“How’s Your Church Doing?”
That was a question I was asked twice recently on my day off. One was quite expected: from our financial advisor with whom Pam (my wife) and I met that day. The second was quite unexpected: from a guy I do not know very well at the pool where I swim, and had not seen since before all the pools closed in early 2020.
It seems that question pops up much more often these days; from the usual sources: family, close friends and fellow pastors, but now from neighbors, friends, and even casual acquaintances. What encourages me, is that it seems like people sincerely wonder and care. My answer is usually a short or longer version of: “It is a challenging time, but that God is doing something new and so it is also an exciting time.”
It is challenging in that the multiple crises we have faced seemed to have accelerated the negative trends that were already happening in the Church. Church attendance was dropping, hostility towards the Church was rising, racial and political divides were deepening. But the good things about troubled times is that it has forced us to rely on the Lord, and to rethink what it means to BE the Church.
In all these challenges, God has not been surprised by all these things, and is still working, and in face, “doing a new thing!’ The prophet Isaiah, speaking for God, said long ago:
"See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:19
The Church in America needs a "new thing", and God wants to “re-NEW” His Church. The prophet Ezekiel prophesies about a renewal of God’s people:
"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." Ekekiel 36:25-27
As we move forward as a church, there are lots of things we need to DO differently, especially new things regarding technology and methodology. Our new website, and more and more of our ministry taking place online are some of those things. And of course, we need to be faithful to the gospel and the truth and grace we find in Jesus and His sacrifice. But the new heart and new Spirit Ezekiel tells us God wants to give is not to follow a bunch of rules, but to love God and love people. The apostle Paul shows us this in Romans:
“The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:9-10
In the gospel of John, Jesus Himself talks about something new and related to love:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34
As I answer people’s question, “How is your church doing?” I usually point out that He is calling us to love people with a soft heart and a new Spirit within us. His Spirit is at work to give us the strength to love. How do we face the challenges in this time as church and part of God's universal Church; to heal the racial hatred and discord, break down the wall of hostility towards the church, to love those across the political isle, and to cause people to be interested in Jesus? We need to be the Church by loving those around us!