Horrific tragedies fling the doors open for the Church to embody and portray the love of Jesus. When that tragedy involves the murder of those who feel rejected by the church by a zealot who vehemently hates the Church, the potential power of a radical display of unconditional love is magnified exponentially. The grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ should compel His followers to step up and step in. Some churches are doing so as we speak, but few prepared in advance for the possibility…
This week, we’re wrapping up our 5 part series analyzing responses pastors are often heard giving when asked about community engagement. We’ve discussed the church’s Perception, Purpose, Priority, Passion – and today will delve into the final “P”…Platform. Churches have the people, the (Holy Spirit’s) power, and the world’s greatest platform – but are losing their impact and influence because they lack preparation…
Prepared for Prayer
The first response from pastors we’ll address today is “How big of a difference can we really make?” In other words, the issues in a community seem too daunting for any one church to move the needle. Many pastors aren’t sure where to start, feeling there’s little they can do beyond prayer. Last Sunday morning, that was the request of nearly every pastor in Orlando and across the country – “please be praying…”. However, James 2:15-16 tells us that words without action – even words of prayer – aren’t the full extent of what we should do for those in need. Yet that’s all church leaders typically know to ask of members when trouble brews in the community. Pastors and members in Orlando know they should do something – but aren’t prepared or knowledgeable enough to mobilize the church into action.
Prepared to Care
How many churches have an emergency response or disaster relief plan in place – not for themselves but for the local community? How many have invited experts in to train members on how to be effective for the Kingdom when the unexpected happens in their city? Your church has prayer warriors, but does it have designated grief counselors, chaplains, and crisis managers – not just to serve the church but to serve the local area?
No, it’s not necessarily the responsibility of the church to be on the front lines when tragedy strikes. But the church is the hands and feet of Christ – His bride. If the Lord intervened in countless dire circumstances throughout scripture, shouldn’t His church follow suit. The church did play that role during much of its history. In fact, studies show many still expect the church to lead the way – despite acknowledging that few churches actually do so. Wouldn’t society see churches in a very different light if Christians were the first ones on the scene and the last ones to leave? Regardless of how that would impact public perception, disciples of Jesus Christ should find it hard to resist swooping in to love others – following Jesus’ example of demonstrating His love before telling them who He is.
Unfortunately, churches can’t make a big difference in Orlando right now if they haven’t invested time and energy into planning ways to make a difference. Few have prepared in advance – and it’s too late now. Poor preparation is a natural consequence of our repeated contention in this blog series that today’s church has redefined itself and its “customer”. Few consider the lost in the community to be their target “customer” and most aren’t willing to challenge members to “BE the church” between Sundays because it would require significant life change. Therefore they aren’t likely to prepare well to be a light at the darkest time in their communities.
Prepared to Share
The redefinition of the church’s “customer” has also resulted in churchgoers who are less prepared to share their faith when they arrive on the scene there in Orlando. Church leaders expect less of members and hesitate to challenge them to step too far out of their comfort zones. Replacing personal discipleship with small groups has meant fewer Christians today are comfortable sharing (or even know how to share) Christ with others, particularly with friends or parents of a homosexual murder victim. What about the opportunity Orlando presents to show love and share Christ with Muslims? What percentage of church members understands how to make the case for Christ to a Muslim?
Most would default to the meager goal pastors set for them nearly every Sunday – invite them to church. However, what are the odds that a gay person or Muslim would accept that invitation?
Christians don’t have to support the causes of homosexuality and Islam to love on those individuals. Our job is to live out the Great Commandment to love our neighbor and the Great Commission to make disciples. Those two imperatives reveal how compassion is integral to evangelism. Jesus modeled both deeds and words. How can we love the Lord so much and not tell others about him?
In other words, Private Christians is an oxymoron – but they exist.
The labels Christian and Disciple should be redundant – but they’re not.
The blame lies largely with church leaders who haven’t prepared congregations to leverage the tremendous platform the body of Christ has for bringing hope and faith to a world drifting away from the Lord. Churches should provide all levels of “education” to members – not just the elementary school training fostered by small groups. All Christians should be prepared to answer the tough questions, not stop at giving their testimony and inviting folks to hear from “professionals” who attended seminary.
…or Prepare for the Worst
No doubt, if most members were truly challenged to live up to the literal Great Commission standard, most would head for the doorways of your church. That shouldn’t stop pastors from investing heavily in preparing their congregations to respond to a huge opportunity to show and share the love of Jesus – but it does. There’s so much to lose in asking members to substantially disrupt their comfortable lives. Why risk it all after the blood, sweat and tears it took to build a church?
The answer lies in the cost of maintaining the status quo. The final response we’ll address from pastors asked to engage more in their communities is “Our church is on the right track. Why rock the boat?” First, consider that only a small fraction of churches are growing and fewer are healthy – if measured by the percentage of members that are truly disciples of Jesus Christ. Are things really going well with the Church today? Comfort is not an excuse for complacency. Rocking the boat is worth reversing several rising tides…
- Declining influence of Christianity and increasing influence of Islam in America
- Increasing perception that Christians are judging the sinners, not just the sin of homosexuality
- General belief in society that churches are looking out for their own interests and care little about the welfare of others