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Issues facing the Modern Church in a Post-Everything America

October 15, 2013

I recently worked through a book which has caused me to reconsider some of my positions style-wise when it comes to how I plan and lead worship gatherings week in and week out. The book is called “The Emerging Church” by Dan Kimball. I know, I know… the words “Emerging” and “Church” in the same sentence tend to give people the heebie-jeebies! Let me calm your fears and concerns when it comes to that, and understand that this isn’t about a theological stance. It is, however, a thoughtful look at the upcoming generations which are a very different breed. As I read, I hit upon three issues the modern church in America is facing as it comes to the problem of how to reach a generation which appears to be increasingly uninterested in being reached.

One of these issues facing the church today appears to be a significant loss of the perspective of America as a “Christian” nation. Our society is no longer strongly tied to Judeo-Christian values, and therefore, our claim as “One Nation under God” would seem to be invalid. In fact, it might read better as “One Nation under A God… or No God, which ever you prefer.”

So many pastors cling heavily to the idea of the upcoming generations returning to their roots, which for them, are the Christian backgrounds of the founding fathers. Kimball articulates the problem with this stance very well when he questions such a pastor about children who grow up in a family system that doesn’t have roots in a Christian background. What roots will they return to? As a pastor, this is a frightening thought! How am I supposed to bring people BACK to Christ who have NO inclination as to who Christ is?

Another issue facing the church is exactly how to reach these upcoming generations with the message of Christ. Here in the Midwest, many churches are just now getting on board with the “seeker sensitive” movement. This has been driven by the examples of mega-churches like Saddleback, Willow Creek, and Northpointe. Each of these church bodies have experienced almost exponential growth by following the seeker sensitive approach. All of them now have large state-of-the-art auditoriums with the latest in technology, and have removed many (if not all) of the religious icons in worship so as not to offend the non-believer. This type of worship style has found a home in many mid-America churches of all sizes, and is working well in many areas to bring young families into worship each week. However, Kimball speaks to a growing rejection of this type of worship simply because of its “chain store” feel. Many non-Christians are seeking to have a “spiritual” experience with Christ, but feel they can’t get there in the modern day American church setting. He states that some even feel like we are hiding what we are doing and what we are all about by removing the symbolic images from our worship settings!

This is a new concept for me, as I’ve been part of the push in ministry to become more seeker friendly. Apparently, I’ve missed the boat on what seekers are actually seeking. As I read through this, I actually found myself tearing up and repenting for keeping people from experiencing God in a real and tangible way because of my own agenda. Perhaps this is one reason why people look past Christianity to other religions? While Buddhists, Hindus, and other ancient and New Age religions gladly embrace their icons and practices, we’ve quite possibly turned worship to God into a trip to Wal-Mart.

Now, please don’t misunderstand my musings here. In my opinion, Kimball takes his point further than I would prefer to go. I know each of the churches mentioned above are doing excellent work in their communities, in international missions, and in their own congregations. God is being worshipped on an amazing level, and I would never discount their ministry efforts for any reason. Even so, my hope is Kimball’s stance and research allows churches of all sizes to cast a wary eye on the “why”, and not just the “what” and “how” of ministry. It is quite easy to get stuck in what we are doing and how we are doing it. The problem with this, however, is the potential to lose track of the “why”. WHY are we changing our worship style? For us, or for the growth of the kingdom? WHY are we choosing to dress more casually and offer coffee and donuts in the foyer? Because we love to socialize, or because we want to be welcoming and intentional about making guests feel comfortable enough to let their guard down and potentially allow Christ in?  The why is of utmost importance!

The final issue I will address here is one that I find to be the most prominent one among the modern day church. Christians are getting in the way of people experiencing Christ. We who claim to follow Christ are shooting Christianity in the foot by living lives which stand in contradiction to His teachings. We give people a reason to walk away from the saving message of Jesus because of our condescending delivery. Too many Christians continue to assume that we live in a time where everyone in America has roots in Judeo-Christian values, when this is simply not true. That assumption leads to evangelism that looks more and more like the Bible-thumping hypocrite rather than the hands and feet of Jesus. Kimball spoke of a non-Christian student at a Christian retreat who had been completely turned off to the message of Christ due to a guest speaker’s portrayal of homosexuality. Later in that section of the book, he recounts meeting up with that student as they were about to graduate college. That one experience soured their entire countenance toward anything Christianity had to offer, and they were still completely uninterested in anything remotely connected with Jesus. Christians are the vessel God uses to tell the world about Him in word and deed. Sadly, many of us (me included!) are missing the mark more often than not.

Are these issues we can’t overcome? Absolutely not. Remember, with God all things are possible! Let us rely on God to give us the ability to work through and give the upcoming generations an opportunity to learn the solid truth of Christ in the midst of a world that continually tells them that truth is what they make it.

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