Saturday, November 18, 2006

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

There are many "entry points" into the life of the church. In the past, this was often the Sunday School. For many people today, it is the worship service. For others, it is the opportunity to be involved in one of the ministries of the church--some within the walls of the church facility (Upward Basketball is an example) and some in the community (Habitat, etc.).

The door of ministry, especially ministry outside the walls of the church, will provide the connecting point with many non-churched people in coming years. Young adults are often looking for places to serve, and the church can provide those opportunities.

Working alongside Christians provides the non-churched person the chance to develop relationships with believers. Perhaps one of the things the church of the future needs to do is to prepare members for this type of interaction. This doesn't mean learning a pat "presentation of the gospel." It does involve knowing one's own story, how that relates to God's story, and being able to relate it in a loving, humble manner (but that gets into Christian formation, the topic for another blog).

George Hunter (see The Celtic Way of Evangelism) introduced me to the concept of the powerful witness of a serving community. This is the pattern he found in early Irish monastic communities. These communities were not restricted to those who had taken vows; certainly, they were at the center of the community, but many others attached themselves to the monasteries because of the benefits they saw there. After awhile, they learned enough to identify with the Christian community personally.

Perhaps the church of the future will do a better job than we have done in giving people on the edges the opportunity to "taste and see" what the Christian faith is all about by observing that faith in action.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Conquering America?

Let me break my series on the future of the church and comment on an article that appeared on the Baptist Center for Ethics website.

BCE reports that David Clippard, the executive of the Missouri Baptist Convention, recently said, "The real threat we are facing today is that Islam has a strategic plan to conquer and occupy America." Part of this plan is funding Islamic studies and opening mosques near colleges and universities. "They are after our sons and daughters, our students," Clippard is reported to have said.

I don't know if Clippard's observations are correct or not, but the idea of attempting to reach a nation through its college and university students makes sense. In the early 20th century, many Christian groups (including Baptists) decided to do the same thing. This gave birth to the Baptist Student Union, the Student Volunteer Movement, the Wesley Foundation, and many other denominational and non-denominational groups. This resulted in the equipping and calling of thousands of ministers, educators, missionaries, and lay leaders for the churches.

The unfortunate thing is that this strategy is not being actively pursued by Christians today. Southern Baptists have pulled much of their funding for national programs for college students, and state programs of campus ministry are facing frozen or declining budgets (Mr. Clippard's MBC is a good--or bad--example).

Those of us in the CBF camp haven't done much better. With a few exceptions, most churches, state and regional organizations, and national entities have not made ministry with college students a priority.

There is a vacuum in ministry to college and university students. Maybe the Muslims have found a "niche." If so, we have no one to blame but ourselves.