I recently read Generating Hope: A Strategy for Reaching the Postmodern Generation by Jimmy Long. Here’s a few thoughts from this text that I thought were particularly helpful with discerning where our churches should be in relation to the significant culture changes.
The Church is at a major critical juncture in regard to two major cultural changes. First, we are transitioning in leadership and authority from the Baby-Boomers generation to Generation X. Second, there is a philosophical shift that is occurring (or perhaps has fully occurred) in the western society where the culture moves from the modern to the postmodern era.
The big question is, how do we respond to the change in culture? As the Baby Boomers (and earlier generations) begin to relinquish the leadership reigns what will that look like? What kind of tension is this creating and how are we responding? From all appearances, it seems that most churches were built in and for the previous culture – the modern culture. Now the culture is changing and the church is having trouble connecting.
Jimmy Long gives the five models that help us to understand how the Church relates to the culture as it changes from modern to postmodern.
- Assimilating church – The church tries to make itself relevant to the prevailing culture by adopting some of the culture’s characteristics. The church supposedly does this in order to be welcomed by the culture and to encourage the culture to be open to the gospel. Scriptural reference from 1 Corinthians 9:20. If the church becomes too assimilated you can’t tell the difference between culture and church. If that happens then there isn’t much need for the church. I can get Jesus without the Church.
- Protecting church – Christians respond to sinfulness and its consequences with a sense of hopelessness and a desire for protection. “All of this is beyond my understanding and control. I can’t make any difference in the world. Sin is awful and powerful. My best strategy is to build a wall around myself and my family to keep out the changes and evil.” This worldview represents a dualistic approach to society that sees the church as good and the culture as bad. The protective church seem to have little faith in God’s sovereignty – Matthew 16:18.
- Unchanging Church – Pretty much ignores the culture. Views the church as having nothing to do with present culture. The church is above and beyond the culture. Tries to hold on to its own traditions by rising above culture. Christians in the unchanging church try to equate their own traditions, as exemplified in the above story, with Jesus’ blessings. The weakness of this model is that although the culture and the people within the culture do change, the church does not change to meet people where they are. As the culture continues to change, the unchanging church model becomes more and more marginalized and exerts less and less impact on society.
- Battling Church – Fears the annihilation of the church and is fighting back with all the weapons it can muster. James Dobson states, “The heated dispute over values in Western nations is simply a continuation of the age old struggle between the principles of righteousness and the kingdom of darkness and someday soon I believe a winner will emerge and the loser will fade from memory. Sees the church essentially as the new Israel.
- Influencing Church – Instead of seeing the culture as a battlefield and Christians as warriors, the influencing church sees the world as a mission field and Christians as missionaries. Sees itself as intimately involved in the culture. Redemption does not change their involvement in the culture, but it changes them as the character of their involvement. They see the neighborhood and the local school as mission fields, not battlegrounds. Far from being military bunkers, their homes are “havens of hospitality” with the Welcome sign displayed out front. For them evangelism comes first and cultural change comes second. The gospel message will be powerful only through showing love to neighbors and living lives of integrity. Those in the influencing church see others as people created by God and in need of God, not as the enemies of God. So their strategy in one of influence, dialogue and a prophetic voice.
[ee-goh-sen-trik, eg-oh-] Show IPA
1.having or regarding the self or the individual as the center of all things: an egocentric philosophy that ignores social causes.
2.having little or no regard for interests, beliefs, or attitudes other than one’s own; self-centered: an egocentric person; egocentric demands upon the time and patience of others.
[eth-noh-sen-triz-uhm] Show IPA
1.Sociology . the belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture
2.a tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own.
What to know what prevents a group from achieving success? Simple . . . not following and working consistent with its’ vision and mission. Want to know what kills a mission or vision as fast as anything else? See above.
In a group context, the idea of being on a mission is fundamentally opposed to egocentric behavior and attitudes. It’s really quite simple. If I am determined to think only of myself, then by nature, I can’t think of the mission of the group. The mission, by default, becomes secondary. Now all you need for conflict is to get more than one egocentric person in the same room together.
This is demonstrated with the incarnation of Christ. And it’s really clear when you consider his last few hours on earth. When Christ was in the garden he had the choice of egocentrism or mission. He hung in there, as difficult as it appeared to have been, and chose mission. He was on mission and he was intentional about seeing it through.
Aside from the whole divine and sinless thing, that may be the biggest difference between Jesus and the modern leaders of his church. We can come up with some pithy slogans, slap them on our letterhead and maybe even a sign or two. But when you start talking about actually choosing mission over self, well that’s something altogether different. So instead of approaching issues by asking, “how do we best seek after our mission,” we decide instead to choose personal preference and ask, what do I prefer? What allows me to remain the most comfortable.
This seems to manifest itself most often when we begin talking about what church should look like. Or, how we should do church. So as a result, churches continue with outdated ministries and programs not because they are the best way to accomplish the mission, but because have become comfortable with them and appreciate their own preferences over the cause of the mission. There’s few things that can be as frustrating than dealing with egocentric folks who have placed themselves at the center of the church (or at the center of the purpose of the church).
In other words, church is not for me. I am the church for the glory of Christ. What I want and prefer really should not be on the table for discussion – because if I’m following Christs’ lead (i.e. in the garden), all I am going to want is that my Father’s will be done. Not that I get what I like, prefer or want.
It’s been about three years since my wife and I got back into ministry and moved to Curry, AL. It took about a week for us to fall in love with all of the people there. That love remains, and I’m sure will always remain. For some reason they chose to love me, embrace me and accept me as part of their family. We have been blessed with life-long friends and people we hold so dear that are now part of our family. For that I will be eternally grateful.
I must admit that I was heart-broken when the circumstances there began to change and eventually led to us leaving Curry. I was certain that we would be there for a long time (as were many of the people that we left). I was sure that God had purposefully sent me there to teach and help them grow past some of the things that I felt were holding back many of the Churches in the area. Maybe that was arrogant of me? Maybe I was right? Or perhaps God did have a purpose for us there and we fulfilled and then He sent us on our way. To this very moment, I’m not sure which it is. I mean that. Sometimes I wonder if Satan didn’t enter the picture and infect a few people who messed everything up. Then there are other times when I feel like they just weren’t ready yet. I just don’t know.
But a year later, here’s what I do know . . . God’s good at His job. He knows what he’s doing. I am seeing his hand prints all over my life and the lives of the people in my church family. He’s using me, and that makes me happy. It doesn’t erase all of the hurt and disappointment, but it helps. I now have a new church family who loves me and cares for my wife and kids. So I didn’t give up anything in the trade. But what I do have now that I didn’t have then is the freedom, support and encouragement to be myself. There’s a lot to be said for sleeping well at night.
My church family now embraces my doubts and my questions. They accept that I’m not perfect and they don’t expect me to be. They haven’t created a mold of a preacher and asked me to change so that I fit inside that mold. They will never know how grateful and appreciative I am for there grace. Because of their attitudes I have been able to grow more spiritually in the past year than in my previous 19 years of being a Christian. I’m not exaggerating. I’m dead serious. How can you put a price tag on that? Or possibly demonstrate the value of that for your life? I will struggle with adequately saying thank you for as long as we stay here.
As I reflect on the past couple of years I see God’s handiwork. I still don’t know what He’s up to. I really don’t. I still wonder why He’s done the things He’s done. But I marvel and remain in constant awe of what He’s done with me and all that He’s doing in spite of me. Be certain of that one thing family, whatever good comes out of my ministry, God is at the center and in complete control of all of it. For that, we should all take a moment and reflect on His handiwork.
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