How is God going to pull everything together? What is God’s plan to make his grace and forgiveness known and experienced in the world? Through his people, the church.
The local church is God’s plan for making his reconciliation real in the world. And that’s why I’m passionate about growing a healthy, local church. That’s lesson #5 of my 20 lessons from 20 years of ministry.
What do we have so far? Here’s the first four lessons:
Basic truth: Jesus is committed to reconciling this world back to himself, making everything right again. He loves his creation that much.
And how is he implementing his plan for reconciliation? By one means, and one means only: through his body here on earth, his people, the local church.
Here’s the deal: There isn’t some other plan afoot for the reconciliation of this world. God isn’t working out some alternative idea to make his good news about Jesus known–like it or lump it, his people are it. In the words of Paul, God has committed to us, his people, his message of reconciliation, as though he were making his appeal through us.
This is both incredibly encouraging and deeply daunting. We’ve been empowered as God’s people to be his kingdom agents, so that his kingdom might come and his will might be done, here on earth at it is in heaven. We do that through service, through prayer, through witness and through worship. We do this by letting Jesus lead in our lives and love his world through us. We do this in the most practical, neighbourly sort of ways, living as Jesus’ hands and feet.
Political programs, educational initiatives, policy changes and community efforts can all be very good. But real and lasting change, the kind of transformation Jesus is aiming at, will not happen outside of full reconciliation with God. And that won’t happen unless people come to know Jesus, join his family, and follow him in his mission.
There are Christians who feel the church is peripheral or optional, a bygone institution of dubious value. They say they can take or leave it. Which is kind of like telling God you’re happy to get his inheritance money, as long as you don’t have to be part of the family or bear any family responsibility. But following Jesus means, by definition, being part of his family–it’s just a question of whether or not we’ll live in relationship with the family or attempt to follow from a distance, estranged from God’s people and the mission God has given us.
Over my 20 years of ministry, the local church has become more central than ever to my theology and practice of ministry. In the words of Bill Hybels, there’s nothing like the local church when the local church is working well. And though she isn’t perfect, I’m more convinced than ever that the local church is God’s basic strategy for making Jesus’ love and grace real in the world his loves.
This truth motivates me and clarifies my work. It inspires my heart and fuels my soul. And it’s why I give my life to see the local church flourish.
What else is going on that is bringing God’s freedom, grace and forgiveness into his broken yet loved world? Nothing. The local church is God’s plan A-Z for making his love real in the world he loves.