WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH?
After Jesus’ resurrection and before his ascension into heaven he commissioned the church with a task: to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). We are God’s announcement to the world that he’s up to something: that he’s reconciling all things to himself. What we broke, he’s fixing. What was lost, he’s found. What separated us from him, he’s paid for. What we did against him, he forgives. That was the church’s message from the day Jesus left until today.
Jesus, through the power of the Spirit, continues to build up his church to demonstrate the reality of God’s reconciling work. If we accept the Gospel, we are also accepting the call of the Gospel to become ministers of the Gospel. We are God’s campaign billboard for this message. But, let’s be honest, the church hasn’t always done the best job of showing the world who or what we’re all about: the person and work of Jesus. We’ve gotten distracted by other messages and obscured this message of God’s reconciliation and coming kingdom. So, as we go out into the world today proclaiming this message to those who haven’t heard it, who are we speaking to?
Just short of ten years ago, The Barna Group, a religious research organization, surveyed non-believers between the ages of 16 and 29 in the United States and asked them what they thought about Christians, those surveyed said Christians are anti-homosexual (91% of responders), judgmental (87% of responders), and hypocritical (85% of responders). Considering this research, David Kinnaman, in his book unChristian, noted of Christians, “We are not responsible for outsider’s decisions, but we are accountable when our actions and attitudes—misrepresenting a holy, just, and loving God—have pushed outsiders away.” Just think, these are some of the adults—25 to 38—that you’re interacting with on a day to day basis.
Because of these preconceptions and the way this message has been obscured, we might need to work even harder to share the good news with a few groups in particular:
To the poor
James warned that our faith is dead of we tell someone in need, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but choose to do nothing about those physical needs. Today, the poor could level the same charge against many of us in the church, as we agree to pray for them, but neglect to give sacrificially to help others. First we must ask ourselves if we even have relationships with those who are poor so that we can be aware of these needs. If we do have those relationships, do our actions evidence God’s crazy generosity and our lively faith?
To the LGBTQ community
What The Barna Group discovered about Christians being perceived as anti-homosexual is important because it wasn’t only that they were disapproving of homosexual behaviors—which accords with what the Bible expresses—but they were unkind to individuals who identified as gay. Upon meeting a new coworker, he asked my husband, “Are you one of those Christians?” This questioner was gay and he had not received the message of grace and reconciliation from Christians in the past. He had been treated like he was unredeemable and beyond God’s love. Someone in his past had very sharply shared the truth of God’s opposition to homosexual actions but had neglected to do so in love. As we encounter individuals from this community, we must keep in mind the graffiti that others may have obscured the message of the gospel with and seek to share God’s gracious love with genuine care and friendship.
The immigrant already among us
While many Christian leaders have spoken out in the last week against the recent temporary ban on immigrants and refugees from seven Middle Eastern countries, the immigrants among us may have heard a different message: you’re not welcome here. Remembering the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christians are called to love those who are in need—including those who are different than us—regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion. Our mission to evidence a God who is breaking down barriers and destroying the dividing wall of hostility may take extra work among the immigrant community in our midst.
As we ask ourselves where we are being part of God’s billboard and where we may be obscuring God’s billboard, it’s important to consider this mission field we’re headed into as we leave our homes each day and interact with people at work, school, at the coffee shop, and as we sit in traffic. If who we are out there is not evidence of the God we’re worshipping in our church building, we aren’t doing the work of the church.