Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The future of the "established" church

I haven't posted directly on this topic for quite a while. There have been a number of reasons for this. In one sense it has all been a little too close to home. I am employed by a local church with a traditional, denominational history, and I began to see that many of my posts on this subject where just a little too close to home. I also have been trying to sort through my own convictions and the motivation behind them.

But I was asked the question again today, "what do I see as the future of the church?" And so I thought I would think "out loud" and post some of my thoughts here.

In a nutshell, I think the established church is dying. Not dead yet, but well on its way.

The main indicators of church's demise, as I see them, come from the church's role in contemporary culture - Christianity is increasingly becoming marginalised and established, traditional-denominational expressions of church now exist on the fringe of the local (and increasingly secular) community.

Community action for most churches involves marketing of religious goods and services (handing out balloons with the church's website address on it in the local shopping centre for instance) to a shrinking sympathetic demographic, in forms borrowed from and perfected by MacDonald's and Coke et al. Social action comes with press releases and self aggrandisement.

Even though all these things point towards the death of the established church in its current incarnation, I don't necessarily think the local church has to die. I think there is a hope of rebirth. But it means change. It means converting from business-inspired marketing, to Jesus inspired living. It means reconsidering leadership models and practice, it means reconsidering the role of the church and what it means to be the church in and for our world. It means understanding that being missional has very little to do with going on an overseas mission trip, planning an "outreach" event in your suburb, or participating in the next you-beaut mass media evangelistic project.

Despite the whining of some local church pastors that EMC practitioners or commentators don't have a right to comment on the local church, I think it is important to point out that most of the criticisms being leveled at the established church are coming from people with extensive experience within established, traditional-denominational, settings. They aren't people standing on the outside, looking in and pointing fingers.

But change isn't easy, and in most places is almost impossible. If the leadership isn't in the picture it's unlikely the church will adapt - those members who want to see things change will eventually leave when it simply becomes to hard to keep working within a structure in which they don't fit. If the members don't see the need to do things differently, then leadership will find it very hard to make things move. So, I think we are probably about a generation away from the large-scale demise of the local church in its current form. Those that come to grips with the changing environment and adapt accordingly will make it (it's going to be tough!), those that just keep on doing what they've always done (or at least what Hillsong or Saddleback or whatever whoever is the flavour of the month this month did!) will go the way of the dinosaur.

This isn't a simple subject (you've seen the number of books on the topic!), but it's a subject worth getting real about. This involves established churches taking a serious look at themselves and being willing to take the pruners to the dead wood while putting "history and tradition" to one side for the sake of the future. It also involves proponents of the EMC being willing to build bridges into established churches wanting to make changes, recognising the role that does exist in the neighbourhood of the future for long-established (yet significantly modified) expressions of church.

If you're wondering if you're church is really missional - check out this post from Brackish Faith and this post from newly commissioned "Senior Pastor", Hamo, at Backyard Missionary.


Robin said...

Wow, I am soooo glad that I found your blog. This is something near and dear to my heart as well, As I live more and more surrendered to Jesus. I have been hurt by the church, but I do think my church is tryijng to overcome the problems that you address, but I think too, that it has a long way to go. I too, am interested in learning about this topic and have frequently blogged about it and in the past. I don't know what the answer is but God how I pray that the church will start acting more like Jesus in all areas!! Gonna put you on my blog roll as well. God bless!!!!!

The Creature said...

Hey Robin,

Thanks for dropping by and your comments. I appreciate them!



Benjamin Wheatley said...

"It also involves proponents of the EMC being willing to build bridges into established churches wanting to make changes"

Now there is a challenge.

The easiest option is to withdraw and be critical.

The second easiest option is to withdraw and do your own thing.

The real challenge is to engage, love and support.

The Creature said...

Yep Ben, it surely is. For both sides - the EMC and the established/traditional. There are a number of local church leaders who actively avoid engaging with us on any level - even socially.

On the other hand, we have others who involve themselves with us, which is incredibly refreshing. I've found that even though we have differences of opinion on some issues, there is a lot that can be learnt through working together.

Thanks for dropping by Ben.