One of the most exciting things I believe was summed up best by Bill Hybels: “The local church is the hope of the world.” I know some people will jump on that and say, “Gee, PJ, I thought Jesus was the hope of the world.” The answer is, of course, that Jesus is the hope of the world and that people best get connected to him in their local church. Jesus is the local church after all, it is his body.
I don’t really care what that church body looks like: high church or low church, cathedral or store front or living room. What’s important is that the local church understands it stands as Christ’s representative. All those wonderful words in 2 Corinthians 5 about being the ambassadors of Christ are written to the local church, to “ya’ll” in the church. If people are going to come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord they will somehow need to be connected to his body. That’s why the local church is the hope of the world. Because the local church can bring the hope and transformation that only Jesus has.
This is an awesome mission. What would it be like if we really lived this out together? What if we actually believed and acted like we believed that our local congregation was the hope of the entire world? I think a lot of the petty arguments would stop. I think our priorities would be re-arranged. It would have to stop being about us. I think everything would change for the sake of the mission. And I think that’s what needs to happen. Now.
Why are we slow to adopt this vision that we, the church, are the hope of the world? Because I think we worry too much about our institutional survival. We can’t afford to lose any members, especially in these tough economic times, so we accommodate people who aren’t mission minded and try to keep everyone happy. This mindset can be held by pastors, boards, and members in general. If the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll lose a member, you probably will never gain any. And you certainly won’t add people who didn’t know Christ before because you won’t be being the hope of the world. You’ll be being the customer service department.
Sometimes, as preachers, we’re tempted to preach nice sermons full of empty platitudes that don’t rock the boat. But if we don’t preach for life change and transformation, if people don’t go away challenged to know Christ or know him better and equipped to do so, what’s the point?
I think we’ve been focused on meeting the felt needs of our members for too long. We’ve become insular, unable to identify and therefore to relate to the outside world. We’ve lost our edge, too. We are no longer expected to be imaginative or creative or innovative in the ways we make our witness or engage the world. I suppose it’s too risky to be too innovative, it might make someone uncomfortable or leave them longing for the way things used to be.
I’m speculating here but what if we in the local church have come to believe that if people want to meet Jesus they must first conform to the culture of the church? I think the early church dealt with that problem in Acts 15. Nothing is required before you meet Jesus. If we were missionaries we wouldn’t expect the people of the land we were evangelizing to learn our language or adapt our culture first. We’d learn theirs with joy so we could share Jesus. That’s the right attitude. We’re supposed to be the missionaries, not the consumers.