Past Tense, Chapter 2
I love the way The Church has striven to become relevant to American culture. Forty years ago, Willow Creek in Chicago and Saddleback in southern California researched their communities and tailored their churches to meet the needs of unchurched people. Millions of lives have been changed with the gospel of Christ as the truth was brought to people within their own cultural experience.
Yet every revolution comes with its own set of challenges. It can be hard to tell whether you’re trying to be relevant or trying to be impressive. Fragile egos can influence leaders to treat staff and volunteers as a means to an end, a commodity which you use and replace according to current perceived need.
And how do we deal with the different generations? Many congregations are dying because the old guard cares more for their traditions than for God’s message of salvation, and young believers are challenging their elders to move in the present power of Christ. Too often, the next generation is pushed out by leaders who lack vision for anyone or anything outside their own four walls.
On the other hand, many mature believers choose to give up their preferences to meet the needs of unchurched people and younger, less mature Christians. As they sacrifice, young adults go church shopping, contributing little and leaving when another venue becomes more attractive.
God wants His whole Church to speak to the world, all the generations together. Many churches are finding success by offering different services for different age groups… but at what cost? The generations need each other. And God wants to work through real people, not cultivated, type-specific caricatures of people.
So here are three significant issues confronting the way 21st century Americans do church: the tendency to confuse ego with excellence; to use people rather than shepherd them; to favor one generation at the expense of the others.