Friday, November 29, 2013

Responding to the Church-Going Exodus

Todd Hunter recently posted these statistics on Facebook:

- Only 20% of Americans go to church. The lowest it's ever been measured in the history of America.
- 8 to 10 thousand churches will shut their doors in next 12 months, never to reopen.
- America is now the most religiously diverse nation in the world.
- America is now the 3rd largest mission field in the world.
-150,000 people per week are leaving the church
(Source: Hartford Institute)

These are staggering statistics.  

One of the goals of Resurrection Church is to help shift the church away from just trying to attract people to come to a Sunday morning service.  It's important to acknowledge this is difficult.  Yet I believe if churches continue to hold onto an understanding of church that is focused on attraction, these statistics will only get worse.

We want to connect people in small, organic spiritual families that love and care for one another and do good in the world, popularly known as "Missional Communities".  The idea of missional communities is still new and mostly foreign to people.  But the history of the church has been filled with people and movements that have gone back to a simple way of life like Jesus and the disciples practiced and the early church carried forward in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our dream of seeing a movement of missional communities rise up is exciting, but also intimidating.  The temptation is to scale back our dreams and settle for less.  This is a side affect of consumerism and how we've been influenced by culture.  If a ministry doesn't rapidly look successful, or we face setbacks, we are apt to label it a failure and close it down. 

Luke 4:14-30 tells the story of Jesus returning to his hometown right at the beginning of his ministry. 
It's important to realize that at this point, Jesus was alone.  He had been traveling around the simple, rural towns in Galilee preaching, healing, and casting out demons.  He was drawing crowds, but he didn't try to coax any of these people to become followers or disciples.  He was just announcing and demonstrating the presence of the Kingdom.

In Nazareth, Jesus stood up in the middle of the people who watched him grow up and said, "I'm God's son.  I'm announcing the Kingdom and since this is my hometown, you won't accept me."  That, of course, didn't go over too well.  The story ends with the townspeople literally trying to push him over a cliff.

It would have been very easy for Jesus to become discouraged at this point.  This was his hometown.  He reads his "vision statement" right out of the scriptures his family, friends, and neighbors had been reading their whole life.  And they reject him…even to the point of wanting to kill him!  But this was no surprise and didn't slow him down.  Jesus just continued on with his work among those who had "ears to hear and eyes to see."

We should not be afraid to announce the Kingdom dream God has given us.  If the church culture - our "hometown" - won't accept us, then we need to go into the "other villages" right around us.  There is a huge population of unchurched Christians and others who need family.  God will show us the "disciples" to call to follow Jesus along the way.

So we're not going to stop…we are going to pray, we are going to preach, we are going to heal, cast out demons, and not get discouraged.  There is just too much at stake.

Monday, November 18, 2013

You Become Like What You Worship

I was again reminded this week how the "natural flow" of my life can be easily filled with deadlines, meetings, driving kids to sports, and collapsing on the couch exhausted at the end of the day.  This is by no means unusual for anyone in our culture.  So that's why living as a disciple of Jesus in community is so counter-cultural and challenging to implement.

The temptation will be to try and live this way on top of an already full life.  That is doomed to fail.  What we need is a way to keep reflecting on the assumptions and motivations that lie behind where we choose to invest our time, energy, and resources.  Quite bluntly, this is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said, "Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be."

Now before you think I'm going to lay down some heavy guilt trip, please stop right there.  I am by no means standing here as someone who has figured all this out.  But, God has given me the job of reflecting on what it means to be the church - a community of disciples of Jesus - in 21st century South Florida.  Hopefully this will help us collectively find more freedom and become more like the people God created us to be.

Here's the truth: the natural flow of secular life is towards self-preservation and self-fulfillment.  Ironically, the drive to achieve the "perfect life" results in - quite literally - death.  Hell is the natural result of someone who has worshipped the idol of self to the point where the image of God is no longer reflected in their lives.  For those who have not entrusted their lives to Jesus, eventually that reflection is destroyed.  The prison of self destroys the very thing it was trying to preserve.

This is all, of course, very ironic.  "Just let us be human!" is the rallying cry of those trying to live out the secular dream.  "Just let us be free to do what we want!"  But humans were made to reflect the glory of God!  And you become like what you worship!  So if you worship yourself you don't become more human, you become less human.  Real humanity is becoming more like the Creator himself.  Real freedom is found in worship of the Creator and living life as he always intended.

So we need to begin there.  What we worship lays the foundation for becoming more or less human, more or less free.