The church faces many challenges today that it has not faced since it began almost two thousand years ago. The church in America is no longer in the position of influence it has enjoyed in previous decades. These days are more like the days of the church of the New Testament church, where the church is on the margins and not at the center of society. The mission field is right around us as well as around the world. We can no longer assume (if indeed, we ever should have assumed) that everyone around us is Christian.
So the question to ask is what was the early church like? How did it see itself in the world? A quick scan of the Book of Acts shows that the church was different because God’s purpose for the world is different than human kind’s purpose. God gave the church a vocation (from the Latin: vocatio = calling). The church was and still is called to serve God’s purposes for the world. The church was never about being “successful” rather it was about participating in God’s mission to redeem God’s creation and save men and women from their sin. Churches that are about God’s mission show different traits or patterns. No one church has all these, rather every church is strong in a few.
Pattern 1 – Missional Vocation: The congregation is discovering together the vocation of the church. In other words, who is the church to the community. Success and vitality are understood in terms of faithfulness to God’s calling and sending rather that in counting “noses and nickels.”
Pattern 2 – Biblical Formation and Discipleship: The church is a community in which all members are involved in learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The Bible is normative in the church’s life.
Pattern 3 – Taking Risks as a Contrast Community: The church is learning to take risks for the sake of the gospel. The church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Pattern 4 – Practices That Demonstrate God’s Intent for the World: The pattern of the church’s life as a community is a demonstration of what God intends for the life of the whole world. The practices of the church embody mutual care, reconciliation, loving accountability, and hospitality. It is important how Christians behave toward one another and toward non-believers.
Pattern 5 – Worship as Public Witness: Worship is the central act of the church where the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving God’s presence and God’s promised future.
Pattern 6 – Dependence on the Holy Spirit: The church confesses its dependence on the Holy Spirit, shown particularly in its practice of prayer.
Pattern 7 – Pointing Toward the Reign of God: The church understands its calling as a witness to the gospel and the reign of God and strives to be a sign of that reign.
These patterns are outlined more fully in the book “Treasure in Clay Jars.”
As a church we are to look at ourselves and ask questions, “What is God up to in our midst?” and “How has God gifted this church to bear witness in our community?” As you think about FPCC, to a greater or lesser extent, these patterns can be seen in the life of the church. This is good news. May God continue to grant us humility to listen and boldness to follow as the Holy Spirit leads.
~ Rev. Chris Weichman