Regarding the Future of the Church – Post 1 – Encouraged and Discouraged

Primary Audience – My Local Context
Secondary Audience – Friends and Fellow Travelers Who Suspect Something Is Wrong in Evangelicalism

Over the last few years, I realized as I have been spending more time with students, that I often leave these conversations a little encouraged and a little discouraged. Encouraged by the many good kids really “trying to try” to love God, follow Jesus, be led by the Spirit. Discouraged because I know I need to use the phrase, “trying to try”.  The same can be said after conversations with fellow adults as well but working with students gives me a different sense of responsibility.

From one angle, I see a growing disconnect between evangelical culture and the culture at large. From another, I see evangelical culture mirroring the larger culture (and I am not just referring to the divorce rate but rather our values that are times quite “worldly”). I also see a “mirroring” in a healthy way as well. And yet from another angle I see it evangelical culture being intentionally counter-cultural in a truly Christian way. (I know for some, this sounds bit confusing, I have been reading a lot of Paul in Romans lately and to make matters even more complicated, there are so many more angles that would be difficult to categorize, even for a modernist ;-)

In short, there is an identity crisis that the the Church is having and this is being reflected in the the life of the Christian American teenager as well. Honestly, despite the frustrating moments of youth ministry, my heart goes out to the students we serve and the countless I will never meet. I think those who are either involved in youth ministry or close enough to see it understand what I mean.

From the beginning of my full-time ministry, I’ve had a sense of knowing the church had lost much of its authority throughout our culture. To be forthcoming, I don’t know really know how much though. Here in north Jersey, evangelical culture is obviously much different than what i imagine in to be in the Carolinas, the Atlanta area, and even in the wanna-be country of Texas and throughout the nation (And of course when considering it from a global perspective …)

This has led us to use phrases like, “We are living in a post-Christian society”, “the Church is shrinking”, “Things aren’t like they used to be”. Whether you appreciate or loathe these expressions, at the very least, they describe something that is really going on. I try to avoid these statements, because I despise some of truth they contain. (I take that back, I have never uttered, “Things aren’t like they used to be” and I don’t see it as true but the previous statements are half-truths that are sadly at work).

To make this as simple as we can, I believe these are among the primary reasons I was drawn to the emerging church movement. Rather than simply holding on to traditional yet failing ideas and paradigms, some realized that paradox of a new Christian expression  needed to “emerge” (rooted in the ancient church – the present one, all the centuries in between while squinting to see what was up ahead) under the submission of the Holy Spirit. This is because the culture is changing and as the second paragraph of this post indicates, it’s complicated.

This is not to say that anyone who sees that we need to refocus is necessarily “emergent”.  I tend to define that word pretty broadly these days and see it as conversation as opposed to a “denominational” thing.   That said I feel the evangelical church needs to come to the table and realize our “what worked” a generation ago, even 10 years ago, could very well be as obsolete as the transparency machine or a word-processor. By this, I do not mean that Jesus is obsolete or His Gospel – (in fact, truly the opposite!). But rather, our language, our framework, perhaps many of our methodologies, structures, interpretations, practices, lack there-of, among other things needs to be rethought. And we need to begin “again, again” by committing ourselves in surrender to the Holy Spirit.

I hope to unpackage some of these thoughts in upcoming blog posts. Also, I recently I attended the Eighth Letter Conference, heading out to our Evangelical Free District Meeting (Ron Sider will be speaking)  and read a few books like Doug Pagitt’s Church in the Inventive Age, David Platt’s Radical, and currently doing a book study with friends on the extremely popular The Hole In Our Gospel. I plan on working on these thoughts and reviews as well. Thanks for reading!

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