What I Pray for the Lord's 21st-Century Church

If the church were more like a family than a business, then the world would be in better shape.
If the church were more like a family than a business, then the world would be in better shape. (Flickr )

The Lord wants the best for His bride. And so does every right-thinking child of His.

Here is my wish list for the church of the 21st century: 

1. I wish the church were less like a business and more like a family. Our Lord looked around at His disciples and followers and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother, and My sister, and My mother" (Mark 3:33-35). The obedient are His family.

I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God. The local church should be a smaller expression of that larger, forever family. I wish more of them were.

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A real family nurtures its members, is always there, makes a big deal of each one's special moments and puts each other ahead of anyone else or anything else. To paraphrase Robert Frost, "A family is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

Families are not about numbers, divisions, classes and groups. Family members are related by blood and joined at the heart. They weep when one of their numbers weeps, and they rejoice when one of their own rejoice. They don't compete, except in a fun way, and are proud when one gets an award or honor.

People looking for a new church often will hesitate before joining one for the simple reason that they are in effect joining a family. Their unasked question is, "Do I want to be family with these people?"

A business, on the other hand, functions by the bottom line. It turns out a product. It hires and fires people. But what business do you know that is run by faith and directed by prayer and motivated by love? The church is not a business, but a family. And when we who are the church fail to love and to care, we have reneged on our assignment, violated our mandate, and betrayed the Savior.

I wish my church were more like a family.

2. I wish the church were less like the world and more like heaven. Heaven's values are on lasting things. You like gold? Why, there they pave the streets with it.

Heaven loves diversity. Heaven's citizenship is composed of "every nation and kindred and people and tongues" (Rev. 7:9).

Heaven is in the business of joy. As C.S. Lewis put it, "Joy is the business of heaven." The very atmosphere of heaven is joy (Ps. 16:11). The kind of joy the world gives turns out to be artificial, superficial and temporary (Ps. 4:7).

Heaven is about serving God, about singing and praising and loving and rejoicing. The world is about using people to get our pleasure and griping when we don't.

Heaven doesn't sweat the little things and knows what really matters.

Alas, many of our churches are more a mirror of the world's values than a statement of heaven's verities.

3. I wish the church were less like a club and more like a ministry. Clubs are mostly about camaraderie and cliques and excluding certain others they find not acceptable. Ministry includes everyone.

Club members greet each other and welcome one another and take friends out to lunch. But ministry reaches out to everyone. God told Israel to welcome the stranger within your gates. "For you were strangers in Egypt" (Lev. 19).

History tells of a time that St. Bernard returned to the monastery one evening with a long, drooping face. He was sad because he had not found anyone to rescue that day.

The weather forecast for Jan. 26, 1967, for the Midwest said "scattered snow flurries." Meteorologists said conditions were not right for heavy snow. But that night the Great Lakes region was inundated by the all-time record snowfall. When God gets ready to do something, He doesn't pay much attention to leading indicators.

"Jesus went about doing good" (Acts 10:38).

In the cemetery, Chuck Swindoll's mother saw a young woman weeping near a marble tombstone. She went over and told the woman about Jesus. Her heart was tender and open, and she came to Christ. As a result, that young widow began a graveyard ministry, looking for grieving hearts. Swindoll said she has led hundreds to Christ this way.

4. I wish the church were less like a police force and more like a hospital. A police force focuses on catching lawbreakers. Hospitals are into healing.

Dear Abby, a columnist of yesteryear, famously said, "Churches should not be museums for saints but hospitals for sinners."

"Lord," the Pharisees said something to the effect of: "Your disciples are doing that which is not lawful. They are plucking grain on the Sabbath, healing on the Sabbath and walking too far on the Sabbath. They are laughing, and You know that's not allowed around here. As for dancing, well, don't even ask."

"That one cigarette will send your soul to hell." A woman told me that statement came from her sister-in-law, a member of a stern legalistic denomination. She said her reply to her brother's wife was, "Then, explain something to me. I know for a fact that you hate your mother. And yet you have no problem with that. It's my one cigarette that will doom my soul. Explain that." She couldn't.

Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ were sent to share His Good News with everyone, not on a mission to catch people doing wrong. Why have so many of our people missed this?

Pastors will need to keep stressing the proper (i.e., scriptural) role of the church, its identity and purpose.

After all, churches tend to drift downward ...

  • away from family, love and fellowship toward becoming a business.
  • away from ministry reaching out toward becoming a club.
  • away from heaven's values toward aping the world.
  • away from hospital care-giving toward law enforcement.

We must always work at staying alive and fresh and responsive to the Holy Spirit, "new wine," trying new things, walking away from outdated methods no longer working, aggressive in reaching out, discipling self and staying in fighting shape.

And since churches tend to drift downward into businesses, clubs, police agencies and such, pastors and teachers must always keep the vision before the members. "We are the family of God, sent to share the Good News of Jesus." Anything less is to violate our assignment.

After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books. He tries to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

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