The ideas used in this session of Wascana Fellowship is taken from this book by Reggie McNeil: The Present Future: Six Tough Questions For the Church. The first chapter is about the implications of the collapse of the church culture in North America. What he means is the collapse of the socio-political system that bases its activity and legislation on the desires or pressure of the institutional church. It is also about how the church has become a club for religious people rather than the God-empowered movement described in the pages of the New Testament.
Frankly, I agree with Reggie McNeil that the “traditional” North American church is going the way of the dinosaur. That may happen even faster in Canada than in the United States due to Canadians being farther ahead of the post-modern curve than their counterparts south of the border.
Most Canadians are not interested in going to church except to get married or to be buried. Why? Because, as McNeil puts it, “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving to preserve their faith.” (p. 4, emphasis his).
This is because with modern methods the church is the best church human beings can build. That is exactly its problem. “Not only do we not need God to explain the universe, we don’t need God to operate the church… The culture does not want the powerless God of the modern church (p. 6, emphasis his).
The main response to falling attendance begins by asking the wrong question: How Can We Do Church Better? This results in lll of the efforts to make churches more modern seem in order to gain a greater market share of a quickly shrinking market. It cannot work in the long run. In this new reality, even if you build the perfect church, they still won’t come.
A tough (and much better) question for the church is: How do we deconvert from Churchianity to Christianity?
In both OT and NT God has a purpose and an assignment for the liberated people: “Yahweh rescued the Hebrews so they could partner with Him in His redemptive mission in the world” (p. 14). The only way the church can overcome institutional inertia is to rediscover its mission in the world.
That means no more planning to market church as a product by offering better goods and services. That means no more escalation in praise and worship music to draw crowds away from other churches. That means no more trying to lure the “unchurched” back to church.
(I once confronted a pastor who really believed that going after the “unchurched” was the same thing as evangelism. It is not. Unchurched people are usually already believers in Jesus Christ who have noticed that church is hindering their spiritual growth. Evangelism is reaching people who do not believe in Jesus Christ with the gospel message of his life, death, resurrection and gift of redemption for us. He never was able to see the difference. From the contents of the fourteen Bible College and Seminary books about evangelism (some about “worship evangelism”) on my bookshelf, I would say that he is not alone.)
Jesus founded a movement, not an institution. How did he do this? “Jesus tapped into the widespread disillusionment with religion but hunger for God with his teaching about the Kingdom and how to become a part of it… He preached that God is for people, not against them… The movement Jesus founded had power because it had at its core a personal life-transforming experience… They had discovered meaning for their life and wanted other people to experience the same thing. They had a much more powerful spiritual tool at their disposal than coercion or legalism. They had grace and love” (p. 17).
This brings us to his second tough question for the church. The wrong question is: How can we grow the church?
The right question is: How do we hit the streets with the gospel?
A moving example of how Jesus brought the gospel to the streets can be seen in his handling of the woman caught in the act of adultery. “In the ensuing dialogue with the crowd of would-be executioners Jesus proved that he is for the woman, not against her. He becomes her champion… He forces her to confront the issue, but does it after showing his love, after championing her. The sequence is important and instructive” (p. 39).
In other words, show love and loyalty first. Help first. Then, if necessary, confront the issues. “It’s not our job to convict people of sin. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job according to Jesus. .. It’s our responsibility to tell good news – that God so loved the world that he sent Jesus” (p. 39-40).
We need to remember that Jesus prayed to the Father about his disciples, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (Jn 17:18 NIV). Only remembering and following Jesus’ words and studying his heart toward the world will motivate us cooperate with Jesus’ mission to save the world.