In Just One Year: The Worst . . . and the Best

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. 

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By Greg Nettle

It was the worst of times. . . . It was the best of times.

As an underlying foundation, I believe that when the circumstances of life are at their worst, the church has the opportunity to be at her best.

It was the worst because the U.S. economy continued to struggle. High unemployment, fear, debt, and all the problems they cause continued to plague the nation. The church is at her best because she becomes lean and generous—helping those in need, focusing more resources outside the church walls, and teaching people highly successful biblical financial principles.

It was the worst because many small churches continued to struggle, decline, and even close their doors. The church is at her best because those same struggling churches make the decision to leave a positive legacy by rebirthing as they bequest their assets to new church planting.

It was the worst because church attendance in the U.S. continued to decline for the third straight decade. The church is at her best because healthy churches were forced to engage the culture in new and effective ways to make disciples of Jesus. The church is no longer about building buildings and inviting people to come be “with us,” but is now committed to being the “sent ones” who are “one of” the people they are called to love in a special way.

It was the worst because the church continued to be viewed as irrelevant by the majority of society. It was the best because the church was forced not only to ask the question, “Are we irrelevant?” but also to retool in ways that actually transform communities, prisons, the foster care system, businesses, and culture.

It was the worst because laws throughout the U.S. continued to support same-sex marriage and to press all of society in the direction of full acceptance and support. It was best because the church was forced to deal with challenging theological questions and practices that make her the harbinger of truth expressed with grace.

It was the worst because children became more and more at risk. Teen pregnancy, use of pornography, alcohol and drug abuse, and biblical illiteracy all continued to rise. The church is at her best because we know the inherent value of all children and have risen to the task of taking their care seriously.

It was the worst because we are finally waking up to the astonishing poverty, illness, illiteracy, and slavery endured by much of the world. The church is at her best because she is marshaling energy, prayers, and resources to eradicate the evils of the world in Jesus’ name.

It was the worst because the attacks of Satan have driven the church to her knees. The church is at her best because when she is on her knees, she is relying on the only One who can make a difference.


Greg Nettle is president of Stadia and senior pastor at RiverTree Christian Church, Massillon, Ohio.

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