The name of a congregation says a lot about who they are and want to be. Of late, newer congregations are showing up with variations of the Church of the Abundant Life. I take this as evidence of the shift that is occurring in American Christian churches. They recognize that the new touchpoint for outreach to others is the life God offers—the abundant life in Christ.
For years the book we at our church have used with new members is entitled Life with God. It keys off of Jesus’ statement in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” That’s our ministry intent. We are still learning how to deliver on that promise.
John 10:10 is one of those passages that has been in Scriptures from the beginning but largely overlooked for centuries of institutional Christianity. It is similar to Paul’s many, many references to the Holy Spirit in his writings. They have always been there but remained mostly overlooked, especially in churches of the Reformation.
Mainline churches in America today remain focused on the central issues of the Protestant Reformation five hundred years ago. At that time, most people were preoccupied with the role of good works in getting to the next life. Life for most in that still Medieval time was difficult, “nasty, brutish and short.” Surely there must be a better life ahead. The keys to that next life were held by the Catholic church, the only church in the western part of the Roman Empire. That church then was highly institutionalized and viewed church life to their own advantage. Their key to the next life was doing enough good works, as they defined them.
At a time now when few are concerned about God and the next life, finding a better life here and now is a good touchpoint for reaching out to those who know little about Christian church life, and what they do know probably carries negative associations.
What is this better life potentially available in Christian churches? It begins by offering God’s promise of mercy to all who come to him confessing that their life is not meaningful enough, confessing they are looking for something more. God offers them his grace in two forms. One is the gift of forgiveness of their shortcomings through the appeasement won by Christ on the cross. The other is the gift of the Holy Spirit and his empowerment to live out his fruit of love, joy, peace and other positive growth in the lives of believers.
As Luther preached, “When the Spirit comes, he makes a pure, free, cheerful, glad and loving heart—a conscience made righteous by grace, seeking no reward, fearing no punishment, doing everything with joy.” What better life can you hope for? Living this way is truly the abundant life Jesus came to offer.
At a time when so many today feel their life has little meaning or purpose, offer them a life that has the ultimate meaning and purpose. This is life with God, the abundant life.
Rick Warren described the ultimate purposeful life in his hugely popular book The Purpose-Driven Life (2002). First, he asked the most basic life question, What on earth am I here for? He then went on to outline five Bible-based ultimate purposes: 1) You were planned for God’s pleasure. 2) You were formed for God’s Family, 3) You were created to become like Christ, 4) You were shaped for serving God, and 5) You were made for a mission.
This fifth and last ultimate purpose is being in mission for God. “God is at work in the word, and he wants you to join him. He wants you to have both a ministry in the Body of Christ and mission in the world. Your ministry is your service to believers, and your mission is your service to unbelievers.”
“Your life mission is both shared and specific. One part of it is a responsibility to share with every other Christian, and the other responsibility is an assignment unique to you. This is to share your life message as a messenger of God.” Warren quotes 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Is that enough to give your life ultimate meaning and purpose? The challenge to others is to try out this abundant life in Christ. Taste and see how good it is.
Have traditional churches focused much on the abundant life Jesus came to offer? Do you agree that the abundant life consists of the fruit the Spirit produces in a believer’s life?