Can the church find hope again?

I’m heartbroken, in shock and saddened. Rachel Held Evans, one of the pinnacles of Progressive Christianity, met Jesus face-to-face. She dared us to question and swim upstream. She dared us to see the world from the stance of Christ and be His hands and feet.

Her words are threaded throughout my thesis and her life is echoed throughout my calling. As we pause and pray for Rachel’s family, let us remember her heartbeat, let us remember her love for all people and her challenge to the whole church.

As we step into our sanctuaries, let us leave differently. Let us leave changed and challenged by the grace of God to be the heart of God.

Rachel was the heralding voice that rose above the chaos – she was the standing reed that dared us to accompany her strike.

In so many ways, she was the one who gave me hope for the church.

Here are 4 ways that Rachel shaped my calling and my perception of the church:

Embrace the Mess 

“But the gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, “Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.” – RHE

We are all on equal ground. Each of us is messed up, messy, and/or dealing with a mess! However, we are all invited to minister – to take on the burdens of one another and be like Christ to one another. This does not require perfection, but willingness. It requires that we reach out and make ourselves available. It requires us to simply love our neighbor.

Embrace the Stranger. 

“What makes the Gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in.” – RHE

“God’s ways are higher than our ways not because he is less compassionate than we are but because he is more compassionate than we can ever imagine.” – RHE

The gospel is offensive because it’s the heartbeat of God for the prostitute and the Pharisee – it’s the picture of hope and grace regardless of one’s perfect record or criminal record. It is the beauty of grace coming down to earth and empathizing with humanity. When we understand the purpose of the incarnation, we understand the purpose of our calling. 

Embrace the Questions 

“Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; that latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter a virtue. – RHE

If you tell me that you’ve never questioned your faith, your circumstances, or your convictions, then you’re either lying or have a surface-level belief.

Doubt is normal: it gives us the opportunity to engage with God and ask questions, raise our fists, raises our concerns, beat our chest, and enter into a dialogue.

Doubt reminds us that faith is a journey and a destination. It reminds us that we’re human and that Jesus took on flesh to understand the same questions that plague our mind daily. Just because Jesus has the answers doesn’t mean that He expects us to not ask questions. Rachel taught me and encouraged me to explore my doubt, own my doubt, and abide in my doubt – alongside my faith. Questions are not antagonistic to faith, but reactionary from faith. If we’re not questioning, then we’re not doing much with our lives or our faith.

Embrace the Diversity

“Perhaps the most radical thing we followers of Jesus can do in the information age is treat each other like humans-not heroes, not villains, not avatars, not statuses, not Republicans, not Democrats, not Calvinists, not Emergents-just humans. This wouldn’t mean we would stop disagreeing, but I think it would mean we would disagree well.” – RHE

“Perhaps we could push beyond these legalistic gender roles if we spent less time worrying about “acting like men” and “acting like women,” and more time acting like Jesus.” – RHE

All of us are made in the image of God, but not all of us are made the same. The goal is not to look like everyone else, but to live out the individual calling that God gave each of us. This happens through individuals painted in tattoos and those painted in 3-piece suits. We’ve all been given a mission, a purpose, and a calling, but we’re only effective when we operate in our identity. That means that the face of Christ can be Democrat, Republican, Baptist, or Episcopalian.  As soon as we compare appearances or ballots, we lose sight of the calling of Christ and lose the ability to communicate the way that God made us. 

Embrace the Truth 

 “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.” – RHE

People are not leaving the church because they’re bored with the lack of interaction but shocked by the lack of compassion. Rachel knit together a community of doubters, skeptics, and outsiders, and reminded them that they were cherished, purposed, and beloved by God. She stood in the gap and reminded the church that generations are not looking for a change in presentation, but a change in compassion.

Let us choose to pick up the page where Rachel left off. Let us pick up the pen and continue the narrative. Let us continue to be known as Christians who are compassionate – let us continue to be known as Christians who choose to look like Christ.