had a conversation with someone in our church who felt somewhat frustrated with where the church seemed to be heading. A year and a half ago as we discussed our vision and identity as a church, conversations and round-table discussions made it clear that the majority of the church believes we must become far more active in our community and abroad.
This particular member thought it a waste of time and money to send myself and another church member to Zambia on a scouting trip to assess ministry needs in an area where we support a local pastor. They saw no value in such effort believing that the financial support we’ve sent for the past nine-plus years to be quite adequate. I assured her that there will be greater value in further developing our relationship with our friends in Zambia, with hands-on, side-by-side ministry that you can’t put a price on. And our brothers and sisters in Zambia are longing for that kind of relationship. People’s lives are changed in such ministry environments in incredibly profound ways not to mention the intimate relationships developed with our dear friends. I rattled off other various benefits to such an endeavor. She just looked at me, cold and said, “I guess I’m just old-fashioned and I don’t think it’s that important.” I cringe at that mindset, but understand where it comes from.
In all of this I think of what Robert Lewis said in his book, The Church of Irresistible Influence regarding building bridges to the community. His challenge is this,”the church must rediscover its central role and craft as bridge builder.For the world’s sake. For the church’s sake. For God‘s sake” (p.28). We’ve had classes on sharing faith, talked about the need to share the gospel with friends, do missions and serve, but with little actual living out the gospel as disciples of Jesus — making more disciples. We’ve got a ton of head knowledge about how and what the church is supposed to be, but as Henry Blackaby laments, “Our gospel is cancelled by the way we live [or don't]” (Lewis, p. 25). While money is vitally important in supporting the work of the kingdom, God calls people to the task of being the irresistible influence and presence of Christ in the world, and the world knows it.
Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine and famed for his undying efforts to hold the government and the church responsible for biblical justice for all people writes,
Our scriptures, confessions, and creeds are all very public, out in the open. Anyone can easily learn what it is supposed to mean to be a Christian. Our Bible is open to public examination; so is the church’s life. That is our problem. People can read what our scriptures say, and they can see how Christians live. The gulf between the two has created an enormous credibility gap. The evangelism of the church has no power when the essence of the gospel is not lived out in the world. – Jim Wallis, TheCall to Conversion.
It’s time to bridge the “credibility gap” and BE the church in our world, otherwise we’re just a nice social club.The credibility of the church is LIVED out in the great commandment (Matt 22:37-40)and the great commission (Matt 28:18-20) not merely through our financial giving. Jesus wants our hearts, hands,mouths, and feet — he wants all that we are and our potential to be, so that his kingdom presence is seen here on earth.
For me this is the essence of the gospel and I will settle for nothing less. We’ve got a ways to go in bridging the gap in our community, but we’ve gotten a good start and we’ve only just begun. I think our vision and mission points us in a healthy direction. But we need to keep in front of us at all times… because, ultimately, it’s God’s mission.
May the Lord bring it to pass.
’til next time.