This is my last chance. I’ve known for about five years now that it was coming and all of a sudden it is here. This is my last chance to change my ways to ensure (as much as any of us can) that my twilight years are healthy ones. My family is riddled with adult onset diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease because we are, in a word, fat. I can’t blame all of it the American obesity issue. I’m half Italian and that side of my family has always been full of girth. But I can’t use that as an excuse either. I am at the threshold and what I do now will for the most part determine the kind of life I will be living in 10-15 years.
I tell you all this because I believe the American church is facing a similar choice right now. We are at the threshold and what we do now will determine the life and vitality of the church in the coming years. With the freedom of religion that we have which we personally did not have to fight to get and therefore take all too often for granted, the American church has morphed into an institution that caters to its membership first and the community second. It is generally quicker to judge than to extend mercy and grace. Too much of the church is yearning for the old days like a lonely old widow and the rest seems to be pushing the limits to see how far it can go before it is reprimanded like an adolescent testing his boundaries.
If the American church is to be a vital part of the local and worldwide community in the years to come, we have to make the changes now that will make it possible for us to be the essential force of good we hope to be in the future. There must be a shift in the church culture—we must re-envision our image of what church is if we are to be the hands and feet of Christ in the future. Now I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t know what that means exactly. I do know that we need to stop judging and fighting amongst ourselves (which we seem to love to do much more than wanting to chance for the future) and start reaching outside ourselves in love and grace to the lost and hopeless in our community and in our world.
So what could the American church of the future look like? Church ministries and people will be out in the community. Those ministries will focus not on trying to bring young families into the church to sustain the church but on bringing the church out into the community among all peoples—families, singles, elderly, men, women, the abused, the grieving, the hungry, the sick, etc. to sustain the community. And we’ll do it out of love for our Savior and in love and grace for those he created. How will we get there? By taking the necessary steps towards spiritually healthy living now, we will be healthy and vital in the future.