On the Western Church in Crisis
I recently consulted Trinity's Director of Placement to look over and provide feedback for my ministry resume. One of the sections pertained to my personal call and commitment to ministry. Since my call has been a series of defining moments or events (I've identified five), I constructed my statement of call to ministry according to these five pivotal moments. One of these moments I described as follows:
3. Clarification and Focus. In my mid-to-late college years, I developed a growing burden for the Church as I sensed her emergence into a sort of crisis. Through this, God seemed to be calling me to expand my vision from youth ministry to congregational ministry, with a view toward helping the Church be more faithful and fruitful in ministering in an increasingly postmodern world.
This puzzled him (understandably), and he recommended I clarify it. (I will.)
But it got me thinking... Is the Church in crisis? What Church? The Global Church? The American Church? The Western Church?
Yes, I think at least the Western Church.
While this may be overstating the case (it certainly sounds harsh), I wouldn't be surprised if 9 out of 10 churches were failing at their Great Commission calling (*see update, in my next post). That’s what I mean when I say the American Church is in crisis. (Cf. David Olson’s research that the American Church is not keeping up with population growth, let alone advancing the kingdom in terms of persons reached with the gospel, again measured in terms of percentage of population. Note also that between 80 and 90% of people raised in the American Church jump ship once they leave the nest.) This is a matter of serious concern for me, particularly as regards my calling and commitment to vocational ministry. As far as I can tell, the problem can be explained in one of four ways:
- The Anti-Christian View: The current crisis simply shows that church is a failed experiment, built on a faulty foundation. It is truly no more than mere “religion,” a mere fallible, human construct. The implication is that Christianity is false.
- The Hyper-Reformed View: God is the Almighty Micromanager of all the minutiae of world events, and He just so happens to presently will that the Western Church be ineffective in its God-given evangelistic and disciple-making objectives. This, however, presupposes that God can simultaneously and in the same sense will two opposite things, which is a contradiction.
- The Fideistic View: We don’t know why this is happening. We just simply have to trust that God knows what He’s doing, and just keep preachin’ the Gospel "like we always have"—and doing just about everything else "the way we always have." (Key conviction: nothing needs to change.)
- My View: The American/Western church is suffering the consequences of its recent lack of faithfulness to something essential (the gospel, the Great Commission and cultural mandates? probably a combination of these). In essence, then, it is digging itself out of a hole that is growing deeper by the day. God has given us ample guidance in His word to get back on track, and is waiting for us to respond faithfully. He will empower us to be effective as we align our wills with His. In short, I believe there is a definite link between faithfulness and fruitfulness. (See my posts here and here on healthy church growth.)
While at face value, View #4 may seem overly cynical, it is actually the most optimistic of all the views: God desires something better and has given us the provision to make it better, as well as promised to empower us to do so. But it comes with a price tag: We have a lot of hard work to do in rigorously evaluating everything to do with our articulation, practice, and propagation of the Faith. For some this is daunting. For me it is invigorating. It is what gives me purpose and drive.
This has significant implications for me as I seek the Lord's will for my next steps of ministry. For one, the church in which I minister must acknowledge that the Western Church is coming up short in terms of its faithfulness to God's prescriptions for us in His Word. Secondly, they must agree with my explanation of why this is so (View #4, above), or else offer a more sensible and biblical explanation. One way or another, I assume our convictions on this issue need to align.
I wonder how to go about articulating this to prospective churches? Is it important to be up front about this, or should I simply try to discern informally the extent to which we are on the same page?
Is there a better explanation than either of the four views outlined above? I'm open to hearing them.