These are wild times. The COVID-19 Pandemic continues to slam us all. International news around the world reports seemingly continual conflicts. Here in the United States, one political party’s convention has just ended, and the other major party is preparing for its national convention next week. The cascading effects of systemic racism rightly demand to be addressed*. The debate over school openings fills conversations with rancorous impact. I could go on and on as can many non-somnolent readers. Allow me to confess that at times it all feels overwhelming. I must remind myself of my own faith mantra: “Breath Deep, Jesus is still Lord.”
As I walk in my neighborhood (for exercise and to just get out of the house!), I am listening to Tom Holland’s magisterial work Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, which chronicles the long history of the impact of Christian thinking on the world. There is virtually no period that has not experienced similar significant chaos, confusion, and conflict.
Meanwhile in my devotions, I have gone back to a little book I used about 10 years ago, The Way: 364 Daily Meditations by E. Stanley Jones. Many readers may recall that Jones’ great missionary work took place before, during and after World War II in India. This great evangelist and gospel preacher played a significant and active role in the effort of India to gain its independence from Great Britain (prophetically working alongside Mahatma Gandhi). The Way was written in 1946 during a time intense upheaval and chaos. It is the opening devotion of his marvelous book that I call to our attention in our time of chaos. The great evangelist and prophetic Christian leader writes:
"An inner breakdown has taken place in our world. It is not just economic or political; it is a breakdown in the spiritual. Something has collapsed there, and the outer collapse is simply an expression of a more serious inner problem. The outer arrangements of men and women are awry because the inner arrangements are awry. People cannot get along with each other because they cannot get along with themselves, and they cannot get along with themselves because they cannot get along with God." (E. Stanley Jones, The Way,)
We Need the Church to be The Church
However strongly we may as individuals feel about our current struggles, I am convinced that a first order of business is to remain focused on addressing the spiritual and moral desert in which we find ourselves regardless of political party affiliations, theological positions or personal platforms. Now, more than ever, we need the church to be the church – to proclaim the gospel in word and deed and hold to a primary allegiance to Jesus as Lord over and above all other idolatrous claimants to His throne. Rightly famed for his openness to interreligious dialog and shared ministry, Dr. Jones never compromised about the central focus of his missionary enterprise. He once wrote, “The straightforward, open proclamation of Jesus is the best method. He then added:
“Jesus appeals to the soul as light appeals to the eye, as truth fits the conscience, as beauty speaks to the aesthetic nature. For Christ and the soul are made for one another….” (E. Stanley Jones, The Way,)
Keep Christ at the Center
As summer gives way to fall, in the chaos of our time, focus is critical. As a church, both on a local level and worldwide, we must stay focused on our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation world!” This is the command of the risen Christ. (Matthew 28:18-20) It is our WIG, our Wildly Important Goal. In a recent blog, Rev. Mike Ramsdell, executive director of the Smith Center for Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth, wrote, “There is little doubt that churches decline when they lose their focus on this Biblical mission, and pastors just might begin a personal decline when they lose track of these commands that birthed the church in the first place.” (from Mike’s eNote blog titled “Focus on Evangelism,” click here to read the entire post)
Take a moment to pause and re-read Mike’s profound straightforward statement.
“There is little doubt that churches decline when they lose their focus on this Biblical mission, and pastors just might begin a personal decline when they lose track of these commands that birthed the church in the first place.”
In the chaos of a pandemic, political conventions, demonstrations and debate, keep the focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ! It will be easy and temping to lose this focus, but we must not do so. No doubt you will remember the old saying, “keep the main thing, the main thing.”
Later in his blog Mike added this note:
“After 30 years of consulting with churches of every denomination, Thom Rainer recently wrote a book describing the tools that revive dying and declining churches. In his book, Anatomy of a Revived Church, he discovered that it was not complicated to answer the question of why there is decline and how to revive a church. He wrote, ‘But church leaders and members who embrace the reality of the Great Commission and Great Commandment for their lives will be part of Churches that don’t just survive but instead thrive and grow’.”
To which I add a hearty and heart-felt “Amen!”
*I invite you to join Dr. Clifton Howard and me for the first of a four-week discussion on the marvelous book Be the Bridge. Together, we will walk through the book and share ideas on how we can work towards ending the scourge of systemic racism. Please go to ctcumc.org/be-the-bridge for full details.