There’s a growing epidemic of church leaders confused by culture. I see it on every platform, evidenced in responses like this…
instead of like this…
The reality is that we must figure out how to exist in this post-denominational, megachurch, tribal environment. Your tribe follows your message and praxis. They are influenced by how you think about and model the church.
Which begs that we grapple with the important questions:
- Are we operating as a united church?
- How does the world view us?
- Are we known for being polarized and infighting?
- Or are we easily identified by our extravagant love?
There is a radical cultural shift happening in America. The Church must continually reassess how best to present the message of the Gospel. We are charged with presenting the truth no matter our context.
Cycle of church reinvention
European theologian Lesslie Newbigin presents the Church as being charged with moving people from a place of searching to the truth that gives life.
It’s impossible to go directly from doubt to doctrine. Spiritual maturity takes place in this cycle of mystery to mastery with the additional catalyst of movement from revelation to reason. We will never fully “arrive.” However, we need to keep moving forward, experiencing constant reformation and refinement — both individually and corporately.
Truth be told
In the Church’s current context and in the cyclical nature of discipleship, how do we go about faithfully presenting truth? While it can’t be sacrificed, it must be rediscovered. A church that abandons truth abandons itself.
We don’t just repeat truth. It cannot simply be handed down to the next generation like bricks or stone…petrified by time. Truth must be rediscovered and conquered in every generation. Each generation must learn to prize truth, within the historical context, for itself. Every truth needs translation.
How do we hold, teach, and present truth in a way that keeps the the ever-spinning circle of story, revelation–> mystery–> doubt, cycling? Take, for example, Easter. This is not a reasonable proposition—it’s absurd. You can’t scientifically prove it, it’s revelation. We are all doubters like Thomas and teachers like Peter at different stages of our lives. The Church must create space that embraces the doubters through the wonder and revelation as they experience the story, all the while firmly holding to truth.
21st century Church reimagined
Seth Godin describes culture as a gravitational force that resists your effort to make things better. Your response must be to persist in one of two ways:
- You can dumb down your message and your expectations, and meet your audience where they stand. You can coarsen your lyrics, offer simpler solutions, ask for less effort, demand less work, promise bigger results…
- Or you can smarten it up, and lead despite your goal of mass, not chase it. Practically speaking, this looks like starting a journey of thoughtful reflection that results in smarter people who are able to build better programs that refuse to sacrifice truth.
Acts 4:13 serves as a prime example of the importance of living in such a way that our faith is undeniable. We must live in our communities, meet people where they are, and present them with the truth.
The Church–as polarized and flawed as it is currently–is still the Church and is still holy—Christ makes us so. We must reimagine, reform, and renew how to communicate truth effectively and properly to this generation.
Doubting Thomas gets assurance
Things are changing fast and you might feel like Thomas right now…but Jesus says I am the way. Maybe you think you have it all figured out–like Peter–but you don’t. Unless you’re mystical and wonder-full and relevant enough to reach the real people “out there” searching, you’re still on a journey.
I love how Hans Küng describes the Church on its journey:
It will always remain the bride of Christ. It may wander through the world poor, hungry and helpless, but the Father will always run to embrace and kiss it on its return. It may lose its way in the desert, but the shepherd will always go out after it. It may roam through the town, but the Bridegroom will always find it. It may desert him, but he will never desert it. The Church goes on its pilgrim way through the ages, along a road not of its own choosing, along the way to which it is irrevocably called. It may lose the way, make detours, take wrong turnings it may stumble and fall, it may fall among thieves and lie half-dead by the roadside. But God the Lord will not pass by on the other side; he will pour oil on its wounds, lift it up, give it a lodging and provide for its healing even that which could have have been foreseen. The Church will always remain the holy Church. This we know in faith.
The Church has, is, and will constantly be reworked and formed in question, uncertainty, and wonder. We are constantly on our way, discovering truth at deeper levels, and what life in Jesus looks like. In John 14:5-6… Thomas asks, “How do we know the way?” Jesus responds with words that still guide us today. No matter what the world throws at us, we can always get our bearings with His response:
“I am the way.”