When I was a sophomore in college a district superintendent of the Methodist Church approached and asked if I would be willing to pastor a small church in LaPlace, Louisiana. A heady assignment for a 19-year-old boy, but in my naïveté and self-assurance, the challenge did not overwhelm me at all. I’m no longer a naïve college boy, and I’m not so self-assured anymore. In all honesty, I’ve been overwhelmed when pastoring a church.
We need to prepare the church for the future, but many changes have occurred in the church over the past 2000 years. Some of those changes have been good and become part of a normal development of the church. We can’t anymore go back to the first-century church than we can go back and re-create the 19th century in America. We live in a world of change, so some changes have been needed if the church is going to be the church and minister to people today.
Some changes in the church have been wrong and we have suffered. Think particularly of the medieval era when the church was placed in the hands of the clerics, the professionally religious, and laypeople basically became spectators. We don’t want to go back to the period of time when laymen were uninvolved. Laypeople would find themselves missing out on the blessings of God and the church failing to be the church.
Many opinions surface about what we ought to be and what we ought not to be and how we ought to conduct ourselves and how we ought not to do it. Many opinions represent the personal preferences we have or the traditions from which we have come. These differences make the church in the 21st century struggle a great deal more in the effort to be the church and minister to people. Our preferences vary one from the other, and our traditions are so different we have to grapple with the problems they generate.
In the midst of all these difficulties and differences, we deal with theories about how we need to prepare the church for today. With all of the new marketing techniques and exhortations to “get with it” or “be relevant,” I sometimes feel uncertain, inadequate and unconvinced. On more than one occasion, I have felt like saying, “Let’s go do something else.” But if Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, there is no way I or you can love Him without loving the Church for which He died.
The pressure is on the church today to reach out into a world that’s increasingly secular, into the midst of such deep, dark, and desperate needs in people. Can the church be the church? Every day we discover whether or not we can deliver the goods depends on whether or not the church is truly the church in our community. — W.B. Coker, Sr.