I had a great time tonight meeting a new friend and enjoying some great conversation that challenged my thinking. Here are some quick hits, largely undeveloped, of some challenges raised in my mind tonight to which I think we need to give careful consideration.
The challenge of church purpose – By this, I don’t mean disciple-making vs. something else. I mean simply, “What are we going to be about?” Or “What are we here for?” We all know the right answer. But what we need to figure out is the actual answer. The church needs to think seriously and carefully about the roles of authority that it gives to certain demographics. I fear that too many church are content to coddle the malcontent rather than reach people with the gospel. I fear that too many are content to coddle the worldly and unbelieving than to feed the sheep. We need to feed the sheep that we have (and shear them at times) as well as be a midwife that assists in the birth of new sheep.
The challenge of multi-ethnic ministry – Cultural lines of race and ethnicity need to go away. “I have friends who are African-American” is not a sufficient response to racial divides. Churches must strive to look like their community. We cannot control who repents and believes. But we can control the culture of our church that either encourages and models multi-ethnicity or discourages or at best tolerates people who look different than us. Hardly anyone gives the wrong answer to these questions. The question is, “Are we willing to face the challenge of intentional multi-ethnicity that reflects our community?'”
The challenge of cultural relevance – While the word “relevance” is a dirty word to some, it should not be. To be culturally relevant simply means that we need to speak into the world that we live in, applying the truth of the Bible to life as we know it. We need to preach to the people in front of us. We must be answering questions that people are asking, not questions that we already know the answers to. We must learn how to reframe their questions in a way that taps into the revelation of God. There is a fine line between timelessness and timeliness in preaching. A lot of people are nowhere near that line. “Preach to the people in front of you” contains two keys thoughts. By “preach,” I refer to the timelessness of God’s revelation. It is the sole source of authoritative material for preaching. By “the people in front of you” I refer to the timeliness of knowing your congregation and applying the word to their lives. Preaching to people that aren’t there is a useless task. Failing to preach to people that are there is likewise useless.
The challenge of genuine musical worship – This is not about “kicking up” the music (or “reining it in”). It is about singing theology that is intelligible, both in words and musical form. It is far too easy for a pastor (or worse yet a music director) to throw together a few songs haphazardly, chopped up by announcements, inane comments, rustling pages, the offering, and “greeting those around you with a smile.” I would rather we just sing—two or three songs in a row, perhaps interspersed with some relevant Scripture. Create and sustain a flow of thought, a message in and of itself. I don’t think genuine musical worship for contemporary Christians is tied to “contemporary music.” I think it is tied to intentional structure and planning, selecting songs with weight, and planning the flow with minimal distractions and diversions.
The challenge of gospel centrality or gospel foundationalism without gospel solitude – This challenge is easily misunderstood, and part of me hesitates to even suggest it because someone will jump on it. But here goes: The gospel must be central, but the gospel must not be isolated. There are other important things in the Scripture that demand certain responses for certain kinds of fellowship. The existence of “essential doctrine” is patently obvious. But we must ask the question, “Essential for what?” The doctrine essential to be a Christian is different than the doctrine essential to be Baptist. And you can be one without being the other. The doctrine essential to share Christian fellowship is different than the doctrine essential to plant a church together. To paraphrase Ed Stetzer, when you are planting a church and the first baptism comes up, you gotta decide whether you need a cup or a tub. (He and I, like Jesus, need a tub.) A new generation must be convinced that there are things besides the gospel that are important, and the lack of agreement on these things is limiting in some ways. The gospel is all that is needed to be reconciled to God. The gospel is not all that is needed to live obediently in this present age awaiting the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Thanks friend. It was encouraging and challenging.