New Year's Resolutions for a Grown-up Church
New Year's resolutions have never been a helpful tool for me. Still, like many, I do spend some time on New Year's thinking about where I've been and what basic direction I may want to take in the next year.
As I was thinking about those goals and directions in order to write a light post fit for a celebratory holiday (which apparently will not be written by me this year), it occurred to me that what is heavy on my heart is not so much my direction as figuring out my stage in life. I'm a relatively young 24 years old. I've graduated college, have a good job, apartment, roommate, and aging but sufficient car. Cool! I've at least built approximately what the Boomer generation expects of me, minus marriage and kids. I'm on track. But it isn't enough. Raised at missions conferences and reading about martyrs and feeling sad for the homeless I encountered from Chicago to Washington D.C. to my own smaller towns...there are so many things to do and people I want to help.
But I work for a Christian ministry while living in the heart of one of America's Christian Meccas! Shouldn't that be enough?
In a similar vein, the church — by which I mean the institution rather than the body of Jesus — seems to be in a similar place. We made it out of the terrible twos when councils and St. Nicholas slapping Arius determined what our foundational theology (personality?) would look like. The Western or Roman arm of the institutional church somehow survived the dark teenage times of lashing out in the Crusades and Inquisition, and re-planned our life purpose during the Protestant Reformation. Since then we've been getting places to live, figuring out what our morals are, and doing our best to travel when we can. Where there is religious freedom, the church is doing a pretty good job of being an early twenty-something. We have buildings and missions programs and sometimes even friends to hang out with on the weekend.
Meanwhile, this twenty-something church looks with sadness upon the poverty surrounding our favorite Mexican resort town, the atheism spreading through Europe, and the totalitarian oppression in places like China and North Korea — not to mention the incomprehensible enormity of the war-torn and economically suppressed continent of Africa. We look, but it is not unlike how I felt as a child as we passed a group of homeless gentlemen. I wasn't supposed to talk to strangers and I didn't know how to help them.
Just as it is about time for me to acknowledge that I have the basics of this adult thing under control, I think the church is ready to do the same. Maybe we've been ready for a long time, but I wasn't there 50-200 years ago, so I won't comment.
But, the church has missions organizations and churches and in America we're in a self-styled Mecca of Christian faith and freedom! Isn't that enough?
Yes we do, but just like my town has a vast homeless population, and the whole country has many Christians who just never got a good foundation in Bible knowledge, the church lives in a world filled with incredible suffering, where thousands of pastors have a couple hours of Bible education if they are lucky! And yes, just like Chicago has a huge immigrant population, many of whom have never heard the Gospel, the church is surrounded by unreached people groups and languages without Bibles.
And just like my parents didn't raise me to merely have a car and an apartment, but to change whatever parts of the world I can, so Jesus told us to love our enemies, be merciful, and be a different kind of force in this run-down world.
There are many wonderful Christian people who are working to move the church to its next stage of life. The church has a great foundation from which to launch itself into further work, and many already are. Organizations like Compassion International are working to eradicate the suffering caused by poverty, and International Justice Mission is likewise fighting against the horrors of slavery in the name of Jesus. Organizations like Global Action and Leadership Resources are training pastors around the world with the only pastoral, preaching, and Bible education they or anyone in their vicinity will ever have. Got Questions Ministries provides information about the Bible and Christian life in 155 languages via the internet. And of course there are the better known Pioneer Bible Translators and other missions organizations working among the unreached.
These are just a few examples of excellent, well-formed ministries. But they represent a tiny fraction of the people who make up the church. In the scheme of the church's life so far, they are the ones taking our adulthood to the next level. And they are exceptions to the rule.
So this year, instead of personal resolutions, I encourage you to think about both your institutional church, and your role in making it what it should be. Whether you have resources or time to support a ministry doing the grown-up work of the Body of Christ, or if you in your own adulthood have something to give to the homeless, immigrants, and hurting in your own town or church, let's together bring ourselves and the church to the next stage in our development. Let's grow into the church Jesus envisioned when he not only told us to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19) but to be the worlds' merciful, pure hearted, peacemaking people (Matthew 5:7-9).
Image Credit: xiang chen; "THANK You Merry Christmas Happy New Year!"; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Celebrating-Holidays | Christian-Life | Current-Issues | Hardships | Ministry-Church | Other-Religions
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