“It’s time for the church to start being the church.”
These vaguely ambitious buzz-words frequently escape the bearded lips of countless disheartened and disenfranchised Toms-clad believers in our modern church culture. The words themselves usually carry a connotation of disappointment, if not disdain, for some practice the church is getting woefully wrong. The growing sentiment is that there is cause for concern. And concern we have aplenty.
We are concerned that the church isn’t doing its job. We are concerned that the church is lacking in many aspects of its mission. The church isn’t feeding the poor, or engaging the culture, or impacting the community. So we gather in our trendy coffee shops and raise the flag of concern for what is clearly happening in the church.
But it’s not just a concern for what is happening “out there” in the greater, universal church. No, we recognize aspects of our own local congregations that are clearly lacking when compared to the countercultural congregations displayed in the book of Acts. We hold those early believers up as a barometer for our own spiritual conditions, and we find the current climate to be disconcerting. So we do what any good Christ-follower (another great buzz-word) would do, and we come up with suggestions to fix the problem.
Our churches need more _______________. You can insert whatever best fits for your current congregation. Maybe your church isn’t doing much evangelism, so you suggest to your pastor a program or event where evangelism can take place. Maybe it’s social ministry that is missing from your group, so you suggest a place you all could go volunteer. Your church might have more internal holes, really needing some help with the kids’ ministry or students, so you suggest how those ministries could change. All in all, church people are great with recognizing problems and oftentimes suggesting potential solutions to those problems.
But what the church (both universal and local) really needs is fewer suggestions and more examples. The problem with suggestions is that they put the responsibility for carrying out such suggestions squarely on the shoulders of the people who are probably already shoulder deep in responsibility for the church. The suggestion is perfect, as long as it is someone else who has to see it through to completion.
Everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to do the dishes.
This ambitious laziness is exactly what I hear when someone says, “It’s time for the church to start being the church.” What people are really saying is, “Yes, I recognize something wrong with the church. And yes, I may even have a few possible solutions. Now, you need to go and implement these possible solutions.” Everybody wants to start a revolution, but no one wants to be the revolutionary. I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind.
Today is a very important day in history. Yes, it’s Halloween. And yes, it’s also Nick Saban’s birthday. But it’s also the 496th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. Luther, like many of his countercultural contemporaries, noticed a few things wrong with the church (95 of them, to be exact). But instead of just complaining about it to his bros down at the local pub over a venti pumpkin spice ale, he decided to do something about it. Not someone else. He was going to do something.
So he composed a long list of issues he had with the present way the church was running. He was specifically upset with how the church was selling indulgences for grace which he believed by definition were a free gift of God. So he comprised his list, made a few copies, and put them in some pretty prominent places. The most famous was nailed to the door of the Castle Church. But he also sent two others to church leaders who were presently engaged in selling such indulgences to Luther’s congregants. And with each copy of his 95 Theses, Luther invited anyone willing to have an honorable, scholarly debate over the issues to join him for a public discussion of those issues.
But Luther didn’t conclude by simply posting a list of numerous suggestions for improving the church. He fought for them for the rest of his life. His efforts to free the church from the problems that he noticed resulted in his excommunication and eventual condemnation by both the Pope and the Emperor. His efforts also resulted in a little thing called the Protestant Reformation.
All because one man was willing to actually do something about the problems he saw in the church. Yes, the church has problems. And yes, our local churches each have their own set of problems and shortcomings. But the only way those churches will ever change is if the church (read, the people who comprise the church) decides to step up and do something about it.
Individuals must stop considering themselves separate from the church and start believing that they comprise an important part of the church. They must realize that pastors and other church leadership make up only a small part of the church as a whole. And those leaders can’t do everything themselves.
Are you good at spotting problems in the church? Good. We need people just like you to show us where we’re lacking. But those holes aren’t going to be filled by suggestions alone. No, they need examples of lives dedicated to improving the church. Don’t tell someone else that it’s time for the church to start being the church. Tell yourself.
Do you have an idea that would be great for the church? Awesome. Remember that you are the church, and go do it.
It’s time for the church to start being the church.
[NOTE: I recognize the irony in the fact that I am responding to “what the church really needs” by writing a blog post about it. The irony is not missed on me. But I would offer that I am also doing more than just complaining on social media about what others need to do. I am changing myself. And I am actively working in and through my local church to make it the best church that it can be in the hands of the Lord. I am dedicating my life to being the change that I want to see in the church and in the world. So I would respectfully request that you not discount the truths found within this post simply because of the apparent irony that could distract you from your own wrestling match with truth. Thanks!]