As a Canadian newspaper recently pointed out, the Fourth of July festivities and celebrations throughout the United States served as a bit of escape from some grim realities: a rapidly spiraling debt problem, an inept political machine, an unpopular war, and a persistent economic recession — just to name a few.
And while I personally enjoyed the distraction, I must admit that it will take more than fireworks and franks to get my mind off these colossal issues that threaten to choke the very life from our republic should a sharp and effective course correction not be made — and soon.
If you read this blog often, then you know that I am a huge advocate for personal responsibility. In contrast to the philosophies opined in the news media, pointing fingers and assigning blame is truly of little help. That’s where the church comes in.
You see, I believe that Christians have a responsibility to do something phenomenal in today’s American society — something that could radically transform the face of the Church as we know it. And yes, I understand that few facets of our economy have been so hard-hit financially as churches and non-profit organizations. When the budget gets squeezed at home, those expenses are among the first deemed ‘discretionary’ — like it or not. Just yesterday I was contacted by yet another ministry colleague whose staff position will be eliminated at the end of the year.
As a realist and a pragmatist, I struggle with optimism. I’m a pretty black-and-white kind of guy. I’m fine with calling a spade a spade, although I probably won’t waste my time trying to convince those who don’t necessarily see things my way. But here’s what I think: I believe that the church in 21st century America has the potential to transform society in ways not seen since the days of the early church, as described in the book of Acts.
As states follow the nation’s lead and assume higher and higher levels of debt, vital services will be significantly reduced, if not eliminated altogether. These services include healthcare, counseling, education, and childcare. And there are ways for the Church to step up to the plate and assume responsibility for filling in the gaps that, quite frankly, it should have been doing all along.
Somewhere along the way, the American Church began to take on the attitude of its typical parishioners. The Church began to believe that its effectiveness was largely dependent upon some of the most superficial things — like state-of-the-art facilities, larger-than-life personalities, highly specialized niche ministries, and entertainment-based programming.
In fact, I would argue that this is still the model of the local church that many so-called pastors, priests, or shepherds would esteem as the pinnacle of success.
They would be wrong. Dead wrong.
As American religious life evolved, many of the seeker-sensitive churches of the 80’s and 90’s made a very subtle, in fact, almost indiscernible transition. They moved from seeker-sensitive to consumer-driven. I suppose that once these churches reached ‘seekers,’ then those individuals continued to expect church to be all about them instead of all about Him. Consequently, the landscape of this great nation is now littered with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches that don’t know what to do or how to cope when the money goes away and the lights go out.
I have an idea. I think that it’s then that the Church should best be positioned to tell the world, in effect, “It’s showtime!”
It’s time to show the world that this Gospel we preach is real, is relevant, and is right here. It’s time to show the world that the message we carry is not hindered by a weakened economy — not if we’re really passionate about the message in the first place. It’s time to prove once and for all that if a few ordinary fishermen with no formal training and no budgetary funds can reach people for Christ, then so can we!
Will things improve in America? Well, I guess that all depends on how we define improvement. Do I think the economy is going to take off again and let us enjoy the perks and privileges of being a nation of plenty? No, I emphatically do not believe that. We have essentially kicked God out of our schools, our courts, and our public gatherings in order to satisfy the outcries of a few literally misguided souls. Consequently, I think that God is working out His purposes, and our comfort level is of no concern to Him whatsoever.
However, I do believe that the Church is going to see drastic improvement. I think that improvement will center around four major shifts in the life of our local churches, some of which are transitioning even now:
1. Ministry as we know it will look and feel very different than it does in many of our churches today. We will be forced to view our budget in the light of greatly limited resources. The glitz and glamour of entertainment-based programming will be replaced by ministries that meet the very real physical and spiritual needs of people who are discovering what humility really means.
2. Ministry will become increasingly community-based. In fact, many churches will have no building at all.
3. True believers will be identified only after the faux ‘Christians’ fall away. I hate to say it so bluntly, but the churches in this nation are filled with people who will be stunned and amazed to find that their pet project or ministry must take a back-seat to more hands-on and real-world ministry. The sad truth is that our churches will be better off without them, because to the faux ‘Christians,’ it was never ‘all about Him’ in the first place.
4. As God allows our nation to go through this period of change, the Church will be marked by renewed passion, sharper focus, and more intentional ministry. As a result, we will see people won to Christ because of a true spiritual hunger that for so long has been numbed by a steady diet of materialism and pride. Talk about feeding the monster!
Now please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not a prophet, a priest, or a king. These are merely my thoughts and impressions, albeit after a period of prayer and searching. I could be wrong. And I certainly wouldn’t claim to lay out a timetable for all this. Besides, God could hear and answer the prayers of His people and restore this land to a place of wealth and luxury that we could only dream of. But when I think about how He lived among us during His ministry, I don’t think of extraordinary; I think of extra ordinary.
Plain. Simple. Humble.
So, I guess the answer to our prayers is entirely dependent upon what it is we’re praying. Are you praying for God to stem the tide, protect your assets, and keep you comfortable and secure? Or are you praying for God to do whatever it takes to get people’s attention, that they might see Him and believe before it is too late?
The truth is that, according to Scripture, sooner or later everyone is going to confess Him as Lord. My job as a believer is to pray that God will do whatever it takes — and use me as He will — to make sure that as many people as possible confess, “Jesus is Lord” on this side of eternity.
When this life draws to an end, that’s the only thing that will matter anyway.
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