Today I’m beginning the last leg of three weeks on the road. It’s been an interesting journey that almost transcends history.
It began almost three weeks ago at the 2009 TYPO3 Conference in Dallas. There, we talked about and learned more about internet ministry, particularly using a Content Management System to create websites that don’t just sizzle, but facilitate real ministry. It was a look at the future.
Next came Exponential 2009 where I was one of the presenters (thanks to Bill Easum for the opportunity). Exponential is the nation’s largest church planting conference. I had the good fortune to rub shoulders with Alan Hirsch, Francis Chan, Ed Stetzer, Tom Clegg, and Neil Cole – all heroes of my faith journey. Since I’ve planted a couple of churches in my day, I found it both exciting and depressing to hear what’s going on in the church planting world (more on why it depressed me in a future post).
Next, it was off to Chicago and the NACCC Minister’s Convocation on the Mundelein Seminary campus (NACCC = National Association of Congregational Christian Churches). I was asked to lead a retreat on the “E” word. It was a beautiful setting and gratifying to know that there’s rising interest in relevant evangelism practices in the Congregational Church.
And so, now I’m on my way to New York where I’ll lead a training/overview on the house church movement to United Methodist clergy who are interested in doing something completely different. That will be gentle look into our past.
Future, Present, and Past. It’s where the church is.
As I take a few minutes to reflect on my journey, I’m heartened by the men and women whose eyes lit up as we talk about ministry practices that can speak to the present and future generations. But my joy is tempered by the reality that has so clearly presented itself by so many of the leaders I’ve rubbed shoulders with these last three weeks. There is a resignation in the eyes, defeat in their minds, and hopelessness in the spirits of far too many of our church leaders. They’ve heard the spiel of the pundants and the promise of their programs for too long and have seen so little change. They’ve tried a little bit of this and a little bit of that. They’ve gone to mega church conferences, micro retreats, and denominational convocations that roll out more hype than a used car sales commercial, but leave with little substance. And so, largely, they’ve given up and are mostly going through the motions.
Who’s to blame them? Most – though certainly not all – got into ministry to change lives through Jesus Christ. But let’s be really, really honest. Most of the members of most of our churches are pretty much the same people they’ve been for decades. They may know more about the Bible and they may know more about God, but their primary spiritual relationship is with the the church rather than with Jesus – with the bride rather than groom.
And so, I continue my journey … physically, mentally, and spiritually. I’m biblically grounded enough to know God’s in charge and the Spirit can do great and awesome things. And I’m a student of history enough to know that just because they can, they’ve seldom moved upon a culture to change the hearts of the adherents, choosing to move on to receptive fields (currently in China, India, SE Asia, Northern Africa, and Latin America). Historically the change, if there is to be one, comes from those who are willing and able to emerge from the culture and rise above it. That won’t come from programs, but from life changes – and until our eyes light up, there will be precious few of those.