Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism, part 1

I got an article forwarded to me a few days ago that I have been pondering. It feels very timely and very important.
It starts out with this statement in very bold print: "An anti-Christian chapter in Western history is about to begin. But out of the ruins, a new vitality and integrity will rise."

Michael Spencer begins "We are on the verge, within 10 years, of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioation of the mainline Protestmant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West."
He continues: "Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I am convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But, the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close."

I agree with this statement, although my heart wants to say no. I have wonderful memories from my life of faith in an evangelical Church. I enjoyed ministering in several evangelical churches. But, the signs are too real and present to be ignored.

The writer lists several reasons for why he believes that evangelicalism will collapse:

1. Evangelicals identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism.

2. We failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught.

3. Three kinds of evangelical churches exist today: consumer driven megachurches, dying churches and new churches whose future is fragile.

4. Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to "do good" is rapidly approaching.

6. We have not passed onto our children a vital confidence in the Bible and the importance of a life of faith.

7. The money will dry up.

Any one of these 7 reasons are important enough to suspect that we are on the wrong track. The past few months have been boggling for the first and seventh reason: the culture war that evangelicals have fought have left cynicism and even bitterness behind in a good part of the US. I live in the Northwest and some of the pre-election discussions I was part of were absolutely steamy in the anger released toward the Christian right. Spencer writes "We fell for a trap of believing in a cause more than a faith."

The economy is on a huge decline, and that in itself is serious. But, I believe there is an even bigger reason that the money is drying up. The giving patterns of Christians are taking a giantic right turn. People are less and less likely or willing to give to a church budget or even to an organization where they have little say for how the money is spent.

If you take the second and fourth reasons, how we have fared at passing on our faith to our youth and children, the situation gets even more serious. If they have no roots, and very little loyalty, to a church, a denomination, or even a ministry, they will not give money. They are motivated by story: and will give to a compelling story where they have personal investment.

So, if the ship is sinking, what do we do?

I believe that we must go back to our roots: where our faith began. It began with a man named Jesus, who loved the world so much that he was willing to become human to show us who God is. When I talk about Jesus, people listen. They are open to him, it's the Church that they say no to.

We need to find different forms of worshipping. As we move away from the building and invite people into homes, practicing the "Shalom Hospitality" that the Bible teaches us, people begin to thaw and their spirits open to the God who Created them.

We need to be present in the world. But, we need to do this quietly and without fanfare. As we live out the Kingdom of God is here now, we do the things that Jesus himself did. We can pray, heal, we can deliver, we can be present where God directs us to be his light in a world that seems dark.

We need to free up funds. We need to stop guilting people into giving and find ways to free them up to respond where their hearts direct them. As we give people ownership of their giving and let God lead them to where he is showing his need, pocketbooks open, checks are written, and the world is helped.

I don't have all the answers. I just know that I am glad that I am part of Missio Lux. I believe that our structure is allowing us to move differently and people's lives are being changed. I am able to have conversations with so many more people now that I am not on staff of a big church.

What are your thoughts?

taken from Christian Science Monitor: March 10, 2009 by Michael Spencer

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