Was reading Relevant Magazine this week and they were doing a number of ”Top 10″ lists on different aspects of church, faith, and leaders. It got me thinking along the lines of Christianity and what changes are on the horizon. Armed with a little inspiration I decided to do a “top 10″ list of my own of what Christianity will move towards in the next few years.
Now when these lists are done they usually tend to be “Western” Christianity in general and “American” Christianity specifically. I apologize in advance as I suppose my list, because of my experience, will be as well.
So without further ado here is my 10 Changes on Christianity’s Horizon
1. Partisan Politics will increasingly not be welcome
This first “change” is the most “American” as the U.S. is probably the poster child of what happens when faith and politics mix. Since 1980 evangelical Christianity has been singularly identified with the Republican Party. It was a loveless marriage of convenience with each spouse getting what it needed from the relationship. The Republicans got a loyal “base” of voters to zealously man the polls and evangelicals gained access to a political hammer they could use mold and shape American society.
In this Faustian pact however the church ended up losing its prophetic voice and now a lot of Christians are seeking for ways to gain it back. Look for the church to grow more accepting of Christians voting according to their conscience and more wary of dogmatic party loyalty at the expense of a loving heart.
2. “Worship” will expand beyond music and singing
The spread of worship music in church culture has been a blessing but the downside is that our idea of “worship” has been reduced to the 30 minutes of singing before the sermon (or if you are charismatic, 45 minutes to an hour). In fact, when someone introduces themselves as a “worship leader” you immediately know they are a musician. The Bible however is full of references to worship beyond music and singing.
On the horizon, music will continue to be the communal centerpiece of worship but look for poetry, film, art, and yes even social justice events to be promoted as “worship”. Won’t it be great when a worship leader is also the person who leads us out to give food to the homeless?
3. Sunday Morning will be less central to Christian life
17 years ago when I planted a church in Hong Kong we met on Wednesday and Saturday nights to break the “Sunday Morning is Real Church” mentality. About 2 months later I caved. It was just too big of a battle then. People were hard wired to do church on Sunday morning…”why fight it” I thought.
I recently joked with a friend that you can do a “home group” any night of the week and its just a “home group”. If you do the exact same “home group” on a Sunday morning…you’ve just planted a church. Such is the power Sunday morning has over the Body of Christ.
But change is coming. People’s lives and work schedules are not what they used to be and Sunday, although still the tent-pole gathering, will be less central in the years to come. Church is going to be seen beyond “Sunday”!
4. Clergy and Pastors will increasingly be bi-vocational “tentmakers”
My advice to young men and women wanting to “pastor” or “minister” in the church is to make sure you have some form of trade. The Disciples of Jesus whether they were fishermen, tax collectors, or tent makers all seemed to have professions in addition to their calling.
And there is the crux. In the coming years church ministry will be more of a calling and less of a profession. In Acts 18 we see Paul continuing to make tents as a profession even as he pursued his ministerial calling. That’s not to say that there is not times for people to receive their life’s sustenance from acts of ministry…but this will be, like Paul the Apostle, in various seasons. Having a “tent making” profession gives added flexibility to advancing the Kingdom of God.
Also, as we will see in the next trend, people are less enthusiastic about giving to churches perceived to have bloated budgets that serve only themselves. Expect pastors of the future to also be “butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.”
5. Social Justice issues will become central to mainstream evangelicals.
I grew up in conservative evangelical circles where ministry to the poor and disenfranchised was always viewed with a little skepticism…for no other reason than those issues tended to be championed by “liberals” and “Democrats” which made them immediately suspect.
It’s been increasingly hard though for any follower of Christ to not see the emphasis Jesus placed on the poor and the expectations he had of his church to act as his body on their behalf. Now there are even Baptist churches talking about protecting the environment. (Who saw that coming?) Social justice ain’t just for liberals anymore.
Aslan is on the move!
6. Team Leadership in churches will become a reality.
Team leadership has been talked about for years but it has tended to be more “honored in the breech than in the observance”. Churches still tend to be personality driven with congregations being identified with a charismatic pastor or couple.
Isn’t it amazing though that Paul could write two letters to the church in Corinth (one of them 16 chapters long) and not mention who the Senior Pastor was? In fact Paul wrote 9 letters addressed to churches and never mentions who the “guy” is in any of them. Try doing that today. Could you imagine writing a 16 chapter letter to the congregation at your present church and not mention or identify the Senior pastor once?
Chew on that one for another moment yet…
True team leadership with the saints “leading” the church in their giftings and letting others lead in theirs will become more the norm. Also, as pastors and other leaders become more bi-vocational (See trend 4) the opportunity for the church to share the load will increase. The body will become The Body!
7. Christians will be comfortable with “doubt” and “un-knowing”
Christians have gotten pretty good at quick answers to tough questions in the last 30 years. As science, social norms, and the world in general changed around us we got a little nervous and looked for vanguards who would defend our faith and whose books we could pull out when we got asked something that made us uncomfortable. Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, and a host of others came to our defense. But we forgot one thing…
Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross didn’t need to be defended. Loving our brothers and sisters didn’t need to be defended. Showing mercy and forgiveness to our enemies didn’t need to be defended.
I’m quite comfortable not knowing everything these days and I believe a lot of the church does too.
So when someone asks me if I believe the earth is 10,000 years old or 4 billion I can honestly say, “I have no idea,” and be consoled by the fact that neither my relationship with God, nor my Christian faith has been compromised in the slightest.
8. The Church will focus more on redeeming the world than escaping it!
N.T. Wright has been crucial in helping a generation of Christian leaders understand that everything that Christ did was for HERE on Earth. I grew up being taught that this world was destined for destruction so don’t focus attention HERE. The whole purpose HERE was to get as many people saved HERE so we could get them to Heaven which is THERE. HERE is perishing but don’t worry, Jesus will bring us home to THERE.
What we missed was that Jesus loves HERE. He died for HERE. We are not to abandon HERE but are called to redeem HERE. In fact one of the main reasons Jesus did what he did was to provide a way for THERE to come back to HERE.
This is a much more exciting story!
9. Grace will replace performance
Paul the Apostle preached grace…and got a lot of flack for it. People who preach grace today are getting a LOT of flack for it as well. I know some of them personally and believe me, they get some nasty attacks from their “brothers and sisters in the Lord”. (At times like this I’m somewhat happy to be a small blog flying under the radar)
But make no mistake, a focus on the grace of God will be a welcome trend that continues in the church.
Because grace places everything on the shoulders of Jesus Christ! Under grace we are all uniformly lifted up to the position of a Child of God.
Likewise we are all equally humbled before God’s Grace. For under it, both King and slave, lawyer and janitor, pastor and prostitute stand shoulder to shoulder on the exact same sacred ground of mercy and forgiveness.
…and this scares the bejeebees out of a lot of religious folk!
Christians increasingly see that their identity as a Son or Daughter of God is not dependent on performance. The church has been guilty of often inferring that behavior was proof of identity. Grace comes along and says your new nature (and behavior) is instead shaped by your identity.
10. Jesus: It will be about HIM and not us!
Somehow in all the Sunday meetings, youth group meetings, home group meetings, leadership meetings, worship meetings, prayer meetings etc…etc we’ve sometimes forgot why we are doing all of this.
Jesus…its about Jesus! The Alpha and Omega, The First and the Last.
This is a man who responds to the criticism of how he could presume to speak with such authority about issues concerning Abraham given his young age responds, “Before Abraham was, I AM!”
That has to be just about the coolest argument shut down line ever to be uttered!
And then he redeems the world through the most amazing act of sacrificial love ever to be witnessed.
That’s the God I’m following and sharing with others. That seems to be where other Christians are trending too!
There you have it. My 10 changes I see on the horizon. You may agree…or disagree. Let me know!