All kinds of people and organizations use a three-legged stool to illustrate their three most important values or ideas or systems. The idea is that while a one-legged or two-legged stool is weak and flimsy, a three-legged stool is strong and provided the proper balance.
Over the last few months, I have been in deep study about the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3. In a lot of ways, studying these churches has changed my view of the entire Revelation of John. I think a lot of my previous studies and understanding of Revelation has been an exercise in missing the point. When you read Revelation through the lenses of the seven churches, instead of the lenses of eschatology, a whole new theme opens up. A theme is highly applicable to pastoring a church, especially an evangelical church, in the United States today.
I just finished writing my fourth sermon on these seven churches. The first three sermons are now on my blog. I will add the fourth sermon Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. They are also on my church’s website. Below are the three sermons so far with links to this blog as well as our website.
- 7 Letters to 7 Churches (Introduction) (video from website)
- Lost Love (the church at Ephesus) (video from website)
- Do Not be Afraid of Suffering (the church at Smyrna) (video from website)
As I have been reading, studying, thinking, praying, and preaching through these churches, God has spoken to me. This morning, as I was meditating on these things, I think God gave me a three-legged stool illustration for the Church in the United States. There are three things, three values (and I think you see these three things in every church in Revelation) that we are to be doing if we want to impact our society. When we do these three things we are strong and balanced. When we don’t do these three things we are week and flimsy. The cool thing is that any church, regardless of size, can do these three things. And any church, regardless of size, that is involved in these three things will impact their community.
What are the three legs in this three-legged stool of church/community influence? (I’m still working through this in my own mind, but here are my thoughts so far.)
First, the church impacts her community when she strives to be counter-cultural instead of culturally relevant.
I have been a pastor for almost 30 years. I have bought all the books and gone to all the workshops about being culturally relevant, and I’m telling you that should never be our goal! Society wants churches to make them feel better, but the church must call people to repentance. Society can be greedy and materialistic and hedonistic, but Christ calls us to give our lives way, to sacrificially serve others and to live disciplined lives. Being counter-cultural (and as a pastor, counter-intuitive) will change your philosophy of ministry.
Second, the church impacts her community when she speaks truth to power instead of wanting to be in the middle of the power.
The testimony of the evangelical church in the United States right now is reeling because many of her influential leaders have decided its more important to be in power then to speak truth in power. As a result, the evangelical church is on the verge of becoming irrelevant, a caricature of her former self. I have lost friends for stating such, but I still believe I am right about this. Unfortunately, the following words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have come true: “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority” (A Knock at Midnight, June 11, 1967).
Third, a church impacts her community when she leads the way in social activism.
The problem is, many church shy away from activism out of fear of being to political or being labeled liberal or a social gospel church. But being salt and light in the world means we are to be the social conscience of the community. We have been called to speak up for the voiceless and stand up for the powerless. Our mission field includes both the poor in foreign countries and in our own backyards. We should be demanding the destruction of systemic racism and mass incarceration and the death penalty and Row v. Wade and gender inequality and immigration bigotry and on and on and on.
Our country is in trouble. But before we blame the immorality of everyone else, we need to confess how far removed we really are from the teachings and ministry of Jesus.
Well, there you have it. Those are my thoughts. What do you think?