We seem to be drawn to negative information. There is a place in our brain that feeds off fear, pessimism and criticism. After all, there is a reason politicians use attack ads during election season. It is because the attack ads work.
When we speak about good things, it does not seem stick the same way. We pass over it. In my experience, it is the same in the Church. We have to be reminded to express gratitude and thanks for the good things. Yet, never have I once needed a reminder to complain and criticize the bad things.
Perhaps it would do us good to pause and consider what the Church is getting right in our world. To be clear, when I use the word “Church” I am talking about the people. Men and women like you and me who are doing great things—both socially and theologically—around the world.
With that said, let’s celebrate what’s right.
Accepting the Bible On Its Terms
The Bible is an ancient collection of books from the Eastern world. Today we read that collection of books in our modern Western world. This has often posed a problem: How do we reconcile our worldview and culture with the primitive view of the biblical writers?
For decades, we have tried to explain away the contradictory parts of Scripture, used verses to prove our modern theological positions, forced it to fit our culture, and attempted to use the Bible to prove science right (or wrong).
In recent years, many have woken up to the idea that this way of using the Bible isn’t working as well as it once did. In the words of Peter Enns, “defending the Bible has made us unable to read it.” Thankfully, this awakening has not led people to abandon the Bible, but rediscover it for what it is. And what is it? The story of God’s enduring relationship with humanity.
It is filled with sacred stories of God inspired conversations with men and women who failed, succeeded, sinned, displayed faith, gave up and held fast. Many have accepted that the Bible is brilliant, confusing, mysterious, difficult, seemingly primitive and at other places far ahead of its time. In the midst of this, we still find the God, who is love, “longing for the reconciliation of all things.”
Serving the Whole Person
While the Church in many parts of Europe has died (or is mostly dead) and the Church in the United States continues her slow decline, the Church in the Global South is booming.
Across South America, Africa and many parts of Asia the Church is shining bright. Around the globe, the people of God recognize the Good News is for the whole person. The Gospel is about life here and now—and not just something that gets us ready to die and go to heaven.
My friend Moses grew up in a slum in Kenya. He received a high school diploma and a college education despite being orphaned at age 16. Rather than leave the slum where he grew up, he moved back to it so he could serve those who grew up with. His motivation is the love of Jesus, and that is what compels him to care for all the needs of men and women in his community.
He is not alone. The Church is addressing real, tangible needs they see every single day. The Church in the “majority world” is doing things right by simply addressing the needs of their neighbors.
Through their humble service, they have taught the global Church how to keep first things first. As a result, the concern for justice and poverty alleviation has become central for many. Many no longer just proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, but perform the good news. It is precisely the life of Christians in hard places that has proved so compelling and has led many to know Jesus.
There are over 40,000 denominations within Protestant Christianity, and many of them are in decline.
This is a good thing. In recent years there has been an embrace of the many wonderful practices and rich theology from various Christian traditions. No longer do we divide over belief, but we find ourselves uniting around practice.
Denver, where I live, is proof of this. People move here from all over the country bringing with them their Christian tradition. In our church, we have men and women who grew up Catholic, Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Orthodox—just to name a few. As a result, we have learned much from one another. From learning to observe the Church calendar or why we celebrate believer’s baptism or the beauty in the midst of Ash Wednesday—we are all better when we learn from each other.
We eat the bread and drink the wine regardless of the labels we once bore remembering that together we “proclaim the death of Jesus.” The longer we worship together, the less we talk about our labels, and the more we speak about being “brothers and sisters.”
No More Professionals
I believe (and hope) the days of “professional clergy” as the center point for leadership in the Church are numbered (and I am one of those “professional clergy”). In my travels around the world, there is a common thread: It’s not the pastors or priests doing all the work in their communities, but the men and women who belong to the faith community.
This has led many to see that their work is not common but sacred. One friend said to me of his church, “I love being a part of it because the ‘minister’ is not just the person on the stage, but all of us seated in the crowd, too.” As more people understand this, the necessity of paid clergy will continue to diminish, and Christian community will settle back into neighborhoods.
Rather than get ready to “go to church” on a Sunday morning (which often means leaving one’s neighborhood), the people of God will stay busy being the Church in their neighborhood. In this, we will discover the pattern of Jesus. He was never one who asked people to come to where He was hosting an event, but one who lived His life in the midst of those who needed Him most.
That’s just four of the things the Church is getting right, and of course, there are many more. What things do you see the Church getting right in your neighborhood, your city or around the world? We all need to be reminded of this, so take a moment and comment below on what you see happening—and let’s continue to celebrate what God is doing in and through us. Perhaps then we will be more drawn to positive information.