Just got back from preaching at a “Homecoming/Revival” service at a congregation I formerly served in Highlands…
So good to catch up and reminisce.
As a way of speaking where I am in my own ministry… and as a way of speaking about the real paradox the Church faces in this age of “Post-Christendom,” as many are calling it – this age in which the Church and the Gospel are not the nucleus around which our culture revolves; I shared a most compelling image that was first presented to me by Emergent Church guru, Brian McLaren.
The image comes in the wake of torrential rains associated with the landfall of Hurricane Mitch in Central America in 1998. Rainfall of between 75 and100 inches of rain in just a few days time was enough to trigger major mudslides and to significantly alter maps of the region. Rainfall and erosion were enough, for example, to change the course of the river flowing through a state capital, Choluteca. (See picture, below.) The result: a once useful bridge which spanned the river (and connected two communities) was now useless—serving mostly as an object of curiosity for locals and tourists.
Comments McLaren: “Change is happening constantly. But when a lot of change is concentrated in a short amount of time, structures that used to serve become tourist attractions. And, the maps that used to accurately reflect reality don’t reflect reality anymore. And then you have to start adventuring off the map.”
The implications for the Church are obvious to me: living in an era of unprecedented change, the “geography” of our culture has changed. If the church is to remain an effective agent of God in bridging humans and God (as well as the members of the human community), we are going to have to acknowledge the shifts; to accept that some features of the old “map” are no longer relevant; to admit that the bridge may need to be moved or changed; and to affirm that more than we are attached to any specific bridge (no matter how effective it’s been in the past), we are committed to bridge-building that is relevant to current conditions! In other words, we’ll need to find ways to make the timeless Gospel relevant to a new day and age—without compromising the essential qualities and principles of that Gospel! To fail to do so is to set ourselves up as objects of curiosity for future generations much like the cathedrals of Europe. (Or, as Methodist Pastor and Consultant, Bill Easum suggests: if it does not engage in the necessary work of responsibly engaging the emerging culture, the United Methodist Church is on the fast track to becoming, say, the Shakers of the next generation. [Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Shakers. No, the “problem” with the Shakers, if we must use that word “problem,” is that they are almost extinct and they exist, in the minds of most, more as an object of curiosity than as a functional “bridge” — effectively connecting human with human… and “outsiders” with God.])
Effective bridges, you see, are not only true and faithful in concept but are also seated at the “right” places —touching ground at precise points of existing need and dislocation.
Ultimately, as I shared with my friends in Highland, we have a choice of moving the bridge, of becoming flexible according to the sentiments of a new age… or we can remain locked in place with the conviction that “if they really want God, they’ll do things our way.”
Frankly, I am very discontent to sit around and hope that they’ll finally see things our way and come to us. Frankly, I believe (and I believe Jesus and Paul and the Saints believe) that, so long as you don’t compromise the Gospel and its timeless principles and laws of life, there is nothing we should not change in style and method to reach those outside for Christ!
Like Highlands, you need to know that’s what makes me “tick.” That is, I believe, what must be at the heart of congregations and disciples yearning to be fully alive in and faithful to the Christ!