Good News the World Can See
“It is not uncommon in our post-Christian culture to hear Christianity derided as bad news. Its Crusades were violent, its Inquisitions inhumane, its gender norms oppressive, its truth claims intolerant, its political imagination undemocratic. … The good news that the church has proclaimed for 2,000 years isn’t any less true for our failing to live it. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. This is the news we proclaim. But given the signs of the times, most people aren’t interested in hearing our careful reflections on the work of Christ until they see some difference that it makes in our lives and in the world. The good news we most need is a good news the world can see.”
I have mentioned many times that the church in North America is dying. There is no question that the church no longer holds its lofty and authoritarian cultural perch. As Wilson-Hartgrove notes, fewer and fewer see us as the bastion of morality or truth.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the church in North America will go extinct. There will likely always be a remnant, a small group that remains faithful in the face of an overwhelming secular society.
Don’t be fooled. I know we see more and more mega-churches popping up around the country but research indicates that more than 70% of all mega-church growth is from transfer membership. Most churches in North America are less than 100 people in attendance and are dying. When those churches finally die, those remaining members still want a place to worship. While far from a perfect analogy, it’s akin to “mom-and-pop” stores yielding to the “big-box” stores. Mega-churches are not the answer to the decline of Christianity. (Also, please do not read this as an indictment on mega-churches. Many mega-churches do phenomenal, important ministry. Besides, if we smaller churches had it all figured it out … we wouldn’t be dying to begin with.)
Don’t be disheartened. It’s certainly not going to be easy, but there’s never been a bigger opportunity for mission and outreach and evangelism than there is right now. To loosely quote my Rabbi, in North America the harvest has never been more plentiful (cf. Matthew 9:38).
In my humble opinion, Wilson-Hartgrove hits the nail on the head. We Christians have lost our witness. In an enormous irony, we Christians are viewed as bad news even as we believe and claim good news.
Don’t misunderstand me. This is not a PR problem. It’s not as if we Christians do all the right things and have it all figured out only to be misrepresented to the world. When I talk to Christians I know and ask them what God is doing in their lives, they struggle to provide an answer. When I ask what God is teaching them or how their lives are being changed to be more like Jesus, they look at me as if I have two heads. We expect the world to line up behind the obvious truth of this good news, yet we can’t give an account, as Wilson-Hartgrove notes, of the difference it makes in our lives and the world.
If God is not real to us, how could we ever expect him to be real to others?
Which is why mission is so important.
After an idyllic, amazing creation in the first 2 chapters of the Bible, over the next 9 the world begins to go to pot. So in Genesis 12 God changes his approach with the world and chooses one family, the family of Abraham, through whom, he says, all people on earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). This family, through whom the hope of the world comes—that is, Jesus—is intended to be a family that blesses the world.
You and I, if we call ourselves Christians, are members of that family and heirs of that mission.
You see, in mission, we participate with God in bringing blessing to the world. In mission, we meet God where he is already working. In mission, we get to experience the difference the good news can make in our lives and in the world.
Mission revitalizes our witness. Mission resuscitates our own spirituality. Mission is good news the world can see.
This is why His Hands and the Homeless Ministry and the Small Jobs Team and the student Impact trips and this summer’s churchwide mission trip are so important. These missions and others like them are opportunities for us to embody the calling God has placed upon all of us.
But it need not stop with church programs. Your own neighbors and neighborhoods and communities and civic organizations are wonderful spaces in which to bring good news and blessing. When was the last time you brought a blessing, not to other Christians, but to the world? When was the last time you brought a blessing, not through your checkbook, but through your presence?
May we be this sort of church. May we be the kind of people who are known for the blessing we bring. May, through us, come…
…good news the world can see.