A Double Crisis

Near the beginning of Mark Labberton’s book Called, he writes, “The church has lost its way in the world. What’s more, it doesn’t know it. This is a double crisis for a community that Jesus said is to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). It is a crisis brought on by failure to be and to do what is most central to the church’s identity and purpose: follow Jesus.”

It’s a double crisis. The church is lost in a world that is lost, and the church doesn’t realize it is lost. This is similar to the world in which Jesus was born. Israel was lost in the world that was lost and they didn’t know it either. In Matthew 10:6, Jesus says, “Go to the lost sheep of Israel.” In Matthew 15:24 He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” In Luke 15, Jesus tells three stories of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. And in Luke 19:10, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Many in the church have thought of people outside the church as being lost. But, the church itself is now lost, having lost itself in a world of rapid, discontinuous change, and confused about what to be and to do in a foreign land.

In his book, Mark Labberton gives examples of different kinds of churches that are lost. There is the
• Self-absorbed church – it is a small, inwardly fixated club, sometimes bland, but mostly focused on itself
• Invisible church – it has become so much like the culture it is hard to distinguish any difference
• Siloed church – segregated by class, ethnicity, economics, race, or culture
• Bad-news church – always talking about what is wrong with the world but not really engaging it with any kind of hope
• No-news church – it doesn’t seem to have anything to say to the lost world

What would it take to become a good-news church? For the church to claim it knows the Way, it needs to demonstrate convincingly that it has good news deserving of that name. In a world of violence, of fear, of poverty, of injustice, it has to show up in relationships and actions of life-giving power. In other words, the church has to show a different view and practice of power than the world around us displays. It has to show it knows the Way in a time of explosive global change and confusion.

As one who has been in ministry for over 30 years now, I believe that the local church can still be one of the best contexts in which people are formed as disciples of Jesus Christ. Some churches greatly encourage me at the same time some churches greatly discourage me. I have visited some churches where I walked away thinking – why did they do that? Nothing there touched my heart. They didn’t address any of my questions. Are they trying to answer questions anybody is asking? What planet are they living on? They didn’t talk about anything that is happening in my world. Sigh.

But the good news is that there are some churches that do seem to “get it”. Some churches are working hard to listen to people and to listen to their communities. Some churches are following the Biblical command to be humble and to speak into their local context from a position of weakness. They don’t act like they know it all, but they have a strong confidence in God and how God walks with us through all of the uncertainties, anxieties, and confusions of life. They talk clearly about Who Jesus is and the good news that He brings. They remind us that God does not hate our world, but God so loves our world that He sent His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life. These churches are trying hard to walk their talk. They know that words and beliefs are important, but that faith without works is dead. They know that our post-modern, post-Christian world will have trouble believing unless they can see tangible expressions of Jesus’ good news, what that good news is, why that good news matters, and how that good news can make a difference in their lives and in their communities. They understand that our culture has become skeptical of the church. But at the same time, they also understand that our culture is looking for something to believe in. Our culture doesn’t know where to look or even what it is looking for. But, if they meet a redemptive, missional community that seeks to bless, to heal, and to serve, they will stop and notice. If we will truly love them unconditionally, we can capture their interest.

I don’t like the double crisis. I don’t want the church to be unaware that it is lost in a world that is lost. I want the church to recover what it has lost by learning to follow Jesus again. When Jesus invited His disciples to come and follow Him, He never told them where they were going. But, they were willing to follow Him anyway. They wanted to see what He would do, what He would say, and where He would go. Jesus continues to invite us to follow Him today. We don’t know where it is going to lead us. We are called to walk by faith and not by sight. But, we follow anyway.

I believe Jesus is calling us, like our ancestors before us, to move back into our neighborhoods, to think and to act like missionaries, and to live out our calling as sons and daughters of God. In a world that sometimes feels like it is falling apart, we are called to share the good news, to love one another unconditionally, and to put our confidence in God. If we follow Jesus, He will eventually lead us through our crisis, until we come out on the other side. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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