Today I sat in on a number of sessions with some of the leading thinkers in the church today, men like Os Guinness and Stuart McAllister. The sheer volume of information is hard to digest, but I'd like to share some of what I picked up today.
It's no secret that in many places across North America the church is in trouble. In many circles, churches are experiencing declining attendance and offerings. In the U.S., the religious right has lost much of its credibility and effectiveness and, many say, its way. In Canada, many Christian leaders have become cynical, wringing their hands over what to do to turn the tide.
In a round-table discussion tonight, some of the issues discussed that are facing the church are these: cynicism, pessimism, selfish entitlement and short-sightedness. Many leaders are looking at the move away from the Christian morality which once defined our culture and are at a loss as to how to reverse the trend. They have a very short-term view of things.The selfish entitlement is partially the result of the prosperity Gospel and its kin. A generation of Christians have come to faith believing that it's all about them; they have an incomplete Gospel.
So, what are the answers? How do we change the perspective of those Christians who have lost a sense of hope?
I'm not talking about vacation here. I'm talking about moving away from our view of the world that sees everything through the eyes of Canada or the U.S. There's a great big world out there. The time for ignorance is long past, particularly for Christians. We need to take a look at what the issues are in the world around us; not just in our own back yard. If you can't afford to travel, at least read news stories from other parts of the world. Find out what's happening in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, etc... Subscribe to the news feeds for some Missions organizations. Understand what is happening and why the church is growing in many parts of the world. Broaden your vision.
Look at History
This is particularly true for church leaders. We must understand the past. What has the church experienced throughout history from which we can learn? Are there any parallels to our time? How can the church best influence culture? History bears witness to a church that has often faced obstacles which seemed insurmountable. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Five times the church has gone to the dogs, but each time
it was the dog that died.”
Too many of our young people have become disillusioned with the church failures of the recent past. While those are not to be minimized, they do not negate the truth of the Gospel. A larger view of history reveals that the church has been responsible for much that is good in our world - hospitals, public schools, universities, a myriad of charitable organizations that have enhanced the lives of millions, and so much more. Christian leaders like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King, Jr., motivated by their faith, have brought about changes that have shaped society for the better.
Keep Eternity in Mind
The Bible tells us that we are made for eternity, yet many Christians act as though this is all that there is. Jesus came to redeem and restore. He came to establish a Kingdom of righteousness that will endure forever. Part of the fulfillment of that awaits His return, but part of it is to be accomplished as we live out His teachings in this day and age in the real world conditions that surround us.
What does His Gospel have to say about human trafficking? or the AIDs epidemic in Africa? In light of eternity, what ought our response be to poverty? How ought we to live our lives as Christians in a world that is in desperate need of hope?
We need to understand what the Church has actually been called to do. When Jesus said to "Come," He didn't say to come to a party, He said "Take up your cross and follow me." It was a call to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel. The early church changed the world because they walked in obedience to the teachings of Jesus, even when it cost them dearly. When the Romans would abandon unwanted children by the open sewers to die, it was the Christians who took them home and raised them as their own. When disease spread and families abandoned their own, it was Christians who stayed behind and nursed them until they recovered or died. Why? Christ commanded us to love our neighbour.
For the church to find itself again, (and not everyone is lost) it needs to return to the simple truths of the Gospel. Hope lies in Christ - not politics. I didn't come to Christianity to make me happy, I came because it's true. The message of Christ conforms to reality and He and He alone provides the hope that every soul longs for. I, for one, believe that the best days of the church are ahead.
Which of these do you feel is the most pressing need in the church today?
What Is a Christ-follower?
Straight Talk For Tough Times
A New Look At Justice