The local church isn’t the hope of the world…Jesus is.
In the wake of one of the largest church and organizational scandals in recent years, I find myself saddened, heartbroken, and yet strangely hopeful.
I don’t go to Willow Creek, I don’t know the Hybels personally, and I don’t know any of the women who have come forward with accusations. I am just one of the pastors at a medium-sized congregation North of Toronto, Canada, who has seen brokenness in the church first-hand and also witnessed the cries of women, men, and children who have been torn apart by abuse.
I find myself heartbroken by the recent crisis inside Willow Creek because there have been great things done by that congregation for the world. I’ve read a number of Bill Hybel’s books and found some very helpful. And I have seen the massive impact the Global Leadership Summit has had in the world—on the lives of individuals who may otherwise never darken the door of a church, but have witnessed the love of God at work in people’s lives because of the draw of a business leadership conference. I am saddened that this situation will necessarily impact the witness of Jesus.
I mourn alongside the women who have come forward with information that has been hidden for years in a broken system. I pray for the victims (named and unnamed)—for healing, above all. I pray for those who have been marred by abuse in all forms.
I thank God that the cries of the historically oppressed have recently been brought to the forefront of society with justice movements like #blacklivesmatter and #metoo. And I pray for systemic change to break the chains of oppression which have bound people for so long. I pray for full, flourishing lives for all.
I pray for the Global Leadership Summit and the Willow Creek community. I also pray for the Hybels’ family. I pray for Shauna Niequist and her family. And I pray for the local church world-wide to learn from this and create healthy systems to prevent all forms of abuse.
There are many conversations going on in social media spheres, the Christian community, and the secular world as well as a result of this and other scandals, and I pray for light to break through the darkness in all of these conversations.
Bill Hybels once said, “The local church is the hope of the world.” In many ways I have loved that quote and have even used the premise in a sermon or two. But now I confidently write this…
“The local church isn’t the hope of the world…Jesus is.”
It is in times like these that all Christians should be kneeling in prayer because of the brokenness of the church—because of our brokenness.
Jesus, through the power of the Spirit brings healing to the brokenhearted, freedom to the captives, release from darkness to the imprisoned, and comfort to the mourners (Isaiah 61/Luke 4). When the local church is at its best, we aid in that justice. But it is not because of us, but rather in spite of us, that the world ought to have hope.
If we have hope at all, it is because of Jesus—a migrant, Palestinian Jew, and a political refugee—who humbly traveled around touching lives and touching people who were outcast, the untouchable. It was Jesus who spoke to the Samaritan woman hiding at the well mid-day. It was Jesus who stood beside the woman “caught in the act” and called for change instead of stoning. It was Jesus who touched the eyes of the blind beggar and gave him not only sight, but life. It is Jesus who is the hope of the world—not our church, not us (fortunately).
The church I work at has seen struggle and it’s share of brokenness and challenge over the past year (for a very different reason). There have been times I have wanted to quit, not just my job, but ministry altogether…because I can’t fix it!
The church is the institutional structure made up of millions of broken people…of course there is dysfunction!
Thus we cannot and should not (in a time like this, or any other time) put our hope in the church. We must in times like this throw up our hands—either in exasperation or surrender—to the only One who brings true grace, unending love, and compelling hope: Jesus of Nazareth—common man, Holy God.
In Matthew 16, Jesus gives Peter a pretty lofty charge. Peter was the disciple who denied Jesus three times, feverishly tried to build him a house on the mountaintop (with Moses and Elijah), and even tried to prevent the prophecy-fulfilling, sacrificial death and resurrection. And it was to this disciple that Jesus spoke, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
Broken people have been the foundation of the church since its inception…but not the cornerstone. Thank God!
In moments like these in the life of a church, in the life of the church, we ought to remember who we are and whose we are. We belong not to a country club of other messed up, desperate, wannabes like ourselves. We belong in life and in death to Jesus: the only one who saves, the only one who wipes away the tears of the brokenhearted, and the only one who resurrects that which is dead, back to life.