Leith Anderson is president emeritus of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor emeritus of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. He served as NAE president from 2007-2019, after twice serving as interim president. He served as senior pastor of Wooddale Church for 35 years before retiring in 2011. He has been published in many periodicals and has written over 20 books. Anderson has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Bradley University and Denver Seminary.
Turn your head to Charleston, South Carolina, to see the Church as God’s best in the worst of times. CNN reported that Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is “the spiritual community that wowed the world with its forgiveness in the face of the darkest evil.” After a white shooter killed nine Christians, including the pastor, at evening Bible study in June, the congregation gathered to grant forgiveness and pray for the murderer.
This was not the first time that “Mother Emanuel” church lived out her Christian faith in the midst of adversity. The congregation was founded in 1816 as one of America’s first independent black churches when Charleston laws expected black church services to be limited to daylight hours, required all churches to have a majority of white members and prohibited black literacy. The building was burned down. Leaders were imprisoned, beaten and executed by the authorities. Eventually all black churches in the city were outlawed.
Through two centuries God blessed and prospered a church that remained loyal to Jesus Christ. Famous long before 2015, visitors now come from around the world to join thousands of local church members in Sunday services.
Mother Emanuel is not described as a megachurch (although it has been one since before the term became popular). The congregation isn’t most known for its politics (although Pastor Richard H. Cain was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1873-1875, and Pastor Clementa C. Pinckney was a longtime member of the South Carolina Senate until he was one of the martyred nine in 2015). Emanuel AME Church is most known for love, forgiveness, faithfulness and simply being the Church of Jesus Christ.
Charleston is not the only city with a great church. There are hundreds of thousands more in hamlets, villages, towns and megacities across our land. We’ve never heard of most of them and never will. They are studying the Bible, forgiving sinners, helping the poor, evangelizing unbelievers and simply doing what Jesus founded them to do — be the Church of Jesus Christ.
This article originally appeared in Evangelicals magazine.