The Church in Identity Crisis

By: Rev. Craig Shepperd

Abstract: This essay is about the opportunity that the current COVID-19 crisis presents the church to reclaim her missional identity. It suggests that the Church has grown so comfortable in doing church that we forgot to be the church. This doing has since become what we now mean when we refer to church. It is very individualistic and compartmentalized, and it is driven by programs.

The Chinese character for expressing the idea of “crisis” combines two other characters: the one for “danger” and the other for “opportunity.” I would suggest in terms of identity, this is exactly what the COVID-19 crisis provides the Church as well: danger and opportunity. Without going into needed detail as to how we got here, the Church has slipped into some dangerous patterns that should cause us to question our identity. After all, what is the Church to do if it cannot meet together in order to go through the religious routine? While I am very much in favor of us meeting together, it seems like some really good habits have compromised our very reason for existence.

In his book, Adoptive Youth Ministry, Chap Clark describes how an idea evolves. “For an idea to go anywhere, it must have some sort of structure to give it legs.”[1]  Structures are not only important; they are good, that is, as long as the idea remains dynamic and is given room to breed other ideas. The Church was/is God’s idea. An idea that would empower the Body of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit to scatter into the world as His agents of mission, justice, and grace. However, the idea of the Church has become institutionalized, thus stifling the dynamic movement of the Spirit that brings a hotbed of creativity for the sake of mission. So, today, many of us are more concerned about when the next time we will be able to get back together in our building, as opposed to how God may mobilize the Church for mission in this present day. Why? Because our somewhat privatized, individualistic practice of religion holds the identity of the Church hostage.

Sure, we say we know the Church is the people and the building just a location, but truth be told we are bound by a place of residence. Darrell Gruder suggests, “the church must ask, are our structures and our assumptions about the church’s nature and purpose no longer suited to the time and place in which we currently live? Might it be that both our organization and presuppositions have been dislodged from the moorings in the biblical message?[2]

If we perpetuate the status quo, the Church in many ways will continue to be obsolete (not the message). However, this crisis presents us the opportunity to re-imagine what it means to be called together for the sake of the world[3], not just our own. In these days may we re-learn who Christ is and what his life in ministry was all about.[4] May the Church reemerge as a presence in our culture, not from a place of privilege,[5] but out of a vocation that calls us to embody Jesus’ love engaged in mission and restoring relationship. Mission is not a program, and it is not optional. “The church’s essence is missional, for the calling and sending action of God forms her identity.”[6] Let us, then, as the Church, live into the sending activity of God.

[1] Chap Clark. Adoptive Youth Ministry. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic), 2016. 13.

[2] Darrell L. Gruder. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 1998. 78-79.

[3] Genesis 12:2; Hosea 1:10; 1 Peter 2:9.

[4] Luke 4:18-19; Luke 19:10; John 4:34; John 6:38-39; John 10:10; John 17; Philippians 2:6-11.

[5] The church in the US insists on going back and re-establishing its place as the moral compass in society. However, the avenue that is commonly used is not missional. It is political. This is rarely, if ever the posture of the Church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must not navigate our mission in hopes that the empire will grant us authority, but remember our mission is demonstrated and power is given through Jesus’ work on the cross and culminates in his resurrection.

[6] Gruder, 82.

Taken from Rev. Craig Shepperd’s website

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