November 07, 2012

when will the Church take responsibility?

A progressively unchurched, secular America devoid of Christian values. When is the Church going to have courage to say that it's their fault? I've been thinking about this for a while now.  Having come to Christ in the mid-80's, there was such a "triumphalism" that I picked up in the Evangelical circles/culture to which I belonged. There was such an "elitism" albeit always couched in acceptable 'Christian-ese' speaking about humility and giving the Glory to God.  The idea was that the Church was no longer "irrelevant" like the denominations of before. The past and its "traditions" were always considered a bad thing and were hurting the effective communication of the Gospel. Youth ministry was booming with all sorts of new "methodologies" and approaches being embraced and implemented. Christian rock music had taken off and all other musical genres had become legitimate. Mega churches were on the rise; I attended one. "Seeker sensitivity" was the new buzzword. This trend continued (along with our self-concept of superiority) and seems to have continued strongly right up to this day - the advent of new forms of media, especially the internet only fueled this certainty that the Gospel message is penetrating this generation like never before. No place is this more apparent than in the post-modern "Emergent Church" movement, which people either love or hate, but everyone seems to imitate. 

It dawned on me just recently – what has been the "fruit" in America of all of these revolutionary ideas/concepts and/or approaches? You would think that we would have seen the percentag
e of church attendance skyrocket, seekers and the unchurched flocking to such "relevant" expressions of the faith.  Surely we would have been doing a much better job than the old, stuffy, traditional, religious, legalistic denominations of a generation ago – clearly that is what we all thought, but…

But that hasn't been the case. 

Church attendance percentages have plummeted, this generation knows less about the Christian faith than ever before, the numbers of self-identifying atheists is at an all-time high AND ALL OF THIS HAPPENED WHILE WE WERE ON DUTY! It's all happened on our shift and we therefore must take responsibility.  And yet, I've never heard a single one of those leaders from the 80's (and subsequently the 90's and beyond) admit that maybe we weren't as "hip", that our "keys" weren't as successful, that our message wasn't as relevant and understood, that our insights into the culture weren't as keen and that our effectiveness wasn't as assured as we had so confidently (arrogantly?) asserted it would be!

Sadly, the EXACT same triumphant, elite-spirited language (just read any of the current Christian magazines, or read the promotional materials of any growing ministry) is being used today by this generation of Evangelicals as the drum is being beaten with the news buzzwords of  "authentic community", "transformation", "networking", "vision", "conversation", "telling your story", "narratives" (or the super-sized "meta-narratives")  and yet with apparently (if the statistics are true) far less impact than any would admit.  The irony of ironies is that this generation of Evangelical Christian leaders are using these same dismal statistics (that developed "on our shift") to legitimize their current vision and ministry efforts!  Of course overly negative eschatologies ("it's all going to burn") and/or extreme concepts about God's sovereignty, are an easy way for us to blame shift and ultimately not take responsibility for this generation.

Instead of ending on such a negative note, what would I suggest?  Of course, first of all, I'd love to hear Christian leaders take responsibility – the mud-slinging at others (who ironically Evangelicals consider to be dead in their sins and spiritual unregenerate) should end yesterday.  The nation has been sliding into this moral mess for the last 50 years.  People have a free will, but clearly it is the Church's responsibility to communicate the Gospel to every man, woman and child.  We haven't done that very well in spite of all of our advances in media and technology.  But that isn't where the problem lies – these medium of communication are incredible.  What the real issue? In my experience, most Christians aren't communicating the Gospel with their unchurched friends and neighbors and even though I am wired as an evangelist, I too must admit that have failed massively in this area.  I have relatives that don't even know the basics of the Gospel and would be part of this unchurched, secular generation.  My family members!  I need to repent!  We need to repent for not having evangelized this generation!

Since this is a blog dedicated to miraculous demonstrations of Kingdom power, I have to say that a huge part of the Bible-believing Church that says they are committed to evangelism has little to no demonstrable supernatural power.  I lived as an Evangelical for years like that.  I am not picking on another theological camp.  It was my camp.  We simply didn't REALLY believe that God would heal people.  We didn't "see" in the Gospels how central miracles were to the message of God's Kingdom.  After more than a decade of pursuing the Kingdom with the expectation of miracles as normal, I have seen God move in ways (and I live and work in the muslim world) that I would only have dreamed about before.  Hundreds of miracles – mostly healings, but also exorcisms, dreams and visions and other supernatural experiences.  

A major problem is that a large part of Evangelical Church (especially those that look/sound/appear to be Emergent as well as those who are truly post-modern Emergents and are in some ways post-Evangelical ), thinks it is
actually "cool" to be skeptical of the claims of the miraculous.  That was pounded into me back in the 80's – we doubted everything while claiming to be "open".  Question and doubt everything seems to be the rule of the day. I distinctly remember sharing some testimonies a few years ago with the staff of a large Church and hearing openly cynical comments where in a joking way one of the pastors said, "if you need a miracle, I guess you can go see him".  I was there for years!  

I realize now that what this is; it is 
institutionalized UNBELIEF.  Something Jesus considered to be sin.  Even as I have been keeping this blog since 2006, I have many, many friends who simply DO NOT BELIEVE the stories of the miraculous that are being recounted here.  Whenever and wherever we find unbelief in our lives (and I do all the time), we simply must repent and ask God to take us into greater maturity.

As someone who lives in the muslim world, it just has become so simple for us - we love people with miracles and people change. That is the only way forward that we are finding - and I assure you that the same approach and obsession I've just described is alive and well as an export from North American Evangelicalism as organizations export and translate their new methods and approaches, which for the most part continue to devalue/deemphasize the miraculous.  When it is mentioned, it is usually categorized as rare and allocated to the realm of God's sovereign will.  The expectation however is clear – it will be these new approaches and methods with all the insights of cultural anthropology (which was my major!), that will bring the breakthrough.  The search for the "Golden Key" continues but the power to heal, perform miracles and cast out demons doesn't seem to get too much attention.  I guess 2000 year-old methods are a bit dated! (sarcasm intended).  

I must confess, I love it all – I have a blog, I have a podcast.  I prefer attending Churches with all the atmospheric changes which makes them feel like I'm in a Starbucks, with wi-fi and lattes, listening to "conversations about people's stories" in a comfortable environment while experiencing a state-of-the-art multimedia experience, cutting edge worship with dynamic, motivational teaching by a guy who looks like he's in a grunge band, 

And we can keep it all, 

let's become Christ to a lost world by manifesting His love and communicating the Gospel message with supernatural power.  Let us make sure that THE BLIND SEE, THE DEAF HEAR and the LAME WALK, etc. Jesus promised they would; do we believe that?.  If that had been the case in the past 50 years, then I bet…, I just bet that we would NOT have seen an America that is more secular, less churched, and devoid of a Christian worldview and values than any previous generation.  It isn't that it (a miraculous strategy) was tried and found wanting.  It has never really been tried.

As the great Smith Wigglesworth would declare as he considered someone sick, dying with cancer, "Not on my shift"!

1 comment:

  1. I like the premiss of what you wrote that the Christian church has not had the impact it could have and that the supernatural signs and wonders will help wake up and point people to the Living Jesus Christ who want to make the blind see, help the deaf hear, and empower the lame to walk.
    Keep writing and challenging your readers.