“The Greatest Challenge Facing the Church Today”

“What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the church today?”

If hopeful future pastors have answered that question once, we’ve answered it a hundred times. Every supervisor, search committee, and scholarship donor wants to know the answer to that question, and its answers often imply that the “greatest challenge facing the church today” is somehow greater, larger, scarier than the challenge facing the church 50, 100, or 1000 years ago.

I’ve heard all the stock answers, and I may have even used some of them.

Declining membership. Burdensome buildings. The “busyness” of Western culture. Rethinking the Sunday School model. Technology. Creating space for creativity. Heteronormativity. Outreach. Moving from charity to advocacy. Intergenerational ministry. Rethinking recreation.

The list can go on. Those are all challenges. Those are real challenges and important challenges, but I choose to answer the question differently.

“What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the church today?”

The challenge facing the church is the same in every generation, though it takes different shapes, forms, and nuances in each unique context. The challenge facing the church is simple: to be the church in the world. The implications of that seemingly simple challenge, however, are extremely far reaching.

To be the church is to be a people called out, a literal translation of the Greek ekklesia. “The church” isn’t a static state of being, a building, or a private club. The church is a people constantly being called out by the God who called us together. To be the people constantly called out is to participate in the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us—to embody the spirit of Steven in standing up for faith, the compassion of Christ in the face of suffering, the listening spirit of Mary and the faithful diligence of Martha in the midst of our chaotic world. In the tradition of Amos and Micah, the church calls out the truth in love, bearing witness to the hope which we know triumphs over despair. In the line of Samuel, we dare to notice God’s voice in our lives and, in the tradition of Miriam, we know when to take up our tambourines and dance. To be called out means to take risks based on who we know our God to be.

One of the great temptations and challenges facing the church is to forget who we are—to craft the church in our own image, preferring to be a people called in—into our comfort zones, into vague platitudes, into complacency, into shallow faith. The temptation is forget the second part of our challenge—to be the church in the world.

Being the church in the world requires that we be in and for the word around us. It requires that we take seriously the interpretation of our scriptures in new times, new contexts. Who are the lepers, shunned by our world? Who are the tax collectors, with whom Jesus would dine? Who are the daughters of Zelophehad, speaking out for justice when it’s dangerous? Who are the women running from the empty tomb, witnessing to good news which we are hesitant to believe? Being the church in the world requires that we keep our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds open to the movement of the holy spirit and the suffering of our neighbor, walking together on an ever-winding path towards the kingdom of God among us.

The great challenge is to be who we truly are: a people called out for God’s work in the world.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s