As we approach the year 2020, does the Church still have a mission and a purpose? Most Christians would nod their heads in agreement, but most would be at a loss to explain what it is. Some are trying to find meaning in the traditions of the past. Many hope to find new paths that would produce a more meaningful experience. The Church can find its purpose if it looks in the right places.
The culture would not be so kind. Many people are disillusioned with organized religion. Some see religion as irrelevant, while others see pieces of value but want a more authentic experience that affirms the priorities they have in life.
During the past few weeks, we have been talking about what some churches are doing to make a difference in the community. Are there other things that the church should be doing to continue to make an impact on the culture?
Experts in the church growth field have ideas about what the church needs to be doing to reach the next generation. Often the recommendations include ideas that cater to the “unchurched” creating a more “seeker-friendly” church experience.
Personal experiences have left me in a rather unique position. Writing for a newspaper has provided a perspective on the values and priorities of a community. Teaching at a college for the last 25 years has kept a pulse on the feelings and flavor of the 18 to 25-year-old. Working inside a church community in both paid and volunteer positions has allowed observation of research, vision and practice within an ever-changing paradigm of church behavior.
Not to be confused as a church growth expert, the experiences have formulated a church and culture observer. For what they are worth, here are a handful of observations.
Younger folks seem to have a passion to “fix” things that are wrong. They see a responsibility to become socially active. They are appalled at the injustices in our world and seek change. They see the political “kingdoms” or government as the way to assure the change, so they are more concerned about the officials they are electing. Ethics and morals appear to be less about personal sexuality, but more about how people treat one another.
The church needs to actively and quietly support social change. We need to be quiet lest people see us as “blowing our own horn.” The church has been commissioned to feed the hungry, care for widows and help raise orphans. If the church were doing its job, perhaps the government wouldn’t feel so compelled to step in to cover it because the need would no longer exist. Rather than argue about our disagreements, we need to champion our common causes.
Too often the church has expected the government to manage the problems of society. This has allowed the missions of the church and the government to become confused and intermingled. The government was established to provide order, structure and discipline in our society. The church was formed to care for and heal people — physically and spiritually.
Because culture is changing so rapidly, the church must respond and adapt quickly without changing the core of its Message. Think for just a moment of all the changes that have occurred in your lifetime in the areas of technology alone. It is important that our methods for delivering the Message are flexible and easily adaptable to change. But our Message isn’t doctrine. Phillip walked up to the chariot and began to teach the man Jesus. Instead of focusing on areas of behavior, we need to focus on the One who really changes behavior.
The character of the leadership of the church is of more importance than it ever has been. Leaders in churches at times have performed in ways that are sinful and embarrassing. While transparency and accountability are vital for assuring responsible behavior, we need to expect and demand integrity and character in our leadership.
The church must figure out a way to weave the strength of a real, personal relationship into one that is online. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a host of other online social media avenues are not going to go away. Rather than fight them, the church should be doing them “better” than the world. We only need to look at the examples of some political leaders to see how they can be done incorrectly.
The leadership of the church must not view questions as criticism or disrespect. Of all of the noticeable differences in the generations, this seems to stand out the most. The younger generation questions “Why?” Questions tend to make the older generation insecure and defensive. Even when the question appears to be combative, it is often the product of a mind that doesn’t understand. If we cannot “speak the truth in love” with a reason for our actions and behavior, we have missed the boat in grasping what it means to teach and make disciples. If the reason we do not answer the question is because we do not know the answer, shame on us for being blindly dogmatic.
The church must be careful not to talk down to unchurched people as it attempts to “speak their language.” Just because a visitor to church doesn’t understand the words “justification” or “propitiation,” it doesn’t mean they don’t need to understand the concepts. Let’s choose a translation of the Scripture that provides better explanations and definitions. If we know the meanings of the words so well ourselves, our definitions will be more vivid. But if we live the definitions, we have given faith “hands and feet.”
We follow a Rabbi who was a master at communication. He took biblical concepts and explained them in the terms of the people. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” Really? That doesn’t sound “Old Testament.” Jesus took the words of the day and found analogies to explain the wonders of heaven. We would do well to do the same.