Church Life, Outreach, Missions
The Church's Changing Role
by Ed Vasicek
Some things about the church are universal and always contemporary. All churches true to the Bible are to reach, connect, and deepen. But church ministries vary for many reasons, including needs within the church or community, opportunities available, and the church's resources.
The Lord's work is never done and it can take so many avenues! We cannot and should not do everything that needs to be done; we must be selective and try to discern what aspects of God's Kingdom work He is directing us to shoulder. But when a church neglects its most essential tasks (reaching, connecting, and deepening), it becomes cockeyed and out of balance. Likewise, if it is firmly anchored to the needs of the past, it becomes irrelevant.
Today's evangelical church in America is different from today's evangelical church in Korea, Brazil, or France. The spiritual needs of Americans in 2003 vary quite a bit from those in 1953. The needs of one segment of a given community can vary greatly from the needs of another.
Not long ago, a public school in our area requested funds to purchase a washing machine. It seems some of the children came to school with dirty, smelly clothes. The odors were so obnoxious that they disturbed the class. Appeals to the parents failed to produce results. Scolding the parents does not clean clothes. Why? Because some parents could care less about their children. It is the way things are, not the way they should be. And when a church refuses to address what is, while at the same time focusing upon what should be, it becomes spiritually dormant.
Returning to our clothes washing illustration, let me ask this question: Is that what teachers are trained for? No. But sometimes you do what needs to be done.
It is the same way with the church. Wycliffe Bible Translators, for example, attempts to go into areas where the language has never been reduced to writing, learn the language, translate the Scriptures, and then teach the people to read their own language. We might argue that it isn't the church's job to teach people how to read. But sometimes it can be.
Other missionaries provide medical help for third world people. Is the church a medical or dental clinic? Well, if that's what the occasion demands, then why not? As long as the church is not ONLY those things, as long as the Word of God is taught and people are discipled, the church is free to flex with the situation.
In America, the evangelical church has focused upon teaching the Word of God and training people for the work of ministry, a proper focus indeed. But as the family falls apart, as the government becomes less willing to promote Judeo-Christian values, and as ignorance and the number of severely dysfunctional families and individuals rise, we should expect to address needs that were previously addressed elsewhere.
We at Highland Park Church are constantly trying to adjust our ministries to our life and times. It is a never-ending battle. Pastor Ed's series on relationships, friendship, and conversation is one case in point. People no longer know how to converse or build friendships as they once did. Such skills are assumed in the Bible, so we must try to fill in the gap, much like a missionary must teach people to read. The series, "Bringing Up Boys," is an attempt to help concerned parents or friends rear boys in an environment that is hostile toward masculinity (something unique in history; a society favorable to masculinity is assumed in Scripture). Our attempts to socialize and connect more via flock groups or church fun nights demonstrate yet another way to help compensate and overcome America's anti-relational swerve.
People in Kokomo need Jesus. They need to know the Word of God and how to find the will of God. But, unlike previous generations, we also need to teach folks how to connect, how to enjoy being human, and how to enjoy other humans to the glory of God. Indeed, our church is one of the few that has a "connecting" aspect in its mission statement.
I sometimes long for the old days when pastors would study for sermons, visit the sick, do a few funerals and weddings and maybe counsel someone here and there during a time of crisis. But those days are gone, at least if we want to make an impact for Jesus. Yet, in another way, I enjoy the challenge and variety of today's needs. I am frequently at full stretch and have been forced to study and expand my horizons in so many areas (as those of you who read my Tribune articles have no doubt noticed). But it is not just today's pastor that must keep up with the brisk pace, it is also today' s church.
Can the church of Jesus Christ rise to the challenge of training people in matters of doctrine and morality and at the same time teach them social and relational skills—or whatever else we sense God wants us to do? That remains to be seen. But let's pray that our particular church will shine for Jesus. For in our church, you play a part. We have some say in the matter.
Reprinted from the July 2003 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA