Ecclesioporosis, Part 3

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To recap after a long intermission, by ‘ecclesioporosis’ I mean the new generation of Western believers’ lack of confidence in the local church as the vehicle for realizing change in the world. In the first post, we looked at some of the factors contributing to this condition. In the second, we examined some reasons that the church is simply indispensable to effecting ‘positive world change’ as defined by a Christian worldview.

Now, it’s about time to talk about a third question: what can be done about it? What can churches and their leadership do to increase confidence in the church as an institution? How can we convince skeptical young people that to abandon the church is essentially to abandon any hope of furthering the kingdom of God’s advance? And how can young people hold on to the church when there’s so many tempting alternatives? Here’s some thoughts… (if you can think of any more, please include them in the comments section!)

1. See the glory of the church as portrayed in Scripture
The church is the object of Christ’s redemptive work. That is, his atonement purchased a body of people, who will live forever to glorify God and praise him for his grace. Filling our hearts with the surpassing value of Christ’s sacrifice will in turn lead us to treasure that which his sacrifice purchased! Feeling the awesomeness of the price paid will cause us to marvel at the purchased possession.
Thus, if we want young people to love the church, we must teach them what it cost God to build it. And when we sense ourselves becoming disenchanted with the church, we must re-educate and remind ourselves of the church’s glorious position.

2. Train for understanding and ability in church ministry
I mentioned before that one of the causes of ecclesioporosis is the feeling of inadequacy that most young people have when it comes to serving in the church. They feel competent to do good deeds, but not to lead a church. So, if young believers learn how to lead within the church, it would seem that they would be less tempted to look without the church for a place to serve. This means churches must strive to teach every willing young person in the church to do everything the church does! They must learn about the vision, ministries, leadership, and plans of their local church.
This training may frustrate some of these young believers because organizations outside the church often stress that those who join them can start making an impact right away. These young believers must remember that while submitting to training may mean they take longer to, say, arrive on the mission field, but it also means that they will be well-equipped when they do arrive.

3. Commit to making proclamation ministry a priority
Abandoning the church almost always means abandoning proclamation ministry. That is, when young Christians leave the church to go serve with some other organization, they usually end up in ‘deeds’ ministries, serving people rather than speaking to them. So when we recognize that the preaching of the Gospel is the irreducible and integral component of our global mission (it is the ‘difference’ we want to make in the world), the church suddenly seems like a very important place! Over time, a local church is the institution most likely to maintain an unbudging emphasis on proclaiming the Gospel to unbelievers. As young people are taught to value the ministry of the Word, they will in turn value the place of the church.

4. Limit ministry options to those connected to churches
Often, those who sign up for a missions trip or a service project or an organizational position do not realize that they will be operating completely separate from any local church. This happens in China a lot. I think that many of these young people just assume that they will be in church regularly or that it’s just not feasible for them to attend church. Both assumptions, unfortunately, prove to be false. This means we must learn to ask some hard questions of would-be recruiters. How is this project going to aid local churches? What church can I join while I am on the field? Why isn’t a local church being asked to lead this venture? When making decisions about our missions work (whether short-term or otherwise), we ought to opt for those endeavors that benefit, build, or plant local churches directly.
Church leaders, when you lead your youth groups on missions trips that don’t involve ministering in churches, you teach students that the local church is an extraneous part of missions!

5. Aim financial gifts and support toward local churches
I hardly have words to describe my perplexity at some of the ways that churches choose to spend missions money. It would take another series of posts. For some reason, even churches with a high ecclesiology forget to pack it with them when they travel abroad! If we believe in the central position of the church (for reasons such as were outlined in the second post), then it is wise stewardship to direct our giving to those missions endeavors that will result in more and stronger churches.
I love to be an investor in my home church’s mission program because they love church-planting and choose to support ministries working to that end. Making choices like that also requires some hard questions. When a young person in your church informs you that he wants to join a missions trip that was advertised at his college, you have to ask, ‘What will be your personal level of involvement with local churches on the field?’ That’s not fun, but it demonstrates to the church’s young people that there is nothing exchangeable about the church.

6. Invest constantly in the edification of a local church
Constantly, meaning that it’s not okay to hope that someday you will be integrated into a local church or that your labors will benefit a church. Believers are tempted to put up with almost anything on a short-term basis. But regardless of our profession, mission field, stage in life, we must examine our current labors to discover what, if any, impact they are having on a local body of believers. A missionary may be busy doing many good things, but if churches are not being edified, he’s not doing the best thing. A college student may be getting a great education, but if he’s not in a church, he’s missing out.
I often have Chinese college students ask me if they should accept a job offer that moves them out of town. That’s a hard question for a pastor to answer objectively! I usually ask them if there’s a church in the area. They never know. Well, find out, I suggest. They ask, what if there isn’t one? Well, I ask, are you willing and able to start one? They’re not sure. So I tell them that if they’re not able to start a church, and there isn’t a church there, they’d best not go. (I also tell them what they might do to prepare themselves to start a church).

7. Count the church as worthy of our greatest risks in missions
Here’s one for people who want to work in places like Morocco and China. In a closed country (or creative access nation, or whatever they’re called this week), there is often risk associated with the activities we feel we ought to do as Christians. When we think of a way to ‘make a difference’ on our field, we are left weighing the possible benefits and possible dangers of such an action.
What I mean by ‘counting the church worthy’ is that, when we weigh the risks of planting churches, attending churches, leading churches, and growing churches, we consider the benefits to far outweigh the potential dangers! This doesn’t mean we can’t be careful and wise and all the rest, but it does mean that involvement with a church is worth the risk of getting thrown out of China or locked up in prison! If you’re going to risk, risk on the church!

There’s a few more I’ve thought of, but seven has made quite a long enough post! Can you think of anything else I left off? May the Lord establish a love for his church in each of our hearts, and may he enable us to invest what little we have in the body for which he gave so much!

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