Nothing challenges us to think about changing times more than the transition from one year to the next. On this first day of 2012, we asked six Christian leaders to think about the church a year from now and to draw a picture of our progress—and our problems—then.
It is so vivid—identifiable people and places, actions, colors, and sounds. The year is somewhere beyond 2012. I see a church that intrigues me.
The people include those of all colors, ethnic backgrounds, and languages. Names like Gomez and Vegas, Wong and Hasmani, as well as Smith, Jones, Pearson, and Becker are part of the group. But all gather as one to worship the Lord God Almighty.
Worship focuses on the God of Heaven and his Son, Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Supper is its focal point, the very centerpiece of their assembly. Preaching is based on careful exposition of the Word and communicates great qualities of God and his desires for his people. Scripture reading—whole sections of God’s Word, not merely a few verses to support the preacher’s points—commands my attention. Significant times of prayer exalt God and lead a penitent people before him. Worship planners and leaders seem to be less concerned about what is “traditional” or “contemporary” than they are with using great songs, prayers, and practices of the past and present to meet the Eternal One.
People are grounded in the gospel by effective, systematic, sustained, and intelligent teaching both before and after baptism. This church appears to be more concerned that members be well established in the knowledge of God’s Word than merely superficially “connected” to the church.
The participants understand the church’s twofold purpose—to win people to Christ and to develop them into functioning disciples. Success is measured not merely with numbers—which can be inaccurate, superficial, or manipulated—but by fully functioning disciples, which they understand takes time and lots of effort to develop.
These believers are committed to global ministry. They are ready to forego some of the niceties—a projector or two, the Starbucks café in the atrium, some of the money spent personally or corporately for recreation, and additional local staff—so they can take the gospel to those around the world who need to hear the news of God’s redemption. This is reflected in their budget priorities—no more $15 or $20 for local comfort and only $1 or less for missions.
This church recognizes it is called to encompass everyone—old, young, and all those in between. They are sure to include music and messages that communicate to children. They are sensitive to those who can stand for long periods and those who can’t. They understand that some can see video and figure out what is happening while others can’t. They are aware of those who can tolerate any volume, and those whose ears literally hurt when sound is too loud and can’t hear at all when it is too soft.
This group has figured out it isn’t healthy for the church to be too deeply enmeshed in politics. These are well-informed people, involved in the democratic process, yet they realize the church isn’t synonymous with democracy, the American dream, capitalism, or any other form of government or national ethos. They have learned the lessons of history and understand what happens when the church becomes synonymous with a particular political persuasion and national agenda, such as in Nazi Germany of the 1930s.
They are aware that Christians can hold different political views and that no political party is likely the perfect representation of God’s thinking on every point, despite what its adherents may claim. This church is a place where Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and those devoted to whatever else is in vogue feel welcome to worship and participate, as long as they are committed to the Lord Jesus Christ—or seek to be.
This group engages culture, often confronting it—in far more ways than rhetoric commonly heard against abortion and homosexuality (both important topics, of course). They confront individual and corporate self-indulgence, greed, injustice, imperialism, and impersonal treatment of the have-nots. They do good works—feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, and advocating for the powerless—not just to make themselves feel good, but because they have a deep compassion for those consigned to the fringes of society, all too often because they have been victimized. They seem to understand the maxim “there but for the grace of God go I” without being unduly proud of themselves.
Clearly these aren’t perfect people. I see the scars of sin—healed by the stripes of Christ. I am aware they aren’t clones of each other, never disagreeing about anything. But they value community and work to solve conflicts in ways that value everyone.
And I conclude: I want to be a part of that kind of church. But alas! I awoke.
Tell me it wasn’t merely a dream!
Eleanor Daniel, retired Dorothy Keister Walker Professor of Christian Education Emeritus at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, lives in Johnson City, Tennessee.