By Ann Smith
When did you last talk about changing the world? We say that winning people to Jesus Christ is the most important thing in our lives. We say that is why the Church exists. But I don’t think we actually practice it. Maybe we don’t really believe it.
If we really believed that winning the world for Christ is the purpose for which the Church exists, it seems to me that we would be living and operating in entirely different ways. We are concerned about perpetuating our programs. We want to make sure that everything goes smoothly and that our programs survive. Sometimes our programs just get in the way of what God wants us to do.
A program is neither good nor bad in itself. But our programs tend to take up our time and attention in such a way that we get caught in the mechanics of what we are doing and forget the reason we are doing it. In the church, any program that does not exist to serve people should be eliminated.
Too often the success of our programs becomes more important than the relationships we have with the people who participate in them. For instance, I would rather have fifty people involved in music because they want to be in it, because they want to praise God, than have ten people who are so concerned about musical perfection that the technique of their performance becomes the supreme importance.
That does not mean we need to be sloppy in our singing or less than prepared. It does mean that when there is a conflict between accomplishing the goals of our program and meeting the relational needs of those in our church who participate or would like to participate in the program, we should value the relationships more than we value the program.
Rather than being an influence on our culture, we too often are influenced by our culture. Much of our decision-making process grows out of North American ways of conducting business. I think too many of our decisions are based on the logical process rather than on prayer.
To be what we need to be, we must come to understand what it means to be the body of Christ. In our western culture, we are so individualistic. Individualism is a kind of self-centeredness. As individuals, we believe that if we are all right, then everyone is all right. As congregations, we seem to believe that if our congregation is all right, then everything is all right.
We haven’t learned what it is to be a part of the body of Christ. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body suffers. We don’t talk about body life very much in the church. In reality there are no individual Christians or individual congregations—no Christian or congregation is self-contained. The hurts, dangers, joys, and hopes of all Christians are bound together because we are all part of one body.
To really be the body of Christ requires a sense of commitment that is rare. If the Church, however, is to have strength and prophetic voice today and in the future, it will require a commitment that realizes there are things more important than one’s own congregation. Our commitment must be to the cause of Jesus Christ and to the body which is the Church.
Then we will have the opportunity to be prophetic. There can be no prophetic quality about our lives until we have found something more important than life itself. Until there is that kind of ultimate commitment, there is no prophetic voice.
This goes back to what I’ve been trying to say about being part of the body. When we really understand what it is to be in the body, then whatever we are doing—whether it’s our vocation or some job we have in the church—our first question will always be, Is this what God would have me do at this particular stage in my life? If not, then let’s find the person who should be doing it and get that person placed where God wishes her or him to be. In other words, let’s do what is best for the whole church, not what is most exciting or stimulating for ourselves.
This kind of commitment, this kind of thinking, and this kind of selfless service do not spring forth easily from western Christians. The kind of change that God is calling for will happen only as we submerse ourselves in the life of the Spirit. It’s difficult to sit down and really try to make yourself vulnerable and say, “God, what is it you really want from me? What do you want to say to me? What do you want to reveal to me about me?”
The kind of change we need will come as we being to read the Bible in a more reflective mood. We must try to understand Scripture in light of what God wants for us in our lives, rather than look for passages of Scripture to confirm what we’ve already decided is right and good.
Our congregations will change as two or three people discover new things from their study of Scripture and their prayer life and then begin to model the changes that God through the Holy Spirit brings about in their lives. Others will begin asking questions, and they, too, will find an increased life in the Spirit.
Pastors are key. As pastors begin real reflective thinking about what it means for them and for their churches to be the body of Christ, interacting with other Christians and other churches, and when that understanding comes into their preaching, teaching, and the way they live and model their Christianity, then the whole church has a chance to come alive in the Spirit. When we become caught up in the cause of being Christ’s body for others, when we being to pray about it, when we open our lives to the Holy Spirit, then we will find ourselves changing the world for Christ and reaching new people for Christ.
We can make a deliberate choice. We can decide that, for me and my house, we—whether we are asked to or not—will take seriously the task of praying in any decision-making process. We can fast and pray and seek God’s will rather than our own logic. That does not mean that we cease thinking or that we forsake logic. It does mean that our spiritual understandings take precedence over what might seem to be the logical decision.
Finally, we must find in Christ a true humility. Our prayer life, if we are open, will help to humble us. True humility is a gift of the Spirit of God. Humility will take away the judgmental spirit that is among us. Humility will give us an openness to God and to people that will change us. Humility will allow us to repent. Humility will make new beginnings possible.
Ann Smith is a former Church of God missionary and longtime speaker and friend to countless. This article was originally published in the January 1989 issue of Vital Christianity. Republished by permission.
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