I was driving to the church one Tuesday afternoon when my friend Anthony called me on my mobile. Anthony teaches religion and philosophy for Year 11 students (15-16-year olds). That afternoon, the class was discussing the “role of the church in the community today”. As a church minister, Anthony wanted me to share my thoughts on the discussion. When I called back 10 minutes later, my answer was captured in the metaphor of an embassy. The church is God’s (or Heaven’s) embassy in the community. As an embassy represents the home country in a host country, so the church is God’s representative in the community.
The church, as heaven’s embassy, is the place to showcase and represent God’s presence, plans and provisions. In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and Ephesians 2:21-22, Paul designates the corporate church as God’s temple or dwelling place. The church serves today what the Old Testament temple and sanctuary served, where God meets people to show His love and the ways of salvation: “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). The church is therefore the place for the community to witness, experience and inquire on the kingdom or governance (plans, policies, principles and practices) of God for their lives and communities. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:25, directs the church to facilitate a worship service that will lead visitors to acknowledge the presence of God in their midst.
The church can learn how to be relevant to their communities from the three key standards of embassies: being visible, valuable, and available to their communities. Jesus modelled these standards when he mingled with people, ministered to their immediate needs, and invited people to accept the plan of God for their lives.
The church is visible through her members’ presence in the lives and struggles of their community. Part of the church’s weekly routine must be activities that get members to mingle with their communities.
The church will be valuable through activities that heal, preserve, and bring value to the lives of their community. Mingling will help the church to know what are the issues that the church can help with or how it can be an agent through which other entities can bring help to the community.
The church must be available to walk and work with community families and individuals in their personal and corporate journeys of faith; fitness or health; friendships or relations; and finances or careers. What happens with the first two phases will influence the response and outcome of this stage of discipleship.
Christ’s instruction in Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of earth …”, intimate the manner in which churches must work for and with their community. Salt adds flavour and preserves food. It aids healing, such as blood clotting; and it changes form like melting ice. To release its abilities and bring out its benefits, salt must be mingled. The church can show and share the love and salvation of God when she is willing to come closer to her communities and be proactive in their transformation.
Under the acronym BEE, the following habits will make a community-relevant church visible, valuable and available:
Bring the gospel to the people in order to bring the people to Jesus. Jesus directed the church to go make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) and not to wait for the community to come.
Establish and grow those who respond (to the gospel claim) in the full life of Christ (Colossians 2:6-7, 2Peter 3:18). People come to Jesus to become like Jesus. The church must effectively parent all new disciples to grow in the life of Christ.
Equip and enlist all disciples for the mission of Christ, making disciple-makers (Mark 1:17, Luke 6:40) and growing disciple-making churches (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Every disciple and church can become relevant to their communities. The Embassy and Ambassador models present clear and simple standards for the church to embrace: Being intentionally visible, adding value to the life of communities and being available for their life journeys.