When we are bombarded with negativity or faced with chaotic conditions a natural response path leads us to a place of insulation, isolation and safety – I think that is especially true when we are disconnected. There is another path that I don’t think we can even see until we reach a tipping point – when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change. That path is one that takes us into the unknown but it cannot be traveled alone. This path is poorly maintained and unmarked – it takes a team to not only discern the pathway but to watch your back. I think the church (and church leaders) in North America is on both sides of that tipping point. Some have started down the unmarked path while others have not yet seen it and remain in systems that are producing significant malaise and negativity.
A startling example of this tipping point was front and center at the Southern Baptist Convention last week. From what I have read, this years meeting was much more somber then in years past. Fewer people were in attendance, there were no long pronouncements about cultural deviancies, and the usual swipes at Rick Warren, Calvinists, the emerging church or contemporary music were not heard. Why? The Southern Baptist are in trouble. What their key leaders told the membership last week was “we are dying” (Johnny Hunt, the newly elected president of the SBC) and “we are in free fall” (Jimmy Draper, president emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources). Following is a portion of Jimmy Draper’s message:
“We have reached a place that our spiritual forefathers feared. We need to admit that the problem with America today is not the government or the politicians. It is not Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John McCain. It’s not the senators or representatives. The problem is not the educational system or the economy. It’s not the liberals or the abortionists. The problem lies with us.
“We conservatives claim to have the truth and we think we are rich in spiritual position and power, but yet we are cold, complacent, impotent and unattractive, and irrelevant to the world. I hate to say it, but we are not plateaued. We’re not even just declining. We’re in a free fall. You know why we don’t win the lost? Because we don’t like them. They are different from us. We don’t care for them. We have no real love for them. People just don’t touch eternity when they are around us. We’re too self-absorbed.”
I’d rather Jimmy Draper have said the culture is drifting further from God and we are just going to have to hunker down and pray that God brings revival. That would have allowed me to continue to travel on the well known path. But that’s not where we’re at – we have relied on the “fly paper” (attractional) approach to doing church – it was never the right way but it worked in a consumer driven society. But now we are in a place where consumers are not attracted to our “fly paper” – they either don’t want God at all or they want to see Him lived out in ways they (not us) consider authentic.