Monday, October 30, 2006

What Will the Church Look Like in Fifty Years?--Leadership

My understanding is that Ephesians 4 teaches that some believers are called to equipping ministries--these include apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. All of these are necessary for a healthy balanced church, but the way in which these equipping ministries are represented in the church today is very different from the way they were exercised in the first century. I won't pursue that topic in this posting, but I do want to make clear that there is and will be a continuing need for ministers who "equip God's people for the work of ministry" in the church fifty years from now.

In the future we will still have those who serve the church full-time as staff ministers. At the same time, we will have many part-time or bivocational ministers serving the church in various roles. The most interesting thing about these "professional" ministers will be where we will find them and how they will be trained.

First, many of these staff ministers will come out of the church in which they are already members. Their gifts will be recognized through the exercise of those gifts in the church, and their calling to ministry will be not only confirmed but often initiated by the congregation.

Second, they will receive their theological education through satellite centers of seminaries (see Central's "teaching church seminary" model, directed individual study in consulation with veteran ministers, and cohort groups led by qualified ministers with specialized theological degrees. In other words, the seminary will come to the students rather than vice-versa. This will not only allow them to remain in their places of ministry but to enter into a dialogue between praxis and formal education.

Third, there will be more itinerant ministers pursuing their ministries either outside of the church or in conjunction with several churches. Many of these will be "apostolic" ministries, taking the gospel to new areas or new groups. The most healthy arrangement will be for these folks to be commissioned by a local church or group of churches. Such an arrangement will provide flexibility, stability, and accountability.

A final word here about those with advanced theological training--PhDs, etc. We will still need these folks, but they will not be teaching on seminary campuses. They will be ministers in local churches who also teach, teachers who are themselves "circuit riders" (traveling from place to place to teach groups of students), and teachers in colleges and universities who also "do theology" in churches.

Ministry in fifty years will be both interesting and challenging!

What Will the Church Look Like in Fifty Years?--Worship

In fifty years, the worship practices of the church will be all over the map--just like today! The good news is that people will still be assembling together for worship. The "virtual church" is an interesting idea, but it will not take the place of believers coming together in one place to do "the work of the people"--worshipping God. The good news is that those who plan worship will be comfortable drawing on all the many facets of the Christian tradition to do worship.

Music is always the big issue when we talk about worship. I think we will see less "contemporary" music and more music that draws on scripture (such as the Taize tradition), chants, classical music, and traditional hymns. This goes along with a general trend among young adults today to embrace mystery and transcendence in worship.

This also means more art, more candles, and--generally-a more experiential and participative approach to worship. The Eucharist--communion, Lord's supper--will be even more crucial to worship than it is today in many of our (Baptist) churches. In fact, many churches will observe the ordinance weekly.

What about preaching? Yes, the proclamation of the Word will still be vital to worship. Although in some cases it will be supplemented by visuals, I believe that the current resurgence in the oral tradition--especially story-telling--will continue. Media may enhance the presentation of the Word, but effective preaching and teaching will still rest upon the spoken word with clear explanation and appropriate application. We will probably even use more scripture in worship than we tend to do today--reading the text, listening to others read the text, and meditating on the text.

I think we will also see more opportunity for worshippers to share their own stories and to be involved in a dialogue with the preacher/teacher. This goes along with the participative nature of worship.

Worship will continue to be the "front door" of the church for most people, but many will come just to observe and learn about the Christian faith as expressed in worship.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What Will the Church Look Like in Fifty Years?--Part Two

In fifty years, we will see a number of churches that do not own buildings and will have no plans to acquire a building. These "churches without walls" will probably have offices (usually rented) and storage areas. Some will choose to have their offices in malls or shopping centers with high foot traffic and adequate parking. They may even do some ministry there, but this will not be the real presence of the church in the community. It will be elsewhere.

Much of their communication with participants (the number of "members" will be limited, but that is a subject for another day) will be digital--e-mail, websites, or whatever follows our present day digital communication.

What are the forms in which the church will be physically manifested?

First, small groups will meet regularly, perhaps weekly, in homes, coffee shops, hospitality rooms in condo developments, etc. The primary focus of these groups will be fellowship and Christian formation.

Second, church participants will meet in certain locations to do ministry. These individuals make come from several small groups, but they will coordinate their responsibilities and assignments. The locations may be a Habitat construction site, a soup kitchen, a school for tutoring, etc.

Third, the church will hold regular gatherings for worship and fellowship in rented spaces--community centers, theaters, schools, or churches that do own buildings--on an as needed basis. They will be truly be a "nomadic" church.

What are the advantages of such an arrangment? First, the presence of the church will be manifested in the community through its fellowship, study, ministry, and worship.

Second, it will be good stewardship. The cost of operating and maintaining buildings will continue to increase and people will be more interested in seeing their money go into ministry than bricks and mortar.

Third, it will make the church more accessible to people. The church will go where the people are rather than asking the people to come to the church.

Will this be easy? No, but it will be effective in many communities.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What Will the Church Look Like in Fifty Years?--Part One

Someone asked me today, "What do you think the church will look like in 50 years?" Well, I love science fiction and I love the church. Maybe I can bring the two together and do a little scenario thinking over the next few days.

Although I embrace the concept that the church is the people and not the building, we still tend to think of buildings when we think of churches. So let me say a word first about buildings. Most churches in existence 50 years will still have buildings, even though they will be expensive to maintain and many civil authorities will resent the churches for having them and not paying taxes! (This will be challenged increasingly in the next few years, but I believe that church and state separation will prevail although some churches will pay a services fee just to get the local government off their backs.) In some settings, the buildings will be seen as an asset to the community and local governments will make efforts to encourage their upkeep and viability.

These buildings will be extremely multipurpose. Worship areas will be used at least twice on Sunday mornings. Most will be designed to be used for other purposes during the week as well--fellowship, recreation, etc. Some will be designed so that they can be used by the community for concerts and theatrical productions. Even so, there will be more art and imagery than we currently see in most Baptist churches.

Other parts of the church building will be used seven days a week for childcare, community ministries, adult Christian formation, and seminary education. There will be plenty of technology incorporated into the building. There may even be a bookstore on the premises.

If churches with buildings are going to survive, they must increasingly perceive their facilities as a tool for ministry. This will be hard for some members to accept, but it will necessary for churches to move from maintenance to ministry to make a difference in their communities.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Prophetic Voices

At the GOCN meeting in Kansas City last week, I had the opportunity to meet George Hunsberger, one of the more prolific writers on the missional church. George is pictured here (on the right) with Dale Ziemer of the Center for Parish Development. George is a professor of missiology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, and comes out of the Reformed theological tradition.

Hunsberger was greatly influenced by missionary and missiologist Lesslie Newbigin and is the author of a book on Newbigin entitled Bearing the Witness of the Spirit. You may recall that Newbigin was a missionary in India for most of his ministry. While there he found ways to communicate the Gospel in a non-Christian context. When he returned to his native Great Britain for retirement, he discovered that he was again living in a non-Christian context! He spent the rest of his life writing, lecturing, and exegeting Western culture as a mission field. His work provides a foundation for missional church theology.

I remarked to Hunsberger that I often find Newbigin's books on the shelves of pastors who attended seminary 20 or 30 years ago, and I am amazed at how little it seems to have impacted their ministries! OK. I realize that a lot of us bought books in seminary that we never read or read only under pressure! At the same time, it would seem that the seminal ideas that Newbigin presented would have impacted our vision for reaching our culture for Christ. We still have time to avail ourselves of his insights.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Can the Church Change?

I spent the last three days in a conference with folks who believe that established churches can change to become missional--that is to participate with God in a mission to the world. The missional church takes seriously the culture in which it functions and the gifts and calling of its people in order to be on mission with God in that culture.

The Gospel in Our Culture Network basically developed out of a dialogue between those in the Reformed and Anabaptist traditions on what it means to be such a church in 21st century North America. They have not only produced a significant amount of theological literature (such as Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America) but they have also discovered and researched places where it is happening (see Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness).

The conference included representatives from Mennonite, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran churches and judicatories. They are in various stages of grasping and implementing the missional church paradigm. The good news is that they are trying! They believe that the church can change.

During the conference, someone commented that is unfortunate that most churches must come to a point of crisis before they are willing to change. It is unfortunate, but isn't this true for most of us as individuals as well? When one is faced with the potential of heart disease, he or she becomes more concerned about healthy habits. When addiction causes aberrant behavior, it is time for a change. Crisis and opportunity go together.

The key is helping churches to realize the crisis they may be facing if they do not embrace a new paradigm. Is your church healthy? Maybe it is time to embrace a healthy new regimen, becoming a missional church.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hope for the Church?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the approach of Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost in the Missio Intensive conference and in their book is that the church has already failed to reach people in our culture. I understand why they have come to this conclusion based on their experiences in Australia. As Frost points out, the first settlers in America came to seek religious freedom and by choice (although we must admit that the promise of commerce motivated many). In Australia, the first "settlers" were mostly Irish convicts who did not choose to travel to the other side of the world. Their "chaplains" were Anglican priests who were also the magistrates who pronounced judgement on trangressors! The basis of the cultures was very different.

At the same time, I realize that we are faced with both a secular culture (is there any other?)in the US as well as rapid and discontinous change. Most people are not antagonistic the church; they are indifferent to the church! Even in the South, Christian churches are no longer respected as they once were.

The approach that Hirsch and Frost have adopted is radical. They call for a change from an attractional to an incarnational approach to penetrate niche communities of non-believers. They have basically "written off" the established churches as effective means to reach people for Christ.

They may be right! I believe that there are places in our state where this will work, especially in urban areas; however, I still hold out hope that many of our established churches can refocus themselves as missional churches--churches on mission in their context. This is something to which I am committed, and I am attempting to lead our organization to help churches make that transition.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Shaping of Things to Come

Rita and I just returned from a trip to California that included a Missio Intensive Event at Fuller Seminary. The conference featured the authors of
The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church. The authors are Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, both Aussies. Michael is a professor of evangelism and missions at a seminary in Australia and a church planter. He has a Baptist background and the gift of evangelism. Alan (pictured here) is a South African Jew (now a Christ-follower) who has lived in Australia but is now making the shift to the US. Michael is the apostle/prophet of the team; Alan is the strategist/conceptual person.

I will write more about this meeting later, but I just wanted to share a few initial observations. The theme of the conference was reaching people for Christ in a post-everything context. Michael and Alan have served in a part of the world that is de-Christianized. Being a Christian in Australia is not a matter of pride. Indeed, it may be a barrier to getting on in society! Their approach to sharing Christ is both missional and incarnational, but it assumes up front that the church has failed to reach people with its present strategies.

We aren't there yet in Tennessee, but the time may not be far away. While in California, I passed a church only two blocks from the seminary that was advertising "rental space of weddings, receptions, parties, and office." This is a sign of a church in trouble. I think we need to be alert to the fact that the context for "doing church" is changing, even in Tennessee. We already see it in some urban areas in our state. How will we respond?