What Churches Must Do in Rapidly Changing Times
This is the second part of a larger post on the relationship between the church and emerging American culture.
Because so many things are changing at such a fast pace, and on such a profoundly fundamental level in our culture, the church in America stands at a crossroads. There are many choices to make, among them: how then do we live as God's people in such changing times?
Some professing evangelical leaders have chosen to ignore the changes for all practical purposes, continuing to do what they have always done, thinking that eventually 'things will improve.'
This is naive thinking.
Other professing evangelicals have chosen the other route, and that is to willingly and almost eagerly adapt to the culture by mimicking the culture. In doing so, core doctrines and beliefs were either jettisoned or altered to 'fit the times' (relevance being the buzzword), and their theology shifted from being theocentric (God-centric) to anthropocentric (man-centered). In simplest terms, such churches and leaders were all too willing to pursue being liked by man as opposed to pleasing and honoring God. The irony of course is that for the most part, the secular culture still rejects their diluted message and continues to demand conformity to new and emerging social norms. The end result will be nothing short of a church that may talk about Jesus, but teach and believe nothing that resembles what Jesus believed and taught. As the weight of this new Dark Age sets in, this church will not survive because at the end of the day, a fully secular person will have no need for a secular 'church' experience.
Still others rely on gimmicks and attractional methods to 'draw people in.' It's showmanship baptized with a bible verse or two, taken out of context, sprinkled with a little comedy, a little motivation and affirmation and a little self-help thrown in for good measure to help people feel better about themselves for an hour. This kind of thing still 'draws' a certain part of the evangelical sub-culture, but as we enter this new era, this new Dark Age, this church will not survive. It will not survive because it was built during times of comfort and does not have the depth nor bearings to deal with hard and difficult times. Consumers will opt out when things get tough.
What is a church to do? I propose the following as being essential for evangelicals moving forward in this emerging culture:
1) We must value theology and doctrine, teaching both and passing them along so the faith can be preserved. Theology is the study of God. Everyone is a theologian. The question is: are we doing good or bad theology ? Is our view of God biblical or cultural? Doctrine deals with the core beliefs and teachings of Scripture. As the new Dark Ages appeared on the horizon appproximately 20 years ago, it was fashionable to say 'doctrine divides,' or 'no doctrine but Jesus.'
Actually, doctrine informs and unites and is important-what we believe is either biblical or unbiblical. And as for the saying 'no doctrine but Jesus?' that begs the question: 'Which Jesus? The Jesus of culture? The historical Jesus? The Jesus of Scripture? My 'personal Jesus?' '
For the faith to be preserved moving forward, we must run to the study of theology and doctrine so orthodox evangelicalism can be passed down to the next generations. This starts in the home and must continue in the life and community of the church. Bible study groups, discipleship groups, Sunday school, preaching-anything taught to all ages, must intentionally focus on helping believers grow as theologians and in understanding the core doctrines of our faith.
I praise God for the discipleship groups in our church and how those learning communities are not only multiplying, but also growing in depth.
2) Prayer. Our church is a praying church and we must grow even more as a praying church. The end-vision is to be a church where prayer is happening 24/7/365. It is impossible to have a strong, vibrant faith apart from regular, disciplined individual and corporate prayer. For the church to have strength and vitality moving forward, prayer must be central to life on an individual and corporate level.
3) Missional communities. Going into communities to study, pray and serve will be exceptionally important moving forward. Relying on 'come and see' or 'come and hear,' approaches will yield little fruit as the culture responds by asking 'why?' to such invitations. We must go where they are to flesh out our faith, demonstrating it even as we declare it, speaking the truth in love and serving others.
The model that will yield stronger Christians and churches will be one in which the people of God gather for worship and study and go out in smaller communities into the city to continue growing, learning, serving and being on mission together.
There is more of course. Space limits my ability to write about the importance of thinking in terms of ways churches can provide Christian education and vocational training, how churches should and must have forums to carefully think through ways Christians can be a part of redeeming the arts and sciences as well as the marketplace and certainly strengthening the family and communities.
The point being:tiems have changed so much, and will continue to, that we must anchor who we are and what we do in the timeless person and work of Jesus Christ, and return to the 'ancient paths,' those clear words from Scripture that call us to be the countercultural people we've always been called to be.
This is how our light can shine in this growing darkness.
Grace to You,