We started thinking more deeply last week about how Evangelical churches like ours can be prone towards hanging on to “what worked in the past,” and far too unwilling and suspicious of changing our methods to adapt to each new generation of people who need to hear the Gospel. This week, I wish to put forth a solution. It won’t be the perfect one – I’m sure – but my hope is that it will advance the ball down the field and get us to not just identify the problem (as the previous post did) but also get us thinking about what the way forward ought to look like…
The solution is both simple and difficult: we must (1) cling firmly to the never-changing message of the Gospel. This is where our heritage has served us largely well. In our attempts to reach the lost and communicate to the world around us we must never, ever, compromise on the truth and veracity of the Scriptures. We must never be embarrassed by God’s Word, selectively ignoring parts that don’t connect with current readers, or thinking that somehow we are smarter or more advanced than the inspired authors of the Bible.
At the same time we must (2) be innovative, forward-thinking, and always willing to find new ways and methods of communicating and living this unchanging message. We must stop doing church as if we are living in a majority Christian culture, we must stop assuming that our views are the norm in a rapidly changing society that is thoroughly postmodern and increasingly post-Christian. We should look to the past for wisdom, of course, but not let it be a ball and chain that forces us into any certain mold for ministry in the future. Said another way, we need to look further into the past – all the way back to the early church – for our understanding of what ministry ought to be a in a culture that is rapidly looking more and more similar.
If I was to sum up this line of thought it would be that we need to stop being behind the ball, always responding to the culture, always trusting in what used to work and start getting out in front of the problems and issues of our day. We must look around, pray for opportunities, and engage winsomely not just with evangelization, but also in living as a Christian community. Indeed, we will need to learn to embrace the change required to do this.
But that’s the crux, isn’t it? As conservatives, change towards something new is difficult for most of us. After all, we want to conserve what is going well and recover from the past anything that isn’t. But that isn’t the church’s way of building disciples. Instead, our call, as faithful Christians holding to the unchanging Word, is to follow in the footsteps of Christ Himself, who certainly did ministry in a radically different way than what those in the culture were used to. Christ held to the truths of the Old Testament – fulfilling them! – all the while ministering in unique and varied ways to those who were being overlooked, ostracized, and cast out by the established religious authorities who valued tradition over faithfulness. You see this same innovative-yet-faithful streak in Paul, Peter, and so many others in the early church. Why shouldn’t it be seen in the church now? In ordinary but faithful Christians today?
Dear brothers and sisters: pray that the Lord would use us in this day and age. That He would make us flexible, willing to try new methods of sharing the unchanging truth. Ask the Lord to give you a passionate desire to find ways of training up new generations of disciples now, reaching them right where they are at here in the present, rather than expecting them to meet the ideas or have the same questions as those in previous generations. The change needs to start first with us, in our hearts, and then flow out to the watching, waiting world around us. And by God’s grace, that is exactly what will happen as we seek to wisely communicate to the world around us that the Lord is unchanging and unchanged, that His Word stands forever, and that all who trust in Christ shall be saved.