- The Awakened Church
The power of the church is not found in its icons or its hierarchy. The power of the church lies in its ability to transfer the hopes and dreams of its lowest members into action. It is the lesson illustrated in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. “The labors of Ezra and Nehemiah to rebuild and reform postexilic Jerusalem was largely inspired by the theological truth of Yahweh as covenant keeper.” Illustrating unwavering hope and certainty in which a marginalized community was able to center itself and rebuild. While individuals still had their specific roles and duties in the process, the institution of religion helped to lay the foundation for the community to rebuild upon. There are several characteristics that a church must have in the 21st to be awakened for action and effective in it’s approach to bring about sustainable change.
- Characteristic One: Know Your Identity; Show Your Identity
The awakened church has a clear sense of its identity in the community. Amid diversity, the successful church must know its primary mission and the vision God has given it for the community. 1 Chronicles 12:32 illustrates the impact that wisdom has over brute force and power. When facing a time of war, there were 200 unarmed leaders of the tribe of Issachar with their relatives who were singled out from David’s army. This small group of people understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take. They are mentioned not because of their ability to fight, but due to their understanding of context. The awakened church can clearly articulate its vision for anyone who asks.
- Characteristic Two: Mission-Focused Spirituality
I define mission as being able to see the needs of the community and responding appropriately. The missional church is not a theoretical concept to be discussed; missions are a necessary tool for survival. Leaders must rely heavily on the Holy Spirit to translate and interpret the gospel message in a way that transcends language and cultural barriers. In successful awakened churches, mission must manifest itself via a relevant word that fits the needs of the people.
- Characteristic Three: Intentional Discipleship and Faith Formation Strategy
The message of Christ is necessary to combat the lies and unhealthy paradigms of pop-culture and the world. Discipleship by its very definition is synonymous with discipline and self-control. Awakened churches seek change not from the oval office, but from helping people see that despite our flaws we are Imago Dei, created in the image of God. Through discipleship, healthy role models are equipped for leadership within the community. When explosive situations manifest themselves, the church can be at the center of managing the ecology of change in that way that builds upon the strength of the community rather than destroying the community through reactionary violence and mistrust.
- Characteristic Four: Intentional Diversity and Inclusion.
Awakened churches develop and relate to a diverse Christian community, facilitating intercultural community. The church is often an amalgamation of people with different expectations. Getting along under a single umbrella is not always easy, but successful churches figure it out. The church gains a shared sense of grace and works on developing intercultural competences. Competencies that can help dismantle systemic, cross-cultural, and intra-cultural racism. One key is that the diversity of the leadership of the awakened church is typically a reflection of the people in the pews.
- Characteristic Five: Holistic Witness to Serving the Community
One size often does not fit all in the needs of our community members. In times of crisis there is little time to focus on the numerous differences between groups. To quote form Star Trek, “The needs of the many outweigh the [selfish desires] of the few.” To quote from scripture, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Meeting great needs takes some great partners and a strong network of churches all working together: Anabaptists; Evangelicals, Independents, and others.
- Characteristic Six: Develops Strategic Partnerships
Successful awakened churches understand holistic witness in their respective context. For the church to survive the people must survive. Better yet when the people thrive the church thrives. So, ministry is not limited to preaching and teaching scripture. Successful ministry models the holistic ministry example set by Christ. Many churches, either alone or as a part of a network are involved in the feeding and healing of the body through various programs. They are centers of social and political reform in the community. They often provide educational opportunities to help people climb the socioeconomic ladder, providing them with a sense of dignity. The awakened is also a refuge for the people when violence, disaster, and injustice infringe upon the community.
- Characteristic Seven: Practicing Sound Stewardship
Successful awakened churches have sound stewardship practices and knowledge. In other words, they understand how to manage money, and they inspire good stewardship in the community. The successful church and its leaders put into place sound financial practices, operate with a measure of faith, and teach the principle of reaping and sowing. The church can help its members in practical living and education on how to manage personal finances, moving people in the community from a mentality of poverty and consumerism to one where needs are met with generosity. Successful churches can thrive even in an improvised context because transformation begins to happen in the minds of the people. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NLT)
- Characteristic Eight: Strategic Leadership Development
Finally, successful awakened churches have a plan for leadership development. Through mentoring, education, entrepreneurship, and sound management practices the awakened church continues to grow and thrive. In the Garden, God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. The successful ministry recreates itself.It multiplies and expands its reach within the community. New leaders are trained, and there are healthy opportunities for leadership internships and leadership succession. The tools of success are not consolidated in one person or personality but dispersed through the congregation. The leadership knows and understands how to utilize the gifting’s of others to maximize the effectiveness of the organization.
Successful awakened churches may not possess all these characteristics, but the majority will be working towards efficacy in most of the categories listed. People often think the miracle of the loaves and fishes is about making a bunch of fish sandwiches out of a few items. The miracle is in the preparation. Jesus evaluated the resources at hand; he got the people to sit down and organize themselves to prepared for the miracle; he trusted God to make it happen; and he had trained disciple in place to meet the needs of the people once God delivered.That is awakened missional ministry right there. If nothing else, the awakened church understands that before God will take you to the next level, but you have to be prepared for the journey.