I was recently asked, “If you could do anything to help the American Church in the next season what would it be?” My answer not only surprised my fellow pastor friend, but it surprised me. I spend a lot of my time thinking about the people of God – the Church. I believe they are God’s “plan A” for the renewal of all things and the means by which God has chosen to demonstrate and build his Kingdom here on earth. As an idealist and optimist to the core, I dream of a unified Church – a people so rooted in their identity as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom that faith, hope and love spreads like wildfire throughout the region.
However if I’m honest, the last 18 months has tested my optimism and left me questioning my idealistic personality. The Church is becoming increasingly irrelevant. We’ve lost our voice, our witness and in many ways, our mission. We’ve believed the lie that power, money and political influence are the means by which transformation and revival will come. We’ve allowed CNN, Fox News and our social media to disciple us. Debates over masks, vaccines, Critical Race Theory, political affiliation and systemic social injustices have usurped formational discussions over who God is, what He’s done, and who He’s called us to be in light of His life, death, resurrection and ascension.
Meanwhile, many Sunday mornings have become either aging echo-chambers or celebrity driven experiences where gifted communicators lead spiritualized entertainment venues – motivational gatherings centered around becoming a better version of ourselves rather than a time to be reminded and reoriented back to the person, work and mission of Christ in the world.
Maybe the last 18 months exposed what’s been lurking underneath the surface for decades. Maybe the reality that people are not returning to Church while the next generation continues to say no thank you has less to do with the culture and more to do with us. Maybe the shallowness of our discipleship is symptomatic to our overemphasis on leadership development rather than a rooted followership of the King. Maybe, the problem is me.
“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him’” (Exodus 32:1).
To translate into our current cultural moment, we became frustrated as we don’t know why God is taking so long to move, and we don’t know where the Moseses of our day have gone, so let’s use the resources and gifting God has given us to build something rather than to become something. When we saw that it was taking so long for God to move and work like we wanted Him to, we began making other “little g” gods like political influence, and celebrity pastors who drew crowds or grew big churches. We turned to metrics we could measure to quantify and validate our “success.” We looked past character flaws of leaders, and we turned going to church as something you do rather than an identity of a people on mission.
So, what would I do to help the American Church in the next season? Repent.
Surprised? Me too. I would have answered the question much differently even a few months ago. I would have likely said something about changing methods, models and institutional structures in order to reach the next generation, or something about pivoting towards technology and digital innovation. However, I’ve come to deeply believe that the only way forward for the people of God in this next season is corporate and personal repentance.
The closest English understanding to the original Greek for “repentance” is to have a change of mind – a change of heart. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance puts it this way: To repent means to be convinced of another way, to change your mind and convictions — and I believe that’s exactly what God’s people need to do in this season. I know it’s what I need to do.
Repentance leads to refreshment and is rooted in grace.
Acts 3:19 reminds us that our repentance leads to a time of refreshing as the presence of the Lord meets us anew. Rather than furthering despair or heaping shame, repentance is rooted in grace. Romans 2:4 boldly states that it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. And it’s the kindness of God that fuels my hope for the future.
God isn’t surprised by the state of the Church today, just as he wasn’t surprised that the people of Israel built silly golden calves and began to worship them. In the end, the story of how Israel was saved from their idol worship and how we are saved from ours today remains the same.
God never leaves us to sit in our sin. In repentance He restores us, refreshes us and reorients us to our identity as His beloved sons and daughters. Christians are the called-out ones — set apart to be ambassadors of faith, hope and love. However, we don’t build the fruits of God’s spirit in our lives — we become them. Through repentance we are convinced of another way and believe anew the truth that it is God who does the saving of his people, and it is God who brings the transformation and renewal of all things. We build golden calves. God builds His church.
Edwin Copeland serves as the Director of Church United with the National Christian Foundation of South Florida where he works to unify the Church through collaboration and celebration to see faith, hope, and love spread throughout South Florida. To learn more about Church United, visit churchunited.city
Read more articles by Edwin Copeland at: goodnewsfl.org/author/edwincopeland/