Friday, November 23, 2007

Somethings Happenin Here, What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear

Over the past couple of months I have had numerous conversations -- in Africa, Canada, Indonesia, and in the USA -- with people ranging in age from their early 20's to their mid 70's -- and the conversations have all had a number of things in common. These conversations have had me thinking, and here I am, it is 1:00 am in the morning, the day after American Thanksgiving, and I can't sleep.

I am still seeing, "as in a mirror darkly", but I feel like some things are becoming clearer. Let me "freely associate" some about what I have been hearing in conversations and sensing in my heart. Some of you who read this will probably say "duh", others may think I had too much turkey, and perhaps for some of you these thoughts may spark further ideas.

1. I think there is almost universal agreement that we are either at the end of "modernism" or in the final stages of "modern" thought in North America and much of the western world. What there isn't agreement about is where we are going and what we are transitioning into. The changes in western thought and culture have come relatively quickly, affecting every part of society -- including the church. Lots of people are thinking, blogging, writing and talking about what the future may hold. It is becoming clear to me that in the evangelical world two streams are emerging in response to the changes in our culture, and that these two streams are moving side-by-side, but not necessarily intersecting. In fact, the sense I get is that these two streams are moving further apart.

2. I think there is growing disillusionment with the evangelical/charismatic church as it is exists in North America. This disillusionment is not just among those in their 20's and 30's -- but is increasingly widespread among all age groups. As a result, more and more people are either dropping out of church, and/or are becoming less and less engaged in their churches. Many of these people are desiring a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Jesus, are wanting their lives to make a difference in their communities and/or around the world, but are finding that the church is either in the way, or not helpful in their spiritual journey.

In the last week I have spent time with two small groups of believers who have a significant desire to impact the world -- one group was focused primarily on the community they lived in, the other on Africa. Both saw the church as a possible ally, but were focusing their efforts on creating other mechanisms to fulfill their God-given dreams because they realized that if they were going to accomplish what they believe God was calling them to, the church would probably make their lives much more complicated, and hinder their calling -- not help them fulfill it. Since I work in a church, this made me rather sad -- but I couldn't help but agree with their perspective. I know how they feel.

3. There is a growing "Jesus Movement". Christians want to know Jesus and be like Him. They are forming small groups, missional communities, loose associations, networks and all kinds of structures and mechanisms that they sense will help them become more like Christ, grow closer to Him, and enable them to fulfill God's calling on their lives. These alternative structures are usually being created outside of the structures of existing churches or religious institutions. They are informal and viral, committed to creating community with a purpose. Some are focused around local issues and causes. Others focus on global issues. BUT ALL of them are focused on Christ, and are relational within the context of a greater missional purpose. My sense is that these alternative structures and mechanisms will grow in number and influence. I wonder whether existing churches will embrace them unconditionally -- or only embrace them if they become part of the existing church structures and all that comes with that.

4. As is often the case in times of transition, the status quo, the existing power structures, when feeling threatened, have a tendency to strike out against those without power, who are on the edges of a movement, and who question the way things have been done. If you read history, Christian or secular, you quickly discover that change doesn't come from the centers of power or wealth -- it always comes from the edges. I sense this is happening today in the church on a variety of fronts. Those who have asked theological questions or have suggested new ways of "doing church" have at times been called heretics and/or had their character or relationship with God called into question. Sometimes the response from those on the edge has been in the same un-Christ-like spirit -- and so, instead of talking in meaningful ways that might provide some new insights into the Gospel and living like Jesus, only further division has resulted.

5. There is a movement toward a wholistic Gospel -- a Gospel, that like Jesus, is primarily about service -- about "power under" rather than "power over". This gives me hope for the church. I see this movement globally -- and now finally coming to North America.

6. The attractional model of church in North America is struggling and becoming increasingly ineffective. While some churches are trying hard to mix an attractional model of doing church with a semi-incarnational model (for example by becoming multi-site churches), I am not sure this will work. The church growth/seeker-sensitive model of the 70' - 90's will work less and less effectively in the years to come. But churches that have been built on the attractional model have buildings to pay for, and lots of emotional, psychological and physical investment in this approach. Change will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, without enormous challenges and lots of risk.

The attractional model will most-likely make church increasingly irrelevant to the existing culture. Research indicates that in the USA this model of church is only interesting, at most, to about 33-40% of non-church-going people. That leaves at least 60% of unchurched America uninterested in church. I am beginning to become convinced -- more and more -- that churches need to become part of the "warp and woof" (using an old Francis Schaeffer term) of a community. In other words, churches need to truly be incarnational -- they need to be part of the life of a community -- not just located in a community. Only if we plant communities of Gods people that are committed to genuine community transformation will we see God's kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

7. More and more people are realizing that you cannot consume your way into a deeper relationship with God, and into deeper discipleship. This is a challenge for churches that have largely become dispensers of religious goods and services. Hot worship bands, multitudes of often excellent programs, etc. do not make disciples. Service in the context of Biblical community does -- and that is what people are looking for more and more. It is in service in the community and the world that we will find Jesus.

8. I am becoming convinced that everything must change. We need to question much. We need to read the Scriptures with an open mind and heart. We need to try and unlearn much of what we have been taught. We need to ask Jesus to take the blinders from our eyes and see His heart, His way of being and doing, and ask Him "how then shall we live"? If we continue the way we are we will die.

I want my life to count. God wants my life to count. While I am very grateful for those who have taught me much over the years I have followed Christ, I have a growing sense I need to relearn and sometimes unlearn what it means to follow Jesus. That will take faith and courage, lots of God's grace and friends who will encourage me to question, who will listen to me, who will agree with me, disagree with me, argue with me, challenge me and love me.

Well, it is 2:00 am, and I am running out of steam. As I read this post over, I realize that I have not said everything I want to say, and much of what I have said I have said poorly. I will probably come back to these ideas several times over the next few months. As my Facebook profile says, my views on religion are emerging, changing, developing and growing. I trust that is a good thing.


Kenny Collins said...

I just finished reading your post and I am in total agreement with your thoughts. I have the same feelings stirring within me. I feel like I have have had to unlearn so much and am beginning again to learn what its like to follow Christ daily. I am still on this journey and at times feel so disconnected from organied church but connected to many believers who are "outside the walls of the church bulding" discovering what it means to be "the Church". I appreciate/applaud your courage to be so open and honest.

Anonymous said...


Your blog is much less menacing than most I see these days in regards to a new reformation or revolution regarding church. I am in a church that went mega, seeker friendly and in the process it seems has lost the power of the gospel. I am now in the peculiar position of seeking something different, too, interestingly enough - a throwback to the church being the community. (something we lost as we practiced man made church growth methodology) I do not do not believe that this new breed, mostly called emergent, are the answer at all! So much of the 'conversation' is far from anything Christ centered (if he gets mentioned at all!) and is so much of the puffing up of themselves. They just seem like modern day tv evangelists, don't you think?