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What Now? What Next?
Making Disciples in a Disrupted World
In the day-to-day reality of increasing upheaval and discord, how are Christians to think and behave? How do we anchor our conversations and attitudes when everything in us wants to either retreat or lash out in anger? In this new series, Chip provides a biblical path to allowing Christ to reign in us and work through us no matter what's going on.More from this series
Five years, ten years, fifty, a hundred years from now, if the Lord has not returned, people will look back at this year as a life changing, pivotal, change of era, change of epoch where the rules changed, power changed, life changed, how people communicated changed, business changed, geopolitical power was shifted. Technology changed. How people lived, how they responded. And they’ll look back and see that Christianity had a fundamental change. I don’t know whether it’s going to look back fundamentally great, fundamentally different, or fundamentally worse.
What I can tell you is, as you have on your notes, the definition of insanity, most of you know, right? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. And so, there’s a couple questions we need to ask is what have we been doing in the family, what have we been doing personally, and what have we been doing in the Church for the, say, last thirty or forty years? And then what are the results?
And there’s a lot of people that I hear it all the time, “I just, can we just get back to normal?” Memo: Normal is never returning, period.
A survey that came out, America is losing its religion. So, all I want to do is pause for a moment and say let’s look back at our lives as followers of Jesus and the impact at least in our country. America’s membership in worship communities has declined drastically.
The accelerated trends toward more secular America represent a fundamental change in the national character, one that will have major ramifications for politics and even social cohesion.
The United States’ religious membership, first was measured by Gallup, 1937, seventy-three percent of people in America went to some worship service with a basic concept of morality. For the next six decades, it stayed over seventy percent. Between 1998 and 2000, in only two years, the number of people who didn’t attend any religious organization grew by eight percent. In the last three years, it has grown by twenty-one percent.
The percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion is greater now than any time in America’s history. By way of detail, whatever their religious practice, Americans are increasingly rejecting the moral concepts found in most major religions. In 2017, Gallup found a significant majority of Americans believe that the practices of divorce, extramarital sex, gay and lesbian relationships are all morally acceptable.
The world has dramatically changed, morality has dramatically changed, the Church has dramatically changed, and I say this not as a condemnation, because I’m part of the problem, but it was on our watch. It was during our season of life.
Jesus said that you are and I am the salt of the earth. Salt preserves, it purifies, it makes a difference. You are, I am, the light of the world. The light exposes; it brings life. I would say we would have to confess that the salt has not been very salty in the last thirty to forty years, at least in America. And the light has not been very bright. So, the question is, what do we have to learn?
I’ve got three observations. Observation number one, is isolation is lethal. It’s lethal. It’s not hard, it’s not difficult, it kills. It brings fear; it brings anxiety. We desperately need one another. Human beings, not just Christians, we desperately need one another. I don’t mean just being aware of one another, I don’t mean chit-chat or superficial, we desperately need one another: heart to heart, soul to soul.
Observation number two about the Church. With rare exception, after thirty, perhaps forty years of what I call place-centered ministry. In other words, the Church became a place. Weekend attendance became the most important metric. Programs happening at the church. Our kids go to this; we have a meeting for this. Place-centric or emphasized ministry has increased church attendance, has had mega churches multiply around the country in the last thirty-five years like Walmarts, but it has failed in our ability to develop people and disciples.
Eight point five to nine professing followers of Jesus, whether they say, “I believe in the Bible,” or, “I’m born again,” or whatever phrase that we use, their lifestyle, their ethics, their families, their morality, is much almost no different from their non-believing counterparts.
We have been successful at growing churches, but being a Christian has changed in America to, “I go to a meeting,” down from just ten years ago of two point six times a month to now one point six times a month. “I listen to someone talk, I sing a couple songs, I try to be a little bit better person, and I live my life primarily focused by the culture, what “success” is, what makes me happy, and basically a general narcissistic view that life is for me and Jesus is my ticket to a, “great marriage, great singleness, upward mobility, and hopefully that all my kids turn out right.” And the results have been devastating.
What we have learned about American Christianity is that the adversity of the last year has revealed a Christianity that is more consumer than contributor, it’s more spectator than servants, and it’s more fans than followers.
I was with a friend, a major podcast in the last couple weeks, and on it was a Wheaton professor who just kind of did an overview after everyone had talked and futurist and Christian leaders. He said, “Basically, the pandemic in America has revealed an American Christianity that has poor theology, shallow faith, and is basically consumer Christianity.”
I think it was Max De Pree, he said, “The first goal of leaders, whether you’re the leader in your home, leader in a company, leader with a small group of people, it’s to define reality.” We have all been in denial for a long time. We have measured the wrong things.
It’s not how many come to a church gathering, it’s what kind of people are leaving the church gathering. And are the kind of moms and dads and single people and employers and employees whose first and foremost loyalty is to Jesus, who have a winsome morality, not an “against the world”. And whose lives are dynamic and loving and kind and, are you ready for this? A lot like Jesus.
That was the game plan. And that little game plan was a grain of wheat that fell into the earth and it turned the world upside down. But that changed in America, and Jesus became a means to the end, a means to make us happy, a means to be fulfilled. It happened gradually, and it’s very interesting, Max De Pree said, “Once you define reality and know where you’re at, now you’re in a position to make a change.”
This pandemic has been devasting in many ways, but I think there is one silver lining. It has been the greatest wakeup call that I think we have ever had. I don’t know how you’re living, I don’t know how you were thinking, but whatever you were and however it was, this is a moment to say, “We can’t keep doing life the way we did it in the past.” That’s true for us individually, it’s true for families, and I think profoundly, I think it’s true for the Church.
So, what must our perspective and practice be moving forward? Are you ready? I’ve got a few words for you to fill in.
Number one is our focus. Our focus has to be Christ, the very person of Jesus, not causes. And by “causes” I don’t mean just the sex trade or foster care or racism. All very important causes. I mean causes like, “Am I happy and is life all about me?” First and foremost, Jesus calls us to Himself. The apostle Paul would say, “I gave up everything. More than that, I have considered the loss of everything as nothing, as superfluous, as rubbish compared to knowing Christ my Savior.”
The passion of the early Church was that they would know Him, enjoy Him, worship Him, follow Him. Jesus can’t be a means to anything. He is the end. So, our focus is on Christ, Romans 12:1 and 2. A surrendered heart, a surrendered life, is the channel through which God’s biggest and best blessings flow.
Second is not just our focus, is our response. Our response in this era has to be on healing, not hostility.
See, when your faith becomes about you and my faith becomes about me, when the Church is about our turf and what we do and this is our place, when things change, a lot of Christians got very mad and very hostile.
There’s a lot of hate, a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear, a lot of blaming, and a lot of harsh, harsh words that I don’t think Jesus would recognize as, These are My followers.
But, see, when someone starts to mess with your life, we get mad. Peter would write to an early Church under Nero, “It has been granted to you for Christ’s sake, that you could suffer with Him.” “We have this pattern in Christ that you should follow in His steps, that although He was reviled, He reviled not. He didn’t trade insult for insult.” It doesn’t mean that we are passive, but there is a way to make a difference in a culture without attacking people and blaming people.
The third it’s not just our focus or our response, it’s our priority. Every church around America and places all around the world are trying to figure, “Where do we go from here? What do we need to do?” And if we are not careful, we will unconsciously think we need to get everything going that we used to have going.
Which will, by, are you ready for this? Create exactly the same results that we have had. Is that what you want? You want sixty-eight or seventy percent of our own children say, “Mom, Dad, pastors, staff members, church, you know, I don’t know what you all believe, but it doesn’t look real enough for me. I’m opting out.” These are our own kids.
So, what needs to change? I’d like to suggest it needs to be about relationships and not real estate. And when I say “real estate” I don’t mean it as literal as it sounds. Over time, churches began, and it’s here and it’s true all around the world, churches began to consciously or unconsciously probably more, think that success is, Wow, we are growing. We used to be in a house. Now we need a little building. Now we need a bigger building. Now we need a building with a gym! We need a building with a climbing wall! You know what? You should see our church! We have our own bowling hour! We’ve got a bookstore! We’ve got a coffee shop! There’s Christian music now! There’s Christian books! We have become a whole subculture.
With diminishing, diminishing, diminishing impact. And so, over time, going to an event, how many people showed up instead of what kind of people were leaving became the metric. And the Church, by and large, is now viewed by culture as angry, hateful, filled with celebrity pastors; tragic, tragic moral failures among some of our greatest heroes of the faith, even in the last year or two.
We are in a situation where we need to make a U-turn and our perspective and our practice about what will move us forward has to change. It can’t be just about, well, now we can meet again, now we can have our meetings, let’s get our kids in little groups.
It has got to change to relationship.
Why is this so important? Let me give you an overview of why relationships matter [more] than location, than size.
Jesus’ example. In Mark chapter 3, verse 13, He prayed all night. And after He prayed all night and He got a word from the Father, He chose twelve, that they might be – here are the two words – with Him.
When Jesus wanted to start a revolutionary movement, He didn’t start a publishing house, He didn’t start a school, He chose people that would live with Him, they would eat together, they would walk together, they would pray together, they would laugh together, they would work together. And those men changed the world, they and their families.
When Jesus was leaving, His last night, if you would look at His very last night, John chapter 13 through 17, what mattered? Where was His focus? What was His priority? Talk about a new epoch turning. He would die, then He would be raised from the dead, all history would change – what is the last thing do you say to those who are going to take on the baton of revolution to change the world that there’s hope, that there’s life, that there is forgiveness?
He said, “A new commandment that I give unto you,” after He – what? Washed their feet. “…that you love one another the way I loved you. By this the world will know that you are My disciples,” by the beauty of your buildings; by the PR and your programs - what did He say? “By this the world will know that you are My disciples, by how you love one another.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for the Church gathered. There’s a time for the teaching and the worship collectively that is very, very important.
But the world will see the reality of Christ by radical, others-centered, sacrificial relationships that happen seven days a week, not by just another group that has a weekly meeting, that everyone gives sort of a tip to their time, instead of it being the core of your life.
Jesus’ example, Jesus’ command, and I think the testimony of the early Church. When you look at this tiny group of twelve and then a hundred and twenty and then we have Pentecost. And, yes, they had supernatural power, but the Bible says the same power that raised Christ from the dead, it dwells in me, a follower of Jesus. It dwells in you if you know Him personally.
There’s power to overcome temptation, there’s power to respond good with evil, there’s power to love people you don’t like, there’s power to give away time and energy and money that you’re so afraid that if you do you won’t have enough for you.
That little church, Acts 2:42 to 46 – what? They met together from house to house. They ate meals together. They shared the Lord’s Supper. They prayed the prayers that Jesus taught them. And it says that the Lord added to their number daily. And they had not a bad reputation, but they had favor, both inside and outside the Church, because they were this radical, loving community.
When Jesus set out to revolutionize world history, notice the bottom, He did not buy a building, offer classes, or start a school.
He created – listen carefully – an authentic community of life-giving relationships that offered, notice, all of it – we like the first couple – that offered love, support, learning, accountability, and sacrifice to accomplish His mission.