Mike Cope's blog

Sunday, February 27, 2005

They're out there, trust me: these young men and women who have dreams of losing themselves in the messy world of the kingdom of God. These are the ones I'm talking about supporting -- even when they go places and do things in ways that "we aren't comfortable." Check this out from a young man at Highland. He and his wife are preparing to go minister in the Boston area. The State of the Church Address The Church in North America is on life support. This is a fact which few of the "25 Most Influential Evangelicals," recognized by Time Magazine last month, know, preach or write, and something many leaders in Churches of Christ have not accepted. The United States is now one of the three most secular countries in the world. Wait a minute, you say: What about the 2004 election, which highlighted voters advocating traditional, Christian values? And with Christianity blitzing the media, movie theaters, and malls, Christianity just has to be flourishing in the West, right? Not so fast. We're living in what's being called the "Post-Christian Era." Christianity in North America has been on a steady decline for the better part of a century, with the most staggering drops occurring in the past 25 years. Christian statistician and church consultant George Barna reported that over the past decade, three million people have been leaving churches every year in the United States. Closer to home, half of Abilene's 120,000 residents do not attend one of the roughly 150 churches in town. You wouldn't read these stats in Time or hear them on American Family Radio, however. Christian media organizations talk like the only work to be done on our soil has to do with Constitutional amendments, and Time seems convinced that evangelical Christians are running the country. These are just the kinds of lies the Enemy would have us believe, though. The actual center of Christianity in the world today is highly debated, but experts agree it lies in one of three places: Latin America, Africa or China. Some have estimated that China, which had only 700,000 Christians at the beginning of the Communist rule in 1949, now has between 60 and 100 million believers, most of them meeting together in large, underground house church networks. Africa now boasts nearly 400 million Christians, but that number is expected to eclipse 600 million by 2025. This kind of rapid, exponential growth simply is not happening in the United States, which now has the third-largest un-churched population in the world. The rumors are true, by the way: Missionaries from African and Latin American countries are now moving to our continent to work among the lost North Americans. The question of how we got to this point isn't nearly as important as how we will get past it. The message and commission Christians have simply is too important to ignore this glaring problem. Many have ignored it, however, to the detriment of their hearts and the faith. One solution to the problem will need to come in the form of a paradigm shift-a change in methodology or theory-regarding the nature and role of the church. The technical definition of the word "insanity" is repeating the same action and expecting a different result each time. This definition often describes Christ's church to a T. Churches will need to take a hard look at the Great Commission-"Go and make disciples"-and then formulate strategies to best accomplish this commandment. Here's a clue, though: It's probably not going to look anything like what most churches have been trying in recent decades. "Attractional" Christianity, which attempts to bring in the un-churched with dynamic worship, flashy programs or the best preacher in town, has been the strategy of choice for churches for much too long, and research is indicating that the post-modern unbeliever isn't falling for it anymore. If churches take the Great Commission seriously, though, one word ought to stick out: Go. Christ went when he became the incarnation of the living God on earth. The apostles went upon receiving the Holy Spirit, first to their hometown, then to the world. And our responsibility is the same in our neighborhoods and cities in the United States. The second phrase that should stick out in a fresh reading of the Great Commission is "make disciples." Baptism certainly is what happens at the initial decision to be a disciple, but it doesn't magically spawn a disciple. True discipleship literally means "spending time with Jesus" and requires relationship, accountability and lots of latitude. "In-process" disciples make lots of mistakes, but that's OK-that's why Christ came. Mature Christians must see that Paul's vision for growing Christians in his young church plants-sanctification-is carried out in contemporary congregations. Sanctified Christians no longer run back to their old muck and mire but strain forward, pursuing righteousness and nurturing new disciples of their own. The Western Church does itself and the Kingdom no good in denying that it has a problem. It is hemorrhaging because it has emphasized the phrases "baptizing them" and "all nations" to the detriment of the three most important words in the Great Commission, "go" and "make disciples." If North America is to see an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, and if Christians desire to delight their Creator, the Church will need to wake from its slumber and dive headlong into God's mission. All North American disciples of Jesus are missionaries, after all-now more than ever before.

14 Comments:

  • Great message! I do think that care should be taken about being too judgemental about churches over the past 25 years who have reached out to the unchurched through contemporary methodology. I have been amazed recently at Willow Creek's Bill Hybles' emails about his current work around the world ministering to church leaders.

    Yes, there are "slumbering" churches, but there are also those who woke up years ago and continue to be on the cutting edge. These churches and leaders know how important it is to be contantly and consistently methodologically evolving to connect with a contemporary culture.

    By Blogger David Michael, at 2/27/2005 11:46:00 AM  

  • Our flagship has never been discipleship. Instead, it seems it was "church".

    By Blogger David U, at 2/27/2005 12:29:00 PM  

  • I read this on Steve's blog a couple of days ago. It's great and I'm glad you posted it here today.

    Keep talking Mike. Keep encouraging the messiness that is ministry. One of the basic reasons Jesus washed the disciple's feet was they were dirty! They had been GOing to do ministry. They weren't neat and clean sitting in the temple waiting for the lost to come to them to be saved. How comfortable do you think the disciples were to leave their homes to walk with Jesus, hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes, and wonder how to beat the overwhelming persecution of their people? I'm convivnced that we're not supposed to be comfortable. Not much happens in the land of comfortable.

    By Blogger Niki, at 2/27/2005 12:34:00 PM  

  • I've been eavesdropping on the public dialog about ministry and "church" in the post-modern world for several months now. Every time I come back to the subject, I am more and more staggered by the implications of it all. In some ways it is disconcerting, because it makes takes away the comfortable, "churchy" things that I'm used to. But in other ways, it is profoundly liberating to anticipate being a part of a fresh, authentic brand of discipleship.

    Guys like Steve, who are ready to shed all pretense of "church as usual" and go into the world in the name of Jesus, inspire me.

    When I grow up, I want to be like him.

    By Blogger Matt, at 2/27/2005 01:40:00 PM  

  • After baptizing, we do miss the boat on the "making disciples" part. I've seen and heard so many people working in inner-city ministries that are at a loss what to do after they lead someone to the water.

    I have been one to sit in my comfy little pew and God has really been after me to GO!! GO Mike and GO church!

    By Blogger JDrake, at 2/27/2005 06:12:00 PM  

  • Mike, it is amazing how the Spirit diseminates His message throughout His people! My wife and close friends here in our little corner of the church have been talking a LOT about these same ideas lately and we're just as concerned as you are.

    When will we realize that it's not about us? When will we realize that God chose us to be His hands and feet in action and not to simply sit at His feet and enjoy His touch? What will it take for us to open our eyes and look outside of our comfortable little circles and GO to serve the people around us?

    Let's keep talking. And if anyone has any ideas on HOW we can change and what we can DO, please feel free to share.

    By Blogger Dwiggy444, at 2/27/2005 09:40:00 PM  

  • Thanks so much for continuing to challenge us with these ideas. We talked about the washing of the feet at 9:00 tonight and what that is supposed to mean for us as ministers and servants. Jesus sure left us some pretty big shoes to fill!

    I also thought you might be interested in reading a couple of my recent posts. Come check out my blog if you have a minute.

    By Blogger Heather A, at 2/27/2005 09:45:00 PM  

  • Thanks for your thoughts Mike. As for young ministers who are reaching out for Jesus, I have am learning a lot from Ryan Binkley. He's doing his "field work" for ministry here in Thailand and is learning what it means to make disciples in a non-Christian environment. Check his story at www.churchplant.info/thailand
    God bless. -Russ

    By Blogger R Debenport, at 2/28/2005 01:35:00 AM  

  • What a talented young writer! I wonder who taught his 9th grade Bible class at his high school? Oh, wait! [blushes] It was me, me!

    But seriously --

    I **love** it when the next generation of spiritual leaders begins to assert itself and challenges the comforts of the establishment. I know I need this kind of shake-up.

    By Blogger Matt Elliott, at 2/28/2005 02:53:00 PM  

  • One of the many hats I wear at my new church home in suburban Detroit is to work with the youth ministry. I recently set up a blog for the teens and asked them what it is that we have as Christians that our friends need. The first response was from a 13 year old girl. She concluded her comment by writing, "I think that what I have to give my friends is my faith in God and all I can do is help them discover their faith."
    From the moment I read that, I was amazed, challenged, and convicted. I think it fits well with the heart of this blog thread.
    Jesus called people to follow him, to discover the way of discipleship by walking the journey of life and faith with him.
    The North American church has tended toward an isolationism that keeps us from reaching out to the lives of others. As a minister, I can become so consumed with simple maintenance of the church family that I find it hard to even name people I know who are not yet Christian.
    As a church family, we are currently in the process of discussing what it means to be the church here in our community. And here we are being led by a 13 year old.
    If we can rethink what it means to partake in the mission of God, we might find ourselves in some very disconcerting and uncomfortable friendships that allow us to help those who are not yet Christians to witness our faith and discover theirs.

    By Blogger Eric, at 3/01/2005 08:09:00 AM  

  • Praise God, Eric! Keep searching.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 3/01/2005 08:44:00 AM  

  • Such a powerful message. As someone who has tricked myself for years into thining I am doing enough for the Kingdom, I take this as a personal challenge.

    In the business world there is a saying that activity = results. I doubt there are any differences when it comes to allowing God to work through me. I should always be striving to study His Word, but cannot overlook sharing that Good News. It's hard to sow seeds with my nose in a book.

    By Blogger EBC, at 3/01/2005 09:08:00 AM  

  • Dear Mike:

    Spiritual life support, indeed. What if the institution itself is the iron lung? What if Pastors themselves are the plug? If so... how many professional ministers do you think would be willing to abandon their anemic (to whatever degree) congregations (of MANY sincere believers) FOR THE HOPE of deeper intimacy and experience with other christians in a more Biblical setting?

    I happen to think Pastors and the "Institutional System" are unscritprual and hinder the moving of the spirit among the body of Christ...

    but as for you, I do appreciate your heart, in this post. Thanks for Blogging.

    By Blogger Herobill, at 5/27/2005 06:27:00 PM  

  • By Blogger Rose Austin, at 2/28/2006 09:08:00 AM  

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