I’ve recently started watching The West Wing on Netflix, which I think should be required watching for everyone, but especially every church staff. I’m one of those Netflix viewers who binge on TV shows watching back to back to back…to back episodes and not being able to stop. In season 3, one of the episodes involves a character named Joey Lucas who is hired as a polling consultant for the State of the Union address as President Bartlett prepares for a re-election campaign. In the episode, White House staffer Josh Lyman is reviewing the polls as way of responding to the people and choosing whether or not to push gun control in certain counties based upon crowd reaction.
Josh receives the polls that say it’s not popular in the counties and is deciding to not push gun control there, but Joey Lucas objects to his conclusions from the poll. She tells Josh that he is asking like the French radical who watches his people run by and says, “There go my people, I must figure out where they are going so I can lead them.”
As I watched that episode and heard that statement, it seems clear to me that the church is that rebel leader stuck in a pattern of reactionary Christianity leaving it unable to really lead anyone anywhere.
Following Church Trends vs. Holy Spirit Guidance
Every week of the year you could attend a church conference with a cool name and theme that will try to convince you to follow the latest church trends, doing it just like every speaker has done it in your context (where every speaker does not live, mind you). Our culture is hungry for success, and unfortunately a church culture hungry for success looks to models and methods over the Holy Spirit and God’s revealed will in the Scriptures.
The results are that churches react to not being “missional” enough and embrace a method without thinking it through. Then someone reacts and criticizes the missional movement without fleshing out what missional actually means. Every day people are posting articles, blogs, and sending out thoughts about the way to “do church.”
One example of this idea is with missional living. Anthony Bradley provocatively wrote recently that it is the “new legalism” in Christianity. This was, even according to his article, a reaction to a small number of interactions he had, primarily with Millennials. Instead of embracing reactionary Christianity in response to missional living, we could seek the clear call of the Scriptures that to love God and love others is to embrace a missionary mindset for every area of life. The Scriptures lay out a clear understanding of God's mission and His invitation to join it. Reactionary Christianity causes a stir, but doesn't inspire to action beyond debate. Biblical Christianity cultivates a sustained expectancy as we pursue scriptural living.
Twitter, Feedly, and our favorite writers become battering rams for our arguments about the current state of the church and what should be done about it. This is good only to an extent because while the current must be discussed, God’s plan for the church has not changed dramatically over the last few centuries. Our man-made models and methods have clouded that purpose, and we’ve painted it in our image instead of God’s. It is time that we stepped off this man-made pendulum of reaction.
God builds His church, grows His church, and provides grace to grow a thousand different churches in a few hundred different ways. The wisdom and knowledge needed for leading the church is not a hidden secret only discovered by the leading church growth experts, but has been clearly provided by God in His Scriptures and we as His children have been given the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and teach us what is true (John 14:26).
Bringing the Ancient Truth to a Modern Culture
The invitation to the leadership of each church is to pursue God in prayer and study of the Scriptures to simplify church in an over-programmed and ever-changing culture. The culture changes often, but the gospel of Jesus Christ never changes. The ways to engage the culture have historically been most effective through everyday lives of ordinary people who are transformed by the gospel. These people gather to express their faith in worship and celebrate the preaching of the Word of God.
We are in a reactionary culture and unfortunately Christianity has followed its ways, but God’s call to love Him most and lovingly challenge our societal norms with His ancient truth has not evolved or changed. Modern culture will be different in a decade, but the truth of the gospel will not be. The Scriptures lay out a clear and simple direction for church that will not be different either.
Will we choose to continue the pendulum swing, reacting to culture and church trends, or step off the pendulum to pursue the purposes of God revealed in His Scriptures? The future of the church in our culture may be determined by our answer.