I was reading a blog post from a Canadian in BC on his observations regarding the close of modernity in our Canadian culture. He was lamenting about a young local church leader who was caught in clutches of ‘the old-system’ thus making his voice all the more meaningless in an ever changing culture around him, of course unbeknown to him (the leader).
Whether it be issues of doctrine or theology, or just some assumptions on the ‘way things should be’, there appears to be a growing disconnect between church culture and regular culture. Should there be a divide? Is it necessary to maintain a degree of mutual exclusivity with church culture in order to preserve belief/faith? Are there a better ways than the current, “convince someone they’re sinners and lead them to Jesus,” mentality? Is there more to faith than the same fluffy or boring sermon coupled with bad music or a lifeless liturgical tradition? Or are there other ways to approach faith so it translates into a contemporary vernacular?
To break it down without the big words: I’m curious to know if the way church is ‘done’ today must necessarily remain contentious and backwards to a growing majority of people who are not a part of one.
I believe the answer is a 'yes and no'.
But first allow me to address these questions by outlining the current scenario.
Right now, churches primarily focus on maintaining what they have already claimed; they know how to live within the ‘system’ but don’t know how to lead outside of it. At the leadership level protecting the systems that are already inside the seemingly safe church walls consumes most of the time. It’s much easier to maintain what we have even if it’s slowly eroding for a multitude or reasons, here are a couple: a) it takes weaker leaders who are risk-averse and thus we can get by with ‘what we have’, b) currently there is a facade that the current system works, albeit with some broken parts, thus it’s easier to patch the machine rather than overhaul the system.
There’s almost a neglect to acknowledge that the ship is sinking, and that boldness to lead in an opposite direction is necessary. Those ideas are contrary to the ‘maintain what we got’ mentality. Case in point, when it comes to creating leaders, we still have the notion that the best option is to send our home or Christian schooled kids to Bible college.
This would be all fine an dandy IF the world around us was not changing, if our Canadian society was still stuck somewhere in the 1970’s or prior, and if we still lived in a culture where the majority of people grew up in the church or in the very least had some ‘church memory/stories’ stuck in their heads (we call this type of culture Christendom). There would be plenty of jobs waiting in churches with people looking to belong with something they’ve always known–the church.
But here’s the thing. The world changes, culture changes, people change, but unfortunately the way we ‘do church’, communicate faith, belief, systems, experiences, don’t change.
Sometimes we fake changes, we change the music in church, we change the lingo of some words, but ultimately it boils down to fundamentals, and foundations built on modernity are no longer compatible with our current day and age. Does that mean we have to give up Christian foundations? I would say no, but it does suggest we need to adjust what we believer ARE foundational and what we consider open change. The list of things that can change are far bigger than what we clutch in a closed fist.
Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus suggest the point of his disciples or the community is to hunker down and worry about expenses, salary, and how to put on a good ‘relevant’ show. Conversely, everywhere in the Gospel message (which means the overall theme of the New Testament) we continually read about how these communities or disciples are to engage in ushering in God’s Kingdom on earth.
This is an important observation to raise because it permits us to ask a fundamental question on how church operates today: can we be relevant without giving up foundations?
Does the church need to be consistently opposed to all immoral behavior? Does it have to be the last to adopt the latest trends in technology and language? Is it necessary to accept boredom and mediocrity so long as we hear someone preach from the ‘the Word’ at least once a week? And to put it in a personal question, why is there a widening disconnect between church and the rest of my life?
Again, I think the answers are yes and no.
I am aware that the semantics of relevance conjure up a mixed bag of emotions, especially for Christians seeking to stay far far away from ‘being relevant’ to society around them (relevance is connected with watering down one’s faith), but I think the word needs to be revisited because the way we do ‘church’ is quickly eroding into meaningless whether we like it or not. More importantly, the culture around us progresses with our without the church. In fact, culture has progressed so far away that it can now be considered ‘post-Christendom’. That means the people who live in our city are disconnected from anything church related or any church experience by at least one full generation.
This isn’t a bad thing, it’s merely an observation. North American churches have NEVER experienced this type of culture before. So the question is how should we respond?
Hunker down in the bunker and wag our finger in disgust at abortions, gay marriages, and sexy magazines while quoting corroborating Bible verses that support our position? Is that the best way moving forward, will that make more people in a post-Christendom world go, “oh yea, I see what you’re saying rationally and experientially, so I guess because you told me so and the Bible says so you’re right and I’m an idiot.”
I want to close this post by suggesting what church in our city should reflect by revisiting
my yes and no.
Yes, the church should stand for something that is counter-cultural. No it shouldn’t be unnecessarily contentious for issues that are far more political in nature and vested in protecting religious systems than a Christian faith should reflect.
For example, it’s not necessary to fight for creationism/intelligent design in science programs for schools. That’s a political message that reflects a theological opinion. It is, however, necessary to stand up for the oppressed and right the wrongs of social injustices in our city. One ushers in the culture of narrow right-wing ideology, the other ushers in God’s culture reflected on earth.
That’s the key that transposes to everything. The church is God’s tool/people/community to translate everything within God’s culture (also referred to as God’s Kingdom on earth but that usually conjures up the wrong images). We have placed far too many things into a closed fist and have called them foundational, protecting them under the guise of a crumbling foundation rooted in modernity and foundationalism.
The reason why people are leaving the church are for two reasons (just some thoughts): 1) because someone within did something stupid or said something hurtful to them, b) because they are smart enough to recognize that the church is unnecessarily contentious and out of touch with the rest of the world around us.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Yet it DOES have to be counter-cultural for a variety of things, but those things amount to righting social injustices and recapturing divine and human love not Bible proof texting, right-wing ideologies, and everything else that is totally incomprehensible to the current culture.
The fact is: the world around us changes, and we change along with it. Church has been this out of place entity in culture where you can still go and find women treated as second class leaders, among other things. It doesn’t have to be.
Church shouldn’t be so out of touch that you’re bored silly on Sunday yet keep coming back because you think it’s the right thing to do in the eyes of God or you know no other way. I have a suggestion if you fall into this camp. Get in touch with us. We’re very interested in working with people who have some tools yet ask questions like, “is there more to my faith than this?” and “why can’t I be affirmed to live and operate in the community I live now rather than doing ‘outreach’ that never seems to work with the church?”
This isn’t about relevance, this is about choosing the right things to fight for. Calgary Church is unashamed to stick out like a sore thumb for issues like social justice and relationships. We’re not interested in trying to get people into ‘heaven’ or bashing away most of your beliefs until they look like ours. We’ll certainly stand for what we believe and trust you’ll work out the decision in your own time, but we’re hoping we have a voice and a language that seeks to engage people into a discovery of God’s quest to rescue us from disconnect with each other and eternal disconnect from Him.