The Church in Crisis Part 2

Now that we have considered the reasons why the church is in crisis, our focus can shift to how to respond to this crisis. While the need to properly respond may seem to be a given, unfortunately for many churches the crisis and how to respond to it is ignored. And the reason for the ignorance is wedded to the crisis itself- response requires change and many churches will always resist change even if it means extinction.

 

Why the need for change? Simply because culture around us has changed- dramatically! The way people interact with one another, the way they interact with the Christian message, the way they respond to church, even the way people think and come to decisions have changed (all of this- and more- has been defined by the term, postmodern). And because of all of this- the same old way of doing church business no longer has quite the same connection.

 

Think about our traditional evangelistic methods: door-to-door approaches; gospel meetings; “cottage studies”; filmstrips, etc. No longer do they make much impact. No longer do people respond to these methods. Add to this a general mistrust of the institutional church in the mind of many (Why this mistrust? Church scandals, splits- all the negative perceptions detailed in part one) and the combination is lethal for churches.

 

So change is a must. Change toward our own thinking about church. Change in moving away from the institutional model toward relationship building. Change in our methods of evangelism. Change in the focus of our ministries. Change in how we interact with our communities. These kinds of changes are absolutely essential- or we will just continue to grow older and smaller.

 

Notice that no mention was made of needs to change the core message of the gospel or even worship style. While there could be a need to change the way the message is presented, we would defeat our purpose and calling as God’s church to attempt to change the core of the message to something not supported by divine revelation. Whatever the shift in culture and our response to it- it still needs the message of Christ to bring light to darkness. And while we may (and should) seek the most effective ways to communicate the unchangeable message through our worship time together- most unchurched folks have no preconceptions about worship and will accept practically any worship style as long as they see authentic and sincere participation in the worshippers.

 

IT IS ALL ABOUT CREDIBILITY

 

It is no longer about what we say but about what we do. Before our message will ever be able to penetrate our postmodern culture it first must be authentically lived out among community. This is absolutely crucial to understand in responding to our current crisis. Faith lived out genuinely and sincerely is now what gives the Christian message its credibility.

 

It is not about church posturing, church programming, church messages or any other institutional approaches now- it is all about me living out my faith example in a genuine way through my personal relationships and personal ministry. In other words if I say I am a Christian most folks are not going to care about what church I attend, they are going to care about how sincerely and faithfully I live that out in my life. They will want to know if I am compassionate toward them and others. They will want to know if I am living out what they perceive to be the Christian message- helping the poor, ministering to needs of others, living a moral lifestyle, if I am honest and selfless, etc. Unless I am credible in these ways, my church- to them- will never be credible and I will never get the chance to share my faith witness to them. It is just no longer about the institution making claims about Christianity- it is about the person living Christianity out. This is where it starts.

 

Beyond that, change for the institutional church means shifting focus from within to without. Take a quick look at most church budgets and it is clear that more money is spent ministering to self than ministering to community. This has to change. For churches to be credible in postmodern culture they have to be involved in compassionate ministry to community, to the poor and needy, to victims, to broken people. Churches that are growing do this well with counseling centers, recovery programs, homeless outreach, after-school events and other forms of community outreach. These are the new “gospel meetings” or methods of evangelism. But it takes great commitment- on behalf of church leadership to shift the focus of the institution and on behalf of church members to help make these things happen. And quite frankly, some churches will either never see the need for such commitment or will not make such a commitment. Again, in such cases, the decline will only continue.

 

WE ARE IN A MISSION FIELD

 

As Christian theologian Don Bartel says, we must admit that we are in a mission field in this postmodern culture and because of that we need to think like a mission outpost in a strange and foreign land. Another theologian, Grant Osborne has compiled seven principles for putting into proper context the challenge churches face in our current crisis. We would do well to hear and heed.

 

  • We must first be willing to critique the bankruptcy of our age. The emptiness and moral confusion of our times can be a means to witness.
  • We need to center more on biblical theology than systematic theology so that the biblical worldview confronts the false worldviews of our day.
  • We need to focus on community. Our culture is relation-hungry and people are seeking places to belong. A loving, healing faith community is the best witness in these times.
  • The focus of our message needs to be the historical gospel.
  • But we need to make sure that message is culturally relevant in our media-savvy age.
  • We need to use conversation and life stories to draw people into the “real world” of Christianity.
  • We need to think carefully how to live as well as what we say. In this age we witness with our transformed lives as much as with our informed lips. We must avoid the materialism and success-oriented lifestyles of our culture and exhibit a countercultural community to the world.  

WELCOME BACK TO THE FIRST CENTURY

 

The pluralism so evident in our 21st century culture is amazingly similar to that of the first century and this brings us to the good news. The gospel message flourished then. It can flourish now also. Remember however, that the church as an “institution” with all the institutional trimmings (buildings, property, bank accounts, multiple staff, years of tradition to protect) did not exist in the form it does now. The message truly was presented in the credible faith witnesses of individual Christians. They simply went out into that culture preaching and living the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection. In that culture they found people hungry for a message with substance and hope. Christ’s light faithfully lived and taken by Christians then shone brightly in the darkness that defined that culture and people gravitated toward it. The power of the gospel message has not changed. So why can’t that happen again today?

 

It can- and that should excite us. I am convinced that more and more folks will grow tired of the empty and unfulfilling menu the world offers and hungrily seek alternatives. But are we willing to do what it takes to allow God to work in us to make it happen again? That is yet to be seen.

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8 Responses to The Church in Crisis Part 2

  1. Donna says:

    You are absolutely right. But what to do? Do you continue at your church who is still inwardly focused? Do you seek another group of believers who see things more the way you do? Or do you just vow to live and be out in the community and just not worry as much about where you worship on Sunday?

    This is the journey I am struggling with. Will there be more ???

  2. dannydodd says:

    Insightful questions Donna- many are asking the same thing.

    I recently heard one respected church leader and speaker say that there will always be a place for institutional churches, but it will be a much smaller place. He claimed that in the future Christianity would grow through home groups- seperarted from the institution. Is he right? Who yet knows?

    But many others are struggling with the same type of choices you mention. Some have and are leaving churches with which they have been a part of for years to find one that is involved in active outreach (often not the same “brand” of church either).

    Others have just decided to concentrate on their witness and share Jesus and let folks go to the church of their choice.

    Some stay and try to bring reform to the institution.

    I still believe the latter is a worthwhile goal and can happen. It will just be slow. One brother told me recently about his church that he and others were just waiting for 10-15 years to pass for a generation to go to meet God and then they could bring about some real change. I do not believe in blowing churches up- so never do that, but if you can be this patient, reform can occur.

    None of these choices are easy to come by, but many, many are right where you are, Donna.

  3. Royce says:

    I think first century believers found not folks “hungry for the gospel” but rather people hostile to it. Our attempts to make the message of the cross palitable to sinners has denied the power of the Holy Spirit to “prick” men’s hearts as the message is taught. Unless the message is an offence it is not likely the right message. God uses the gospel message to change hearts and he doesn’t need any help from us.

    Secondly, we absoulutey must leave off the add ons. People who are dead in trespasses and sins do not need to hear “a Restoration plea”, or how our “primitave worship” is better than others. Our mandate is to preach the message of the Christ who is himself an offence and a stone of stumbling. If we preach him in the power of the Holy Spirit God will add to the church just as he did long ago.

    I agree, we should use every means available and for sure our lives must reflect what we preach in the view of a watching world. There is no new way of making wicked men and women fit for heaven. We (churchdom) have tried everything and now have churches filled with people who if saved at all are marginal Christians with little committment to Jesus.

  4. mattdabbs says:

    Yes, yes, and yes! These kinds of thoughts are the many parts of the emerging church ideology I subscribe to. We have to be relevant and effective without compromising the truth of our message.

  5. bobbyvalentine says:

    Danny I appreciate you wresting with this subject … it is needed. And we are in a crises and have been for quite some time.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  6. Jerry Starling says:

    Danny,

    Right on about the crisis and the response we need to make to it.

    It is interesting that in 2 Cor 4:18-19, the sequence Paul used is that first, God reconciled us; next, God gives us a ministry of reconciliation – i.e., we act as peacemakers in the world, establishing godly relationships and behaving as children of God (cf. Matt 5:9); then last of all, God gives us the message of reconciliation so that we are able to implore others on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.”

    We act as if Jesus calls us to be fishers of men, which He does not. He calls us to follow Him – and He will make us become fishers of men.

    Two very insightful postings!

  7. jim miller says:

    Yes, we care too much about the buildings and, insurance, etc. We worry about money but have expensive retreats that exclude alot of the working class. What to do?

    When I worked in Miami in the 90’s , our doctor’s had a dilemma. Malpractice insurance for heart surgery escalated to the cost of about $250,000 a year. Panic set in for most. Except the Cubans. Most had come here with nothing. And, in Florida, even if you are sued you get to keep your house and your children’s education fund. Many CHOSE to not buy the insurance. They did the important things: cared for the patients and stored up wealth where it couldn’t be touched. If they lost everything else, so be it.

    As the church, we also need to take care of the patients and store up wealth in a better place. It’s just a matter of time before all the rest turns into dust and rust.

  8. […] I certainly see that. Churches of Christ are getting older and smaller. And this is not the kind of trend we should want. (I discussed some of these matters in two previous posts.) […]

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