“…for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
But I thought honoring God was our chief concern! It is. And if something is honorable in the sight of God, but dishonorable in the sight of men, then we are just going to have to be dishonorable in the sight of men. But, neither is our goal to needlessly offend the people around us. One of the hallmarks of the earliest church is that they had favor with God, but also had the favor of all the people.
As individual churches, one of our constant questions should be how we can conduct our affairs in such a way that our community will love us. Now, again, given the state and trajectory of our culture there are some issues on which our position will set us deeply at odds with our culture if we are committed to historic, Christian orthodoxy. That’s not our concern. Our concern is that nothing else about us is offensive.
One of our primary goals should be to become an indispensable presence in our communities. We should work ourselves into the life of the community, serving as a bridge between the culture and the kingdom. We should be constantly enriching and enlivening it in a way that if we were suddenly gone there would be a giant hole that was both noticeable and deeply regrettable in the minds and hearts of the folks who were not a part of the church.
How does this happen? Well, it doesn’t happen if all we do is meet for worship and Bible study on a regular basis. Simply being there isn’t enough. Several years ago I had the eye-opening experience of a woman calling the church after hearing that we did a VBS program. As I told her about it she was interested enough to ask where we were. I found out she was renting a house about a mile and a half away from our country church (with the exception of the local elementary school, we were the largest building within five miles of her house and on a main road to boot) and on the same road as at least three regular, longtime members. She didn’t know we were there. If someone that close didn’t even know we were there, we weren’t doing something right.
If we are going to become indispensable it won’t happen by having open houses or community barbecues or any other on-campus events. It’s going to happen when we become a serving presence in our community, regularly and actively empowering various other organizations in our communities (especially schools and other non-church service organizations) to do what they do better. It will happen when we are firmly united around a clear and compelling identity so that we are not divided over petty, nonessential issues. It will happen when we structure our church communities such that anyone can connect from out of any background and feel at home. It will happen when we exist for the glory of the Lord and for their sake.
When this happens…in other words, when we become the church…the kingdom will expand and the Gospel will advance. Lives will be transformed and the community will as well. The Lord will receive the glory and people who aren’t even a part of the church and who don’t have any interest in it will come to respect it and maybe even love it. This is our goal.