Church for The “Next Christians”

Here is my premise, and I’d like to know what you think as you read though the entire post: While church is and will remain at the epicenter of Christian community, essential for worship, for sacrament, for fellowship, the work of the church, the work of the pastor, is not to lead or cast vision or draw people in, but to equip, disciple, and send Christians out. This requires a revolution in the way we view both church and the role of leadership in the church. It requires a change in focus.

Gabe Lyons in his book The Next Christians expresses an optimism for the future of Christianity. Yes we entering a post-Christian world and our expression of faith must adjust to this reality. Yes, there is a negative perception of Christianity and the church on the part of many of the younger generation. Lyons knows this quite well. He is a coauthor with Dave Kinnaman of unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters after all.  Still he is optimistic. There is a metamorphosis underway he suggests – not an evolution of Christian faith, but a return to a faith characterized by believers who are rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, putting first things first, and from this root demonstrate the restorative power of God in all aspects of life. Gabe lays it out like this:

Telling others about Jesus is important, but conversion isn’t their only motive. Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and love.

I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision.  Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. They recognize that the world will not be completely healed until Christ’s return, but they believe that the process begins now as we partner with God. Through sowing seeds of restoration, they believe others will see Christ through us and the Christian faith  will reap a much larger harvest.

They are purposeful about their careers and generous with their time and possessions. They don’t separate from the world, or blend in; rather they thoughtfully engage. Fully aware of the seachange underway, they are optimistic that God is on the move – doing something unique in our time. (p. 47)

This is a great vision – restorers are Christians whose faith permeates their life, who are intentional about living out their faith in the broader community. They don’t separate from the surrounding culture or blend in with the surrounding culture, rather they engage to transform through the power of the Spirit … in small steps or larger projects.  The gospel vision governs all decisions. First things first means the restorers are grounded in the gospel, the story of the love of God for his creation, his redeeming and atoning work through Christ, and his intended restoration, a theme, Lyons notes, that runs throughout the whole of scripture.

The fact is, where Christians restore, people get saved. … The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of men and women when they encounter the Gospel lived out in real ways. This isn’t some new strategy – its the way Christianity has flourished ever since it began. (p. 195)

This vision, though, comes with challenges – serious challenges – for Christians, for Church, and for church leaders, pastors and teachers. Before continuing with a discussion of some of the ideas in Lyons’ book I would like to put out two questions for consideration.

What does this mean for the Christian life?

What does this mean for church and for church leaders, the pastors and teachers? How do things change?

Lyons outlines six features of the Next Christians – they are provoked, not offended; creators, not critics; called, not employed; grounded, not distracted; in community, not alone; and countercultural, not relevant. Scot described these in one of his first posts  on this book (you can find it here). Scot’s posts on discipleship for the next Christians have also touched on these ideas (1 and 2). Discipleship must be focused on kingdom rather than individual disciplines. Beyond discipleship though, this kingdom focus has serious consequences for church and for church leadership and vision.

Called, not employed…this is a key chapter, one that, taken seriously if Lyons is right, will revolutionize our church and our lives. In much of our church we have a professional clergy and full time christian workers. There is an emphasis placed on the calling to these positions.  These people do the real work of the church.

We educate, train, and hire “professional ministers,” placing a higher spiritual value on certain jobs and professions (like direct evangelism and service) and marking others (such as entertainment, academia, and science) as off-limits to orthodox Christians.

There are many practical benefits to this approach, but their are complications as well. For example, everyday Christians can develop and overdependence on formal ministry organizations. What’s more they are conditioned to view their own job as separate from “real ministry.” (p. 109)

Clearly I missed the message about academia and science … but Gabe has an important point. We have developed a professional culture where professionals do ministry, and the rest of us are viewed implicitly or explicitly as second-class Christians. Full time religious work is important. We need trained and talented pastors and teachers. But the front lines for restorative work is not in the church but in the world. The restorers see a need for Christian work and restoration in all seven channels of cultural influence, in media, in education, in arts and entertainment, in business, in government, in the social sector, and in churches. Faith is not a tack-on, but a driving force in engagement in all of these areas.

We have a Christian culture centered on church, and this needs to change. Church is a place for service, impact, gifts, giving, volunteering, even organizing a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. The Pastor leads the church, casts the vision, and preaches with power.  And we fight over who gets to be in charge … men, women, young, old. This church-centered approach needs to change. But this doesn’t mean that church is unimportant. Restorers need to be grounded and in community.

The church remains the epicenter of what is possible. It’s the most uniquely positioned channel of cultural influence when it’s operating on all cylinders. … On any given Sunday in church, leaders from all seven channels join together and pray, worship, learn, and socialize in one place. Then they are sent out, dispersed to support one another and to work within the sphere of society God has gifted and called them to in order to carry out his restoration work. (p. 121)

The church needs to empower and prepare Christians to go out into the world. The job of the pastor is not to lead in mission doing the “real work” of the church, but to nurture, disciple, and prepare Christians to go out into the world to do the real work of the church. This is servant leadership. Ironically, this may mean that a church needs to be inward focused, putting resources into libraries, speakers, and gatherings, not to separate from the surrounding culture, but to provide the necessary support for restoration living. None of us can go it alone.  I joked above about missing the message about academia and science … as places off-limits to orthodox Christians. But in all seriousness, the hardest aspect of this calling as a Christian is the lack of community support and resource in the church.

The real work of the church is done not by the leadership vision attracting large numbers into the church, but by the people of the church sent out into every sphere of society.  Back to the questions above… assuming that Lyons is right and there is a shift and transformation taking place within the body of Christ …

How does it reshape the concept of church? How does it reshape the view of the success?

How does it impact the role of the pastor?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If you have comments please visit Church for the “Next Christians” at Jesus Creed

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