The coming evangelical collapse?

10 03 2009

Monday was a big news day re the status of the church in North America – here’s what went down:

arisreport20081) The ARIS survey results title American Religious Identification Survey 2008 was widely reported. The full report is available here.

barnagroup

2) The Barna Group released results of a recent survey titled Changes in Worldview Among Christians over the Past 13 Years – it was not widely reported. A printable version of the findings is here – the key nugget: “less than one-half of one percent of adults in the Mosaic generation – i.e., those aged 18 to 23 – have a biblical worldview, compared to about one out of every nine older adults.”

csm3) But to top it all off the Christian Science Monitor published a very provocative article titled The Coming Evangelical Collapse (print edition to be available later in the week). If you are already uncomfortable from reading other posts on this blog you may want to skip this one (as if the title wasn’t warning enough). But for those who want to read the author’s thoughts in greater detail check out the unabridged version – a three part series posted the end of January 2009 here, here and here (or a printable version of all 3 available here).





Leading in liminality

13 02 2009

canyouheargodnowWhat is needed from spiritual leaders during this time of uncertainty?  I keep bumping into what I think are a few keys to answering that question.  One of those keys is spiritual discernment – finding out what God is doing in our church and community.

I thought Ruth Haley Barton did an excellent job of articulating this critical leadership role in her article titled “Can You Hear God Now” that was published in the Summer 2008 issue of Leadership Journal.

Following are a few highlights from her article:

  • “At the heart of spiritual leadership is discernment-the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God both personally and in community.
  • …discernment does not take place in a vacuum, nor by accident. Spiritual community is the context for discernment, so the first move in cultivating a culture of discernment is to establish the leadership group as a community for discernment.
  • Discernment requires us to move beyond our reliance on cognition and intellectual hard work to a place of deep listening and response to the Spirit of God within and among us.
  • Seeking discernment with others at the leadership level requires an extraordinary amount of safety in each other’s presence, along with great clarity about what values govern the process… We cannot just assume these values. We must talk about them and seek to live them with great vigor and intent.
  • The discernment process requires a commitment to listen on many levels.
  • …discernment is not the endgame. The endgame is to actually do the will of God.




Getting real about where we are at

10 02 2009

The loss so many of us have suffered (directly or indirectly) as a result of the dramatic downturn in our economy has been both very real and very painful. As a result there has been a contraction that is not only felt in the economy but in our ability to see the magnificent opportunity we have at such a time like this. We know the facts: 1) God is good – He cares about me and my family; 2) Our relationship with Christ is strengthened during times of suffering; 3) There are others with greater needs then us; 4) The gospel is for exactly such a time as this; and 5) We are the ones blessed and now called to bring Christ’s redemption to those around us.

What we don’t know so well (because so many of us have never experienced times like this before) is the opportunity. What if the vision to build bridges to our community was for such a time as this? What if that vision was manifest primarily by reaching people in real need? What if living that vision started now – completely disassociated with any relocation plans? What if we trusted God with our future and focused on the needs at hand?

Some of us have answers to these questions: 1) It’s not that bad in Tallahassee; 2) Give it a year or two and things will be getting back to normal; 3) We are already serving the community – look at what OFS does each week.

Let’s say for argument these answers prove to be true – can we say we have acted like Christ by just maintaining the status quo? What if it takes five years to “get back to normal?” What if things get worse?

Here’s a course of action that needs our serious consideration (pertaining to Wildwood Church):

1) Admit that the relocation project is stalled.
2) Admit that leadership has been detached from one another and in disunity for some time and that only recently have steps begun to correct this problem.
3) Admit that our finances are in decline – presumptively because of the economy.
4) Admit that we are not sure when we will move forward with relocation plans but to do so now would be not only imprudent but an unethical use of resources with the increasing needs in our church and community due to the state of the economy.
5) Offer to return funds to people who gave to the relocation project who are experiencing financial hardship or who are dissatisfied with the lack of progress with the relocation plans.
6) Get permission to use the funds given to the relocation project to meet extraordinary needs of individuals and families in our community who have been affected by the economy.
7) Implement a church-wide collaborative form of communication to identify those extraordinary needs and solutions for those needs.

Risky? Without a doubt. What if people take us up on the offer to get their relocation contributions back and we give the rest away to people with extraordinary needs (and we do all that with a diminishing general fund)? But then think about the risk if we don’t act. What value is a vision to reach our community that we largely ignored during a time of crisis?

Perhaps it is premature to sound the alarm – perhaps this recession will not get much worse and be over sooner than expected. I am not a pessimist by nature but these are truly uncertain times – we have never tried to come out of a recession when the rest of the world was in it with us and the financial system had experienced such widespread failure.

No one knows the rules of how this game gets played out. Hoping for a soft landing and a speedy recovery is not a bad thing but I also don’t think it is a bad thing to discern what God would have us be about. Could it be that these uncertain times are the very windows of opportunity to advance God’s kingdom in our community? I think that this may be the real – the reality of what God is up to – that we need to be about.





Missional leadership

26 01 2009

missionalleader

Alan Roxburgh is leading a series of webinars that coordinate with his book The Missional Leader.  The book is an excellent resource providing some very practical guidance for leaders in post-Christendom.  Christianity Today reviewed the book shortly after it was published in 2006.  The following comments are from that review: 

“The book first describes this new term ‘missional.’ Leaders no longer view themselves as heads of a hierarchy, and church members no longer look only to the “professional” Christians to get the job done of reaching and caring for their communities. Missional leaders are more interested in cultivating community than controlling outcomes through programs and buildings. Such congregations are beginning to breathe in the same air and dream incredible dreams because they are learning to allow God’s Word and his Spirit to lead them rather than agendas, budgets, and traditions. People who would never have dreamed of taking leadership roles are discovering purpose in the community of believers.

“Essentially, in this model, the leader is a facilitator skilled at bringing out the deeper issues among the community. Rather than providing solutions, he asks good questions and embraces, rather than resolves, tension. The missional leader seeks to cultivate the congregation’s imaginative power rather than attempting to shape it into a pre-determined form.

“…For all its idealism, The Missional Leader paints a realistic picture at least of what life could look like among churches willing to enter the chaos and make lasting change little by little.”

Early last year Chad Hall illustrated how The Missional Leader was “playing out” in several churches in a Leadership Journal article (pdf available here).  

webinars_350x225The webinars Alan Roxburgh is hosting are available here.  The next one is scheduled for February 16.  The first webinar was recorded and recently made available to the participants – I’ve posted it below (the Powerpoint can be accessed and printed from here):





Missional Tribe

20 01 2009

A new website named Missional Tribe launched a few weeks ago to help connect people serving in advancing the kingdom of God. The purpose of the site is further described on the about page – here are some of the descriptive contributions:

mt-logo… offers a collaborative space to connect people and generate an accepting, supportive community that intentionally seeks for diversity.

… fosters dialogue in a respectful environment and gathers grassroots stories for mutual encouragement, teaching, and support.

… focuses on serving practitioners through resources, ideas, and stories from the front lines of incarnational engagement and radical transformation.

… shares the nitty-gritty of living our faith and sharing our life in order to break anyone’s sense of isolation on this journey, especially when a virtual support network may be the only community currently available.

… creates an “evergreen” space to capture and continue the collective wisdom of those seeking to pursue Christlikeness, stewarding it in ways that will keep it accessible beyond the first generation of participants.

… encourages using the website as a social space for befriending people of similar (or opposite!) interests, as a discussion space for interactive learning, and as an archive space for links and materials that might otherwise be forgotten.

… engages in discussion of any topic about the missional journey, with a minimum of gate keeping and oversight to maintain it as a safe place for all so that nothing would be off limits except for bullying or belittling others.

… celebrates both individual and communal expressions of a missional paradigm, and constantly seeks to broaden its demographic reach because of its commitment to embrace and learn from the diversity in Christ’s Kingdom.





Education for a new society

14 01 2009

“The church that educates for a new society will live out in its structures what it proclaims.  The very structures themselves educate.  When our acts mirror our words, they give to our words a transforming power.”

-Elizabeth O’Connor





The end of Christendom – a good thing

12 01 2009

barnagroup

 

 

 

George Barna posted today the results of his latest research regarding the state of Christianity in America.  He titled his findings “Christianity Is No Longer Americans’ Default Faith” – summarizing his findings that “half of all adults now contend that Christianity is just one of many options that Americans choose from and that a huge majority of adults pick and choose what they believe rather than adopt a church or denomination’s slate of beliefs.”  Here are some of the insights Barna draws from the research:

  • “The Christian faith is less of a life perspective that challenges the supremacy of individualism as it is a faith being defined through individualism.
  • … Americans are embracing an unpredictable and contradictory body of beliefs… Millions also contend that they will experience eternal salvation because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior, but also believe that a person can do enough good works to earn eternal salvation.
  • In the past, when most people determined their theological and moral points of view, the alternatives from which they chose were exclusively of Christian options… Today, Americans are more likely to pit a variety of non-Christian options against various Christian-based views. This has resulted in an abundance of unique worldviews based on personal combinations of theology drawn from a smattering of world religions…
  • Faith, of whatever variety, is increasingly viral rather than pedagogical. With people spending less time reading the Bible, and becoming less engaged in activities that deepen their biblical literacy, faith views are more often adopted on the basis of dialogue, self-reflection, and observation than teaching.”

Barna’s survey results are no surprise but serve to underline our present reality that we need to be living in this culture as missionaries – not pharisees. 

theendofchristendom

Christendom has been waining in the west for several decades but the church has been slow to see it – and even slower to process the implications.  One exception to that is Malcolm Muggeridge who gave a series of popular lectures on the subject at the University of Waterloo (Ontario) in 1978 (published in 1980 in a book titled The End of Christendom).   Muggeridge’s perspective was that Christendom is not compatible with Christianity and, as such, the end of Christendom will allow for the church to triumph.  He saw the twentieth century as a parallel to what St. Augustine encountered when faced with the collapse of Rome: the inevitable transience of historical civilizations in contrast to which the eternity that comes to light through Christianity shines out all the more clearly, as he envisions anew Augustine’s distinction between the ephemeral City of Man and the everlasting City of God.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.