When we talk about The Church, we often associate it with the building, the institution. While the building and the institution are necessary to manage the community and to lend credibility to Christianity, it should be obvious that by “The Church” we mean the community of believers. The Church is always The Body of Christ, made up of believers living in a community of a network of Christ-like relationships.
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2: 19-22)
God lives in us and when we are in Christ-like relationships with one another (joined together) we jointly become a holy temple in the Lord. The Church is us and His living in and among us makes this Body of Christ very powerful. It is that power that sustains the Church and will keep it going until the end.
I believe the power of the Body of Christ will become increasingly evident in the future. The church will become less institutional and more communal. The institution may remain but its leaders must be prepared to face the consequences of being so visible as the apostles did in the early church. The institutional church should also be prepared to dispose of its assets to help the community church pastor/priest and members because they will need it.
As The Church becomes a network of small nearly autonomous communities, the key people who will be leading in her survival will be the pastors/priests — not the “corporate” pastors/priests but the personal pastors/priests who can identify with their flock. It is those pastors/priests who can get involved with the lives of their followers who will be able to guide his/her flock through the trying times ahead. They are the spiritual leaders who will become relevant to the lives of Christians as they grapple with the struggles of living in societies increasingly hostile towards them.
They will not be like the conventional leaders we are familiar with. They have to be a different kind of spiritual leaders. They have to be very close to the ground and understand the larger cultures in which their flocks exist. They have to be tough but innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents because they will have to help their flock navigate through treacherous times. They need to be very real, very knowledgeable of the times they are living in and have the inner strength to confront these realities and help their followers deal with them by grace. If leaders do not know how to live by grace in a culture adverse to them, their flocks and their beliefs, they will be unable to help their sheep keep the faith.
There will have to be a large number of such leaders, effectively trained to lead their small flocks through the future. They may no longer work for the institutional church, but do other jobs like anyone else in the marketplace. They will not only be spiritual leaders, but non-conformists, strategists and fighters all rolled into one! People who will stand up against the tide and lead their flock through it.
If I were living in the end times, that’s the kind of leader I would have confidence in.