10 Best Articles from CT's The Local Church
The Local Church began as an experiment. We tried a lot of weird stuff: poetry, fiction, humor, long-form, personal reflection, dreams and visions. We experimented with design, form, and thematic focus. And in all of this, I think we created something beautiful.
That legacy will live on. You’ll see The Local Church’s influence primarily in CTPastors, but also at Christianity Today as a whole.
We did a lot of creative, lovely things here, but the thing I’m most proud of—what I know will live on in various ways throughout our ministry—is an unapologetic devotion to the local church. That pre-ordained institution is more important than ever. Its unity has never been more tenuous and crucial, its effectiveness never more apparent: at least, not in my lifetime.
To celebrate, we decided to offer up our 10 favorite pieces we’ve run over the lifespan of The Local Church.
10. “Corpse Trials and Other Perils of Church Politics” by Luke T. Harrington
In his biweekly series “Dumb Moments in Church History,” humorist Luke T. Harrington set out to “encourage the local church by remembering the times when things were much, much worse.” It was an oddball idea, to be sure—though no less odd than the church’s own rather bizarre past. Even so, Luke’s deft, agile prose and uncanny ability to mine Christendom’s most cringe-worthy moments for both laughs and profundities never failed to leave me both amused and humbled. It’s hard to pick a favorite entry; here, then, is the series’ first. – Adam Bryant Marshall
9. “How Refugees Revived One White Iowa Church” by Kara Bettis
2016 was one of the worst years for refugees, who not only fled their home countries in record numbers, but also were consistently framed as objects of suspicion by those who feared that resettling them within their borders would only provide a foothold for violence and terrorism. Over and against such concerns, though, stand stories like this one, in which a historically white church in Des Moines opened its doors to its refugee neighbors and ended up reaping a hundredfold harvest of blessing. The refugee crisis isn’t going away in 2017—and, if anything, incidents like the recent attack at Ohio State are going to make our responses all the more complicated. Churches like Zion Lutheran, however, remind us of the good that can happen when we allow our fears to be driven out by perfect love. – ABM
8. “Closing Windows” by Martyn Wendell Jones
This closing number for our first Dispatch is a piece of fiction, written entirely in the second person (how fun is that?!). Much of the action of the piece revolves around a pastor clicking around his computer (hence the title)—it represents the initial vision for The Local Church as a place for a church leader to kick back, relax, and read something a little (or a lot) different from a typical “how-to” ministry article. – Emily Lund
7. “How a Texas Church Drove out the Predatory Loan Industry” by James Addis
When I first moved from the Midwest to Waco, Texas, back in 2010, I was surprised by the number of payday loan storefronts that lined the main commercial drag of Valley Mills Drive. At the time, I’m not sure I fully appreciated everything these businesses represented. Even in a state where personal liberty and free enterprise seem to reign, more and more churches are continuing to shoulder the costly burden of closing legal loopholes that allow for lenders to lay debt traps for the financially desperate. Stories like this one (as well as those told in the documentary The Ordinance) show that even in an increasingly post-Christian cultural climate, the church can still be a welcome champion of change for the common good. – ABM
6. “Letters with the Mosque Next Door” by Jim Powell and Kamil Mufti
We don’t talk to each other anymore. It may be one of the most repeated laments of the year: a diagnosis that can be applied to nearly every social problem we experience today. That’s why I was excited to publish an article that didn’t just encourage us to talk to one another, but modeled it. Powell and Mufti demonstrate an open-minded conversation that acknowledges and respects the immovable foundational beliefs of the other, while also allowing for a Christian hope that some good might be carried out through dialogue. – Richard Clark
5. “Coffee: The Beverage That Fuels the Church” by Martyn Wendell Jones
We’ve published a few articles about coffee and church, but we set out to make this The Definitive Guide to Church Coffee. Clocking in at more than 4,000 words, this long-form piece is essentially all of my favorite things (coffee, theology, good journalism) wrapped up into one article. – EL
4. “Charleston and the Resilience of Wednesday Night Church” by Patricia Raybon
Talks about how we at The Local Church might approach the one-year anniversary of the Emanuel AME massacre—one of the most tragic, horrific moments in American church history—started early. Patricia Raybon was recommended to me as a potential contributor, and I’m thankful to this day that she agreed to write for us. Her piece is a marvel: a moving mixture of narrative, reporting, history, and theology. Reading it, editing it, and sharing it with others was an honor. – EL
3. “The Introvert’s Guide to Surviving Church Greeting Time” by Cort Gatliff
This piece came to us early in the life of The Local Church—eight months later, I still think of it every Sunday when I am required to turn to the person behind me and “pass the peace.” Cort’s wit and thorough knowledge of the quirks of church culture make this piece a relatable commiseration for anyone who’s tried to hide behind a journal during a service: “No one will interrupt you if it looks like you’re working out your salvation with fear and trembling.” – EL
2. “‘You’re Going to Die,’ and 22 Other Small Group Icebreakers” by Alan Noble
This humor piece from Oklahoma Baptist University professor, Christ and Pop Culture editor-in-chief, and professional bald man Alan Noble was the first Note I edited for The Local Church, and it’s still one of the ones I return to the most. I’ve read it probably 50 times—often out loud, and often to poor, unsuspecting friends and family. Every time I do, I can’t get through it with my dignity intact. I dare you to try. (Oh…and if there are any small group leaders out there who are brave enough to try these: Can I please come to your next meeting? I’ll bring the Jamberries.) – ABM
1. “Bonhoeffer’s Answer to Political Turmoil: Preach!” by Ryan Hoselton
When this piece went live in May, we could not have known how pertinent this article would feel in November of 2016. But after a year of seemingly apocalyptic political and social developments, it seems like all of us have begun to recognize the limitations of our own personal ability to cope. Even more so, our faith in humanity’s inevitable progress has been shaken, and rightfully so. After all, it’s God who delivers us from ourselves, and he does in his own time. So it makes sense now, in light of a year that told us once and for all that we don’t really know much of anything, that a look at history and theology for hope might be the best use of our time.
Hoselton’s piece embodies that approach, putting much of the focus on Bonhoeffer’s words rather than the author’s own speculation. One wouldn’t have known Bonhoeffer’s import to the world at that time, but we know now, and we’d do well to dwell not just on his wisdom and methods, but their originating Source. – RC