Question: What is the greatest, most crying need in the American church today?
Response from Andy Davis, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Durham, NC
The greatest, most crying need of the church in America today is a fresh outpouring of the Spirit resulting in a deep love for God, and deep hatred for sin, and a passionate willingness to take up our cross daily and follow Christ in internal purity and external acts of obedience in evangelism and ministry. That is a general statement and has been true for two thousand years. Specifically in this age, it seems that the church in America today has lost the sense of the sacrifice and suffering necessary to make progress internally in holiness and externally in worldwide evangelism. In the area of encountering our floundering and wicked culture with the truths of Scripture and the claims of Christ in the gospel, it seems that we need to know how both to maintain our separateness in community holiness (“Come out from them and be separate” 2 Corinthians 6:7) and our daily, winsome engagement with lost people in the manner of the Apostle Paul (“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22).
Some churches I admire are strong in separatism, strongly advocating family identity, home schooling, family worship, biblically-ordained gender-based roles, patriarchy, child training in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and a multi-generational vision of holiness and fruitfulness . But they seem to lack an evangelistic power or concern, seeking more to protect their people from the ravages of the world’s wickedness than to “save some” out of that wickedness. Most of these folks see the need for evangelism and argue that their church’s united witness of holiness is a powerful evangelistic tool. But practically speaking, they lack any strategic outreach to the lost in Paul’s winsome and “incarnational” pattern. They also lack evidence of evangelistic fruit: people, converted, baptized, and then discipled into maturity.
Other churches I admire are constantly active in outreach, missions, evangelism, and discipleship. They are faithful in preaching the word and do not water down the message (that’s why I admire them rather than reject them as worth discussing). They may not preach expositional messages week after week, but they are accurate in what they do preach and teach. They are active in the lives of lost people, involved in inner-city ministries, short-term and long-term missions, outreaches to gays and drug abusers. They have evidence of conversion and baptisms, although they may lack the same success record in discipleship to maturity. In this life of evangelistic concern and fruitfulness they are admirable. However, their approach to worship and the structures of their church which make them readily accessible to the lost make them vulnerable to worldliness and pragmatism. Some godly people have left those churches saying their youth ministries are more like rock concerts than times of Christian discipleship. The constant influx of lost people who are listening to the preaching and involved in the church life can cause the “separateness” of the church to be lost.
How do we maintain both ideals? How do we maintain community separateness while becoming all things to all people? What role do preaching, discipleship, worship style, corporate prayer, and distinctive family unity, play in outreach to our culture? How do we attract lost people (being “fishers of men”) while not using bait that will pollute the fisherman?
Responses graciously facilitated courtesy of The Gospel Coalition