I became a Christian at the age of 15. At the invitation of a local youth pastor, I began attending a small, rural Southern Baptist church in our small town of about a thousand people and immediately immersed myself in all the church had to offer. Sunday nights? I was there. Mid-week supper? First-in-line, after the ladies of course. Car wash for youth camp, Praise Team practice, painting the Sunday School rooms. Check, check, check.
These days, I'm pretty sensitive to the amount of activities going on within the local church and my ministry vernacular has changed considerably. Youth camp? Praise Team? I'm all about turning the corner when the timing is right. Change is necessary and good. Further, I'm invested in the conversations surrounding our need to contextualize and I readily affirm many of the church's attempts at a broader reach, though certainly not all.
But I'm learning in this forever-progressing, shape-shifting church culture to not despise the things God used to draw me to Himself. I vividly remember the living room setting of a "cottage prayer meeting" where I gathered with my pastor and a group of older members and senior adults from that old church one winter night. We prayed in circles, squeezing the hand of the person next to us when we were finished. I perfected the art of the squeeze; I didn't know how to pray. And besides, I was lost and I didn't really know the person I was supposed to be talking to.
But God's kindness towards me in that moment looked like the worn, welcoming faces of older saints and sounded a lot like the sweet refrains of their earnest prayers. My pastor took a brief moment to remind us all of a few precious truths – the depth of our sin, the love of the Savior – and my life was radically altered by the simple delivery of the best news I'd ever heard. It was good news then and, in some ways, it's like it has gotten better as the years go by. My life, a deep love for the things of God, a path towards vocational ministry – all had their start in a holy huddle of the best kind.
It's why, in my ever-increasing passion for right church practice, I'm wary of leveling claims against others' ways of doing church based sheerly on the perceived relevance (or lack thereof) of their methods to our cultural moment. Countless times, I've been involved in or privy to conversations amongst young leaders and believers whose frustration is rooted in their contention that their church just doesn't "get it." My advice in return, for whatever it's worth, is often to tell them just to stay. Express those frustrations in a healthy way, to brothers and sisters who will let the thoughts land as needed, but don't be tempted to let mole-hill issues become the mountain-sized barricade between you and the opportunity to be used by God to serve others.
Often, in lieu of your local church becoming the best contextualized version of itself, God is fashioning its parts into a whole that looks more like Him.
The fact remains, the conversations need to be had. The importance of church polity, ministry philosophy, etc. cannot be overstated. But if any of what I've written strikes a chord with you, it is likely that God placed you amongst a people that still choose that worship song. They probably still host that luncheon, take that trip, and they do that outreach event. The methods are stale, stubborness abounds, and patience wears thin quickly. There is ample opportunity to pick up and find something new, and the ease of that transition in our current ecclesiogical climate makes that option all the more appealing. But I always wonder what it looks like when someone – whether leader or layman – chooses to dig their heels in and avail themselves to the work God promises do through those who believe (Eph. 2:10).
There are no promises of greener pastures if you go and there should be no illusion of guaranteed widespread revival just because you stay, but your faithfulness in such a season will not ultimately go unnoticed. By the Spirit's leading, you will work to effect change and by the Spirit's power, you'll be able to approach those much-needed conversations with humility in mind and the glory of our gracious God in plain view. Let this be encouragement to you as you work out what it means to be faithful in your local church context, treasuring its role in the plans of God despite the reality of its imperfections.
"For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith." – Galatians 6:8-10