Your church holds within it a story. Whether in glory, fame, or failure, local churches are the pages on which we can read about God’s work in the world. Unfortunately, though, many of these stories remain on the shelves, or are at best shared only within their given communities.
At The Local Church, we want to change this.
We’ve come to expect stories of God working through his people in many places. Whether it’s through a startup, college ministry, individual entrepreneurship, or community outreach, individuals are working as God’s agents everywhere. The reality, though, is that these individuals don’t carry out their work alone. A biblically based, local congregation—whether as a support mechanism or the instigating agent, a refining tool or a sending structure—is the core social underpinning of even the most influential Christians.
Scripture assumes the prominent presence and support of the local church in the lives of those who seek to carry out God’s purpose. Before his ascension, Christ establishes the church as his earthly hands. The entire book of Acts details the exploits of local church plants, complete with community-wide controversy, regular worship services, spontaneous revivals, and high-level leadership scandals. Christian ministry—warts and all—takes place first and foremost in the context of the local church.
I’ve heard the true stories of local organizations gone wrong, and I’ve experienced my share of frustration toward church politics, bureaucracy, and organizational freewheeling. Tales of congregations and leaders gone haywire have made many of us second-guess our need to even put up with the inevitable ugliness we find among the church in the first place.
But when we lose the local church, we lose much. There is a freeing, clarifying, even emboldening effect that comes with being a part of God’s most crucial organization. Without our local congregations, we lack meaningful protection, accountability, or assurance; with them, we have a collective support system which, however faulty, carries the weight of a God-given mission. The local church gives us the opportunity to conceive of and craft our personal callings in the context of divine community. Untethered from it, however powerful or passionate we may be, we are rowboats without anchors or oars.
If the church frustrates us occasionally, we’re not alone. The apostle Paul also expressed dissatisfaction with the local church. In the Book of 1 Corinthians, for instance, Paul writes with what seems like total, astonished dissatisfaction about the structural breakdown of the church:
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? (1 Cor. 3:1-4)
Anyone familiar with 1 Corinthians knows that this is just the beginning of Paul’s problems with the local church. Churches are messy places made up of people who are beyond imperfect. Despite lofty expectations, those in our congregations inevitably disappoint us. Sometimes, as with Paul and the Corinthian church, we are horrified by what we see happen in the name of God. Still, Paul spends much of his writing trying to build up, celebrate, and protect that very same body of believers, even in the face of circumstances that would cause many of us to toss up our hands in dismay or to slowly back away out of self-preservation.
The conviction driving Christianity Today’s The Local Church is that there is much more to celebrate about the local church than we acknowledge. This is not a naïve, Pollyanna-ish viewpoint. One need only to have a 20-minute conversation with a faithful church member to hear stories of a local church serving people in truly heartening, surprising, even peculiar ways.
While The Local Church has made steps toward reporting these stories in the past, we hope to drill down even further in the future, investigating and reporting the kinds of stories that often get missed. The public paradox of the local church is that miraculous kindnesses and remarkable faithfulness happen at such a regular clip that they have become largely unremarkable to those closest to them.
Readers: We’re asking for your help. We’re asking you to take a look at your churches with new eyes. Take in the constant flow of charity and commitment displayed by your local congregations. Pinpoint the ways in which you are, together, changing your specific world. Find heroes among you who have been overlooked, not only by the press, but by your neighbors.
Embrace a perspective that sees God’s work in the world through the church. Breathe in the work that God is doing all around you.
And then: let us know what you see. Connect us to pastors, leaders, members, and the women, men and children you serve. Tell us your stories, and we’ll work to get them off of the shelves and into the hands of those who need them most.