I recently had somebody ask me whether the Church still matters, today. I responded that I definitely think the Church has a role to play. His question was posed more than three weeks ago, and yet it is still with me. It’s been rumbling around in the back of my head and I don’t always like some of the new answers I’ve been thinking about. Some answers are in the “yes” column… Others are in the “no” column.
When does the Church matter? The Church matters when it is the Church at its best: a community of God’s people living out Christ’s calling to be God’s healing agents in the world. The Church matters when it provides food to the hungry, strength to those who struggle, comfort to the dying and friendship to those who are marginalized. The Church matters when it serves the community within which it is rooted: when it builds bridges between groups that present in the community that do not mingle with each other, when it provides space for addiction recovery, when it provides a home for flood recovery efforts in the driftless region. The Church does all these things and more. When the Church is the Church at its best, a community of God’s peope living out Christ’s calling to be God’s healing agents in the world, the Church matters.
On the other hand, the Church doesn’t matter much when it focues in on itself. When God’s vision of being a blessing for the community is displaced by a myopic view that focuses only on the needs of the institution, the Church makes no impact in the community around it. When people focus more on membership in the church as a means to privilege or status than a calling to bring God’s reconciling power to the world, the church loses its way. When we forget our calling (the calling to be God’s reconciling agents for the sake of a fragmented world) the church becomes irrelevant.
God’s love for us is shown through Jesus Christ. He sets us free from sin, death, and the powers of evil, so that we can be the Church at its best: God’s reconciling and healing presence. How we live out Christ’s calling to be the Church at its best will determine whether or not the Church matters. When the Church matters, it will be a strong and vibrant center for the community. When it isolates itself, when it fails to reach out in service and friendship to all, when it becomes overly concerned with self preservation, and/or when it values tradition over mission, the church matters little.
I am thankful for the good question of the one who left “organized religion” behind some years ago. He saw in his life that the church he experienced in his hometown had ceased to matter. It had become irrelevant. He wanted no part in a church that focused only on its own needs and failed to live out its values.
The challenge for us is to rise up as God’s servant Church and to be the Church at its best. The mission to which we are called is what matters most. Our willingness to live it out determines the Church’s value. May we be found faithful. May we always be the Church at its best: Christ’s reconciling presence in the world for the sake of the world, a community not in and for itself, but a community that exists for the sake of the world.