These are exciting and challenging times for the American Church.
Much has been written about the American Church losing the culture war where Biblical values no longer dominate the social construct. It’s been going that way for decades, but very few researches would say that Christianity is dying. However, we have lost home field advantage. This isn’t something to fear. Good things can happen when God’s people become marginalized and less powerful. God is always in the business of purifying his followers in whole and in part and it does seem the American Church is in a stage of refinement. Marginalization should serve as a catalyst to greater dependence on God. Dependence doesn’t often translate as a positive trait, but it’s the cornerstone of the Christian life.
Ireland is a good case study for what can go wrong when The Church enjoys power for too long. History has shown that when various Christian institutions have prolonged influence, it usually evolves into high control with little motivation to change and adapt with the culture. This risks waking up one day only to realize the Church has become irrelevant. When we lived in Dublin, we were able to witness how the Irish Church navigated social issue losses with referendums on same sex marriage and abortion. It’s now forcing leaders in churches (Catholic and Protestant) to take a deeper look resulting in a positive change of posture towards the majority culture. The Church in Ireland is now in an uphill climb and will be for some time. On the positive side, participating in a more marginalized gospel community can be exhilarating, stretching, and it creates life-giving solidarity as you slog through the trenches of spiritual battle with others.
We don’t quite have that in America…yet. Maybe it’s coming, maybe it's not. I suspect it’s already here in varying degrees (mainly on the East and West coasts). And it’s a good thing...IF it produces gospel transformation where love of neighbor becomes our first impression versus being right (and I'm preaching to myself here). Jesus loved people into the kingdom and his harshest critiques were for the religious elite.
A recent article in Christianity Today put it this way, “the church in America is now undergoing a major deconstruction of its historical identity and its organizational and institutional systems. This is requiring it to learn a new grammar for being the church. Learning this new grammar is primarily taking place on the ground in congregations that are seriously working to discern how to be led by the Spirit anew”.
Ground zero for these "refining/deconstruction/reframing" movements have been taking place mostly in the cities of America and is now influencing more rural areas. Tim Keller has been leading the city movement for years. One of the fruits of this movement is redefining how we as followers of Jesus view our work. Kellers book, Every Good Endeavor, centers around greater integration of faith and work and it's role in announcing the kingdom of God. This is relevant as we learn how to serve Millennials living in the City because they are contributing to this refining process both passively and actively.
Ed Stetzer writes, "As the American Christian culture becomes less and less of our primary identity, it’s imperative that we view our culture now as a mission field. We must see ourselves as people on mission. This is not our home. This is our mission field. Therefore, we all must see our vocations as mission—as kingdom work.…we need a reemphasis on gospel clarity. Being labeled Christian no longer means a ‘social Christian’, but instead is someone who's been changed by the power of the gospel. This is a vital theological shift in the way we are viewed and should view our land.”
As we settle into this new frontier of cities please pray for us to trust God enough to do what he says and obedient to the change God is personally calling us into as we believe God for the flourishing of the cities in San Diego County.