What makes a church a “success”? Are increasing knowledge and improving behavior the standards of achievement, or is there more to the story? Is a growing budget or an expanding array of programs the sign of life, or is there something more?
Sometimes I fear that we’ve all been duped. Sometimes I feel like we’re captivated by the wrong things, and blind to the things that really count. Maybe you can relate.
What is the real truth about the church? I would propose to you simply this: we are no stronger – no better, no more successful, no more faithful – than how much we love and live the gospel of Jesus.
What does this mean? It means that you and I are to be constantly anchored in a universal, cosmic history of grace. The gospel, we must remember, is God’s grand declaration that something awesome has happened! There at Christ’s cross, the kingdom of God has triumphed! And it was a decisive victory – validated and proclaimed by Christ’s resurrection! The world will never be the same, and neither will we.
Do we still love our story?
Do we still live our story?
Or have we somehow become subtly enamored of other stories instead? The stories of the world are never as good as our story, but sometimes we get hooked by them nonetheless.
How do we assess ourselves in this regard? I would propose some indicators.
- We still love our story if we’re full of praise. When I’m praising God, there’s less room for me. As it should be. If the gospel story does anything, it reminds me that I’m not at the center of the universe – Christ is.
- We still love our story if we recognize our own bankruptcy. The world says: “you can do it.” But we know better. Only Christ can accomplish anything of value in or through us. A gospel-saturated life never forgets who I’m not … and who He is.
- We still love our story if we find Christ exceedingly beautiful. It’s O.K. to enjoy something which God has given us, but do we admire the Giver more? This is not an easy mindset to maintain, so the gospel helps keep us on our knees.
- We still love our story if we’d rather give life away than keep it. That one stings a bit, at least for me. I recognize my own sinful tendency toward self-preservation and self-advancement. I need a regular gospel reminder that I’m on mission. I am becoming less, that Christ might become more.
- We still love our story if we care about the one who’s on the fringes. If I’m really living out the gospel of Jesus, then I’m always looking around – just like He did. Is there anyone who needs encouragement? Is there anyone whose heart is breaking? Is there anyone ready to give up? “Here I am; send me.”
- We still love our story if we can spot a phony story a mile away. Are we gospel-soaked? Only then can we discern when the wolf comes calling. Only then can we hear that still small voice. Only then can we see with eyes of faith what others can’t see: the gospel truth.
- We still love our story if we’re full of hope. The world and the headlines are full of terrible stuff. Stuff that can make all of us want to quit. But our gospel story speaks into that malaise as well, and it reminds us of this: there is a God, and He is always right, and He is always good. History is “his story,” and He wins in the end.
The British missiologist Lesslie Newbigin said it like this: “It is not sufficient for the Church to attend to tactics: she must first attend to truth.” May God anchor us firmly in His gospel truth. There we must stand. Live or die, there we stand. There, and there only, will we flourish. Perhaps “the old, old story” is what we’ve been missing.