With 2017 behind us, the new year presents an opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months and look ahead with hope. This past year was filled with countless hardships and trials within the church and around our country. The installment of a new president and administration last January brought serious political and social divisions to the surface, both inside and outside of our church communities. Terror attacks ravaged large cities and small rural churches, and violence of all sorts dominated news headlines. Reports of sexual misconduct and injustice against women were not confined to Hollywood and Washington, reminding us loud and clear that church leaders are not exempt from wrongdoing.
Yet, amidst the tragedy and turmoil of another year in a fallen world, we have reasons to be joyful. It’s fitting to talk about the new year as the turning over of a new leaf—a fresh opportunity to learn and to grow—and ultimately remember that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lam. 3:22-23). This coming year is a “new mercy” from the Lord—one that we can anticipate with great hope and trust in God’s faithfulness.
Here are my three desires for the Christian church in 2018 that call us to be mindful of our place in the world, and to pursue a greater degree of obedience, even in the midst of chaos.
1. That we would be more comfortable talking about “the big 3.”
Money, politics, and religion are cited as three topics to absolutely avoid when talking with friends and family. Why? Identity. For Americans, the reality is that these categories represent parts of ourselves that we are often most insecure about. Money and wealth are marketed as measures of worth and security; we love the power, control, and security that it gives us in our lives. We identify money as something we earned through hard work; it’s ours. Our defenses rise when people start talking about salaries and tax brackets because deep down we don’t want anyone messing with our idol.
And it doesn’t take much explaining for us to understand why talking about politics in America is a no-no. For many people, political identities and party affiliations represent ways of dividing people in our country—liberal and conservative—so that we can talk plainly about “us and them,” while designating good and evil. Politics today makes it easy to talk down to one another and requires almost zero engagement with the other side. The opportunity to hold strong opinions that go uncontested provides the security we crave from our political identities.
But religion, though often uncomfortable to talk about, is vastly different and is of eternal significance. It’s a matter of eternal life and death. Our Christian faith—is an identity before God in Christ that cannot be taken from us. Buildings may crumble, leaders will come and go, but Jesus will return to solidify his kingdom and glorify his church. This is the hope and security that neither money nor politics can bring—and the truth of the gospel is the most important news we will ever share.
The level of comfort with which we discuss money, politics, and religion is not a measure of social aptitude, but a sign of spiritual maturity and awareness that indicates where our priorities lie and where our securities are rooted. This year, my hope is that we would become more comfortable with these conversations as a way of disciplining our hearts to rely on Christ before anyone or anything else.
2. That we would re-prioritize the strength and value of family.
My second hope for the church comes in four parts: that Christian communities would strive to build marriages that last, prioritize adoption, support single parents, and build up single adults as a village should. Just as family is the life-blood of the church body, marriage is the life-blood of the family. That ample resources and time would be spent training, counseling, and encouraging couples at every juncture of their marriage is a hope for the church that will produce enduring fruits for generations.
As the pro-life movement swells and many Christians gain a passion for protecting the rights of unborn children, we must simultaneously take up our call to father the fatherless
As the pro-life movement swells and many Christians gain a passion for protecting the rights of unborn children, we must simultaneously take up our call to father the fatherless. Pro-life churches must seek to ensure that children are not left to cycle through foster home after foster home. One of the great hypocrisies of the church continues to be our verbal decry of the pro-choice movement while sitting idly by as orphanages and foster homes fill to capacity. While time and money are needed as we advocate for the rights of children, nothing displays the heart of Christ quite like adopting sons and daughters into permanent homes.
In addition, when we teach about family, and seek to serve the families in and around our communities, it is imperative that we recognize the unique challenges and opportunities that single parents face. “It takes a village to raise a child” takes on a special and real meaning when members of church communities come alongside other families to provide for, protect, and mentor children from single-parent homes. Family does not have to stay local, and our corporate family of believers should be a testimony to the power of unity in Christ to serve and love one another as one body.
Striving to support, encourage, and strengthen families cannot be limited to care for married people. This year, instead of focusing our attention on “preparing singles” to marry, let’s encourage singles to be active and creative in ministry. Giving not-yet-married members of the community opportunities to lead and serve the church will equip them to see ministry as their primary calling, and encourage them to believe that marriage is not a prerequisite to holiness or a measure of spiritual fulfillment. When single people are positioned as servants of the church and children of God first, everyone thrives. “Single” should never mean “alone”, and the identity that we have in Christ Jesus as disciples and heirs of his promise should be emphasized, not lost, among not-yet-married brothers and sisters.
3. That the church’s influence would manifest God’s power.
This is my short, and final hope for the new year: whether we are teaching, writing, advocating, mentoring, discipling, worshiping, praying, or listening, we would remember that God’s power supersedes ours in all things. The Christian life isn’t about winning political and cultural wars, or about regaining control and vision for our own lives, but about ceding power and control to God and depending on his grace. My hope is that the church would stop wringing her hands over the trials of today, and that any righteous indignation held against those outside of our communities would fall away to a deeper sense of our own need for Christ’s blood.
The new year is an opportunity and an invitation to move forward while remembering and learning from the past. 2018 will include trials of its own, but the security that we have in Christ gives us the freedom to strive and press on for the many hopes and promises set before us.