Perkins: ‘We Need a New Style of Church’

By Don Meyer

ROSEMONT, IL (February 1, 2011) – It was a call to the Church – a call for a new style of Church that will come together in a new way to carry the whole gospel to the whole world.

In a stirring message to pastors gathered for the 2011 Midwinter Conference at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, Dr. John Perkins also called for prophetic voices that will challenge the scourge of greed that he believes has gripped our culture.

A familiar voice to many throughout the Evangelical Covenant Church, Perkins and his wife, Vera Mae, are the co-founders of Calvary Ministries in Mendenhall, Mississippi, as well as the Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, California. They also established the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development to advance principles of Christian community development and racial reconciliation throughout the world.

“Tonight could be a coming together – overcoming the dichotomy of faith and works, left and right, evangelicals and liberals,” Perkins began.

He recounted his early years, trying to reconcile religion with the bigotry that was evident around him. America, the most religious society, had set up a system of apartheid. He had to find a way to reconcile that.

“When we repent, that’s when God empowers us to carry on his work, a chance for a new beginning,” he said. That work, he suggested, involves the whole church carrying the whole gospel to the whole world.

His mother died when Perkins was just seven – he never really knew her. “I was longing for love,” he said. “I was lonely – I was longing to be loved.” It was in a little holiness church in Pasadena that he encountered God – “he met my longing.”

Reciting the passage from Gal. 2:20, he noted that the Apostle Paul spoke of his own loneliness, declaring that he was able to live his life “only through faith in the son of God who loved me. That’s the message. It was the first time in my life that I realized I was loved by a holy God.”

And it is that same message that he believes the world so desperately needs today – that God loves each one of his creatures very deeply.

“Conversion is when you try to love that God back, he observed. “Paul felt that on the Damascus Road – he was apprehended by God’s love and spent his life trying to love him back. That’s what it means to be a Christian and to bring other people to that love.”

He recited a series of oppressive situations throughout the world where dictators have abused the people and impoverished them, chiding the U.S. for its role in propping up many of those governments. “We didn’t practice justice at home.”

He also decried what he sees as a crisis of leadership and a lack of prophetic voices.

“Our own self interests and greed have closed off that prophetic voice,” he suggested. “The only person in the Bible who was called a fool was the one who hoarded everything for himself.”

He finds it disturbing how the U.S. government provided all of the massive financial bailouts, and yet one man individually earned $5 billion off the faltering economic system. “We have a system of greed that is out of control – the greed of Wall Street pulled the whole world down,” he said. “Stewardship is a justice issue.”

Where are the prophetic voices to challenge that system, he asks, quickly adding that justice is in reality a justice issue?

“Some people have problems dealing with justice,” he notes. “It’s sort of a ‘tack-on’ to the gospel for many. We are justified by Christ’s sacrifice. The gospel is an explanation of God’s justice and how he went about the redemption process. This just God justified you and me and loves all of us equally.” The opposite is injustice – excluding others, he said.

Perkins learned later in life that his mother had died from malnutrition – “she didn’t have enough to eat.” Now at age 80, he says he thinks often about meeting her some day and wondering what she will say to him. Noting all of the blessings he has enjoyed in life – a good education, speaking engagements and successful ministries – he says that in the end, he hopes that he simply will be found to have been a good servant.

But, he confessed, he worries she may look past all of his accomplishments and ask instead, “What did you do for mothers like me? Did you use your influence well?”

“We need to plant a new style of church,” he said, returning to his opening theme. “We know the problem . . . and we have the solution in the Bible. I want to see churches planted in communities of need.”

He spoke of the dangers of mega churches, suggesting they often can draw people out of their own neighborhoods to participate in worship some distance away. “They worship, but they do not always go back into their neighborhoods to serve. Bigness is not necessarily better.”

Of particular concern is the need to raise leaders out of a local community and help them develop – and then get them to go back to that community. “They leave and do not return – brain drain. The challenge is to take an indigenous person and give them hope.”

“This may be the generation that makes our national creed a reality: one nation,” he said in closing. “The world needs to see us working, establishing churches in difficult places and working together.

“This is a special moment in history. The church needs to speak to those in leadership – that’s our job. And we need to speak of the need for justice.

“We need to lock arms around this one mission: to proclaim the love of God.”

In his benedictory remarks, ECC President Gary Walter praised Perkins, his ministry and his passion. “The gospel changes everything it touches,” Walter observed. “We are to be about the task of sharing the whole gospel for the whole person for the whole world.”

He then challenged listeners to think on this question through the remainder of the week’s activities: “Will you use your influence well?”

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