1. The Biblical Text:
Matt. 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
Matt. 16:14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Matt. 16:15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Matt. 16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Matt. 16:17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
Matt. 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
Matt. 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Matt. 16:20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
2. One year ago I stood here as a guest speaker and shared a sermon entitled, "The Church in the 21st Century," concerns from my heart about our future, the future of the church.
3. With a turn of events that I hope we can still attribute to God, you honored me by asking that I come and serve as your pastor. It has been one of my greatest pleasures to become part of your journey with God and as you can imagine, acting as both servant and leader can make for very interesting days.
4. In response to our world's changing landscape I offered on that day three suggestions:
• As a church, we must find a way to recover a sense of our Core Values.
• As a church, we must cultivate, guard, and proclaim a renewed sense of Community.
• As a church, we must model the example of Jesus that Service is more important than power and status.
5. I remember as a seminary student the interview of an elderly woman in Louisville, KY as the last member of their historic church. Doors closed. Her words: "One thing I can say. We never changed."
6. Where do we stand today? Have any of those challenges changed? Where do we go from here? What will the church-at-large look like in 2020? What will Central Baptist Bearden look like in 2020? Will we still exist in 2050? Will we be relevant then? Are we relevant now? Will we be a church that makes a difference? Will we fulfill or mission or will we fail?
I. Our Changing World
The Challenging News:
There will soon be 7 billion people on our planet.
In 1975 only three cities in the world topped 10 million residents.
Today 21 such megacities are teeming with over 10 million people.
By 2050 the population in our country is expected to exceed 400 million.[i]
American evangelicals, the nation’s largest religious segment, reached their statistical peak in the 1990s at around 28 percent of the population and are currently plateaued at 24 percent.
Catholics, the largest single religious tradition in the United States, represent some 20 percent of the population.
Mainline Protestant denominations continue to decline, now representing 13 percent of the population.
The “Nones,” those who claim no religious affiliation or participation, are now the third-largest segment of the population, up from 7 percent a few years ago to around 17 percent in the latest polls.[ii]
The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) revealed these findings:[iii]
The number of Americans who describe themselves as "Christian" has dropped from 86% to 76% since 1990.
The number who say they have "no religion" has nearly doubled to more than 15%.
The number who call themselves "atheist" or "agnostic" has quadrupled and is now almost twice the number of Episcopalians in our country.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that:[iv]
More than one-quarter of American adults, 28%, have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion or no religion at all.
Among Americans age 18-29, one in four say they are not affiliated with any religion at all.
The number of Americans who indicate confidence in religion has dropped from 32% in 1976 to 20% in 2008.
Confidence in the scientific community ranked at 40%. In terms of confidence, religion now ranks on the same level with "banks and financial institutions" at 19%.
2010 Barna Research released these Six Findings:[v]
1. The church is becoming less theologically literate.
2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
3. More people are less interested in spiritual principles and more interested in pragmatic solutions.
4. More Christians are becoming more involved in community action programs.
5. Tolerance is winning in the church.
6. While the influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
A Harris Poll focused on religious beliefs by national population:[vi]
According to a large survey of religious beliefs in France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, and the U.S., the U.S. was the most religious country with 73% describing themselves as believing in "any form of God or any type of supreme being."
• 62% in Italy; 48% in Spain; 41% in Germany; 35% in England; 27% in France.
In Great Britain, there are four times as many Muslims attending mosque on Friday as there are Christians attending worship on Sunday.
Our world continues to change in more than just religious beliefs:[vii]
One out of eight couples who married in the U.S. last year met online.
The number of text messages sent and received today will exceed the number of the population of the planet.
More than 3,000 new books are published every day.
China will soon become the number one English speaking county in the world by population.
China and India together graduate six times more engineers and scientists than the U.S.
In the last five minutes, 67 babies were born in the U.S.; 274 in China; 395 in India.
Can you name this country?
Richest in the world. Largest military. Center of world business and finance.
Strongest educational system. World center of innovation and invention.
Currency sets the world standard of value. Highest standard of living.
The Country: England in 1900
Our world has changed. Our community has changed. We have changed too.
Our Mission Statement:
We exist that people may know Jesus Christ as Lord, grow as His disciples, and share his love in word and deed. Knowing…Growing…Sharing…
How can we possibly fulfill our mission?
II. The Christian Responses
A. Problem with change – almost always interpreted as criticism.
• I remain impressed with what you have done and are doing. Please do not think of this as criticism; think of this as opportunity. Opportunity to be light and salt in a world of darkness and pain. Opportunity to be in the kingdom of God.
B. How are we to respond?
What are some current responses to this phenomenon among Christians? In a recent article church historian Bill Leonard describes Christianity's responses in this way:[viii]
Some insist that this is the statistical verification of what the church has known for centuries: Sinful human beings will run from grace every chance they get. The new polls reveal that the veneer of religiosity in America has finally broken down and the church should reaffirm its calling as a hospice for sinners.
Some suggest that declines offer further evidence of the corruption of an American society where secularism is normative, traditional values are murky or disappearing and religion is ignored or ridiculed in the public square. Churches should reassert certain moral imperatives and act prophetically in the culture.
Others see the rise of the “nones” as a result of the church’s failure to sustain its evangelistic task of aggressively declaring the gospel. Churches should retell the “old, old story” with greater determination, even as they differ on the methods for doing so.
Still others insist that many people are leaving religion behind because of the actions and behavior of religious institutions and individuals who: 1) No longer live up to their traditional religious values. 2) Engage in myopic religious debates that distract them from pressing social and spiritual disorders. 3) Treat specific individuals or families in ways that foster hurt and disillusionment. 4) Are trapped in a survival mode that saps creative and redemptive energy. 5) All of the above. 6) None of the above.
• What is our response? Will we respond or ignore the changing landscape? Will we act or will we slide into irrelevancy and be ignored, even by our Lord?
C. Recent Church Models and the Problem (shortcomings) of Descriptive Language:
1. Attractional Model – the road long traveled by traditional churches. Typically inward focused. Flourished in the 50's and received new life in the Seeker Model of some mega churches.
2. The Missional Model – Reactionary
Characteristics of a Missional Church:[ix]
From programs to processes
From demographics to discernment
From attractional to incarnational
From uniformity to diversity
From professional to passionate
From seating to sending
From decisions to disciples
From additional to exponential
From monuments to movements
From services to service
From ordained to the ordinary
From organizations to organisms
What a Missional Church is Not
•is not a dispenser of religious goods and services or a place where people come for their weekly spiritual fix.
•is not a place where mature Christians come to be fed and have their needs met.
• is not a place where “professionals” are hired to do all the work of the church.
• is not about big programs and organizations to accomplish God’s missionary purpose. This does not imply no program or organization, but that they will not drive mission. They will be used in support of people on mission.[x]
Problem: Attractive in many ways with its practical engagement in the culture, it is Easy to create from scratch; a difficult and potentially damaging model for transitioning churches. Too many healthy babies thrown out with the bath water.
3. The Emergent Church – reactional, small-group based believers
The Emergent or Emerging church is characterized by small group or home group churches. I love their honesty (nothing is off the table for discussion/debate), their willingness to throw out the corporate growth mentality, openness to strangers, embracing of change, delight in the story of scriptures, and call to stewardship of our world and its resources.
But it too is not us. It jettisons too much. Easy for a small group to start. Impossible for an established church with meaningful traditions.
The world needs all of these models. Good work of the kingdom of God takes place in and through them all. But what of us? What will we be? Where do we go from here?
III. A Call for Renewal, the Renewal of our Dream at Central Baptist Bearden.
Three Characteristics of our Church Community that will lead us into the future:
1. Unity AND Diversity
• We are a both/and kind of church, and that makes us unique, unusual, and I think, quite Christian.
- If we can't get along with each other for a few years here, how will we ever make it through eternity?
- If we can't get along with each other for a few years here, what make us think we'll enjoy eternity?
I wish to clarify my dream by use of the model presented in the 1934 Barmen Declaration by the German Confessing Church, linking affirmations with negations. Or as Robert McAfee Brown noted, "Although the gospel is finally Yes and not No, a No can make explicit what is only implicit in the Yes."[xi]
• I say yes to discussing, debating, talking, and learning from each other.
• I say no to arguing, hating, vilifying, or demeaning each other – especially when we disagree.
• I say yes to prioritizing our mission and purpose for existence.
• I say no to allowing secondary issues, beliefs, or convictions to sidetrack us from God's upward call in Christ Jesus.
• I say yes to the continuing support of our Baptist roots and traditions.
• I say no to allowing politics, religious or secular, denominational or para-church, to divide what Christ gave his life to redeem.
• I say yes to a church that embraces the willingness of early Christians to cross unbelievable barriers: ethnic, economic, social, cultural, and political.
• I say no to a church that looks too much alike, sounds too much alike, and does not reflect God's wide and glorious creation.
• I say yes to a community of faith united by love for Christ, committed to a lifestyle of service, and motivated by joy and hope that flows from the Holy Spirit.
• I say no to a church energized by strife, stubbornness, self-centeredness, and a future that's always looking backwards, longing for what was rather than the what-can-be.
• I say yes to a church that moves with caution, prayer, and is always in step with its core values.
• I say no to a church whose inactivity or fear of change resigns it to irrelevance, impotent to engage in its mission and left only with stories of once-filled halls and once-sung songs of praise.
I say yes to Unity and Diversity.
2. Inward Care AND Outward Dare
We have the opportunity to build on our wonderful tradition so that our past becomes an incredible springboard of opportunities rather than an unmovable object that drags us into ineffectiveness. We do not need radical change. We do not jettison what so many have labored so long to build. But we do require careful, constant, coarse corrections in our efforts, or we will fail our mission. We can care for and nurture those who come to this place even as we find new, creative, meaning avenues to reach those who will never walk through those doors.
The biblical images of the Church as the Body of Christ AND the People of God embrace both our need and opportunity for inward care and outward dare.
• I say yes to a traditional church that cares deeply for those who join our fellowship and our journey with God.
• I say no to a traditional church that will not sacrificially engage its community, both near and far.
• I say yes to a church that educates its members and helps them process their inward faith with outward experiences, when life is both painful and exciting.
• I say no to a church that will not seek creative means to improve the lives of those they pass each Sunday as they drive to worship.
• I say yes to clinging tenaciously to the best that the attractional model offers to its worshipers.
• I say no to the unwillingness to recognize the changing world and the challenges those changes offer or the opportunities for service such needs present.
• I say yes to putting the needs of others first, ranging from the basic needs for life, the desire for love and encouragement, and extending even to the songs we sing and the times we sing them.
• I say no to defining the church, worship, or meaningful Bible study by my preferences, my background, my likes and dislikes or my prejudices.
• I say yes to lives characterized by prayer, meditation, and quietness in a world that continues to spin beyond our ability to control.
• I say no to a spirituality that denies the needs of others, ignores the homeless and hungry, hides behind comfortable piety or rests securely in padded pews.
• I say yes to seeking the Kingdom of God first, and all this other stuff…will just be other stuff.
• I say no to making the church look more like us and less like Jesus, more like our desires and less like the heart of our Lord.
I say yes to Inward Care AND Outward Dare.
3. Savior AND Servant
Share how students are falling in love with Jesus even as they remain distant from the institutional Christianity.
• Seeing 350-400 people gathering for Bible study on Sunday evenings is thrilling! Seeing 350-400 people gather for a service project? That would be world-changing! Then we know we are on the right path to fulfilling our mission.
Our course correction will retain the best of who we are, but must, must, must push us out into our world, near and far. The church does not exist for us. The church does not exist for itself. The church exists for the Kingdom of God. The church exists to bless others. We must share in word and deed, near and far, with those like us and those unlike us. Anything else is failure.
• I say yes to a church that takes Jesus words AND life seriously, valuing others over self, love over hate, service over power, and peace over conflict.
• I say no to a church that puts its needs before the needs of its neighbors, its denominational struggles over its mission, and its fear of failure over the possibilities for transformation.
• I say yes to a budget shaped by our prioritized mission and confidence in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
• I say no to a budget shaped more by fear than hope, strife than vision, or despair than belief.
• I say yes to a budget and servants seeking to respond to needs we have overlooked, individuals we have forgotten, and those whom the world are reluctant to acknowledge.
• I say no to a budget and servants seeking only to serve ourselves, please our desires, and honor those who are already like us and who may not really need us.
• I say yes to a church that is evangelistic in word AND deed, bringing good news to captives, captive both in spirit and in body.
• I say no to programs that separate the spiritual needs of people from their holistic self, a separation Jesus was unwilling to recognize in his life or in his death. "Today you will be with me in paradise" – words that should shake us until at least one wall crumbles to dust.
• I say yes to a church that lives in the tension of individual responsibility and the corporate life of community, care, love, and dependence.
• I say no to a church that abandons those who make mistakes, who flounder in their humanity, or have trouble trusting when they have been hurt so deeply. Freely we have been given. Freely we must give.
• I say yes to living in the creative tension of church and culture, Christ and self, light and darkness, hope and despair.
• I say no to a myopic church unable to see beyond its own struggles, mistakes, or failed dreams.
Unity and Diversity, Inward Care and Outward Dare, Savior and Servant.
On this rock I will build my church and gates of hell shall not prevail against it!
The Good News?[xii]
David Barrett, author of the World Christian Encyclopedia encourages us with these figures:
82,000 people become Christians every day around the world: 32,000 in Africa, 25,000 in Asia, 17,000 in Latin American.
Some missiologists believe there may be 100,000 conversions to Christianity each day in China alone.
More people are becoming Christians every day than at any time in Christian history.
But…of the 82,000 coming to Christ every day, only 6,000 are in Western Europe and the U.S. combined.
One theologian writes, "Those who dedicate themselves to be agents of change in our churches will require superhuman doses of courage, kindness, creativity, collaboration, and perseverance. Thanks be to God, faithful change agents will find, like the little boy with his fish and bread, that they already have more resources for the journey than they realized."[xiii]
Some say it can't be done. Some say we can't. I say we can. I say we have to.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant
or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. …
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
[i] National Geographic, January 2011, 32ff.
[iii] Jim Denison, "From Truth to Relevance: An Apologetic for the Biblical Worldview," The Baptist Educator, vol. 75, no. 1 (2011), 4ff.
[xi] Robert McAfee Brown, Saying Yes and Saying No, 11-12.
[xii] Jim Denison, "From Truth to Relevance: An Apologetic for the Biblical Worldview," The Baptist Educator, vol. 75, no. 1 (2011), 4ff.
[xiii] Bruce McClaren, A New Kind of Christianity, 162-163.