Fifteen years ago everyone was using the word “post-modern.” Its definition centered upon the premise that the modern world was slowly crumbling (due to the advent of the personal computer) and a jagged new world was slowly emerging from the ashes (riding the momentum of the internet). The time it would take to get from “there to here” was loosely labeled “post-modern.” I truly thought my ministry years would be conducted with one foot in the old world and the other slowly venturing into the new. I was wrong. The shift I thought would take decades, happened in about a minute and a half and the world I live in today has little in common with the world in which I was reared. The fact that I liked the old world substantially better than I like this new one is completely irrelevant. I am called by God to minister to the world in which I live.
The congregation God has called me to lead has experienced significant numerical growth for the past nineteen consecutive years. By significant. I mean we have grown from 200 to 2,200. For us, there is no Biblical understanding of the church apart from growth and there is no growth apart from relevance. The question we are asking is, “What will it take for the church to be relevant in this new world?” Here are my thoughts:
- Offer Christ and Christ alone Though the means by which churches reach to the world must constantly be negotiated during cultural shifts, the centrality of Christ for salvation must remain non-negotiable. Our task will be to hold fast to our central Christological message and to be creative with our mediums.
- Stay on mission The church exists to connect people to Christ and we must focus on what we are uniquely called to do. Most churches in 2016 and beyond will not have the available resources to allow them the luxury of being non-strategic around their mission.
- Offer hope in a world defined by fear The Bible teaches that the disposition of the person of faith is hope and the disposition of the person trusting in things other than God is fear. Churches that offer heaping doses of hope will find people flocking to them.
- Transcend things that divide When people of all races, political persuasions, cultural backgrounds, social economic statuses, ethnicities and sensibilities are worshiping and serving in unity, we will have something for export!
- Offer Unapologetic Orthodoxy We believe Christ was born of a virgin, he performed actual miracles, he arose from the dead and will return for his church. We believe God forgives sin, heals broken hearts and that the Creator of the cosmos wants to be in relationship with the likes of you and me. No asterisks. No apologies.
- Challenge materialism The idea that more things will make you happy is a lie. The idea that the purpose of serving God is to get you more things is an even worse lie. The church must not only refrain from buying into the false god of materialism but offer a different template entirely. In Christ’s Kingdom we become great through service, gain wealth by giving and live by dying to ourselves.
- Do great good By feeding the hungry, providing relief from natural disasters and reaching out to the disenfranchised, we invite the inhabitants of this new world to rethink church. I believe evangelism in the next ten years will be as much inviting people who don’t yet know Jesus to serve with us as it will be inviting them to worship with us.
There is much speculation as to whether the church will have a significant role in this new world and my response is, “It could.” Learning to do new things in new ways is a risk but the single greatest risk in this new world is acting like we are still in the old one.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Senior Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.