The issues of the age…why “church” is losing

719276This morning, Dr. Scot McKnight featured a blog post on Jesus Creed regarding Pew Research results regarding what they label as, “the Religious Landscape.”  In the original article, these results were specifically shared in relation to the Southern Baptists.  As you know, I am no SoBap.  Even so, I am interested in how religious mores are being shaped by contemporary culture and trends.  What I decided to do was copy the pertinent info for you to be able to see.  I especially want to share with you the “conclusions” (three specific points) at the bottom of the article.  Take note of some of the issues raised in this article. I’m actually going to underline the insights I believe are especially relevant for the churchworld:

The Pew Research Center has featured results from the Religious Landscape Survey in a couple of stories over the last month that have bearing on these issues.  The survey was conducted in 2014 and compared with a similar survey in 2007. As reported in May 2015 (here), over the seven years between these surveys the Christian share of the US population dropped from 78.4% to 70.6% and the Evangelical Protestant share dropped from 26.3% to 25.4%. Those who claim none or unaffiliated (atheist, agnostic, nothing in particular) grew from 16.1% to 22.8% accounting for the lion’s share of the decrease in the Christian population. The results released this year dig into this a bit deeper, Why America’s ‘nones’ left religion behind. The chart to the right comes from this report. Most of the “nones” shed their religious identity in adulthood … 78%, or about 17 to 18% of the US population. Among the common themes:

About half of current religious “nones” who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. (Robin’s comment – my experience is that this is true. A new book by Os Guinness makes note of the fact that we are experiencing the full impact in our times of cultural shifts in essential belief systems).  This includes many respondents who mention “science” as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.” Others reference “common sense,” “logic” or a “lack of evidence” – or simply say they do not believe in God (Robin’s comment – again, this has been my experience).  

Another 20% cite the shortcomings of religious institutions, with hierarchy, power, and abuse scandals playing a role (Robin’s comment – no one in churchworld wants to address these issues – to those in religious institutionalism, their motto is “don’t rock my boat.”).  Among the more damning from the Pew study: “Too many Christians doing un-Christian things,” “Rational thought makes religion go out the window,” and “Because I think religion is not a religion anymore. It’s a business … its all about money” (Robin’s comment – remember, culture is not rebelling against Jesus and spirituality but about “religion”)

The Unaffiliated makeup a growing share across generations…the none phenomenon is not just about younger people.  In fact, it is not entirely generational! It is also important to realize that the growth in “unaffiliated” is both between and within generations. Among those in the cohort to which my children belong (born between 1990 and 1996) 36% identify as unaffiliated, compared with 17% of my cohort. On top of this, the percentage of unaffiliated in each cohort increased between 2007 and 2014 (well, except my kids’ cohort because they were not adults in 2007 and thus not part of the survey). If trends continue, by 2021 we may well see half of those born between 1990 and 1996 claiming “unaffiliated.”

The Pew story on factors concludes:  “Whether Millennials will become more religious as they age remains to be seen, but there is nothing in our data to suggest that Millennials or members of Generation X have become any more religious in recent years. If anything, they have so far become less religious as they have aged.”

Solutions? Most of the “solutions” I’ve (the “I’ve” is the author of this piece) seen proposed focus on aspects of Christian practice that could be called “style.” Music style, for example. How we worship on Sundays. Now I’m not against music or other aspects of style evolving over time, but our core problem isn’t style. Nor is it “doctrine.” Rather, we have a credibility problem. The reasons I pulled out above highlight this point.

(1) Christians do not live and behave according Christian principles. “Hypocrite” is too often a valid judgment.

(2) Religion isn’t religion, it is just another business.  The focus is too often on numbers and ‘success,’ profit, prestige, and power, personalities and performance. A church is a Sunday morning (or Saturday evening) audience. This is just, plain wrong. The church is the community of God’s people and this is the only worthwhile thing we have to offer, now and for eternity.

(3) Rational thought makes religion go out the window. This is front and center in my town and among colleagues. Christians are often seen as opposed to reason, to science, but this goes far beyond science (Robin’s comment – I’ve often told my friends and people in our faith community that churches operate in such a manner where they expect people to leave their brains at the door and accept everything by blind “faith”).  We need to teach people how to think and live as Christians in a changing world. 

I don’t know about you but this is a good article on which to reflect.  The author’s three points at the end do hit “home” with many of the non-Jesus followers that I know as well as those who have walked away.  I could add some more reasons, but for the purpose of this post, this is enough to get you thinking…SO, got an opinion?  Go ahead and make a comment OR email me your comments at rdugall@apu.edu.

 

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The Miracle of Community

60ae8-6a00d83451607369e201538efebc56970b-piThe Miracle of Community

“The future of the church depends on whether it develops true community…unless we
sense that we belong to each other, with masks of , the vibrant church of today will become the powerless church of tomorrow” – Larry Crabb

“Spiritual community = the presence of conflicted relationships met by spiritual friendship, spiritual direction and characterized by the dependence upon the Spirit of God” – M.Scott Peck

How about starting with some personal remarks – when I was young in the faith, I
got a taste of spiritual community…in fact, true community is inherently spiritual.
You and I were created in the image of a God who is “eternal community”…when we
share in relationships of love, encouragement, prayer, support and challenge, we are
experiencing a glimpse of the very nature and character of our Lord. In my case,
the story of community started in earnest during my college years. There were three
young men (Steve, Russ and Jeff) who poured themselves in me as a brother, friend,
and someone with whom they shared life. For two years, those relationships gave me
hope, healing, comfort, accountability and, most important, a constant glance at
Jesus and the reality of the Kingdom. Over a period of months, that little “band of
brothers” became infectious and grew…other people wanted “in” because they saw
something that they wanted and weren’t experiencing in their own life. I’m confident
enough to call a spade a spade…they saw Jesus and saw the Kingdom of God.
To say the least, I’ve been searching for a way to quench my deep desire for
community ever since. Throughout numerous experiences, I have gotten close only to
be sidetracked by ecclesiastical agendas, congregational politics, superficiality, and a
host of other relational elements that caused community to break down. I’m tired of
empty feelings when it comes to community – it has been my dream for a long, long
time to enter anew into redemptive and Kingdom community before I reach the end
of my earthly journey. I want to take the vision of scripture for a “ride” and find any
way I can to experience the sense of awe, power, and satisfaction that comes in living
in the flow of what Jesus created for us to experience.

I promised the Lord that I would pursue that dream in every move and every
transition in life. Friends, Jesus followers were created to experience oneness with
God and each other. It is only when we enter into that oneness do we experience the
fullness of life that God intended for us. I also realize as someone who takes the
scripture seriously that we need to have the quality of community that incarnates
Jesus and gives people an opportunity to see something that can only happen because
of God. Relationships are difficult because of the essential brokenness of humanity.
That’s why Christ-followers cannot tolerate having community that is anything else
than a glimpse of the Kingdom. We need to be inviting people into an experience in
relationships that actually transcends anything that can happen without the presence
of the Holy Spirit. To have relationships like “everyone else does” does not give
witness to the lives that Jesus calls us into. I’m attaching to this email a PDF link (if you
are interested) that outlines a set of values that are non-negotiable in our belief about
community. Community is transformational. We single-mindedly pursue the unity of
love and the missional and incarnational witness of community in the context of our
lives together in Kingdom living. This little booklet is divided up into three sections:
The Theology of Community – it is an overview of theological insights gleaned from
scripture and historical reflection. Secondly, the Practices of Community – these are
essential things, or practices that we do in relationship and, finally, our Pledge to each other – the life we are calling ourselves to live.

The Visions and Values of Community PDF link!

Check out some of this Bible Stuff:

1. Ephesians 2 – how far God goes to knock down the walls that separate people.
Jesus died on the cross to bring down the dividing wall, to settle once and for
all, any and all enmity between the people He loves. Any time you purposely put
up a wall, you make a mockery of the sacrifice of Jesus.
2. Forgiveness – Matthew 18 (the entire chapter) – In Jesus’ heart, personal
forgiveness is not enough…God can and will forgive as we pass that
forgiveness on to others. This section is one of the most challenging aspects of
scripture!
3. The Great Commandment – Matthew 22 – Jesus says, “you want to follow me?
Love God, love others…and follow me (obey me).” Friends, loving God is not
enough – loving others is our call as well – love God/love others so important
Jesus called THEM the greatest commandment – not two commandments but
one
4. “One another” passages – there are 59 “one another” passage in New
Testament.

“Many communities of the religious…live in large buildings that tend to separate their
members from other people…isolated personal lives, irresponsible and dishonest attitudes, unresponsiveness to communal needs and assumption of values and aspirations that are ignorant of the Kingdom of God Jesus Himself embodied and proclaimed” John Kavanaugh

Going “public” with Disciple Training…

Many of you know that I am a leader in a local faith community.  I’ve been involved in professional, local church work for most of my life.  I started at 17 years old with Campus Life/Youth for Christ.  Though not technically a “church” based ministry, it was something that was grounded in essentially the same objectives – encouraging and challenging people to discover what it means to love God, love others and discover a Jesus-following lifestyle.   Then at 19 years old, I was hired to work in a local church for the first time.  An Episcopalian priest took a risk on a young person like me…the vestry of that congregation paid me $200 a month to be their youth worker.  From there it was leadership in a bible camp, then a youth ministry “movement,” then work in local churches…first as a ministry associate and finally as a pastor in what now has totaled seven congregations.  In other words, I’ve been around the block.

One of the things that has always interested me is how much GOOD STUFF comes out of the leadership of local churches.  You might not know it but some of the best and most applicable “training” materials for local church ministry has NOT been published by a major publishing house.   Some leaders have the honor of being published…they are at the right place at the right time (or have the right contacts) to leap into that world.  For most though, they simply plug away, day after day, doing their best to be faithful in their local contexts.  They don’t dream of national or international fame or exposure…all they want to do is be faithful with the sphere God has entrusted to them.

Well…over the years, I’ve run into many, many of those types of leaders.  And we all agreed to do one thing – when we had the opportunity to make “stuff” available, we would.  SO, in an effort to do just that, for the sake of my local community and for my friends who are part of my journey, I’m “publishing” some of the discipleship training materials that I use in my local faith community on our church’s website.  If you like portions of what you see, copy and paste whatever you want to use.  If all you do is read over the materials, great.  If you are a growing Jesus follower and want to work the lessons through for your own personal spiritual and disciple formation, great!  It is all there for you!

Go to peacemonroe.org – click on the Disciple Training links and all that material is yours. If you know of any other websites or leaders who are sharing their materials, let me know. I love getting new ideas!

 

Forgiveness…the power and the challenge

1I’m a realist and I know that one of the MOST realistic statements I can write is this – “we get hurt.” If you live long enough, you will be forced to embrace and admit that life is painful…that someone has hurt you…someone whom you trusted or depended upon. We’ve all felt the sting of someone’s disloyalty, betrayal, or even emotional brutality. I know, I know…you didn’t deserve it! I didn’t either but it happened. How do you cope with these experiences in life? How can you navigate those issues lurking in your past or in your memories hitting your heart at the most unexpected times?

You essentially have three choices:

1 – Forget – but trust me, this is easier said than done. It is very difficult, if not impossible to erase hurt. It is like a virus on your computer…it just keeps messing things up in your life. My experience? Forgetting doesn’t work!
2 – Get Even – you know the phrase, “I don’t get back, I get even!” Trust me in this as well…that’s the saddest game in town. Someone once told me a long time ago, “you can never get even in the exchange of pain.”
3 – Forgive – yep, that’s God’s “invention.” It is something Jesus uses with us. Regret, hurt, pain, betrayal…God’s experienced them all in His relationship with you and me. All that we are and have done and God forgives.

Well, it seems to most of us that God has it easy…when it comes to forgiveness, since He “invented” it, He wields it without effort. The rub happens in our hearts when we read what Jesus said about not just RECEIVING forgiveness but then being challenged to BE a forgiver. When Paul writes in Ephesians 4:

“be kind to each other, tender-hearted, and forgive as Jesus has forgiven you.”

Or as Jesus said himself, “love one another AS I HAVE LOVE YOU”…or “love one another as you LOVE yourself”…if you have experienced the power of forgiveness, now the ball is in your court to be a forgiver.

So, how DO you get to the point that you can say, “you are forgiven”…”we are reconciled”? With that strong move in your life, how can you get to the point where you are ready because you have forgiven to be the son, daughter, friend, coworker, or even spouse that you want to be?

Permit me to give you some pointed encouragement. You can download a PDF below that has four “session” explanation and challenge to all of us regarding the power and the challenge of forgiveness. Each of these challenges come straight from how our Lord treats us in terms of forgiveness. You see, when we are awestruck, moved and transformed by the “amazing grace” of the forgiving heart of Jesus toward us, we are at the same time challenged to be one who “pays it forward” in our relationships. Since we are created in the image of God and that “image” is one of forgiveness, it would seem that a commitment like that would be easy for us to make. But often it is not…so we all need to have a clear look again at how far God goes to forgive us so that when the challenge comes to be a forgiver, we have a specific and clear example of what that forgiveness looks like. We are all called to,

“Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us[a] and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” Ephesians 5:1

Forgiveness Series 2