Recently I had the privilege of sharing a meal with Stan Rieb, National Facilitator for CB America. We were discussing concerns over a municipality in Colorado which has denied church applications for building and expansion. I was struck with the fact that as I work overseas in Egypt, Iraq and Turkey, the very places where the Church originated, we find a very similar resistance in these areas today. This resistance is certainly not new. In fact over the past 2000 years of extended Church history, the plight of Christians through the centuries and our modern day partnering to plant and build churches in the Middle East, this is the norm.
For those who have a sense that we are owed some kind of privileged position due to being American Christians, it may be that we need to rethink our position. Rather then being surprised, shocked, or frustrated over such attitudes, let us be encouraged to look at our churches in a different light.
We are as U.S. Christians, really owed nothing, rather, the world asks us to give a reason for our validity. We can no longer grow the Church from the inside out, but we must assist people as they grasp the realities of a personal relationship with the Lord. He told us to be “salt and light,” and we are to continue to be a mainstream influence in our society, all in a culture that is growing more and more hostile to the truths taught in the Word of God.
We are seeing a culture shifting away from long held common beliefs, and have turned from a post-Christian nation to a pre-Christian nation. In fact, churches must adopt a missional outlook and perspective if we are to influence our communities. Before one becomes discouraged and feels confronted yet again with another “program” to be implemented, or how some other church reached “mega” status, let’s look at a few things that might help in assessing current direction, vision and actions.
I love Church history; not the one we were taught in Bible college and seminary that was primarily Western in its focus, but the dynamic growth and later decline of the Church in the Middle East from the first to the seventeenth century. The Church in the Middle East holds lessons for the U.S. Church today. How do we continue to influence in the midst of growing opposition as a Church engaged within the purposes that Scripture mandates?
Imagine for a moment that your church was in a foreign country, somewhat tolerant of Christianity, but not enamored with it either. How would you maximize your buildings, congregation, volunteers and finances to effectively impact your “foreign community?” Take a moment and think through this, for when a missionary goes overseas and when all the excitement of support raising has been accomplished, and all the adventure of travel and settling into a new country has begun to sink in, he or she eventually comes to the question which I remember asking of myself in India, “now what?” It is from that question that one derives all future passion, vision and activity. It is one of personal and ministry assessment, and it is also what the Lord asked Moses in Midian when he stood before the burning bush, “What is in your hand?”
What is in your hand? How can this be invested in taking your church into your community and being an influence for good? I’ve seen two churches standing side by side, one holding activities such as hiking clubs, MOP’s, day care, senior citizen lunches, community and political meetings, men’s BBQ’s, softball and basketball league participation, little league, and community road and parks clean up. This church I’m describing is seen as an asset to the community, contrasted with the neighboring church that never sees a car enter the drive until Sunday AM. As we look at a less than welcoming community, 1 Peter 2:12 reminds us to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
A Church looking exclusively at herself and her own ministries is in the beginning of a decline that, given enough time, leads to nonexistence. We’ve all been brought to tears when one of our own precious children trusts Christ as Savior; as wonderful as this is, let’s not be satisfied with this alone, but just as a missionary worth his or her tenure overseas diligently ministers in outreach, we too must actively seek ways to influence our community for Christ.
This influence requires vision and action. What is your vision for your community? Is it so big that God has to show up? Faith begets faith. The greatest affect for change is when people see genuine faith in action because of strong vision. Every man I know wishes for a moment when he can be a hero and make a strategic shift and positive change in someone’s life for good. Christ designed his bride to be his hands and his feet, in other words, you and I, the Church itself, are real life heroes reaching our neighbors with His love and forgiveness. (Part 2 will be in Aug. 2016 )
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