Plumb Line #7: The Local Church Is God’s “Plan A”

I’ve never been with someone on the last night of their life when they knew it was the last night of their life. I’ve never heard some saint pray a final prayer knowing it was their final prayer. But I would imagine it is a time of great clarity.

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow and could only ask for one thing today, what would you ask for?

John 17 contains the last recorded prayer that Jesus prayed on the night before he died. First he prays for himself and then his disciples. Then he does something that may surprise you:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
(John 17:20–23 NIV)

Did you notice that Jesus, in his last prayer, doesn’t pray for the world but instead for the believers in the world?

That may seem selfish. Or maybe it seems like Jesus doesn’t care about the world. But we know, of course, that Jesus cared so much about the world that he came into the world to save it.

So why does Jesus just pray for the believers and not the whole world? Because the hope for any community is found in the believers in that community.

If you want to pray for a people group, the best strategy is to pray for God to raise up and strengthen the believers within that group. At The Summit Church, we pray for America and the “Triangle” (the communities in and around Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill), but we mostly pray for the health of the churches in the Triangle.

The church is God’s “plan A” for working in the world. So when we pray for our world, the main thing we should pray for is the spiritual vitality of believers in the world.

What does this mean in the current season of political turmoil? It means you should pray for the election. Pray for the candidates’ salvation. But pray mostly for the church. Pray that the church will be healthy and bold and focused on and clear about the gospel.

It’s also important to note that in his final wishes, Jesus prays for us, as believers, to internalize God’s love.

He’s praying that we would love Jesus the way that God loves Jesus and we would love others like Jesus loves us. Because when we do that, people will know that he is real.

Do you remember the superhero show “The Invisible Man”? On the show, when someone wanted to make the Invisible Man visible, they would pour paint on him or throw dust at him. Then you could see his shape and track his movements.

The love in the local church is the paint that makes the invisible Christ visible to our community.

That love shows itself primarily in two ways:

First, we make Christ visible in how we serve our community.

When we have a love characterized by loving those who can’t pay us back, we show that he is at work among us. When we take in foster children and love prisoners and serve refugees and befriend political enemies—that’s when we make Jesus visible.

Second, his love inside us shows itself in the unity that binds us together.

When we lose our unity in the church, it’s because something has become more important to us than Jesus.

Some people, by the tone of what they put on their Facebook wall during this season, demonstrate that they care more about politics than they do about Jesus.

When we express our perspective, we should do so with a spirit of love and unity that declares that what we have in Jesus is greater than any opinions we have about secondary or tertiary matters. We need to give space and show grace.

I am convinced that if we lived this way—in loving unity, with the Spirit of Jesus—our evangelism efforts would get a whole lot more effective.

We wouldn’t have to invite people to come to our church. They’d be beating the doors down to come and see what’s going on. Who is this powerful, invisible superhero that fills and empowers your church? And then we’d tell them about Jesus.

Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” If you love and forgive and serve each other and serve your community and refuse to be divided from each other.

Love on display in the church is the church’s most powerful apologetic.

Plumb lines are a series of short, pithy statements that we, at the Summit, use as rallying points—both for our staff and for the entire church. They are a way to encapsulate our ministry philosophy in short, memorable phrases. Be sure to check out our entire list of plumb lines.