Last post (Justice and the gospel), we looked at how the ministry of Jesus included both evangelism and meeting physical needs. But in many western evangelical churches, the “gospel” has been narrowed down to mean little more than personal salvation.
If you are in a church like that, and you believe that justice and care for the poor and marginalised is part of the gospel, what can you do?
Let’s look at a few ideas and a little personal experience, and then (hopefully) others will share what they are doing.
I have said before (Church as a community of people) that I am a great fan of the blog Church in a circle.
Their latest post, 10 principles which could transform your church practices – permanently is well worth checking out, as it summarises some of the ‘big ideas’ they have been learning and blogging about.
No doubt we could make all sorts of comments, positive or negative, but sometimes it is good just to laugh (ruefully).
Cartoon: ASBO Jesus
Women gained the right to vote in Australia just over a century ago, and since then, discrimination against women has been gradually removed and made illegal. Yet women still cannot be priests or preachers in many christian churches, making the church significantly our of step with our culture. And many christians are not entirely comfortable with this.
Some opponents of equality in ministry may be misogynists, but in my experience, their prime motivation is to be faithful to the two New Testament passages which appear to proscribe the role of women in christian churches.
Is there a way forward on this issue?
I am interested in effective communication, not as an end in itself, but because if we want to make disciples, we need to train and equip each other effectively. And for this, sermons just don’t cut it.
Christianity is changing. Of course it has always been changing – I read once that christianity owes a lot of its success to its adaptability to circumstances and culture. But like most other things, it seems to be changing faster these days.
So is it good or bad?
I was asked recently how many christian denominations there are worldwide. It’s hardly an important question, but some critics of christianity use the number of 30,000 to 40,000 to argue that a true God couldn’t be behind christianity because god would communicate better.
So I thought I’d check it out.
We are all familiar with several contemporary meanings of the word “church” – a building, a Sunday event, a group of people or a denomination. But what did it mean in the New Testament?
The Greek word “ekklesia” is often translated “church”, but what did it mean?
One Laptop Per Child is a US-based charity which is seeking to create affordable educational devices for use in the developing world. Due to the difficulty in providing and funding teachers in some locations, it has tried the innovative, perhaps crazy, idea of leaving laptop or tablet computers with kids without any instructions.
Outcomes have been mixed, and interesting, and have something to teach us.
I am looking at some of the core convictions of the Anabaptists, not because I am an Anabaptist, but because I think we learn from them. Today: the relationship of the church and the world.
Christians disagree, and sometimes argue, about many things. Current hot topics include: homosexuality, divorce, hell, evolution and Genesis, the place of women in the church, Biblical inerrancy, war, climate change, and the importance of ‘good works’ like social justice and social welfare.
Some christians get very worried about the failure of many of their fellow believers to keep to the traditional positions on these, and other matters, and the discussion can get quite heated.
But I think change may be upon us sooner than we think, whether we like it or not.
What is the future of the church as we know it in the western world?
I have written about this many times (see The future for the church), believing that much needs to change. It is like the tide is coming in, the island the churches are sitting on is shrinking, our feet are wet, yet things are just going on as normal.
But bit by bit, the evidence keeps coming in (just like the tide), that one way or another, things will indeed change.
Jesus famously said “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58), but since the fourth century, christians have been building enormous cathedrals for him. Why?
Not long ago I commented on the number of Atheists who once were christians I had come across on the web and in real life. Recently, I’m finding former pastors.
Many of these guys are still struggling with doubt, unwilling to give up their job and let down the people who depend on them, but also unwilling to keep up a pretence.
What’s going on? And what’s the answer?
Churches have been going through a remarkable revolution this past 50 years. Denominational barriers are much lower and less important. The Holy Spirit is more welcome. Christians are much more open to new ideas. But there is much more to come (I believe)!
One of the very positive influences on world christianity is the ‘simple church’ movement, and Felicity Dale (a sometime commenter on this blog) and her website Simply Church blog is one face of this movement. I subscribe to her blog and gain a lot of insight from it. And one brief recent post summed a lot of things up for me.
Over the years I’ve read a lot of books about changing the church. Probably out of desperation, I think. Things really must change, and they are, but too slowly. I’ve read a lot of good books in that time, and bypassed a few that didn’t look so good.
But here’s four books I can recommend wholeheartedly. If you read them and take notice, they can hardly fail to challenge you and lead to your church being at least a little more effective in carrying out the mission Jesus left for us.
Leadership is an important matter for christians. A fundamental aspect of being a christian is meeting with other believers in churches and other groupings. How these groups are led – that is, make decisions, form attitudes, gain knowledge and encourage each other – will have an enormous impact on our success in carrying out the mission entrusted to us.
What if we have got it badly wrong?
If you thought I was exaggerating in yesterday’s post when I criticised church plants and said “a maintenance church may resist change that will further the mission”, you should read this story of a successful pastor who tried to ‘go missional’, in Stories from the Revolution.
Jesus left us a big task (Matthew 28:19-20):
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The church in most western countries is not doing all that well on this task these days. I have argued that we are approaching things the wrong way, and that our present way of doing church is probably providing comfort more than obeying Jesus’ command. And I have suggested some ways the church might change to do better.
In this post I want to look at some better ways.
I have discussed the decline in church attendance in western countries, asked why go to church? and looked at why sermons are a poor way of making disciples. So can we rescue the church from ineffectiveness and irrelevance? What might improve things?