I'm really excited about the future of the Church. This excitement runs counter to the popular notions of our culture–both sacred and secular. Look, I know the Bride of Christ is having a rough time these days. Her influence in the West is in decline and young people are leaving Her in unprecedented numbers. If you sample some data and plot a trend line, you'll inevitably find a slope points toward zero. So, how can I be excited?
There's a funny narrative in our church subculture. I grew up in church, and I always heard that Christians in America faced incredible persecution. That's a pretty laughable notion. The 1900s in America were an unbelievably Church friendly period. From the Third Great Awakening to the postwar rise of Evangelicalism, The Church was an incredible social force in the Twentieth Century. The rise of the Moral Majority cemented this cultural influence and prominence into political power. Constantine couldn't have done it better.
The Twentieth Century Church in America was no persecuted minority. Instead, it was a cultural and political powerhouse that shaped social norms, morality, and national elections. Is it any wonder that a slip from such a lofty post creates panic?
The Internet has created a global conversation about the limitations and liabilities of our Faith. If God is an ideology, then He seems doomed–his relevance eclipsed by the radical power of applied sciences. How can a six day creation account compete with robots on Mars and images of the early Universe captured from space? What is the fate of an ancient Bible against modern archeology and anthropology? Secular answers iterate and improve, while the Sacred makes claims of permanence and infallibility.
Luckily, Jesus does his best work as the underdog.
I'm excited because even as Christianity as a belief system gets weaker, Christianity as a way of living is getting stronger. There may be fewer young Christians than the last generation, but have you talked to the ones who stuck around? I like to buy magazines and newspapers that run articles disparaging "Millennials" just so I can wad them up and throw them in the trash. Millennial Christians are an amazing, dynamic bunch.
The early church lacked power or influence of any kind, and I see remarkable similarities in today's Christians and the Christians who got this movement off the ground. Paul recognized his position as an outsider when he addressed the Gentiles at Mars Hill. He was civil, respectful, and communicated the teachings of Christ in a framework that connected to a very educated and culturally dominant crowd. Could any group understand this plight as well as the Christians who frequent Reddit's Christianity forum? Reddit could be the largest gathering of atheists and skeptics in the world, and the Christians who frequent the site can't operate with an expectation that their values regulate the people they interact with. They have to meet people where they are, and do so with humility.
I recently attended Donald Miller's Storyline conference in Nashville. I met Christians from an incredible diversity of denominational traditions. I met Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Charismatics, Mennonites, and countless other variations–to say nothing of the people who reject such labels altogether. Most of the attendees were Millennials, but my fellow Gen Xers were seen too. Even Boomers were present. All these Christians showed remarkable fellowship. I didn't hear any debates about theology. The old denominational lines were irrelevant to this bunch, because for them Christianity is not a belief system.
It's a way of living.
Every person had a call on their life they were chasing. These were grace filled people who understood brokenness. The sin they sought to conquer was their own, and the call of Christ on their heart was to address poverty and suffering, both material and spiritual. An encounter with a living God compels these Christians to love others wholly and recklessly. To them, to take up a Cross and follow Jesus is to put others before themselves.
Their response to skepticism is acceptance and inclusion. Regardless of their conviction on equal marriage, they are committed to loving all people. You can see Matthew 25 in their eyes, and it comes through in their actions.
These kinds of Christians are everywhere, and you can't win a debate against someone who is trying to make the world better in the here and now. Unlike reformed or emergent movements of years past, these Christians display a remarkable lack of hostility toward the "old" church. They aren't rebeling against our traditional strutures and ways–they simply ignore them completely if they act as an obstacle to missional living. What response is there to friendship but friendship? It's tough for ardent athiests or traditional believers to rebuke this crowd.
You can't have a Great Awakening without slumber. As our societies enter a time of spiritual rest, I can already see the sound that could wake America's sleeping soul once again. Secularists today may rally against their oppression by a religious majority, but tomorrow they may find a Church who loves them more than they love themselves.
The answer to our institutional problems has been in front of us all along, "God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways."
May we be a fruity people.