One of my favourite things about this time of year—apart from Christmas, cricket season, and more time with family—are the end-of-year lists. Everything released during the year, from albums to movies to books, are reviewed and ranked. I enjoy looking back on the year that was and discovering what other people enjoyed and what I might have missed.
However, on this, the last day of 2017, I’d like to offer a different kind of year-end list; one that does not look backwards but forward. One that takes into account our rapidly changing cultural landscape and casts an eye towards the type of church required in our volatile times. This list offers four realities that, I believe, must mark the church in our day, and it is offered in the hope that it might give us a pathway toward health, vitality, and influence in the days ahead. The four realities are:
Clear Doctrine: If the church is to thrive in our tumultuous times it needs clear, biblical doctrine. The truth of the gospel is the unchanging pillar upon which the church is built; the firm foundation upon which we stand when the shifting sands of human opinion move under our feet. “…I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 3:14–5
Compelling Community: The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace. Doctrine without devotion is hypocrisy. Truth without grace is repellent. But “when the doctrine is clear and the culture is beautiful, that church will be powerful” (Ray Ortlund, The Gospel, 21). “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” – 1 John 4:11
Christ-like Service: To follow Jesus means to serve like Jesus; humbly, sacrificially, and joyfully. A church community marked by this kind of Christ-like service is one that will shine brightly in our divided and defensive times. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.” – John 13:14
Courageous Witness: Faithfulness to Jesus is not a pathway to popularity. In fact, it is a certain road towards rejection (John 15:20). But this reality does not turn us off or turn us away from Jesus, it fills us with deeper trust in Jesus and greater courage to follow Him—whatever the cost. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
The intensity of our times will require a church community marked by these four realities. Let’s all take steps towards them in 2018, for the sake of our world and the glory of His name.
Happy New Year, and I look forward to all that God has in store for us as a church community in 2018!