My wife, Connie, and I have been committed to the local church all of our lives. After college while I pursued my M.Div., Connie supported us working at jobs she didn’t particularly like so we could be prepared for ministry in the church. We spent 30 years in various roles in a number of churches, moving all over the country saying ‘yes’ to God’s call. More recently, we’ve continued our commitment to the church in a variety of ways, including my service to pastors through Cornerstone Pastors Network.
For years, Connie has served on the Board of Christian Associates International, a mission organization committed to planting churches that reach post-Christian people in Europe, and North and South America. Each year Christian Associates convenes a staff Summit that refocuses their vision and strategy. At a recent Summit, Dr. Wesley White, a church planter serving in Glasgow, Scotland, delivered the following remarks as an encouragement to these hard working, committed church planters. It was a great reminder to me of the reality of the historical and ongoing impact of the church. I hope it will encourage you as well!!
In my family we have developed a tradition that has proven to be not only essential, but also deeply cherished by each one of us. At birthdays, along with a special meal and cake and, of course, presents, we also go around the family circle offering words of love and affirmation to the birthday person. We tell them explicitly what it is about them that we so love and why we so appreciate them. We give them examples and describe their characteristics that so endear them to all of us. We celebrate their lives among us with words and prayers that reach down into the soul and bring blessing.
In a similar way, I want to celebrate the Church. It is, of course, more in vogue these days to defend a chasm we would rather maintain between the Jesus we admire and his Church for which we are, honestly, embarrassed. But I want to suggest that although this gulf is to some measure understandable, it is nonetheless both erroneous and unhealthy. It certainly goes against the grain of major portions of New Testament material. On the contrary, I think we can legitimately recite a litany of what attires the Church with beauty, what raises it up as laudable, what causes it to be appreciated in many quarters of the world. Without shoving serious weaknesses and problems under the proverbial carpet, I think we can, at the same time, openly and ardently confess all that we love about the Church.
I love the simplicity of the Church. I so appreciate the simple act of people coming together weekly to sing and pray and hear and apply the Word of God and share in the Eucharistic meal. It demonstrates the joy to be had in the sharing of lives so bracketed by a weekly routine and in small groups that gather at intermittent times. It rather simply provides for a myriad of ways in which encouragement for folk takes place.
I love the consistency and faithfulness of the Church. I recently met a fellow at a conference in Derbyshire, England, who attends an Anglican Church which has had uninterrupted ministry in that area since the year 811 c.e.— twelve hundred and two years of ongoing ministry in the name of Jesus. Consistency like this is so often matched by a real sense of authenticity, as local churches are not usually a collecting pool of the powerful and elite and wealthy, but people fraught with fragility and weakness and struggle and honesty and hope.
I love the giving nature of the Church. We should note that the United Nations’ Report on Social Renewal, November, 2011, tells us that 67% of the most effective philanthropy in the last fifty years can be attributed to local Christian congregations around the world.In its wake is a more than credible level of transformational effectiveness, such that urban studies today confirm that the Christian Church is responsible for, by far, the greater incentive for the development of hospitals and universities and cultural centers and services to the poor and to the advancement of civil and human rights in almost all the major cities of the world.
I love the focus of the Church on Jesus Christ, who alone can change people from the inside out and change the world from the outside in. It focuses, in fact, on the message of the Church, the good news that God so loved the world that in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, he has begun the renewal of all things, God’s recreative purposes, and the end of all that is evil, all that is the result of the destructive designs of the evil one.
And I love the people of the church who are learning through all sorts of ups and downs, and through joys and struggles, what it is to be the people of God; how to trust this one and only God and serve him, and how to invite all and everyone into his inclusive embrace.
I love the missionary courage and zeal of this Church, which has sent these same people into every corner of the globe, into some of the harshest and most dangerous sectors, giving up huge bits of personal preference in order to show and share the love of Christ.
And I could go on and on about all that I love about the Church.
Source: Grow Where You’re Planted: Collected Stories on the Hallmarks of Maturing Church, Christian Associates Press. Kindle Edition.