The Church in America is in decline. That is not a new notion, and people have given a myriad of reasons why. That is not new either, and to some degree they all have a piece of the picture.
I am not going to say I have it all figured out. Rather, I have some thoughts kicking around in my head that I want to bring to an already extensive conversation. I have a deep conviction that a piece of the problem facing the Church moving forward simply lies in measuring the wrong things.
In an attempt to move our focus onto things that matter, I want to throw out some truths the Church must leverage to measure success and failure in our culture moving forward.
- We are in the changed lives business. What we do is point people to Jesus. The reality that Jesus wants to save us really matters, but it is not the whole story, and people are tired of an anemic Gospel message that says Jesus wants to save us — only. Jesus not only wants to save us, He wants to heal us and set us free, and that needs to be celebrated.
- The Gospel (the Good News) is for today, not only for after we die. The heaven “trump card” is a tired play. I need a God who is present and alive and active today. And that is actually the message of the whole Gospel. The Good News is that the King has broken the power of the rulers in our lives and given us power to live and a new reality to work from that promises peace and freedom through the Holy Spirit.
- God is not mad. It is critical we begin to talk about God this way. When we continue to tell people the story of how bad their sin is and miss the inspirational reality of how big God’s grace is and how much He loves us, we not only invite people to defensiveness, but we present a mentally and emotionally unhealthy relationship with God.
- Authenticity is the power of the Church in the culture. Whether you like it or not, the world does not care if Christianity is true. For all of our efforts apologetics and debating faith issues (and there is a place for this conversation, but it is among believers), we have not advanced the Kingdom at all. The Church is still in decline, and we are not fixing anything by drawing bigger and broader lines in the sand. People do not care if Christianity is true so much as much as they want to know if it actually works. Does this actually work for you? Are you smoking what you are selling?
- Doing means more than talking. James says that faith without works is dead. Our culture says talk is cheap. Regardless of how you say it, people are tired of hearing supposedly mature people make broad statements about faith, but in practice act like fools. This looks like talking, without relationship, about the evils of others. This looks like a disconnected critique of others. If Jesus says to love our enemies and the greatest must be the servant of all, then that is what the Church should be known for. I wonder what that would be like.
- Moral stances mean less than open dialogue. Having an opinion is not evil, but assuming or acting as if anyone who doesn’t share my opinion is a fool is evil. We must be able to stand firmly in our convictions without demeaning people who think differently. It is the very fact that we can love others regardless of where they stand which gives weight to our message.
There are many others to add to the list. What would you add? At a minimum, I hope this can get the conversation rolling.