A few months ago, I stood in Caesarea Philippi in front of a cave where historians believe a spring once flowed. During Jesus’ day, the spring was known as flowing from the underworld and the cave as the “gates of Hades.” The false god Pan was worshipped in the area, infants were once sacrificed there, and evil was rampant. That is the place Jesus took His disciples to ask them who they think He is and to declare, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus did not take them to a synagogue for the discussion and declaration, but to a place known for darkness and evil. It would be like making the declaration that the Church won’t be defeated on Bourbon Street rather than in a Bible College. As He promised, today His Church is pushing back the gates of death and Jesus is bringing life to people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
At Caesarea Philippi I was reminded that Jesus’ good and holy intention will not be thwarted, and as a new year begins, I am hopeful for the Church for 2023. While I know His Church will thrive globally as He has promised, I am hopeful for the Church in the United States as well. I am using a capital “C” to refer to the Church and not simply one church or the church I belong to, though I am hopeful for her too. I will begin with the broad and unchanging and then move to more tactical. Ten reasons I am hopeful:
1. More people recognize their need for community; the Church provides community.
Before the pandemic I often heard church leaders ask, “how can we convince people they need community?” God used the pandemic to alert people to their need for others and to the pain of isolation. Though not perfect, the Church offers people community that is built upon the One who will not fade or change.
2. This world continues to fatigue; the Church offers Jesus’ message of grace.
Some hoped life after the pandemic would be like the roaring 20s after the pandemic of 1918, but this world continues to disappoint and fatigue. The message the Church stewards is the message our souls need; we can rest in Him.
3. Clarity is desired; the Church offers truth.
People are asking lots of questions about gender, sexuality, pain, suffering, and people want clarity and direction. Jesus is truth and the Scripture that guides the Church has gracious wisdom for the big questions of the day.
4. Learnings from the pandemic have been operationalized and will gain more traction.
The pandemic forced faster innovation in churches. Some churches ramped up multiplication efforts, others focused on digital initiatives, and others embedded a deeper commitment to groups or theological training. Initiatives that have been operationalized in 2022 are in a better position in 2023 to gain more traction and make a bigger impact on people.
5. Seeds planted in local communities during the pandemic will bear fruit.
Local churches found ways to serve the hurting during the pandemic, from food distribution to online tutoring to caring for medical workers. While we serve because Jesus served us, we also serve with hopes of sharing the gospel. Serving local communities softens soil and plants seeds of showing God’s grace, but it typically takes time for those seeds to bear fruit. All of the serving done over the last few years will make impact in the years to come.
On Thursday I will share five more reasons…