Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Understanding the Times

“What’s the church going to look like 50 years from now?” The question came from a seminary student during a conference call in which I participated this week. This is an understandable query from a person in his twenties who is about to enter what he hopes will be a lifetime vocation of ministry.

Of course, I couldn’t give him an answer. We can make some educated guesses, but only God knows what lies ahead. I suggested to the student that if his desires to have a relevant ministry for the next five decades, he should learn how to read the culture. I am reminded of the men of Issachar mentioned in 1 Chronicles 12:31 “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” Knowing your context can not only help you to survive in ministry but to prosper.

Why should we be concerned about the culture? I suggest several reasons.

First, if we expect our message to be heard, we need to speak the language. I don’t expect English to pass out of fashion in the next 50 years (although learning Spanish and Chinese might be a good idea), but if we are going to communicate effectively, we must understand the idioms, jargon, and phraseology of the times. King James English is still very beautiful, but there are many parts of it that must be explained. Our language continues to evolve, and we must be aware of the changes in everyday usage and the nuances of language.

Second, we need to understand the messages that the culture is sending. An effective communicator of today and tomorrow must be aware of movies and TV shows. This is where people, especially young adults, learn their framing narratives. This has been true for years. Think about the Star Wars mythology. How many ideas and phrases that have become part of our everyday language were drawn from the archetypes that George Lucas wove into his films? We don’t have to embrace these narratives, but we do need to understand and deconstruct them.

Third, if we understand our culture, we know the issues with which people are grappling and can consider ways that the Gospel speaks to those issues. I know that Jesus never talked about abortion, stem cell harvesting, or online etiquette, but His message certainly can help us to address these and other challenging ideas in our culture.

Fourth, if we understand culture, we can find ways that it can work for us as Christ followers. We can learn how to leverage the strengths of the secular world to build the Kingdom. We can take advantage of unexpected opportunities—like Paul on Mars Hill—to communicate the gospel.

How will the events of the next 50 years impact the church and its work? I think the answer is up to us.

1 comment:

Leonard Rader said...

Great Post.
Thanks for sharing your insight.