Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Could the local church be the hope of the world?

Bill Hybels, pastor at Willowcreek, has a saying: The local church is the hope of the world. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Worldwide it seems as if the local church is becoming smaller and playing a less prominent role. Many people – committed Christians – have left the church, either for nothing or for a small group. These are people who have given up hope for the local church (although many still haven’t given up hope for God.)
Frankly, we (that is, our family) are hyper-critical about the local church. We experience extreme arrogance, a lack of leadership, a total lack of commitment towards those outside the church, an unwillingness to change effectively and a whole range of other issues. I’m not referring to a particular church, but rather to a whole range of churches which I see around us. I have a dear friend who is pastor in a very small local church in the town where we live. This man has vision and dreams which you rarely observe in any pastor. But his congregation doesn’t support him. He’s on his way out – going to retire and live somewhere where he won’t need to worry about things like this anymore. And the church he is leaving behind is going to become even smaller than it already is!
Most local churches are fast declining in numbers. This is often blamed on the changing environment in which we live, the post-modern outlook on life, the old-fashioned way of worship which exist in many churches, the judgmental attitude of many Christians, and the list could go on. But I’m still not convinced that these are the real reasons why people leave the church. I’ve seen a number of people in our town who left very modern-style churches to join the Anglicans (old-fashioned with a strict liturgy). I’ve been in a Presbyterian church in Rotterdam which seem to have nothing flashy in terms of worship teams, sound systems and lights, but this church is growing, in spite of most churches in Europe declining in numbers. I believe a lot has to do with people finding that they are making a difference by being part of the church.
When people step into a relationship with Christ for the first time, they need the church to bring change into their own lives, but in my opinion, as they grow in their relationship with God, their needs (should) change, so that they can become a blessing for others. I don’t often have the chance to attend church as spectator. On most Sundays I have two and sometimes three services where I have to preach. But a few weeks ago I attended church with my family and when I left the church I was overwhelmed with the feeling of: If I have to do this every Sunday and this is all that church is about, I’ll die! And this, I believe, is the reason why churches are dying: because people cannot get the impression that it makes any difference whatsoever whether they are part of the local church or not.
Coming back to what bill Hybels said: The local church can only become the hope of the world if it gets involved in the community and the people where it is situated. People need to experience that the church is offering something that they cannot find elsewhere. Probably the church will not be able to compete in terms of financial resources when real disasters strike, such as 9/11, Katrina or with a pandemic such as AIDS. But I am sure that there are hundreds of survivors of 9/11 or families who had survived Katrina who would be able to tell stories, not of what the government had done for them, but of what churches had done for them. When I was in Chicago last year, I stayed over with a family that had just returned from New Orleans where they had helped people to rebuild their houses. I cannot for one moment think that those people, whether they are Christians or not, will see the church as being irrelevant. In Southern Africa, where the AIDS pandemic is at its worst, governments of all countries are giving out billions of dollars to help control the spreading of the disease and to ensure that people are tested and will receive medication. But the real stories of hope come when people tell how the church has reached out to them. There are wonderful stories of how the church brought hope into people’s lives. And it is when I see this happening, that I know that the time of the church is not over yet. The time for ineffective churches may be over, but the world will always need hope. And nobody can bring more hope than the local church which has, itself, experienced hope through God’s love.

Saturday, August 22, 2009 - Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Alternative Society, Bill Hybels, Church, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Hope, Indigenous church, Leadership, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Theology, Vision

7 Comments »

  1. Thank you for your blogs. I have become a regular reader. I would like permission to present this specific entry on our blog at http://www.enlaceonline.org/blog

    Comment by dave and jenny | Monday, August 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. You’re more than welcome to post a link to my blog if you think anyone can benefit from it.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, August 24, 2009 | Reply

  3. Thank you! Take a minute to check out this page. I thought it might interest you. http://www.enlaceonline.org/why-the-church/

    Comment by dave and jenny | Monday, August 24, 2009 | Reply

  4. Thanks. Enlace seems to be doing great work. I posted something some time ago on servant leadership. I don’t know whether you saw it: https://missionissues.wordpress.com/2008/04/14/servant-leadership/ and https://missionissues.wordpress.com/2009/03/02/james-autry-the-servant-leader/

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, August 24, 2009 | Reply

  5. I am revived and blessed by this post. I plan to share this in our congregation this Sunday.

    Comment by 1920solutions | Saturday, April 30, 2011 | Reply

    • Thank you so much for this encouraging comment. Please feel free to use it at your church. God bless you. Arnau.

      Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Saturday, April 30, 2011 | Reply

      • I shared it yesterday to the congregation and they were so challenged by it. Some even felt guilty that they were not doing enough for the church. Thanks again.

        Comment by 1920solutions | Monday, May 2, 2011


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