Fleshing out what kind of church the world needs

One of my seminary professors recently asked this question. What a fertile question. It gives us a chance to consider the needs of the world. What is the status of our world these days? Where are there hatred, violence, and chaos? Where are there famine, disease, and scarcity? Where are there hopelessness, illiteracy, and neglect?

Our world is filled with these things. Some of them are right under our local noses. Surprisingly you don’t have to drive far to encounter some of these needs. So what kind of church is needed to face the needs of our world?

I think you could say lots of things. You could go lots of different directions and still answer this question in a satisfactory way.

The world needs a church that is loving, so loving that it sees every living thing as part of God’s holistic creation and takes every chance to embody God’s love for the cosmos.

The world needs a church that is adaptive, ready to abandon the old, tired ways of organizational thinking for new ways that bring life and vitality.

The world needs a church that is Christ-centered, focused on the words and ministry of Jesus and how they can bring transformation to our world today.

The world needs a church that is compassionate, never using our status or position in the world to bring harm, but only to bring healing to those who are over-looked.

The world needs a church that is self-sacrificing, willing to give away property, buildings, and money so that others can be better off than they were before.

The list goes on and on. I hope you have your own way of answering the question, because it is an important one. Because really, the question is not about the church, the question is about you and I. What kind of person does this world need? How do I live my life more faithfully for the sake of the world?

My heart always goes back to the sacraments and the assembly. So my answer would be: “The world needs a church that continually gathers around God’s story and table, and then embodies that story and food for the life of the world.” I think telling a better story and sharing food is what the world needs from us the most.

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Worship Breathes

One could picture the fourfold model of worship as a pattern of inhalation and exhalation. As we gather together as the people of God and then hear the Word we are taking in the breath of God. As we give thanks at the Table and are sent out into the world we exhale (share) the breath of the God with the rest of the world. I like the imagery of our worship “breathing” for three biblically rooted reasons.

First, breathing reminds us that the Holy Spirit enables everything we do, especially our worship. Genesis 1:2 tells us that in the beginning when God created heaven and earth there was a divine wind sweeping over the waters. The Holy Spirit was the divine breath that activated the words that spoke everything into being. The most ancient recorded liturgies of the church describe how the priest would breathe on the baptismal waters in blessing, recalling the Holy Spirit’s presence at creation. Just as God breathed life into Adam and Eve, the Holy Spirit breathes life into the words and actions of our confession and thanksgiving to God.

Second, every living, breathing thing was created for the purpose of praising God. Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that breathes praise God.” Every day we wake up because God graciously gives us the breath for another spin around the earth. Every breath, therefore, is an opportunity to return praise and adoration to God for who he is and what he has done. No one flawlessly seizes every available breath to praise God, and some people ignore God their whole life. But we have confidence that every breathing thing will acknowledge Jesus (Philippians 2:10-11).

Third, as believers we offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The idea of a “living sacrifice” is an oxymoron. Something that is sacrificed is killed. In God’s original design for worship, death was synonymous with sacrifice. Something always died in a sacrifice. The paradox of a “living sacrifice” is created through the reality that in Jesus we are new creatures. Death has been defeated in Jesus, and now our worship is a living sacrifice of praise. In other words, the breath isn’t taken out of our worship. Our worship is left alive, to breathe.