I’ve read statistics about the decline of the church in America. If we are serious about addressing this problem we might first consider our basic purpose—not just to produce programs on Sundays, but to be salt and light.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16 NIV)
We must ask ourselves whether the twenty-first century church is as successful a witness to the world as the first-century church. How did the early followers of Christ become salt and light? Did they build great Coliseums and hire celebrated performers, to entertain the Romans into Christianity? Clearly not.
Yet that’s often our mindset today. We understand our roles as performers and spectators at Sunday worship services. And if we’re really religious we invite others to attend the events with us. We have vied against the world, using the ways of the world, and then wondered why in the world our Christian influence has waned.
Many have suggested remedies for our ineffectiveness. Some of these have proven useful, at least for a while. But I suggest that, when it comes to increasing our impact, the key will not come from changing what we do or how we do it.
Instead, the solution will come from a change in how we see ourselves. It demands leaving behind the notion that Christianity is primarily a “Jesus and me” relationship. We must adopt a body-centered view of ourselves; we are members of a worldwide spiritual organism.
This requires a paradigm shift, shedding the traditional idea of the church as a human-created organization blessed by God. We must understand we are to be a living entity, composed of individual believers. Instead of seeing church as a Christian building where we do Christian things, we must recognize that—no matter where we live, work, or travel—we are the body of Christ.
As a doctor, I’m a problem-solver. I tend to approach problems in terms of diagnosis and treatment. So as a Christian I find myself undertaking to diagnose problems within the church so it can enjoy good health.
Over the years, many treatments have been tried to help the church become more effective: programs for church growth, staff development, and evangelism training, to name a few.
The problem is that these programs assume the church is an organization, and can be managed as a business. So unfortunately, we are trying to win the world by using best business practices, rather than understanding we are members of an organic living body.
God has a plan for the long-term health and well-being of the church. It doesn’t rely on human wisdom. It is simply “being the body of Christ”. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 NIV) The essence of the body of Christ arises from our relationships with each other, not from our abilities or performances.
The most urgent need facing the church is not a requirement to change what we do so much as it is a need to know who we are. Otherwise, we are focusing on short-term problems akin to relieving the pain a cancer patient feels without healing the underlying disease.
In the end it is God, and not us, who has the power to make the body of Christ successful. The body of Christ does not depend on the number of people involved, or on our performances; it depends on the Spirit of God.