Right now, I am reading a book about change. I like a lot about the book, but it’s also got me thinking about some things that make me resistant to the popular premise (not necessarily of this book – I haven’t read enough of it to make that judgement) that the church better keep up or lose its place in culture. The world is changing so quickly, the church is at risk of being left behind, lost in the dust of the fast moving, scrambling feet of society pushing into an ever changing future. The Church is the tortoise; culture is the hare. If we are going to keep the attention of the world, we had better change with it. Ignore this need to change, and we will become increasingly irreverent, oops sorry, I meant irrelevant. Old fashioned. Outdated. After all, look at how much has changed in 100 years. 20 years. 10 years. The church? Doing pretty much the same thing as it was a 100 years ago. 1,000 years ago.
I get it. I agree with a lot of it. Understanding culture, trends, mindset, all drove me when I pastored. Consideration of worship style, language, methodology, image, presentation: all need to be factored in our attempt to reach the lost and unchurched. However, an opposing thought, taking on the form of a devil’s advocate, (sorry, poor choice of words) has recently vied for my attention. Maybe with all the changes taking place around us, people desperately need something steady and unchanging; something, a place perhaps, an experience maybe, or just a message that is reliable and trustworthy. I wonder if the church’s role is to be a safe haven that speaks of sameness, a refuge to meet a God who does not change and never will change. A sanctuary where one can take a deep breath and gain perspective again from a world that is spinning, and changing, wildly out of control. It’s just a thought worth considering.
To my pastor friends, just a couple final thoughts. I am all for keeping up with the times. I encourage adjusting and adapting, and presenting ourselves in way that is appealing and relevant.
…But can I ask you to not change three things?
1. YOU – Be yourself. Not in the “just be you” sense, but just be yourself. Be honest, open and vulnerable. The day I felt permission to just be myself was the day I decided to tuck my shirt in deciding to defer “cool” to the younger pastors. I realized my role was to preach the Word, love people, and show them what it means to love Jesus.
2. THE WORD – Preach the Word! Aw man, writing that sounds so old fashioned. So be it. The Bible is about Jesus, not about us. So preach about Jesus, not about us. Study and preach the Word to understand Jesus better, and perhaps by doing so we will understand us better. If the Bible is about Jesus, than ask this question: “What does this text teach me about Him?” I believe every scripture, every story from Old Testament to New Testament is about Jesus. There are two kinds of preaching. The one that uses the Bible to help me live better, and the one that uses the Bible to help me understand God better. Tell people about Jesus, and you will address a lot of the questions people are asking about themselves.
3. The story about THE CROSS – There is no life apart from a death. There is no end to sin without a burial. There is no healing and hope without a resurrection. Standing between death and life is a cross. A rugged, ugly cross, but ugly because of what happened on it. There, God died. For me. For you. There, my sins were placed on the shoulders of a sinless perfect man. There forgiveness was not just uttered, but offered. The setting of the cross ought to be the platform from which every sermon is preached. Please, pastor, don’t forget this. No one will ever find hope and life apart from the cross of Jesus. Talk about it. Remind people that they are sinners. Yes, we are all naturally bad. Rotten to the core. Born that way! We live, and then die that way, except for… the cross. Because of the cross, and the grave, and the throne, we are now good and worth something. But, it’s the cross that made it possible. If that’s so central, so critical, so significant and so life changing, shouldn’t you be talking about it? I know its old fashioned, and yes the world is on a train rumbling explosively toward a constantly changing future, but for most people around us, it’s an uncertain frightening future. The world needs some good news, and we have it.
Maybe we need to hold our ground on some things, and not change. Maybe the problem is not with the church but with a world around us that is just getting all the more evil. I am worried that if we bend too far we might lose our voice.
Just thinking out loud here, that’s all!