I know many leaders within Ecclesia who are happy to put 2016 in the rear view mirror. While any year in church leadership is full of a mixture of highs and lows, successes and failures, and moments of God’s Action or (seeming) inaction, 2016 seemed to tip toward the challenging for many in Ecclesia.
I can’t think of another year since Ecclesia began where more congregations were …
- Faced with financial challenges
- Grappling with how to maintain scriptural fidelity to Orthodoxy while the climate around us becomes increasingly secular
- Experienced significant transitions in leadership within the congregations
- Dealt with significant conflicts that shake up the entire congregation, or at best, put a strain among staff.
- And of course, this is not to mention the peculiar season we face in the United States in the church’s relationship to the political process.
Yes, 2016 was a year of obstacles for just about every church in Ecclesia (and from my vantage point, those outside Ecclesia too).
Here is what we must remember though- in these moments where we face challenges – we are not alone! We know this to be true right? Jesus told us he would be with us always, until the end of the age (Matthew 28). He also told us that he would not leave us as orphans, but send another comforter (John 14). We are not alone. Yet, why do so many church leaders feel alone?
I would suggest that often we feel alone because we face our challenges alone. We can be isolated as congregations, and therefore are more isolated from help when the attacks of the enemy or the effects of sin break forth in our midst. I dare say that churches that only look to themselves locally (fellow pastors, boards, elders, congregants, etc) always fare worse than those that look beyond their local context for help and support. Always.
Jesus left us with the reality of his presence through the impartation of the Holy Spirit in perpetuity. The Holy Spirit takes it’s primary residence in relationship to the people of God, and this is not simply a “local church” reality. It’s clear in the New Testament that there is a “local church” and a “universal church” but there is also a “regional church.” Whether this was the church in a region or a wider city (i.e. letter to Colossians), or most often referenced to the trans-local band of apostles and evangelists and prophets and teachers that worked among and throughout the early church, it’s clear that there was a concrete and personal community that was intended to exist in fellowship beyond a local congregation, even outside its own city. There is a fairly good basis to say that the strength of the New Testament church was at least partially in relation to a local congregation having a proactive relationship to this “middle” space between the local and universal. I think that today, even occasionally among Ecclesia churches, we have a tendency to forget the vital role the “trans-local church” carries.. It is the “network” level of church that keeps the local congregation from becoming myopic or insulated within its own locality. It’s the “network” level that helps make the universal church concrete and un-ethereal.