Whether you realize it or not, our nation experienced a mega-shift in 2008. The last time we saw such a seismographic move was in 1968, precisely 40 years ago. Most sociologists pinpoint that year as the defining moment of the cultural revolution of the Sixties. From that moment forward, our nation embarked on a new journey. Today we are facing a new future having experienced such an event.
Both Nicki and I were captured by the words of John McCain during his concession speech. He said, “America has spoken, and it has spoken loudly.” What did America say? Our nation said we want change. And change we did! This election process that lasted almost two full years created a movement that caused a tipping point in our culture and in our nation. Things will never be the same.
Regardless of where you stand on the elections of 2008, none can argue that a new generation of postmodern thinkers has taken the lead of our nation. These are the first of many who will follow. They represent a new way of thinking that has been brewing in the sub-cultural hotspots in our nation and in the debates of sociology classrooms at major universities. It has been taking shape since the cultural shift in the late sixties and it now mainstream.
Like most other major disruptions in culture, the church faces monumental challenges because of it. Similar challenges have been successfully embraced by generations of believers before us and we must meet them head-on today. These challenges can be defined as the need to strike the balance between standing unwaveringly on the eternal truths of scripture while changing our delivery systems to make them relevant today. While it sounds easy, anyone who has lived through such times as these knows that it is very difficult.
As always, some will see these changes as a threat and will resist them. Unfortunately, in the process, they will end up writing the opening lines of their own obituaries and driving the initial nails into their own spiritual coffins. Others will seize the opportunities that these challenges bring and move into a bright and bountiful future. Which will you choose?
The farmer does not reap the harvest on his own terms. He harvests the fruit and grain on the terms of the harvest. Any gardener will tell you that the tomato tells you when it is ripe and needs picked, not the other way around. The church needs to look and listen to the harvest. It is telling us how it wants to be reaped. Here are ten transitions that I believe the church in the United States can make to answer that call and position ourselves for harvest in this new millennium.
( 1 ) We must transition from Guilt & Shame to Love
Love will speak louder in our culture than guilt and shame. Because of the excessive immorality in our culture, people have grown hardened and cynical. Basically, they have no shame. Trying to “guilt” them into the Kingdom of God by telling them what they ought to be doing won’t work. The built-in moral compass and sense of duty that guided their forefathers into the church has been snuffed out by the philosophies of relativism and moral decay. However, loving a person still works! This is what people are yearning for the most.
( 2 ) We must transition from Coercion to Invitation
People are tired of being coerced into the church. If you believe, like me, that living a Christian life is the best thing on earth, then perhaps we don’t have to manipulate people to join us. If we’re living the life we preach about on Sundays, maybe an invitation will do. If we believe that Jesus draws people to salvation by the Holy Spirit, then allow Him to do His work and allow individuals the dignity of using their free moral will to say yes to our invitations because of His drawing power.
( 3 ) We must transition from Theory to Practicality
Sunday morning speeches and pulpit philosophies are not enough. Waxing eloquent on lofty subject matter will no longer hold people’s attention. The reason is because people are looking for real answers to life’s tough issues. Let’s take the truth out of its proverbial showcase and present it to people in practical ways, showing how Christ can give them real answers to real issues in a real world.
( 4 ) We must transition from Institution to Family
Nobody wants to live in an institution. If you do, it means that you are either sick, dying, abandoned, deranged or all the above! However, everyone wants a family. It is essential that local congregations move from the institutional mentality, where assembling for a weekly meeting is the focus, to a family where love, security, relationship and community are a 24/7 reality.
( 5 ) We must transition from Perfectionism to Authenticity
Have you noticed the enormous glut of reality shows on nightly TV? Why is that? Why do people crave these shows? It’s because our culture is tired of seeing an actor pretending to be someone he or she is not. People want to see real people dealing with real problems in a real environment. This is also what they want from the church. They don’t want to see a room full of pretenders and posers. In fact, they can often spot the hypocrites and charlatans among us before much of the church notices them. A new motto that the church might consider adopting is, “Keep it real!”
( 6 ) We must transition from Argument to Story
The days of arguing someone into the Kingdom of God through articulate logic are not what they used to be. Not that everyone will fit this mold, but most of the emerging generation does not use classical Greek-based logic to make their decisions in life. In fact, they can think quite illogically at times in the opinions of some and be comfortable with it. Like Jesus, the church needs to consider reaching these people with a story – a testimony. I was once told, “A man with a testimony is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.” People love stories and in the days ahead, it may be one of the most affective evangelism tools we have.
( 7 ) We must transition from Accusation to Empathy
In case you haven’t noticed, the church is suffering from a public relation’s nightmare. We have branded ourselves as the moral police of the nation, feeling the need to point out what is wrong and defend what is right. Although this may be part of our calling as a people, the problem with defending something is that we tend to get defensive. This will usually result in making us look more like guard dogs than salt and light. We have picketed, shouted, politicized and pointed fingers for a long time. For what? Although the political process is a legitimate and necessary avenue of change in our nation – and many leaders are called to that process – individual Christians may find that listening and putting themselves in the shoes of others is a more effective way to reach them. Jesus did this repeatedly with people like Levi, Zacchaeus, the woman at the well and the woman taken from the bed of adultery; not to mention the other publicans, prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners who hung around Him everyday. Exchanging the pointing of a finger for the listening of an ear might be a good thing.
( 8 ) We must transition from Seriousness to Play
Trust me; I know that God’s work is serious! It’s the most serious in the world. However, in order to bring in the harvest we must create an atmosphere that both draws people and breaks the bondage of depression and hatred that plague our nation. The harvest is telling us how it wants to be reaped. People are on a quest for true peace and joy. As Christians, we tell them that we are the most joyful and happy people on the planet. Is that true? Do we show it? We must! We should let the world see that, as Jesus said repeatedly, the Kingdom of God is like…well, it’s like a great feast – a celebration – a party!
( 9 ) We must transition from Event-based Evangelism to Compassionate Outreach
One thing I am noticing about our culture is a rising concern for social issues like homelessness, racism and the environment. While many of the social indicators unfortunately show a drastic decline in moral issues, attention to other important problems that plague society is on the rise. The church needs to capitalize on this. Evangelism in the future will be more effective in areas of compassionate outreach than it will be in producing extravaganzas in the sanctuaries. Stage shows and entertainment-based productions will see less harvest than loving hands on the street, picking up trash, feeding the homeless, caring for the poor and helping those who are less fortunate in our cities.
( 10 ) We must transition from Condemnation to Christ
Most people would love Jesus – if they could only see Him. Unfortunately, the church has not always done a good job at letting people see Him. We often keep Him locked away in our rituals and performances, hidden behind our anger, disgust and outrage at the condition of our world. I often see the scripture, John 3:16 hoisted up on banners in public places. That’s great. But let’s not forget John 3:17 in this hour. It says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Jesus’ job WAS NOT to condemn the world, but to offer salvation. If He did not condemn them, neither should we. Let’s show them Christ in this hour of transition. Wouldn’t you agree that He is the answer?
Please consider how these 10 transitions affect you and your life, personally. Also, consider how your church or ministry can consider implementing them in ways that will help take you and the church into the 21st Century.