This is my column for our quarterly newsletter, released today in its e-form:
As I write this (in the hot, hot dog days of summer), the Vision Task Force is coming down the stretch as we focus on discerning God’s desire for our church as we serve in the first and second decades of the 21st century. The official rollout of the vision is planned for October to the Diaconate and in November to the whole congregation, but this could be bumped back if we’re not quite ready, so stay tuned.
As with any “roll-out”, I don’t want to jump the gun before the Task Force is completely done, but I do think I can give you a sneak preview of things to come—you know, kind of like the trailers at the movies, the previews of coming attractions.
There are two big issues we’ve seen as central to discerning the Lord’s will for our church: the multi-lingual, multi-cultural nature of the community we serve. There is no future for this church unless we embrace the immigrants the Lord has seen fit to send to live in the San Gabriel Valley. We have discussed a number of specific strategies to open the door to our immigrant community
The second big issue has to do with how effective outreach can occur today. In the past, churches like ours could rely on a steady stream of people for whom the church is a recognized place of refuge and guidance. For many people “coming to church” meant, “coming back to church” after a long time, even if it was a childhood experience. In the “church culture” era, there was a basic understanding of the faith, and much of evangelism built on that basic understanding. According to one source, the national average in “interest in spiritual things” is 85%; the average for communities in the San Gabriel Valley is just 50%.
So, how do you break through with the Good News of Jesus in the present environment? We have heard this described as “the end of North American church culture.” Now, this is NOT the end of the church—but the end of the “church culture” of potlucks, mission circles and fall retreats. The reality is that fewer and fewer people have this in their background. You can also describe this more technically as the rise of post-modern as well-as post-Christian culture.
Regarding the end of the church culture issue, we have become convicted that service (that is, serving the people of our community) is the way into their hearts and lives that will enable us to effectively present Jesus Christ. We have come to a moment in time in which the first question people ask isn’t “Is it true?” but rather, “Does it work in your life, really?” The truth of the faith is judged by the ability of the faith to change people into genuine selfless, living servants.
In a way, this realization was foreshadowed in the theme we selected for this year: “Acts of Outrageous Love.”
Finally, and one of the hardest areas is what you might think of issue 2 ½. We have become convinced that certain changes need to be made in the way we are organized for ministry. The reality is that to become the kind of community serving church we believe the Lord is calling is to faces a great barrier: it is fairly easy, and far more comfortable to become wrapped up in church “business” and procedural matters. We need to minimize that side of church life so we can maximize loving God and serving people.
Now what I haven’t shared are a lot of the specifics, the new vision statement and the new church motto we’re still working on. Those stews are still on the stove.
Instead of getting into details that are still being developed, let’s think for a few minutes on what being a servant church looks like—what we believe the Lord is calling us to.
Maybe the best way to glimpse what I mean by a Servant Church is to contrast it to other models of the church we have adopted here in America. One is the Refuge Church. “We are a place of refuge. We don’t change, and we regard all change as accommodation to worldliness.” This church is poised for success if 1971 ever rolls around again.
Another is the Muscle Church. “This is our town, and we call the shots around here. We believe we bring in a little of God’s kingdom whenever we elect people we favor and get the legislation passed that we want.”
Another is the Technique Church. (This last one has been a huge temptation for evangelical churches for years.) “We attend all the latest seminars and apply the most recent research. We know what techniques grow a church and we apply them aggressively.”
The Servant Church is, well, a little different. It agrees with the Refuge church that Biblical truth is timeless, but it refuses to be a Protestant monastery, hidden away from the world. Like the Muscle Church, it agrees we must engage the world. But it is suspicious of the idea that you can ever pass a law or elect a candidate that brings the kingdom of God one inch closer. It agrees with the Technique Church that research and knowing what’s happening in the church and in effective churches is valuable, but distrusts the idea that mere technique can affect the kind of change in a human heart, a church or a community.
Instead, the Servant Church believes that God has called it to engage the community in which it is located primarily through deeds of love, done consistently and unselfishly. The Servant Church does not suck people into a vortex of church activities so much as equips them to make a positive, Kingdom-building impact on their families, their work or school and the community. The Servant Church turns itself inside out. It becomes a fellowship of the transformed transforming their worlds for Jesus Christ.
Further, while the Servant Church never hesitates to proclaim the Good News of Jesus, it has come to recognize that the primary way into the lives and hearts of people is to meet them at some point of need and to serve them there. That is the essential reason I call this the Servant Church model.
The Servant Church takes its cue from Jesus Himself:
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5)
But I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:27)
These are exciting and challenging days. I urge you to be much in prayer as God’s call becomes increasingly clear for the times we now live in.