The church is the hope of the world. According to Jesus, who said He came to establish the church, it was intended to be something so filled with energy that not even hell itself could withstand its onslaught.
The idea is that we are the light of the world, and as that light is brought together through the church, it gains intensity the way focused light becomes a laser beam.
So what’s wrong?
Most churches are anything but energy-filled. Hell seems to not only be standing its ground, but gaining territory.
Let’s bracket off all the things churches are doing wrong today.
Let’s put aside the scandals, the splits, and the outdated strategies.
Let’s not worry for a moment about any disappointments you may have with leadership.
Let’s talk instead about what any single individual person, in any particular church, can do to help their church reach its full redemptive potential. In other words, let’s go after the lowest-hanging solution-oriented fruit.
Isn’t that what all of us will answer for at the end of our lives anyway? Not what others did, but what we did?
Here’s a baker’s dozen:
1. Embody the idea that it’s not about you, but about the person who isn’t even there yet. And be a willing participant in whatever it might take to reach them, even if it means you are inconvenienced.
2. Be generous with your financial resources. How much ministry can you do for $1? $1 worth. Help your church do all that it can by giving all that you can.
3. Invite your unchurched friends. Really, it’s the only way your church can grow through the unchurched.
4. Step up and serve. Don’t wait to be asked; just volunteer. If it looks like everything is covered, trust me, it’s not.
5. Leaders and teachers are desperately needed. Please let your church know if this is in your gift mix, and that you, as a more mature follower of Christ, are willing to serve in these pivotal roles.
6. Give your pastor an umbrella of grace for all that they aren’t, and pray for them on a regular basis. They can’t walk on water, but they can drown. Be one of their “floaties.”
7. Realize that those on your church’s staff do not get a thousand emails a day giving them encouragement. Most of the people who bother to email do so to critique. Send them a word to feast on to keep them going. They are human and get as discouraged as anyone.
8. As a volunteer, or simply as an attender, show up and be on time. Repeat: Show up and be on time. You have no idea how much this matters.
9. Talk about your church like gossip over the backyard fence, but in a good way. Like a great movie you saw, or a good restaurant. Unleash positive public relations in your neighborhood and community.
10. Work hard on having a positive attitude of a cup half-full instead of a cup half-empty. You’ll be surprised how contagious it is.
11. Handle friction and disagreement in a way that honors God, which means handle it biblically (Matthew 18:15). But in general, just practice the habit of “agreeing to disagree agreeably.” And remember Augustine’s rejoinder: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity. And much more falls into the “non-essential” camp than we often admit.
12. Welcome those who come into your church with messed-up lives, screwed-up marriages, piercings, tattoos, addictions, divorce, homosexual orientation, children out of wedlock, roommates that aren’t their spouse … in other words, welcome everyone’s differences and scandals with the greater scandal of grace. Not affirmation, necessarily, but always acceptance so that they can experience that grace for themselves.
It’s the Jesus way.
13. Pray, pray, pray. In fourteenth-century England there were holy women who placed themselves in little rooms at the base of churches and gave themselves to prayer. They prayed for the church and its members, and the extension of the kingdom of God. These women were called by the quaint but telling name of anchoress, for they were spiritual anchors that held the church amid the storms of that century.
Be that anchor.
All to say, if each of us are called to be the light of the world, and that light is meant to be brought together in and through the church, then perhaps we need to bring an old song back into circulation:
"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine."
James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.