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The King of Kings statue off Interstate 75 near Monroe, Ohio, was hit by lightning on June 14.

 

The 62-foot statue of Jesus with arms lifted (thus the nickname “Touchdown Jesus”) was set ablaze and its Styrofoam, wood and fiberglass material quickly burned, leaving only the steel structure. The statue was built in 2004 and placed on the property of Solid Rock Church as a visual reminder of the hope Jesus offers.

 

Apparently, Jesus burned to the ground. An act of God? Maybe, but certainly an illustration the church is not an institution but a movement.

 

We homo sapiens love institutions. We love tall buildings and expansive educational space. We constantly struggle with the Tower of Babel syndrome. I am sure the King of Kings statue off I-75 was impressive and inspiring. Yet at some point, we must root Jesus’ continuing mission in the world, not in terms of what makes us comfortable and inspired, but in terms of his values.

 

I have trouble believing the Jesus of history would smile on a $250,000 Styrofoam statue. He would surely challenge us to go sell what we have and give it to the poor.

 

The transition taking place in American culture, especially as its financial impact is felt in local churches, is a wonderful time for local congregations to re-evaluate their ministry and focus more sharply on doing it Jesus’ way. In fact, this opportunity may not return for a generation.

 

In the transition known to us as the English Reformation, a small group of believers decided to go back to the New Testament and establish church polity and practice on Jesus’ words and the earliest church’s practices. Today, we call those folks Baptists.

 

A few simple truths to remember:

 

Jesus is risen.

 

He is let loose in the world. He is not confined to a sanctuary or human categories. Jesus spent most of his time outside the religious establishment of his day helping people.

 

We are a fellowship.

 

Jesus’ followers are community, not because we meet the requirements of membership in a local church, but because we belong to him. This fellowship knows no bounds.

 

We are to be known by our love.

 

“By this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This was Jesus’ dying wish.

 

We are a people on mission, God’s mission.

 

We are to share the Good News in word and deed.

 

Our marching orders are fairly straightforward and direct. We domesticate the Gospel to fit into our comfort zones. So we build impressive (by our standards) statues, buildings, organizations and structures while our essential mission languishes. Personally, I am in favor of beautiful sanctuaries, but the mission comes first.

 

The present moment in church life is painful because of the Great Recession and the Exceedingly Long Recovery.

 

Why not put the pain to good use and reshape local ministry around Jesus’ values? We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get it right.

 

Ron Crawford is president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. This column first appeared on his blog.

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