Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
I just spent the week with some great pastors and leaders in the UK and somehow the trip across the pond helped me see more clearly what is happening here in my own backyard. We live in times of great change in the local church, but every generation has said the same about its places of worship. The church was built on the witness of a resurrected Christ, the trustworthy scriptures and the sacraments we gather around to celebrate in community. This has always been sacred space for Christ followers, but everything else is a-changin’.
Like the UK and most of Europe, our country has also moved toward a more secular view of life, distancing itself from traditional churches and the established religious orders. The trends are troubling and challenging for us leading congregations outside the Bible Belt, where churches still seem to hold some traditional influences. If we pay attention, though, we can see the waves of change coming to all of our shores in several key areas.
1. There is a low trust of church leaders
The local church will always be led by imperfect people who have been given delegated authority from God. This authority is maintained only by humble, servant leaders who put the needs of others first. When this is absent, the office of pastor becomes abhorrent to a cynical culture that is curious about Jesus, but distrustful of authoritarian church polity that resembles the world’s system of corruption. Now, more than ever, ecclesiastical leaders have to be above reproof, completely transparent and accountable or we risk losing the one thing we cannot easily regain – the trust of others.
2. Personal morality has replaced biblical morality
For generations, people seemed to know they needed help to find their way home. Now, we have a generation who have embraced moral relativism, the idea that no one really knows right and wrong, therefore we should tolerate and validate the individual’s moral choices. Today, the teachings of Jesus are sometimes respected but seldom revered. What Jesus gave us is still powerful and life-changing, but we cannot assume the culture will immediately believe the Way is immediately better than their own. We must show them the beauty of a life surrendered to Jesus and not just argue with them about moral conventions. In the beginning and until the end, we must pray the Holy Spirit get involved because that is how we found the narrow path home.
3. We are becoming the minority
The men and women I met this week were mostly encouraged, despite the trends I just described. They spoke of baptisms, helping the poor in their villages and cities, the hope that new churches were soon to be planted and the pure worship that was emerging from their congregations. Leaders were encouraged that new partnerships are emerging promising new strength through cooperation. They did not despise being the minority working the margins of their culture, spending their time with those who had been tossed aside and forgotten. They found Jesus there, just as their fathers and mothers had found him in generations past. He was among them, being a faithful God to his faithful community, the maker of heaven and earth, building his kingdom that has no end in a land that was a-changin’.
- March 9th