These are strange, sad times we live in, and a perfect season for the glory of the Christian gospel and the light of Christ’s church to shine brighter than ever before. But how? While countless headlines and speeches declare the value of every human life— in the midst of a global pandemic, in the middle of widespread racial tension—many of us as individuals perhaps wonder what we can do to actually stand for life or effect change where it is needed. While I do not presume to have all the answers for the multitude of societal issues that face us at present, I do believe there are simple steps each of us can take on a personal level to benefit the world around us.
I pastor a diverse church, in one of the most diverse cities in the world in Toronto. As I have observed my own congregation dealing with current challenges, I have learned some lessons that I think might benefit us all—regardless of our specific context.
The Gospel Still Addresses the Main Problem
It may sound trite to claim, yet again, the sufficiency of the Christian gospel to address the most basic human needs. But the Christian gospel declares that the God who created us is good, that we as humans have wandered away from him, and that Jesus Christ came as God incarnate to reconcile us to our Creator. Nothing is more relevant to everyday life than this.
The greatest need of every human, let us never forget, is reconciliation with God. If we love God and are submitted to his righteous reign over our lives, then it will inevitably change how we view ourselves and others. The opinions of others will lose their tyrannical power over our own personal identity, and our opinion of others will be shaped by the grace we know we have ourselves received through Christ.
In the midst of so much confusion and frustration in our culture at the moment, I have seen our congregation loving God and reminding one another of the grace that comes through Jesus alone, which is the balm that heals first and heals longest when every other medicine proves inadequate.
Serve Others Like Jesus Did
Rather than seeking widespread change through social influence or political power, Jesus displayed the love of God in self-sacrificing, servant-of-all ways in his everyday life, because He loved God supremely, and so loved others completely, and touched the lives that were around him with gospel-centered sensitivity. Following Jesus’ example is in many ways harder than merely decrying the (genuine) inadequacy of government action or posturing publically about the (real) change that is needed on a societal level. It requires us to actually labor in ministry to others, in ways that cost us personally and deeply.
I have a friend whose young son recently declared, “Let’s make every Tuesday ‘Mother Appreciation Day.’” My friend wisely replied to his son, “Instead, why don’t you clean up your room every Tuesday, like your mother asks you to?” His son immediately fell silent. It is easier to make grand statements of appreciation (or derision) than it is to minister with ongoing and sacrificial service.
Seek To Know Individuals Before Proclaiming Societal Solutions
One man in our church is a police officer. Last week, he wrote a touching and passionate plea on Facebook not to judge all police by the exceptionally bad ones who so often make the news. At the same time, a young woman in our church penned an article about what it feels like to be black right now, a raw and insightful look into the unique challenges black people face in Western culture. I was struck by the beauty and symmetry of these two expressions (among many others), coming from within our one congregation.
If we know and love individuals who are affected by what is going on in our society as a whole, it will affect how we perceive and respond to the larger issues themselves. As long as we are only talking about people “out there” who have hurt or offended us, the thinking and tone of our conversation will often be expressed along the hard lines of generic and impersonal principles. But when specific people we care about are hurting or offended, then we are much more likely to clothe matters of moral conviction in the soft garments of careful, balanced love.
Live All of Life, Every Day, Together
Our church—like most—has reflected a wide array of strong opinions on how to best handle worship services during the quarantine. Likewise, we have felt the strain of systemic racism in our society. Tweets have been tweeted; pictures have been posted, protests and petitions have been initiated and participated in. Yet, even amid all these strongly held convictions and resulting actions, church life has continued to be lived.
Members of the body of Christ are still posting happy birthdays and anniversaries to each other on social media. We are still worshipping corporately (though only over Livestream), we are still studying God’s Word in small groups, we are still seeking together to serve our community spiritually and practically. Life—real life, church life—goes on. And love—real love, Christian love—continues.
Let us not forget the suffering of loved ones in our midst. Let us not only care about the disadvantaged during the current media cycle. Let us not be concerned about only the sick or isolated during a pandemic. No, these are our brothers and sisters, and we are to be concerned for their welfare every day, and pursue their good without end. We are to proclaim the gospel to each other, and a broken world—long after the culture around us has moved on to the next news headline.
Even as we do so, however, we will also continue to live all of life together, not just survive current crises together. We will celebrate special occasions; we will rejoice with those who rejoice, we will weep with those who weep. We will be the church, in all its wonderful diversity of pains and pleasures. We will live all of life, every day, together.