A famous pastor named P. H. Welshimer is known (in some circles) for his service at First Christian Church, Canton, Ohio (USA). On his first day in Canton, though, that congregation did not look anything like what it would decades later, after he had served there for many years:
In 1902 a man named PH Welshimer stepped off a train in Canton, a new pastor at a little-known church. He later told about how when he stopped to ask for directions to the Canton First Christian Church, the person replied, “I have no idea where that is!” PH replied, “A year from now, everyone in the city will know where First Christian Church is.”
While we could certainly understand if this unnamed passer-by didn’t know about a particular church’s location (after all, there are dozens of church buildings in and around Canton, at least today), let me ask this question: If someone were to stop a random person on the street in your town, would they be able to explain where the church is in that town?
To be clear, I don’t really care if people can give directions to a specific building where a particular congregation meets. In today’s world, the ability to navigate to a physical location or building is available on all manner of electronic devices. Instead, I imagine a world where the actions of the church are clearly seen and known. I envision a society where the impact that Christians are having on the rest of the community is obvious and is no longer an “event”, but is a part of the very fabric of individuals’ lives…regardless of whether or not they worship at a given building.
Whether or not we hear this question, I believe that there are many today who are being asked, “Where is the church?” There are those in poverty or pain who seek the care that Jesus demonstrated to those in unfavorable circumstances. There are those without hope who seek the good news of reconciliation with God. There are those who want to actually change their lives – to make their faith more than a bumper sticker, they might say – and need friends to walk with them and provide guidance.
Rather than bemoaning the declining influence of “the church” (however we may define that) in our local and global communities, let’s consider the only thing that we can control: our own actions. I invite you to join me in a challenge to invest in the following, tactical activities:
Promoting Unity, emphasizing that all followers of Jesus share the same goal, and while our individual groups may have legitimate differences on how we understand the finer points of what Jesus taught, that all those who are seeking Him are loved by God. A brother or sister in error deserves our loving correction and restoration, not our condemnation.
I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.
John 17:11 NASB
Taking Action, living out the call of Jesus to obey him, following His example of serving others, and sharing His message about God with the world (especially to those who might least expect it). When every good deed is done in Jesus’ name, the connection between the love of Jesus’ followers for people, and the even greater love of Jesus for people, makes it clear why following Him is the best path.
The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
Matthew 25:40 NASB
Communicating in Love, teaching others the truth about Jesus (who is the ultimate Truth), and dispelling modern preconceptions. Rather than railing against those who disagree with something that they think Christianity is all about, Christians could counter with a massive “counteroffensive” of showing love to those who consider us enemies.
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Ephesians 4:14-16 NASB
May the next person in our community who is asked, “Where is the church?”, have much to say about the incredible impact that he or she has seen of Jesus’ followers. That is where the church should be.