How to Be the Church in a Changing World
By: Bill Easum
I suspect only a fool would deny we are living in changing times. That realization has to be a given in order for there to be any intelligent, relevant, and meaningful dialogue on any subject, no matter when, where, or what its origin. Beyond this fact, everything seems to be up for grabs today. But is it? I think not. Let me explain.
Any conversation we are going to have about the future of Christianity has to go back to the beginning of Christianity – to Jesus the Christ. Who we say he is and how we allow him to impact our lives keeps any conversation from straying from the truth. The problem here is that not all church people have the same understanding of Jesus. Some see him as God; others see him as a great prophet; some aren’t sure he actually exists beyond a myth. This confusion is what is killing today’s Christianity. They can’t all be legitimate ways to understand Jesus. Or can they?
Whatever our view of Jesus, we must take him at his word. He says he is “the way, the truth, and the Life and that no one comes to the father except by him.” (John 14:6-7) He didn't claim to teach us the truth, the way, or the life. He claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and Life and as such is the incarnation of all three. And in that distinction we see the only valid way to understand Jesus – he is the foundation of everything for both liberals and conservatives. Nothing else really matters but our relationship to him.
How would it change your church if we all lived as if we actually believed that Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life?
First, Christians would have to obey the commandments he gave us and love one another no matter what. Although some can make a long list of commands from Jesus, he gave us only two great ones: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
If we love Christ, it wouldn't matter what else our theology contained, Christians will love each other, or they aren't Christians. We even love those of different sexual or political persuasion. And we must love even those who hate us or don't care about Jesus.
Second, we have to love and live for those who do not know Jesus. If we couple the two great commandments with Jesus’s last will and testament in Matthew 28, “Go make disciples of all people groups” and Acts 1, “Be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth,” we find both the heart of the Gospel and what is wrong with most churches today. Let’s take a peak at both of these.
The importance and impact of these two statements by Jesus is impossible to overstate. Let me explain their importance by sharing a personal story.
My father died before I could get to the hospital. But when I got there my mother handed me a piece of paper and said, “These were his last words to you.” Those words mean more to me than anything else ever said to me. I carry them in my wallet. They are priceless, just like the last words of Jesus are priceless and more important than any other words ever pronounced.
If we love Jesus and seek to be like him, we will love the unchurched more than ourselves and we will do whatever is necessary to live Jesus in the midst of the unchurched rather than hunkering down in our religious fortresses. Christianity isn’t for church people; it’s for all of humanity, or it’s not for any. Christianity is about reaching every one in every part of the world, or it’s not for anyone.
My biggest beef with most church people is that they are focused on themselves and their church with little or no regard for people who have not heard the Good News. In my mind, that is the ultimate blasphemy, saying we are Christians and living only for ourselves.
The Church of the Future
Love is the only weapon Christians have today, especially in the West where Christianity is under a daily siege by a changing culture. But we must never forget – “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31)
The two things that characterized the early church were a profound fellowship and a desire to spread the word about Jesus. Christianity must reclaim both of these elements of our past. All we have to do is look beyond our borders and ask, “Why is world Christianity rapidly growing and the West is declining?” The answer is simple – world Christianity is focused on two things: fellowship and spreading the Good News. It’s that simple. Why can’t we see it?
A Word for the Skeptic Christian
Maybe it would help if we described spreading the Good News as making friends with those who don't believe instead of trying to convert them. The Four Spiritual Laws don't work anymore. Instead we have to build relationships, overcome over-zealous TV evangelists or Jehovah’s Witnesses, and show the skeptic that we care deeply for them and their relationship with Jesus. The goal isn’t to convert, but to show them God’s love.
When we do that and they actually experience that love, it’s all over; either they respond or they don't. But isn’t our concern. Our concern is simple – are we living a life of love that embraces all people, especially those who haven’t heard? That is our only mission, however we go about it.
Bill Easum is the founder and president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christians for global impact, www.effectivechurch.com.