Is the local church really “the hope of the world”?
South Chicago pastor Corey Brooks believes that it is, as he told interviewer Eli Steele.
The question is not limited to the Chicago inner-city but is relevant for all churches in what some observers view as a season of disintegration.
An anonymous author writes about “The 2022 Unraveling” from an imagined perspective of the future when the Western world goes through a series of crises and was “The Age of Dust”.
In Matthew 24, Jesus speaks of the lead-up to the “end-times” as an era of chaos, apostasy, natural disasters, warfare, persecution, false prophets, and counterfeit “messiahs.” (Matthew 24:7-14 NLT).
It seems we have reached the age the Irish poet Yeats saw in his poem, “The Second Coming,” where he wrote that “the center cannot hold.” If the local church is to be the world’s hope, its “center” must be strong.
Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist who authored 12 Rules for Life, said recently that the Bible is true, and, even more, is “the bedrock of Western civilization.”
But the culture formed around biblical values is “dissolving,” Peterson lamented. Thus, the church must recover the centrality of the Bible if the culture is to recover its “bedrock.”
Jesus Christ in His incarnation was the Word of God in living, breathing human flesh. He gave to His church the responsibility of continuing that incarnate ministry when He ascended to the Father.
If the church is the body of Christ, then it ought to do what Jesus did in His body.
The church that can be so vital to needy communities, stabilized by its establishment on the Word, must also develop the practical Jesus-style ministries through which it can touch its community and the world.
In my first pastorate in 1973, as I wrote in Part 1, I began a study of the ministry of Jesus. Through the ensuing years, I sought to build a strategy around what I was learning. The Jesus Church model began to emerge. Here’s an overview of two core ministry actions:
Build the ‘wheel’
Jesus’s strategy was based on various levels of relationship. It reminded me of a wooden wheel. At the “hub” in Jesus’ relational practice were the “Three” — Peter, James, and John. But they, along with Jesus Himself were joined to the “Twelve,” the “spokes” that linked to the outer wheel that touched the landscape, This was symbolized by the “seventy that Jesus sent out, and then the 120.
Also at the “hub” was the “axle” that united ministries in partnership and support — like those who were ministering in Jesus’s name, but were not part of His original group of disciples.
Reaching and keeping the harvest are also matters of relationship. Again, as I studied Jesus’s ministry style a strategic approach became visible that I called the “reach-keep” ministry”, consisting of these stages:
- Attract — Jesus attracted people to Himself by ministering to their perceived needs. So, churches now should understand their communities and the people in them and develop ministries that will address both felt and actual needs.
- Attach — Jesus sought to provide attachment points to which newcomers could enjoin themselves to establish relationships with Him and His followers. The Jesus Church will develop points of attachment that provide a “place” for newcomers.
- Assimilate — Just as Jesus facilitated long-term relationships based on friendship and learning, so the Jesus church will provide specific means of deepening fellowship with newcomers.
- Advance — Jesus trained and sent His followers on mission. The Jesus church today must focus on developing people to use their spiritual gifts and advance the Gospel in their worlds.
- Activate — As in the case of the Three, the twelve, the Seventy, and the One hundred-twenty, the Jesus church now should have specific mission points to which people can be sent and where they can use their spiritual gifts in ministering to their worlds.
- Affirm — Jesus recognized and affirmed His disciples as they came back from ministry assignments. This is important in the local church now and there should be specific affirmation events where members receive the approbation and encouragement of their leaders.
The first church I served as senior pastor was located near Alabama’s beautiful Mobile Bay. There is a phenomenon there that old-timers call the “Jubilee.” Suddenly, for reasons not totally understood, all the aquatic life in the Bay rushes to shore.
Someone will shout, “Jubilee!” and people on Fairhope’s pier and all along the banks will scramble to get sacks, boxes, buckets — anything that will help them handle the harvest. They know not all will be edible, because every type of fish will zoom in.
One day as I stood at the Bay’s edge watching for “Jubilee” I realized this is a type of the kairos, the “opportune time” that is gathering momentum through the upheavals of our age.
Churches must be ready because the “jubilee harvest” is coming. Not only will the kairos-harvest have to deal with quantity, but also the types coming in because, just like the Mobile Bay Jubilee every kind of human will rush in, some with shocking appearance and lifestyle.
Institutional churches will find themselves offended and unable to minister to the extremes of this harvest. Only the Jesus Church will be fit to handle it.
Now is the time to get ready by developing the Jesus church that is the Christ-centered, Spirit-energized, Word-anchored, Kingdom-envisioning local body that is indeed “the hope of the world.”
Wallace Henley is a former White House and Congressional aide. He is now a teaching pastor at Grace Church, The Woodlands, Texas. Wallace is author of more than 20 books, including God and Churchill, and his newest, Who Will Rule the Coming 'gods: The Looming Spiritual Crisis of Artificial Intelligence.