I begin this letter addressing, not just a local church, but the greater Church (signified by the capital “C”). It is a larger community of people that I humbly serve alongside within His body here on earth. I’m not the only pastor in this city. I’m surrounded by great pastors and leaders who willfully and joyfully serve Jesus and our local community. My church is not the only church here in the greater Kalamazoo area. We are honored to be a part of a region of churches working, not to construct local ecclesiastical empires, but to build Christ’s Kingdom. This city, this state, this nation, and this world is too big for any one local church to think they, and they alone, are the epitome of the global Church.
To put everyone at ease, let me help you understand the heart of this open letter. This is not my “rant” about all the things I don’t like about the Church (I think we all can agree that we’ve got enough of that on social media). The goal is not to berate or chastise you, your pastor, or congregation (again, see social media for that). My open letter to you is to convey my heart about what “could be” for the greater health and testimony of the Body of Christ.
For the rest of the article, I will attempt to not use the words “you” or “your” but will purposely say “our” or “ours.” Why? Because we are in this together. Your church and my church (notice the little “c”) are a part of His Church. Our actions and lives affect each other. If we are are all about Jesus, then we, together, are part of His body. And according to Psalm 133, where there is unity, there is a commanded blessing from God. I want to see a revival of God’s presence upon our city, state, nation, and world. And I find it counterintuitive to ask for the commanded blessing of God while refusing to own the issues as one body. So I repeat: we are in this together.
Here are a few thoughts:
First, let us realign our faith. In Jesus is the fullness of God (John 1). What we have done is put our faith in people, preferences, and/or politics. When we put our faith in anything of this earth, we are placing demands upon people, places, and things that were never equipped to give or provide only what Jesus can offer. I love the Church, but foundation of our faith cannot be the local church or those who attend. Church people are humans; finite, imperfect, quirky, diverse, and wonderful. But people cannot be what drives faith. They/we can help all of us grow in our faith but they/we cannot be the source of faith.
I love being a Pastor. But I think I can speak for the rest of us church leaders when I say, “NEVER let the foundation of your faith be in us.” We are going to let people down. We are going to make decisions that people won’t like. During this pandemic we are doing our best to lead in a way that is safe and constructive (which, consequently, is how we always try to lead). None of us have led during anything like this. Bible college or seminary didn’t prep us well for a world-wide catastrophe. We need prayers and encouragement. We all are doing our best to hear individually for our local bodies while wanting to be a part of the greater Body of Christ.
Second, we need to regain our composure. This is not about masks vs. no masks. Online church vs. in-person church. Rights exercised vs. rights being constricted. Republican vs. Democrat. (Or insert whatever issue that is close to your heart.)
Honestly, the issues really don’t matter as much as how we handle ourselves as Christ-followers. As us pastors have diligently preached, we cannot control what happens to us but we can control how we respond.
Do things make you angry? Me too. I’ve got my personal list that includes (but obviously not exhaustive to this list):
- The marginalization of people based upon their color or gender.
- The mistreatment and shaming of individuals based upon economic status, nationality, or political affiliation.
- The negative broad-brush painting of local law enforcement.
- The infringement of our religious rights.
Anger is not inherently a bad emotion. It is not only normal but I’d contend that it is good and right to experience. I think we can see in scripture not only the people of God being angry but God, Himself, exercising anger.
My caution to the Church is that we cannot sacrifice the character of Jesus on the altar of our uncontrolled fury. Do we all have the “right” to be angry? Of course. But let’s step back and relook at what we are angry at and why we are so outraged. And then let’s be angry about the right things.
Let’s raise our voices for injustice. Let’s speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Let’s get involved in our communities. Let’s voice our righteous indignation in a way that honors God and fights for people. At the same time, let us refuse to allow the testimony of Christ to be diminished because we refused to think through our reactions with people whether on social media posts or through conversations. Let us guard our tongues by being better listeners than talkers. Let us be quicker to schedule face-to-face conversations before we engage in gossip. Let us be the first to initiate forgiveness instead of waiting for others to respond first.
Lastly, we need to hit the reset button. What do I mean? We can’t necessarily “take back” anything that’s been done (both good and bad) as if it never happened. But we can collectively repent for how things have been handled well by us the Church. I can already hear a few people thinking, “I’ve done nothing wrong.” But that’s lower case “c” church thinking. If we, the capital “C” Church, are in this together, then let’s own our issues and not hide them.
Let’s own the fractures caused by reactionary and/or ridiculous social media rants.
Let’s own the individualistic mentality that almost gleefully flaunts the lack of care for others at the expense of exercising personal rights.
Let’s own the silence over issues that the Church should be loud on.
Let’s own how we’ve turned political opponents into personal enemies.
Let’s own the competitive spirit between local churches that has divided His Church.
Let’s own overreactions from us the Church that were not well prayed through and/or thought out.
Let’s own the prayer covering over our local, statewide, and national government officials by speaking blessing over them instead of praying for them to act according to our partisan preferences.
Let’s own how much stock we’ve placed in our fears instead of turning towards the Lord.
Let’s own how much we’ve dove into researching masks, viruses, rights, etc. disproportionately more than seeking the face of the Almighty.
The Church is the light of the world; a city set on a hill (Matthew 5:14). And the world is watching us.
My prayer is: Revive us Lord; we need your help. Apart from You, we can do nothing. Your image is meant to be seen in us and through our actions. And we humbly admit, corporately, we have not always succeeded in showing that. Instead of finger-pointing, we own what has happened and are determined to do better. For it is not us “saving face” to the world but restoring Your image in us and building Your Kingdom. We need your grace and mercy. Help us to increase our capacity to feel Your heart and to hear Your voice. Make us into vessels that are positioned not just to be receptacles of Your presence of conduits of your love to all. Today is a new day and this moment is a fresh opportunity.
We realign our faith in You Jesus.
We regain our composure.
And we hit the reset button in order to start new.
It’s all about You Jesus. Amen.