As you look out over the members of your church each Sunday, what do you see? The “movers and shakers” in your community? The most successful business people? The intellectual elite? The best-dressed or the best-looking?
Maybe that describes some people in your church, but on the whole, my guess is that your church looks pretty normal. You might even say unimpressive. However, this unimpressive outward appearance does not mean that something has gone wrong with your church’s message or mission. Listen to how Paul describes God’s people in 1 Corinthians 1:26-28:
Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, and not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.
A Church’s Description
Not powerful. Not of noble birth. Foolish. Weak. Low and Despised. How’s that for a description of the church? Not exactly a Who’s Who in the eyes of the world. But notice that this unflattering description of the church is not a bug in God’s design; it’s a feature. God chooses the nobodies of the world, and he does this for a very specific purpose. His goal is to remove any grounds for human boasting so that we might boast in him (1 Corinthians 1:29-31). By using unlikely means–like you and me–the spotlight is on his power and his grace. That way, he gets the credit. And this is not a new strategy.
God chose Abraham, a childless pagan, to be the father of many nations. He chose Jacob rather than Esau; he chose Israel instead of Egypt. God chose a young shepherd boy to behead a nine-foot giant from Gath. The list goes on and on. This counter-intuitive strategy is nowhere more apparent than in the message of the cross, where God has chosen to save sinners through a crucified Messiah. The message is foolish to some, and a stumbling block to others, but this is precisely the way God wants it.
Of course, God does save some who are respected in the eyes of the world. Being smart or rich or influential doesn’t disqualify you from the kingdom any more than being lowly will earn God’s favor. Sinners from all different walks of life need a Savior. However, we shouldn’t be surprised when our churches aren’t very flashy in the eyes of the world. Jesus says that his kingdom begins as a mustard seed, not an oak tree. This city on a hill is visible because of its love and humility, not its prestige.
The Power of the Gospel
The unimpressive look to our churches should not cause us to doubt the power of the gospel, nor should it lead us to change our message in order to gain a hearing from our culture. It is actually our ordinariness that draws attention to Christ. No one would wonder where our strength or contentment came from if we were only made up of the political and social elite. We should simply give thanks that God saves sinners like us, and that he is pleased to call us his children.
So as you look out over your church each Sunday, don’t be worried if you do not see many who are wise or powerful. All is going according to plan.