Many churches experience anxiety in these days as attendance declines, budgets tighten, and the younger generation heads for the exits. The church has faced anxious days before, and then, as now, responses among its people have varied, ranging from respiration and preservation to innovation and expansion. However, Jason E. Vickers, Ph.D., featured speaker at the Church Renewal Conference hosted by Northeastern Seminary in March, recommends that before we respond we must be theologically rooted in the holiness of God.
Although not a new thought to me, the following charge by Vickers has dominated my thoughts: if people can’t experience God in the church and be undone by him, then we’re missing it. The question, he says, we must ask ourselves is: “Whether visitors believe us or not, if they came to our church, would they know that we believe the power and presence (i.e., the holiness) of God is in this place?”
Typically, we respond in the affirmative. But are we truly cultivating a people who expect and experience the holiness of God? Or are we simply providing fellowship, inclusivity, good music, practical teaching, and hospitality?
Not that we shouldn’t do those other things. It’s just that apart from the holiness of God, the church doesn’t exist. We’re just another political caucus, another charity organization. People can find those things anywhere. What they cannot find anywhere else is reconciliation to God, to be made whole by him, to be reunited with him.
Therefore, our mission is twofold: 1) faithfully worship our holy God—the one altogether unlike any other—and 2) witness in word and deed to his salvific work in Jesus Christ. Fulfilling this mission will renew our churches, but its implementation depends on the leading of the Spirit within our local contexts. May we take the time necessary to prayerfully consider the answers to what, where, when and how.
-Ray Hammond (M.Div. ‘08) Family Ministries Pastor, Brockport Free Methodist Church, Brockport, N.Y.