Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Changing Times

(I would be the one with the note pad...minus the hair!)

We live in a strange culture. Secular culture changes, it seems, minute by minute. About ten years ago, when I was studying youth ministry at Liberty University, the word was that culture made a complete turn every six months. Today it might be even more rapid. It is astounding how far our culture has advanced technologically. It is disheartening to see the depths of the decay of accepted norms of behavior. But, then again, should we expect anything less? One thing is for certain: Culture is dynamic. It changes very rapidly.

Equally befuddling is the rapidly changing church culture of North America. For some fifteen years now (perhaps even longer according to some) there has been an extensive growth of influence in "Missional Christianity". I was really first exposed to such terminology at Biblical Theological Seminary where I did my postgraduate work. Biblical, I suppose, is somewhat on the leading edge of this movement. They have completely reconfigured their course work along the lines of a missional emphasis. I am really grateful for my studies at Biblical. I think it was a very good complement to all that I learned at Liberty. My thinking about how the gospel engages culture was shaped in significant ways at Biblical.

There are far more intelligent folks writing about the present nuances of "Emergent Christianity" on the one hand, or "Missional Christianity" on the other. Ed Stetzer, Mark Driscoll, Brian McLaren, and Milfred Minatrea are just a few names of folks I've read about these respective Christian "movements". If you are interested, you can check out the Emergent Village for more information about that stream. Or, just type the word "missional" in the Google search bar and tens of thousands of links will instantly pop up for your perusing. (For the record, I am in no way endorsing the Emergent Movement. I simply cite this as an key example of radical change in modern Christianity.)

My real point with today's post was simply to get you thinking about how much of a reality change is in our world. Some people loath it. Other folks are clamoring for it. What are we to make of all this? Let me give you a few of my thoughts. If you have anything to add to the conversation (hey, that's a great postmodern word!), then jump in!

1. "Missional Christianity" is a redundancy. There are Christians who are not the least bit interested in reaching the lost. This is sad and should not be the norm. Maybe you are one of them. However, as I understand my Bible, there is a fundamental emphasis upon the church's mission to be a channel for God's eternal blessing to be communicated to the world (Gen. 12; Matt. 28; Acts). There are clearly some great insights from those who fancy themselves as missional. My point is simply that we, as followers of Christ, are summoned to follow him into the world with love, grace, and truth (John 20:21). It is my conviction (since I believe the Bible teaches) that all true followers of Christ should demonstrate a great concern for carrying the gospel to the world.

2. A changing culture may require a change in our methods but it should never cause us to actually change our message. You don't hear as much today about crusade evangelism or door-to-door campaigns. Some worship services today seem more like rock concerts than church services. Yet, in some instances, these progressive contexts are quite effectively reaching new people with the gospel of Jesus. In other places, the true message has been compromised or blatantly downplayed in order for people to "feel God's presence". Jesus challenged the traditional religious practices of his day (he also respected many of them...like teaching in the synagogue). The point here is that we do need to be culturally sensitive. But even more so, we need to be Biblically obedient. We need to take an uncompromising approach with an unchanging message to an ungodly world.

3. We live in a deceptive age...KEEP WATCH! I fear that many Christians are far too comfortable with judging other Christians. We need to nurture grace and communication with others who disagree with us. At the same time, the Scriptures give us a clear warning that there will be many false teachers and deceivers in the last days. We need to check everything against the Bible. There are methods that clearly violate the word of God. Something isn't necessary better or "beneficial" just because it is new or "cool". But remember, the enemy is subtle and deceptive. Whether it is clinging to stale and outdated traditions, or naively embracing new ones, we need to be watchful in a culture like ours.

4. Biblical, Christ-centered worship...authentic, mind-heart-and-soul discipling...and courageous, truthful, and gracious evangelism should be our focus. Maybe we are spending way too much time on being "hip". Maybe we need to focus more on preaching an unadulterated gospel and less on developing cooler websites. I've always loved the simple statement: Make sure you keep the main thing, the main thing. Our world doesn't need cooler programs; it needs Christ. Our world needs a church which is staunchly committed to the glory of God and making that glory known in word and deed. Actually, I think people are looking for simpler things these days. Our culture is overstimulated. Folks' schedules are overbooked. Maybe it's time for us to stop "doing churchy things" and to start being the true, sacrificial church of Jesus Christ.

Do you have any thoughts on this subject? Do you think the contemporary church is compromising or properly adapting to a changing culture?


  1. Good post. I don't think I can make a blanket statement to answer your question that would account for every church in America. There are certainly some that are doing it properly, others who are compromising, and still others who are a decade behind--it's a case-by-case basis. However, I think as long as the church is keeping "the main thing, the main thing," then the truth of the gospel is going to change lives regardless of the method. Sure, it's nice to have fancy, shiny programs but ultimately God reaches people through people. The gospel is always "relevant" regardless of the changing culture. That being said, we can't as effectively be "salt and light" in this world if we completely dig our heels in the ground and refuse to adapt at all but we have to carefully choose (as you said) where to change without compromising the message. So, I understand the tension there.

    That's all from me. Love you!

  2. Thought-provoking post! While times and cultures change, the sheep still need to be fed. And not just milk. I think it's important to preach the word. I think #3 is also of utmost importance, to not just acknowledge that false teachers exist, but to actively protect your flock from those hungry wolves. It's harder to do in this age, when so many false teachers sneak in through TV, radio, and books, even so-called "Christian" sources. (And blogs too.) Even calling them by name, just like Paul did in his time, would be a good idea. A sheep needs to be taught discernment, among other things, and it is a big job for a pastor to shepherd a flock. But we serve a mighty God, and through His strength, it can be done for our good and His glory.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Merrilee. Yeah, you have to watch out for those bloggers! All kidding aside, there are so many counterfeits and deceptions in our world today. We must be vigilant over doctrine and conduct. I fear that many well-intending folks have taken a "the end justify the means" approach. I appreciate your contribution and encouragement. We think of the Stevenson family often. We pray you are well in Christ.

  4. Dan,
    You are such a gifted communicator. It is great to read this blog and be encouraged and challenged spiritually.
    Regarding this specific post, I especially love your statement in point number 2 - that is so true and it is so important for us as Christians to remember that.