Thoughts on the Future of the Church

Here is a blog I recently read:

I was recently reading a blog post by Ed Stetzer. He was talking about what some of the new research suggests in regard to how people are viewing the church today and how that is changing as opposed to how to people viewed the church in times past.

I also recently read another blog about the difference between the church today and 30 years ago.

I read a blog this morning about the seven things the church needs to do to have repeat success…

Here is a funny observation: none of the things listed in the seven things for repeated success blog address any of the issues talked about in the blogs on how church has been affected by cultural change. So, ultimately, if you do these seven things to repeat success, you are either (A) doing the same wrong thing better, or (B) leading people down a larger path to destruction by not dealing with what they are actually thinking about and wrestling with in their lives.

Why would you do that?

So, in an attempt to actually give some pertinent advice to help the Kingdom of God come crashing into earth in our culture, I want to give some observations that I see shaping the cultural perception of the church and how I think the church could respond in order to navigate what I observe as a fairly large shift in church history.

  1. Culture in general is leveling the playing field in regards to authority. The pastor used to be a person of importance by virtue of his position alone. This is no longer true.

Maybe it is too many news reports on leaders being dishonest, maybe it is something else. But this is not a church problem, it is a cultural shift. No one is a victim here. And that matters.

Church leaders are all too ready to play the role of victim and cry out about how the culture is becoming more and more evil as we see people lose respect for authority. But let's be honest, perhaps the bigger issue is that authority lost respect for the people that it exists to help. And perhaps greed in authority laid a path for the loss of respect altogether.

People don't trust the government, police officers, or clergy. The good news is that this shift isn't an attack on the church. It is an attack on those who aren't putting their money where their mouth is. And that is okay. Does it put pressure on us as Christians and as church leaders? Yep. But my experience has been that people are very willing to give respect. However, it will be earned - not granted.

So what is the solution? 2 parts in my opinion…

First, Preachers must stop preaching about the reality of their ideals without sitting squarely in their struggle to achieve those ideals. There is a LOT more to be said about this, but this is a blog, not a book. So, suffice it to say that when you talk about all your ideals without acknowledging your struggle, you paint a picture so rosy that the culture looks at you and says that you are either lying or more perfect than I could ever be. Either way, I don't want any part of what you are doing.

Second, Preachers need to give room in their sermons for people who have messed up. Preaching on the moral evils of abortion without acknowledging hope for those who have actually had abortions (and they are in your church) only robs them of the ability to talk about it and be set free from the guilt. Preaching on the abomination of homosexuality and not intentionally creating space for those who feel like they are struggling with this issue to talk about it is an equation for disaster. Preaching cannot only contain right and wrong anymore. We MUST capture the tension of failure and the hope of God's agenda of restoration.

I would suggest that a great place to start would be to stop focusing on people's sinfulness. They already know they are sinners. And start focusing on God's goodness. Jesus said - If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me. How about if we get away from the discussion on election of the saints and start lifting up Jesus and His desire for the restoration of all things.

  1. Culture in general has moved away from truth in clean categories. We used to be able to give systematic theologies, clean prepositional boundaries, and apologetical presentations. These have less and less affect on our younger generations. That is not because the devil got a better foot hold!!! It is because culture has changed how we have the conversation about truth as a whole. And the church must figure out how to engage the conversation in terms that people can hear.

5 steps or 7 ways or 27 things… I don't even want to read these kinds of articles. How many times have we read about 5 steps to affair proof your marriage and still struggled with wanting to cheat? And even simpler, how many times have we read about or listened to someone talk about 7 steps to a healthier you? and yet we didn't workout - because it isn't dealing with the real issues that are keeping from exercising in the first place.

It is like a husband that hears his wife express a problem and then give her 5 steps to a happier self. It demeans her pain. And when I express a struggle to someone and then they just move to well if you just did…

I secretly want to punch them in the face. The TRUTH is that living life isn't slick or clean or simple. And as the world gets smaller, the issues that we wrestle with in how we live out our faith are becoming more and more complex.

To reduce my life to 5 steps? Come on! It isn't that simple.

Perhaps a better way to talk about these issues is to leave the tension there rather than trying to resolve it away. The answer for the world is Jesus, not my 5 steps. Keep pointing people to Him and I bet the "things of this earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."

Pain does happen and abuse is real and right and wrong are not always simple or easy. And 5 steps to resolving it all away doesn't change it or deal with the reality of the emotion that I am captured by. Those steps demean my pain and turn me off from wanting to hear you ever again.

  1. What activities motivate people to serve the Lord and how we even define that has changed. Serving the church, and global missions (which meant throwing money at people to go over there) was a core issue for the church of the previous generation. Today, the younger generation is not loyal to the church. They want to serve people - people who they see need help.

I will give an example… this Thanksgiving, a 15 year old girl in our church decided to take on the monumental task of feeding 500 families for Thanksgiving. Not people - families! She organized food drives, worked with food banks, raised money and organized a meal. It was a raging success! She fed over 620 families and exceed anything I thought she could get done.

What intrigued me was who was excited to help with the meal. We had servers, cooks, table hosts, people milling around and just visiting with those who came. And we had too much help. Too many people showed up to help with this meal! And the best part… they were almost all young college and high school students. This 16-23 year old age range got excited about feeding the needy in their own community. And that says a lot.

What also says a lot is who was not there. As I saw it, there were very few folks from the 50+ crowd there to serve. And that is not wrong or lazy on their part. It is an awareness piece for the church to notice what motivates people to serve the Lord and how do we give them opportunities to do so?

On the flip side, there are things that our church does (i.e. buying school supplies for entire schools, service project days for the entire community, etc.) that are very motivating to the 50+ crowd without having a string turn out from the younger folks at all.

We need to see this so that we don't get stuck in a rut of doing the same things that we have always done and wondering why people have "turned their backs on God" because they are not showing up. Perhaps the issue isn't their love for God at all. Perhaps it has more to do with the activity itself.

  1. The church has to care about "those people." Whomever the "those people" are in your community (poor, homeless, drug addicts, prison inmates, homosexual community, etc.), the church needs to invest a substantial amount of its budget toward reaching out and loving them.

Again, this is a blog post which is already too long, not a book so I will try to make this brief, but one of the biggest complaints that I hear from non-church goers is that the church spends all this money on buildings and staff and doesn't spend any money on the poor and needy.

Now, some of that is trumped up, no doubt. But where are the testimonies of how your church has reached out and met needs? Why don't people know these stories?

I would suggest that we have to stop measuring the effectiveness of our reaching out into the community based n how many people came to church as a result of it. And I know that will get me into hot water with some, but hear me out on this.

Jesus didn't say be generous in order to grow the church (or the Kingdom). He said be generous because that is what people who are in the Kingdom do. That is how they live. Business measures growth based on investment - R.O.I. The Kingdom measures faithfulness. Growth is God's problem. He says something about that. And yes this is a huge topic, but the point of the church is not to become a great big church. If that happens great, if not, great.

The point of the church is to be a community of people who love each other and give people a picture of what the Kingdom of God really is all about. I will bet that if the church would focus on being the best church for the community and not just the best church in the community - if we would focus on being a place that loves the people within our sphere of influence better than any where else, and stop trying to decide how many people came to church because we did such and such…

I'll bet we wouldn't have any trouble at all with growth.

There is a lot more that I would love to say, but I have rambled long enough and probably already gotten myself in to trouble. Let the conversation begin!