This picture appeared recently in the Enid News and Eagle. The caption simply read: “Sunset.” However, at first glance, it is difficult to tell if it is a sunset or a sunrise.
As attendance, giving, and baptisms continue to decrease in North American churches, many are asking: “Is the sun setting or rising on the church?”
After posting the picture on facebook and posing the question, “Is it a sunset or a sunrise?” Rev. Dean Phelps, a facebook friend and long-time minister, wisely commented: “It all depends on when we wake up.”
Rev. Phelps was prophetically suggesting that if the church wakes up early, it could be a sunrise. However, if the church wakes up too late, it could be a sunset.
I believe it is a sunset if the church continues to slumber under the covers of the culture. I have called this embracing an “alternative gospel” or a “fake news Jesus.” It is a protective, safe, defensive religion that fears the other, and thus judges, excludes, and condemns the other. It is miserly with mercy, stingy with love, and tight-fisted with grace.
However, I believe it is a sunrise if the church awakes to pull back the covers of the culture to embrace the authentic gospel and good news of Jesus. We must awaken to discover our purpose to be a community of radical inclusion and extravagant grace. We must awaken to answer our call to love others as Christ loves us, unconditionally, unreservedly and fearlessly.
I believe it is a sunset if the church continues to dream of the glory days. Sadly, the dreams of many churches are either stuck some in distant past recalling fuller pews and bigger programs, or they are stuck in some heavenly future, fixed on pearly gates and streets of gold.
However, I believe it is a sunrise if the church awakens with eyes wide-open to see its mission in the here and now. We must awaken with our eyes focused on the present suffering of the entire creation, and then we must selflessly and sacrificially use our gifts, time and energy to be a movement for wholeness, healing and peace.
I believe it is a sunset if the church continues to hit the snooze button to rest in their comfort zones. Many churches have no desire to get up and go out, leaving their cozy environments behind. There is no interest to get outside of the security blanket of the sanctuary to do the hard work of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, defending the marginalized, and breaking the bonds of injustice.
However, I believe it is a sunrise if the church will rise up from its comfort zone to go out into what can be a cold and dark world. We must awaken to be the embodiment of Christ in this world even if it means there is a cross involved, even if it means suffering for the sake of God’s creation.
Is it a sunset or a sunrise?
It all depends on when we wake up.