I grew up in small-town America with a small-town mindset, but after six decades in ministry I found I never discovered that authentic “rural America.” As I slowly transitioned from small-town kid to urban professional, my children grew up informed by an information age I could reject but not ignore.
Technologically, I still feel vulnerable; yet, I love being the family patriarch and accept that honor with whatever dignity it offers. I would not trade my ineptitude simply to avoid the occasional discomforts. Thus, I claw and scramble up the cliffs of seeming impossibility to retain whatever digital dignity I can achieve to keep pace with my “wired” grandsons.
My small town heritage gave me a comfortable place to live, but I enjoyed the expanded contours of urban living. An eventual return to the limited contours of small-town life allowed me to again enjoy the perks of anytime parking and immediate window service at the Post Office most hours of the day. Retiring, however, to a mid-size community on the I-94 Corridor, I saw the roots of a former life disappearing.
Consequently, I stand in line frequently for some service I desire. I miss the fringe benefits of the smaller community, but I am very aware that technology no longer allows any of us to live unaware of the other half of the world; rural farmers are as tightly wired as urban bankers.
This holds huge implications for the Church of God in Michigan, especially those of us who live in one of the great American megalopolises--the I-94 corridor from Windsor, Ontario to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and points beyond. This asphalt jungle includes Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Sarnia, and portions of Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Erie.
This represents more than twenty-percent of North America’s population. It includes a large black population, a growing Hispanic community, and the largest Arabic-Islamic concentration outside of the Middle East. It offers prime opportunities for explosive expansion and a few of our churches have benefited greatly. It also offers the option of disappearing into the muck of mediocrity and unless one focuses on becoming intentional, one need only do nothing to succeed at failure.
Many congregations enjoy new facilities, improved programming, and good public acceptance, but these are not biblical means for measuring congregational growth. Growing budgets and busy calendars suggest they never had it so good, but the material successes of these congregations has lulled them to sleep, leaving them vegetating in a non-growth mode of survival-existence and flat-line growth.
Other congregations have lived impoverished for so long that their improved financial base only lulls them into deeper sleep. One congregation relocated from a quiet neighborhood to a major thoroughfare. They built a versatile non-traditional barrier-free facility, but they never felt the sting of disappointment at not reaching their unchurched neighbors. Truthfully, they never had it so good!
God blessed a church with the opportunity of developing an expanded campus that would enable them to make a huge social impact. Their promised potential, however, remains an undeveloped acreage as they pay the taxes by leasing it to a corn farmer. Without vision, they “do church” as always. Too many congregations across America remain comfortable in their accepted patterns and practices; they are respectful of the restless urgency of the few, but they have no will to change. They never had it so good.
Although the gospel does not change, our children grow up in a different culture than we did. To impact that culture, we must experience an attitude adjustment. To avoid a horse and buggy mindset, we must intentionally adapt to a culture that takes advantage of the new technologies, understands urban methodologies, and present a gospel message that communicates in contemporary language.
The mission of the church is to introduce people to Jesus. God does not call us to simply attend preaching services, resource committees, and enjoy the material blessings of our sometimes exclusive Christian Club. Our culture is so lost it sees no need of the church; yet Jesus invites us to worship, work, and witness, to win the lost at any cost. He calls us to become His people on mission in ministry, nothing more, nothing less.
The Church is God’s people living as Jesus lived from Sunday morning through Saturday night, loving God supremely, loving others as ourselves. Our “power of being” comes through “his” suffering. First-century Christians not only out-thought their cultural counterparts, they out-lived them, and out-died them.
When we trust him sufficiently, we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and will discover new thoughts that transform our old ways. Such attitude adjustments will bring behavioral changes that renew, reform, and transform us. Nothing short of such a transformation can empower us to communicate with this postmodern culture with something God can bless.
J. B. Toews issued a strong protest against the corrupt forms of Christianity he found in his denomination. He found no corresponding “biblical theology of change” and concluded “urban culture today has more affinity with the pluralism and paganism of Athens than with the homogeneous religious heritage of Jerusalem” (Pilgrimage of Faith/1993/210).
At Warner’s World, I wonder: are we even open to an attitude adjustment? Do we dare develop biblical measures for determining our congregational health? Will we re-evaluate our ministry programs in the light of God’s mission in the world? If not, how can we pray as Jesus prayed, “not my will but thine be done”?
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