Word Tabernacle Church
Office of the Senior Pastor
James David Gailliard
State of the Church Report
Saturday, February 22, 2020
Grace and peace be multiplied to each of you through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As I write to you, on this the 15th anniversary of our ministry, I find myself unusually torn. A lot has been said lately concerning clergy mental health and I clearly understand why. On one hand, I am more excited than ever before. Afterall, we are reporting one of the strongest years we have had in our history. Every numerical indicator suggests we are indeed a growing church. In 2019, baptisms, new member additions, decisions, youth participation, thrive groups, etc., all increased. And yet, there are still so many elephants left in the room. I must confess that killing, cutting up, and eating elephants is exhausting. So, I am torn.
I am torn because we live in a strange church age. As I occasionally watch social media, IGTV and YouTube videos, I am amazed at how popular preaching involves very little actual scripture. Just the other day, I watched a preacher just to see how long he spoke before a scripture was referenced – 26 minutes. When the scripture was referenced, there was no careful exposition; only popular and trendy application. When this begins to become the menu for society, it makes it very difficult to do ministry. So, I am torn.
I am torn between “we are doing a lot” and “we aren’t doing enough”. I am torn between the history of the 85 members who are deceased and the hope of those that are joining now. I am torn in celebration of the thousands of people that give and serve, and the thousands who don’t. I am torn between the principals and the people that got us this far, and the philosophy and the people that will take us further…..or backwards. I am torn on how to serve the 50+ generation who represent the single biggest block of givers while also attracting a younger generation who often don’t share the same commitment and faithfulness. I am torn between grace and law. I am torn between tradition and contemporary. I am torn between those with paid mortgages, multiple vehicles, and a vacation home as well as those in public housing receiving SNAP benefits. I am torn between those that are building and those that are breaking. I am torn between those who are blessing babies and those burying babies. I am torn between answers and questions. I am torn. And, I am tired. Yet, we press on. We press on because there is work to do. We press on because He that has begun a good work in us shall complete it. I do want us to be mindful, however, that this work comes with a cost. In 2005, when I was led by God to Rocky Mount to start Word Tabernacle Church, I was given a strange, yet sobering definition for vision. “Vision is life exchange.” Many of our early members embraced this definition and we sacrificed much to see the vision become what it is today. Perhaps, our future will not include the same degree of “exchange,” but it is my prayer that it would include people who are willing to sacrifice so that God’s Kingdom can continue to advance. So, in the midst of these tensions, where do we find ourselves?
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Perhaps, the biggest tension we face is understanding the balance of the gospel as BOTH social justice and justification by faith. As we attract new members and as our existing members gain exposure to other ministries, there is always a temptation to adjust Word Tabernacle into whatever the culturally popular size may be. It is like buying a pair of shoes a size too small just because you like them. In the end however, they will not be comfortable nor last long. We must and will resist this tendency. Church cannot simply be about a good feeling on Sunday. Evidence of “good church” is the motivation it brings to draw me closer to God and to be more compassionate to people. It is our understanding that the only way to transform places is to transform people; and when individuals meet Christ they bring that identity into the institutions they frequent.
If we were to take a moment to really process the crucifixion of Jesus, I believe we would see it and our response to it very differently. Consider the cliff notes version of what happened. A millennial man of color, raised by a man that was not his biological father, and made his living in the skilled trades, was sentenced to death by the government without having received access to a fair trial, although all the evidence suggested he was innocent. Pontius Pilate was not making a decision for the purpose of saving mankind. He was making a political decision to not allow another kingdom that would right every wrong to be introduced into their society. Jesus was representing a world of economic justice in which everyone had the material basics of society. Jesus was offering a world of peace and nonviolence. In the world of Jesus, the language “kingdom” was political. Jesus’ hearers were familiar with the kingdom of Herod and the kingdom of Rome. The kingdom of God had to be something very different than those two. If Jesus wanted to avoid a political, economic justice message, he would have used the terms “family” of God, “community” of God, or “people” of God. Instead, Jesus spoke of the “kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God is for the earth because according to the Lord’s prayer, it already exists in heaven. So, our belief must cause us to change what we see on the earth. This is the intersecting point of justification by faith and social justice. The statement on Social Justice and the Gospel by key evangelical leaders is simply wrong.
Most Christians tend to fall into two variations of the same error. Some confuse the work of God for human action or cultural achievements. Alternatively, they pit God’s saving work against all human action or virtue. As odd sounding as it is, God’s work in Christ is undermined by both approaches making Christ only half a Savior.
Jesus not only frees us from the guilt of sin, but also of its power in our lives. God makes us into new creatures in his Son and enables us to walk according to the grace of God. The gospel we find in God’s Word is greater than we imagine. This is the core of our identity in Christ and as Word-ites.
Justice does the work of making things right; we see this all the time in our daily lives. Whether it be in righting the wrong of breaking civil laws by giving someone a speeding ticket or teaching your child to apologize and amend the situation when they have hurt a friend, we experience and practice making things right every day. Justice makes things right when they are not as they should be - when laws are broken, order is disrupted, and peace is compromised. Justice protects the righteous design of how things are made to work together.
Here’s the thing—True justice can never be divorced from the gospel because the gospel is the supreme act of justice.
The tension between the good news of the gospel and call to seek justice is really no tension at all. The connection between the gospel and justice are inextricably tied together, and in fact, cannot be separated without compromising the truth. The gospel is the greatest act of justice for all time because it is in the gospel we find Jesus making all things right. Jesus lived justly; obedient to the Father to the point of death on a cross so that the sins of the world would be made right. Jesus bore the weight and judgment of sin in his body on the cross so that believers may be justified —made right.
This is the gospel and this is ultimate justice. We cannot share the gospel without speaking of justice. We cannot truly walk in justice without connecting our actions back to the gospel as our motivation.
Walking in justice cannot be divorced from the gospel because the gospel is God’s justice at work. As the church, in our efforts to walk in justice without losing the gospel, we must do the work of remembering.
All throughout scripture, the Lord calls his people to remember: Remember who He is (Exodus 20:2), remember where they came from (Deuteronomy 9:7), remember who they are (Isaiah 44:21) and remember what the Lord has done (Deuteronomy 8). By giving the command to remember, the Lord himself is remembering that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14), and we so easily forget. In our efforts to walk in justice, we are called to remember who we were, who we are, who the Lord is, and what he has done.
Remember, without the gospel, we are all enslaved to something (Rom 6:6, Gal 4:3).
Remember, without the gospel, we are the orphan (John 14:18, Lamentations 5:3).
Remember, without the gospel, we are the stranger and alien (Eph 2:12, Philip 3:20).
Remember, without the gospel, we are the homeless (1 Corinthians 4:11, Hebrews 11:14).
Remember, without the gospel, we are the hungry and thirsty (Psalm 107:9, John 4:13).
God has made right these injustices in our lives through the gospel by becoming our Freedom, our Father, our Home, our Living Bread and our Water. By remembering that we were at one time destitute and in need of justice in every way, we gain deep compassion for those who are currently suffering injustice. Because of the justice the Lord has extended to us in Christ, we can walk in true justice—justice that brings the hope and healing of the gospel to the soul and the body.
The church has the ability and the responsibility to walk in obedience to Jesus by walking in justice as scripture has laid out for us. This justice cares for the physical body and this justice offers the gospel as the ultimate justice for all that needs to be made right. Every act of injustice comes from a heart of idolatry. When we are living in obedience to the Great Commandments of Christ—loving God and neighbor—we will walk in justice.
As Word-ites, we must honor our truest identity in Christ which requires that we love, do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. When we offer something for our members and not the community, our actions are not exemplary of justice. When we benefit from the serving and giving of other people and we fail to give and serve, that is not justice. When we judge, condemn, and gossip, that is not mercy. When we fail to sacrifice, that is not humility.
My appeal to our members, all members is that we commit to mending what is torn as evidence of our love for God and for one another.
I believe this is going to prove to be our greatest year yet.
Stronger! Deeper! Higher!
Pastor James D. Gailliard