Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Letter to the Struggling Church, Part I

We live in an age where success in the church is expected and applauded and flocked to in just about the same way it is in any endeavor attempted by man. It is less an American phenomenon than it is a global one, as large, successful churches dominate the scenery in places like Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong, Accra, Lagos, Buenos Aires, Guatemala City, and Rio de Janeiro (not that there are not other places which could be listed).

Often the thought is that those churches which reach this lofty status must be doing things right, whereas less successful churches, even struggling churches cannot be. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with church success, great growth or megachurch status--the very first church in Jerusalem had all those characteristics, but there is also nothing inherently wrong about being a struggling church. At least that would seem to be true from Christ's perspective, at least as far as we can tell from his letters to the churches in the Apocalypse.

A church could be doing exactly what Christ would have them do and still not appear to be successful. Truth be told, there are not necessarily great harvests in every place the gospel is preached. All any believer and any group of believers can do is what they are bidden to do by God--the results are really up to him. Persecution is not in itself a hindrance to church growth, nor is entrenched false religion, for even the Devil can't keep folk blinded forever, but in some places, there is an abundance of good soil; and in some places, not so much.

A church could be doing exactly what Christ would have them do and still not appear "blessed". Financial straits, community disapproval (even animosity), a lack of maneuvering room or perplexity about what to do, and even a lack of ability (power) are not necessarily signs that a church lacks anything that God intended for it. A church could be experiencing all this, in the absolute awareness of Christ, and neither be reprimanded for it nor promised a better day without it. Apparently, in some churches God intends things to go swimmingly, and in some others, not so much.

Christ may not expect the struggling church to stop struggling, but the one thing he does command of it is that, regardless, it remain faithful to the end.

Part II