According to the Barna group, four key factors are reshaping the American church. Two of those factors were highlighted in part one of this article. Let me briefly add some comment.
The first factor is the neglect of three critical dynamics in the life of the church: children, family, and prayer. Regarding children, if 80% of our youth fall away when they get to college, part of that tragedy has to do with their marginalization by peers and professors who scoff at and tear down Christianity. Our young people are ill-equipped to defend and even maintain the faith. Children must be given a full-orbed biblical worldview if they are to effectively defend the faith in this pluralistic culture.
At the same time, we recognize that simply being instructed in the Christian worldview will not change the heart. For our young people to truly be saved and not walk away from the faith either philosophically or practically, they must be born again. Yet, as we give them solid biblical instruction throughout their formative years right up until the time they leave, not only have we given them that which God uses to convert, the word of God, but we have given them tools by which to think, evaluate the world, and ward off false philosophies by which they will be confronted in the college setting. As they see and set forth the fact that the biblical worldview is the only worldview that makes sense of the reality we experience, in human terms, they have a better opportunity to be saved than if they either did not think about the things of God or if they could not defend the things of God. Again, God has to save. But, He uses His truth to save and sanctify.
Regarding the family, it will have to be emphasized in terms of functioning as a unit with the father taking his role as prophet, priest, and king seriously. While instruction at church can be individualized (men's ministry, women's ministry, youth ministry, etc.), in addition, the family unit should be instructed as a family. We do not advocate an either/or dynamic but a both/and ministry. The reality is that while the contemporary church will be hard-pressed to do away with youth ministry models that are largely unbiblical simply because we are myopic by nature and assume what we do has been done for two-thousand years, churches do need to find some way to focus on the family, to borrow a phrase.
Our families are being torn apart by the culture in which we live. Some of the issues that factor into that tearing apart include parents who spend more time with careers than with their children; children who spend more time with their friends than their families via school, cell phone, instant messaging, and hanging out; activities that are all consuming; and a general neglect of the things of God. Family devotions are practically non-existent in most homes. At the same time, a sick hybrid exists in most family situations: while parents have little time to spend with their children, they in turn worship their children in the sense that the children are doted upon in terms of things, activities, and freedom. Many children assume the right to do what they want when they want. Parents allow such by virtue of work fatigue, spiritual ignorance, or being battled so much they simply give up. Children even dictate where parents go to church. By the way, such is not an exception or a minority occurrence, it is the norm. Of course, if those same children decide they don't want to go to church, they don't go.
Families must be brought together by the church, not torn apart further by copying the world in terms of inane activity or ineffective segregation. Parents who do not understand the pitfalls of contemporary life and parents who do not have a reign on their children must not dictate the direction of children's or youth ministry. Effective segregation is to be prized. Family units are to be helped. Christ is to be exalted. Church leaders must not be neglectful.
With regard to prayer, it is prayer that demonstrates our dependence on God. Without heart-felt and faithful prayer concerning church life, ministry, one another, and the larger world, we do the work and God gets no glory. In fact, we become largely ineffective spiritually speaking. With an emphasis upon prayer the power of God becomes manifest. When our Lord said "this kind does not go out but by prayer and fasting (Matt. 17:21)," He meant that total dependence upon God is the key to all genuine ministry.
The second factor reshaping the American church is the proliferation of technology in worship and ministry. Our point in part one was that technology can be used for the glory of God, but, we must be cautious that it is being used for the glory of God.
James Emery White has an interesting comment on the word technology and points out other concerns for us in this area. "Ironically, within the word Technology itself lies the new philosophical mooring that marks our intent. The word is built from such Greek words as technites (craftsman) and techne (art, skill, trade), which speak of the idea of either the person who shapes or molds something or the task of shaping and molding. But it is the Greek word logos, to which technites is joined, that makes our term technology so provocative. Within Greek thought logos is a reference to divine reason or the organizing principle of the world. In John's Gospel logos is used to communicate the idea of the divinity of Jesus. Moderns have put together two words that the ancients would not have dared to combine, for the joining of the words intimates that mere humans can shape the very order of the world. Though technology itself my be neutral in its enterprise, there can be no doubt that within the word itself are the seeds for the presumption that would seek to cast God from his throne and assert humanity in his place as the conduit of divine power. And we have wasted little time."
By way of one example, how often have we heard that we cannot worship without the power point screen, the lights, or the music? How often have we heard that we cannot preach without the video clips serving to illustrate our points? Churches that don't have the technology are often viewed as inferior or unable to provide genuine worship. Let us be warned that worship can occur only when the Lord works in our hearts. He works apart from technology. Technology may not hinder our worship in many cases. But, we must never fall into the trap of thinking that technology induces our worship. Those who worship God must do so in spirit and in truth. Let us be careful not to cast God from His throne and assert ourselves or our technology in His place as the conduit of divine power.
How critical it is that we be like "the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do (1 Chron. 12:32)." May God grant us understanding of our times and the trends reshaping the American church and may He grant us wisdom to know what to do.
[Part Three Tomorrow]
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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