There is widespread agreement that if a church is to survive this century, then it must do what most churches resist doing. It must change. To avoid joining the thousands of churches that will die by the end of this century, I believe there are three major changes that many churches need to make.
- Churches must wholeheartedly embrace the grace of Jesus.
Jesus prevented religious folks from throwing rocks as sinners, and so should we. Of all of the human organizations on this fragmented planet, the church should be a place where all people are welcomed to join a community of grace, love and forgiveness. Without fear of being judged, bullied, or ridiculed, all people should feel welcomed to come as they are and honestly and openly confess their sinfulness and brokenness, and then receive grace. Then, they should be encouraged to share that same grace with others. I believe all churches should be open and affirming, because a church that follows Jesus has no business being closed and condemning.
- Churches must wholeheartedly embrace the authenticity of Jesus.
Some church people have the reputation of being like the people Jesus criticized the most: hypocrites. Therefore, we must stop claiming to follow Jesus on Sunday morning while ignoring everything Jesus taught the rest of the week. This means that blessing the poor, standing up for the powerless, and fighting for those who hunger and thirst for justice should always be our priority. It means loving our neighbors as ourselves, selflessly and sacrificially, no matter the cost.
- Churches must wholeheartedly embrace the mission of Jesus.
Jesus never confined his ministry to the Temple or a synagogue. Church people must be willing to move out of the sanctuary into a hurting world. Instead of inviting people to come to church on Sunday, we should be asking people to be the Church everyday by doing the things Jesus did such as: eating and drinking with outsiders, feeding the hungry, welcoming the foreigner, becoming a friend to the oppressed, and being a healing presence for all who need wholeness.
The exceptional leadership that Rev. Shannon Speidel has given to our church as our Associate Minister for the past two years is exactly what we need if we are to continue to be a viable church, as she wholeheartedly embraces the grace, authenticity, and mission of Jesus. I am grateful for the way that her inclusive love for all people, her unwavering passion for social justice, and her bold desire to be the hands and feet of Christ out in the world has challenged us to be the church God is calling us to be.
I am also thankful that she will continue to be in a position to bless Oklahoma as she begins her ministry with the Oklahoma Conference of Churches. Churches across Oklahoma are fortunate to have a leader like Rev. Speidel who possesses the gifts, vision, passion and faithfulness that will help them not only survive, but thrive throughout the 21st century.