The local church is the hope for the world. This is a well-known statement that Bill Hybels already made in the 1990s. It’s a one-liner that challenges me in some way and at the same time raises my eyebrows. On the one hand, I believe with all my heart that it is true that the local church has a message that can change the world. That is an important reason why I do my work at Royal Mission. At the same time, I see a world where there is so much brokenness and darkness that I wonder where that message of hope from the church is visible. Apparently it is possible that the church can literally make a world of difference, but why do I see so little of that?
Church as building
I have been going to church all my life and for my speaking engagements I come to a different denomination almost every Sunday. What strikes me is that we have organized being a church in such a way that it centers around and in a building. You could make it even more specific by saying it focuses on a stage. The people who attend the Sunday service in a church building are minimally involved, because the people who are working are mainly on stage. Music is made there, the speaker tells a Bible message delivered in ready-made chunks and the worship leader tries to get people involved in worship. The fruit is often measured by the number of seats occupied. If many people attend the service, it is good news and considered fruitful.
If you experience church from a building, we often want to reach people with the gospel by encouraging them to come within the four walls of ‘our’ church building. In the building, people who come from outside will hear the gospel in the setting of a service. At that place, in such a service, they could accept an invitation. Of course, there is nothing wrong with an evangelism service, for example, and certainly not with an invitation to give your life to Jesus. The problem is that someone coming from outside always has to cross a threshold. As a church, we have created an accessible service, but even then someone will still have to cross a threshold (no matter how low). Non-churchgoers are confronted with songs they do not know and language they hardly understand.
I remember a TV broadcast where the presenter of a program visited a church service to experience what that is like. He sat down next to a sweet nurse who showed him around. After the service ended, the presenter asked what was going to happen next. The dear sister said that they went to drink coffee and tea in the room next to the meeting room and that they had fellowship with each other. You will understand that the presenter looked into the camera with a surprised face.
Group of people
What if we approach church much more from a group of people who want to follow Jesus? With this focus, we assume that people are church by representing Jesus where they are. Everyone is involved and is aware of his or her responsibility as an ambassador of the Kingdom of God. Jesus and his Kingdom are represented at work, at school, at the sports club, in the store and at home. If someone comes to visit your home, that person walks into a church without even realizing it. In this model, people who do not know Jesus do not have to cross a threshold to meet Jesus. Christians now have to cross a threshold to enter someone else’s world. This requires adjustment and empathy.
If we are going to learn more about being church in this way, it is very important that we start making disciples. Christians who are learning to commit their lives to Jesus and are learning to live by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then it is important to have insight into what the gospel of the Kingdom actually means. That will completely change the way you approach life and the priorities you set.
This morning we started the day in Veenendaal by sharing with each other what our dream is for the church. Very inspiring to hear how passionate colleagues and volunteers at Royal Mission are for the revival of the church. I shared that my dream is that being church is not just experienced within four walls, but that Jesus is represented in people’s lives where they are in encounters with others.
Church Revival School
Next season we will start a new school, the school for church revival. With this school we get to the core of what we dream about at Royal Mission, namely that churches gain a view of the Kingdom, that a culture of discipleship is created and that there is healthy leadership. The school is for church leaders and church planters and the content will be robust. We want to challenge the participants not to build on the status quo, but to take a radically different approach. That will cost some money and may initially lead to shrinkage, but with the belief that the local church will again exert influence in the way it is called to do. My prayer is that there will be many church leaders who dare to embark on this adventure, because the stakes are high. The local church is the hope for the world? I firmly believe in that!