Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Present Future—New Reality #1—The Collapse of the Church Culture. (continued)

North American Christians think in terms of its institutional expression, the church, as opposed to thinking about Christianity in terms of a movement. This shift in thinking is so profound that it resembles a deconversion, a deprogramming that we typically associate with helping people escape the clutches of a cult. Deconversion will require a disentangling, and intentional self-differentiation from church in order to gain perspective, a willingness to abandon church club member mentality for the sake of following Jesus.

-McNeal, The Present Future, page 11.

[Note: The next quote is referring to the 2002 mine collapse in Pennsylvania and the rescue efforts to save the minors.]

The church in North America far too often resembles these miners. Feeling trapped in the collapse of the church culture, club members are huddling together in the dark and praying for God to rescue them from the mess they are in. This is the refuge mentality that pervades the mentality of many congregations and church leaders. Instead, the church needs to adopt the role of the rescue workers on the surface. They refused to quit, worked 24/7, and were willing to go to plan B or whatever it took to effect a rescue.

That’s the church’s mission: to join God in his redemptive efforts to save the world. People all around us are in darkness. They are going to die unless someone finds a way to save them. Trouble is, the church is sleeping on the job. Too many of us have forgotten why we showed up for work.

Even worse, many of us never have known.

-McNeal, The Present Future, page 19.

There will be a membership class at Evergreen on May 18th. People are going to join the club—I mean the church. Many of those headed for the class have been worshipping with us for a year or more. They are an integral part of our congregation—but they aren’t “members.”

Next week I will be writing letters to 25 people who are “members” of Evergreen Presbyterian Church--ome of which haven’t been in worship for years. They are on the active membership roll because of “family members.” “We could lose ____________ if we move their kids to the inactive roll” has been heard in many-a-church session meeting.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) resembles most of the local service clubs in our communities. The only difference that I can see is that the local service clubs REQUIRE their members to be at the meetings on a consistent basis!

McNeal’s idea of “deconversion” carries a bite that hurts—it hurts a lot! I see a need for local churches. We NEED to worship with other believers. We NEED to stand together in spiritual warfare (see Ephesians 6 and notice that the back is left unprotected). Too many of our churches are like a club. Too many of those in our churches cannot articulate a saving experience with Jesus. Too many of those in our churches do absolutely nothing to reach those who are apart from Jesus. The North American Church does need to under go a deconversion experience.

McNeal’s example of huddling together like the miners is powerful. Last week I was at a Presbytery meeting. One person tried to guilt us into taking a special offering for a particular project. One report talked about those churches that had failed to pay their per capita (our membership tax) for 2007. We had the first reading of a policy paper on how to deal with congregations that may want to leave our little club. We had a “talking circle” so that we can get to know each other better. I felt like I was sitting in a Graham Business Association meeting! The meeting was filled with people with gray hair, no hair and died hair. There was no discussion on how to reach the 1000s of people who have moved into the bounds of our Presbytery. There was no discussion on how to reach the two generations that are missing from our churches. To the Presbytery’s credit we did talk about the continued efforts to assist the flood victims of the devastating 2007 floods in our state. For the most part it felt like we were huddling together, hoping that the world would change.

McNeal’s reality # 1 is that the church culture is no more. There are lots of reasons why this has happened. Blame can be spread all around. However, here is the key point—what are we going to do about the new reality? Wanting things to change is not the right answer—it is living in denial.

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