I am convinced that the way we understand and practice “church” is destined to change. I can say that with confidence because that is nothing new. The church has and should undergo change in various times and cultures (eg Sunday school = 1800s, LIFE Groups = 1980s?). As our culture changes (and it is changing at the most rapid pace in human history) the church will change as well. I will say it is not that the church itself is changing but the way we perceive it and how we express it and experience it will change. What is important is not that we never experience any change (which is the M.O. of some camps) but that we embody the principles God wants for his people, embrace the identity God has called us to and execute the mission Jesus has put before us. Change is inevitable and we shouldn’t fear it.
Having said that, there are some things that I think will drive the change that will happen in the coming years. Some are good and some aren’t. I will start with the ones that aren’t healthy and then work through some of my own questions and concerns that I think need to be addressed in order to change in ways that are healthy, beneficial and in tune with the kingdom of God.
Unhealthy drivers of change:
- Consumerism – Our nation is a consumer nation. We want people to meet our every need. We don’t just want it. We expect it. That pours over into the church. That cannot be the driving force of change because it will result in the exaltation of self ahead of God.
- Busyness – We are busy than ever. It is hard to embrace discipleship when our lives are busy piles of chaos. We run from thing to thing to the exclusion of things God has called us to do.
- Guilt – Once you realize there is a better path, it is far too easy to try to guilt people into trying something new. We can’t take that route either because it will lead people to be unhealthy, neurotic, and weak.
- New for newness sake – People like new things. When you start something new, growth often takes place. New is exciting, even addicting. That is why people can stand in line for hours and spend $700 to exchange their old iphone for the same phone in a new color (which is what the Verizon guy told me happened when they started offering a new color a while back). You can’t let the search for something new drive change because the answers won’t be found in how creative we can be but in how much we rely on God.
Here are the things we need to address in order to find healthy change and growth as God’s people:
- The way we have envisioned church has been good but not complete.
- We have emphasized various things to the exclusion of other things. Here is how you find out what is missing. Make a list of all the things the church emphasizes and acts upon on a regular basis. Then make a list of the things that were emphasized and acted upon by Jesus and the early church. Note the things that are missing and evaluate how significant they are (some differences may be cultural or insignificant and other things will be glaring omissions).
- We emphasize some things that weren’t really given that much emphasis in the New Testament.
- The early church had corporate worship. It was regular. It was needed. We still need it today. But it wasn’t everything. It didn’t accomplish everything either and it still doesn’t. We give a ton of attention to this.
- We don’t give enough emphasis to other things that were given a ton of emphasis in the New Testament.
- Jesus and the early church were evangelistic. They were all about making disciples. That is what got their attention. Somehow, today it feels like we give that little attention. How can there be such a disconnect on something that is so obvious.
- Our priorities are out of balance.
- Notice, I didn’t say they were wrong. They just aren’t the only priorities.
- Here is how you tell what is important to the congregation. How do people respond when “it” doesn’t go well? Let’s say worship is a bomb. It is draggy and just isn’t clicking or the sermon is poorly communicated or the Lord’s supper doesn’t get passed right. You will hear about it. It is important to people that these things are done well. Now, let’s say no lost people are reached for months, years, or decades. Does anyone seem to care or raise concern about it? If they don’t, something is out of whack because that was important to Jesus.
- The answer is not something new. The answer is something old.
- We get worried when we start talking about change because it sounds like something new drown out what is biblical.
- The answer here is that we re-examine the New Testament for our answers. See how Jesus made disciples and do that too. Evaluate what they spent their time doing and do that too. It is really pretty simple…the problem is, we often get so stuck in a rut that we can’t see the way out.
So how do you move ahead? Maybe you don’t. That sounds crazy after everything I have just laid out. The reason I say that is this is going to take some time. You don’t revamp everything in an instant. I suggest you start with prayer. Pray about this. Pray for direction. Pray for clear vision. Pray for leadership that is open to embracing a biblical vision and direction for the church. Give it time. See what falls into place. See what conversations happen. See where God is moving and where He isn’t. Don’t push to hard on this unless you (and other godly people) believe something is happening that is worthy of pursuing. Remember, what we are doing isn’t sinful. It is not like we are doing ungodly things in our worship. I think God is pleased by what is taking place…but what if God is calling us to more? We need to be listening for that. If you do feel God wants you to move ahead, there are a few things you can do to start to change the culture starting with where people are. More on that later.