Hardly a day goes by that I do not read some criticism of the church—whether in its local, national, or global expressions. I acknowledge that there is much to criticize but there is much to praise as well. As I worshiped last Sunday, I started thinking, “When is the church at its best?” Several things came to mind.
First, the church is at its best when it engages people in authentic worship that brings them into the presence of God. Of course, God is the audience in worship and we are the performers, but we know when worship is working when we are brought face to face with the God who is both transcendent and immanent.
Second, the church is at its best when it is caring for the hurting, whether they are part of the community of faith or not. There are many who are sick, lonely, or stressed whose lives have been made a bit easier by a visit, a prayer, a kind word, a helping hand or an offering of food from someone in the church.
Third, the church is at its best when it is nurturing children and youth in the faith. Very often there is little long term benefit to the local church in doing this. Most of these youngsters will leave their present churches and their home communities when they get older, but the church is building into them a framework of meaning and a relationship with God that will stay with them for their entire lives.
Fourth, the church is at its best when it is presenting a gospel that challenges rather than condemns. The gospel is “good news” and can be presented as such when the church is loving and compassionate in its presentation of the Christian message. Will accepting the gospel create tension and call for change in a person’s life? Probably, but such transformation begins with love not condemnation.
Fifth, the church is at its best when it is serving the marginalized people of its community and world. When the church reaches out to the addicted, the homeless, the hungry, or the ostracized, it is doing what Christ himself did. God will bless such ministry.
Someone said that the way to reinforce good behavior is to catch a person doing something right and praise them for their action. Perhaps this could work for churches as well. Let’s “catch” the church doing something right and affirm it.