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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

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James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.

One of the most important disciplines as a leader is to look the facts in the eye.  To own the reality of your situation.

Even when it bites.

The reality of American culture is simple: religion is in steep decline. 

Consider the “rise of the nones,” those who claim to have no religious identity whatsoever.  The number of “nones” in the 1930’s and 1940’s hovered around 5 percent.  By 1990, that number had only risen to 8 percent, a mere 3% rise in over half-a-century.  Between 1990 and 2008 – just 18 years – the number of “nones” leaped from 8.1 percent to 15 percent.  Then, in just four short years, it climbed to 20 percent, representing one of every five Americans.  If you isolate Millennials, it climbs to one out of every three.

Or consider the graphs assembled by Tobin Grant, based largely on the work of the Gallup organization, such as the decline in church attendance:

The same is true of church membership, religion’s importance in life, and religion’s relevance to today.

All in freefall.

Combining all such graphs into one, Tobin offers the following graph, titled “The Great Decline”:

One would think that such reports would galvanize the church into heightened mission mode, spurring on the rethinking of strategies with a fresh awareness that North America is now prime mission territory. 

And in some quarters, it has.

But I have been stunned by the number of people who seem more interested in dismissing such reports.  Some say it’s just fear-mongering, contending that such reports of the “death” of the church are premature.

No doubt this is true. 

But I am more concerned with those who dismiss such reports theologically, saying that all those leaving the church are simply the “unregenerate” who have lapsed in line with the pseudo-reality of their faith.

As if that makes it okay.

But it’s not okay.

Yes, I believe in the old mantra “once saved, always saved,” but that seems to me to be missing the point.  First, let’s make sure that we understand the phrase itself.  Biblically, the emphasis isn’t on the “once” part, but the “saved” part.  Once someone is truly saved, they are eternally secure.  But the final verdict on that isn’t in until this life is over.

But more to the point of this blog, think about what that phrase is saying missiologically.  We may not be losing authentic followers of Christ, but if we are indeed losing people to the church and “religion” who were never saved to begin with, isn’t that a concern?  If people who need Christ are walking away from the church and their sense of “faith,” isn’t that losing a primary evangelistic audience in a day and time when we can ill afford to lose even a single listening ear?

There is something else at play here that must not be denied.  We live in a post-Christian culture, which means the supportive nature of a Christian culture – in whatever form it may have existed – is no longer in place.  If people are removing themselves from the only place left that is contending for the faith, that’s a concern.

Actually, it’s a crisis.  One that leaders dare not deny.  Instead, they must embrace it and go into full mission-mode.

It’s called biting back.

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker).

“Religion Among American Hits Low Point, As More People Say They Have No Religious Affiliation: Report,” Katherine Bindley, The Huffington Post, March 13, 2012, read online; see also “Americans and religion increasingly parting ways, new survey shows,” Yasmin Anwar, UC Berkeley News Center, March 12, 2013, read online.

“Graphs: 5 signs of the ‘Great Decline’ of religion in America,” Tobin Grant, Religion News Service, posted August 1, 2014, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Most of the people on staff at the church I serve were not only hired from within (meaning, they were already an attender), but came to Christ here.

One of them came to Meck many years ago after a bruising experience at another church. 

She and her (then) college roommate were heavy into the party scene.  Her friend became pregnant, decided against an abortion, and both decided to rethink their lives.

They went to a church near the campus and, at first, were welcomed.  They didn’t particularly "get" the music or the message, but they were eager to try and find out what God might mean for their lives.

A few weeks into their fledgling attendance, it became known that Kristina’s roommate was pregnant outside of wedlock. 

Then it began.

They were not greeted with smiles at the door.

No one came and sat next to them in the pew.

People glanced sideways at them and whispered to those around them.

Finally, the pastor approached them and told them that perhaps they shouldn’t be coming to their church.  He said something along the lines of "not really being their type."

Floored, embarrassed, angry, confused – the emotions were many – they left the church vowing never to darken the doorstep of one again.

But then Meck came on their radar screen, and they decided to give church (and God) one last shot.  They came, and six weeks later, both gave their lives to Christ.

I had the privilege of baptizing both.

Kristina’s roommate moved out of the city after graduation, but Kristina remained.

Over the years I've watched that precious young woman grow up in her faith

I've seen her meet and fall in love with a godly man. 

I had the joy of officiating at their wedding.

God graced her with children, and I’ve had the privilege of dedicating each one.  And then seeing them come to faith in Christ, and baptizing them.

Over the years, she felt the call to ministry, and now oversees everything related to arts and weekend services here at Meck, impacting thousands every weekend who were just like her.

She sent me an email just a few weeks ago:

"On my way to the new Mountain Island Lake campus, I drove by the street of that very first church I attended in Charlotte.  The church that asked us to leave.

"It’s gone.  It’s literally a parking lot.

"I sat in front of it for a solid minute just stunned…Though I’m not sure why.  Such an odd combination of having your heart break for God’s church and the reality that God’s church wouldn’t be a parking lot right now. "

She’s right. 

A church that really was God’s, dripping with grace toward His sin-soaked children, wouldn’t be just a parking lot.

It reminds me of a story that Fred Craddock once told about the first church he ever pastored.  It was a small church in the hills of East Tennessee, near Oak Ridge.  

Because of the huge facility built at Oak Ridge, where the materials for the Manhattan nuclear project were developed, this little, sleepy country church suddenly found itself in the midst of a booming population.  The town became filled with temporary workers, living in RV's, tents, and make‑shift shelters all over the area. 

And here was this 112 year‑old church.

Craddock saw it as a wonderful opportunity to reach out.  So after church one Sunday he told the leaders he wanted to start a campaign to invite these workers into the church.

And then he began to hear it:  

"I don't think they'd fit in."

"Are we sure that they're our type?"

"What kind of people are they, anyway?"

"They're only temporary ‑ they don't have houses or own property or anything!" 

They decided to take a vote the next Sunday.  The day came and the first thing that happened was a motion that in order to be a member of the church, you had to own property in the county.

It was seconded, and passed. 

And that ended that.

Years later Craddock went to find that church that had given him such a painful memory.  He wanted to show his wife the first church he had ever pastored.  He found the church building, but it was different.  The parking lot was full of cars ‑ RV's and vans, motorcycles and trailers.  

And then he noticed the sign out front: 

"Barbecue:  All You Can Eat."  

The church had died.  It had become a restaurant.

Craddock turned to his wife and said, "Good thing this still isn't a church, or all these people couldn't even be in there."

Two stories, two churches, two parking lots.  Both of them, borrowing from the song by Joni Mitchell,

…"paved paradise and put up a parking lot. "

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

This is a simple post.  When you are discouraged, remember these seven words:

There is a God on the loose.

If you’re in ministry, remember it when you don’t have

…enough money
…enough volunteers
…enough space
…enough freedom
…enough staff.

If you’re trying to raise kids, remember it when you don’t have

…enough patience
…enough time
…enough sleep
…enough wisdom
…enough hands.

If you’re trying to follow Christ, remember it when you don’t have

…enough trust
…enough strength
…enough hope
…enough faith
…enough love.

Remember.

There is a God on the loose.

Remember that you have,

…a God who knows all that you don’t have;

…a God who loves your church and ministry more than you do;

…a God who loves your child(ren), and your spouse, more than you do;

…a God who knows what you need more than you do;

…a God who wants to see His kingdom come, and His glory radiate out from your life, more than you do.

This is the God who is roaming wild and free.  He knows your situation.  He knows…

…you. 

And He adores you.  He is on your side.  He wants nothing but the best for you.

Don’t trivialize this with worldly ideas of “success.”  God is about more than that for your life.  He’s about all that is right, all that is best, all that is true, all that is beautiful.  Despite your current circumstances, His larger, perfect plan is unfolding.  Every perfect gift comes from His hand, and He is a gift-giving God.

So if you are discouraged, take heart.  You are His prized son, His precious daughter.  So pray.  Trust.  Particularly when you are discouraged.

Why? 

There is a God on the loose.

And He knows your name.

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Is Google our new “God? ”

It’s a question I raised in my book, The Church in an Age of Crisis.  But I wasn’t the first to raise it.

Columnist Thomas Friedman first posed the question in The New York Times in June of 2003.  Quoting the vice-president of a Wi-Fi provider, Friedman writes that “Google, combined with Wi-Fi, is a little bit like God.  God is wireless, God is everywhere and God sees and knows everything.  Throughout history, people connected to God without wires.  Now, for many questions in the world, you ask Google, and increasingly, you can do it without wires, too.”

Now Friedman’s question seems prescient. 

Taken from “googol” (the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros), signifying how much information Google initially hoped to catalog, “Googling” has now become synonymous with the search for information.  Interestingly, when Tim Berners-Lee first imagined the web as its inventor, he named it “Enquire,” short for Enquire Within upon Everything, a “musty old book of Victorian advice I noticed as a child in my parents’ house outside London.  With its title suggestive of magic, the book served as a portal to a world of information, everything from how to remove clothing stains to tips on investing money.”

But now, Google is the “triage nurse” that “spares our blushes.”  It has been confirmed that searches on erectile dysfunction, incontinence and weight loss vastly outnumber the cases physicians actually encounter in their practice. 

“And the promise of anonymity,” observes Kate Bussman in The Telegraph, “has also led us to seek answers to our emotional, ethical and existential dilemmas.”  As Luciano Floridi, the Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the Oxford Internet Institute has observed, “We’re looking for an oracle.”  And, he adds, the “new oracles are online and digital.”

No wonder that the top “how to” searches on Google for the year find “how to kiss” at the top, quickly followed by how to meditate and masturbate. 

The top “what is” search is “love.” 

There are several dangers in Google’s place in our world.

One is the herd mentality for decision making.  A site such as TripAdvisor may be helpful, but it should never be forgotten that it is just the organized opinions of people you do not know who may not share any of your tastes or sensibilities.

Another danger is the staggering amount of misinformation on the web. 

Then there is the trivialization of knowledge.  Why we may talk of the internet providing such things as access to the contents of the great libraries of the world, in truth we are more prone to search for the latest escapades of Justin Beiber or Beyonce Knowles.

But most concerning of all is the separation of information from wisdom.

Quentin Schultze once wrote that the torrent of information now at our disposal is often little more than “endless volleys of nonsense, folly and rumor masquerading as knowledge, wisdom, and even truth.”

So if Google is becoming our god, perhaps the best conclusion is one uttered by none other than the Incredible Hulk in the first Avenger’s movie of Loki, the supposed demigod who wanted to rule the earth.

“Puny god.” 

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, The Church in An Age of Crisis (Baker).

“Is Google God?” Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, June 29, 2003, read online.

Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web.

Quentin J. Schultze, Habits of the High-Tech Heart.

“Are you there Google? How the internet became our most trusted friend,” Kate Bussmann, The Telegraph, July 28, 2014, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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