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The Future of Christianity in America

After a week of study, sermon planning and preparation, praying, silence, and solitude, and after a week of co-teaching at TCM in Vienna, Austria, and after a four-day motorcycle ride through Germany, France, and Switzerland, I believe I’m ready to get back in the saddle and ride into the exciting fall God has planned for those of us who are part of East 91st Street Christian Church. In my absence over the past couple of weeks, Dave Faust and Fred Meadows did a tremendous job writing their thoughts and reflections for this blog, and if you missed those, I encourage you to go back and read them from the archive. Thanks, Dave and Fred!

One of the experiences I had in my travels the past few weeks was riding through numerous small towns and villages in Europe. In the center of EVERY single town was a church building high and lifted up. Wherever you went, you could always look up and know right where you were, because you could see the church steeple. Town developers intentionally placed church buildings in the center of town on higher ground as a reference point to help villagers know their location.

Unfortunately, as Christianity in Europe waned in influence, what was once a reference point to keep travelers from losing their way has now become either a tourist destination or a gathering place for a handful of older believers who maintain the property and conduct a weekly service.

This is a portent of the future of Christianity in America, unless Christians and churches are willing to re-engage their culture and communities with the truth and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The church is no longer the reference point for sojourners either spiritually or geographically. And I’m not just referring to a church building. 85% of all churches in America are plateaued or dying. Roughly 5,000 churches close their doors every year.

In a recent book by Thom Rainer called, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, the author researched fourteen different churches that plateaued, declined, and eventually died. His “autopsies” revealed some common contributors to the decline and demise of these churches: (1) Slow Erosion (no one paid attention to their gradual decline and death); (2) The past became the hero; (3) The church refused to look like the community; (4) The Great Commission became the great omission; (5) The church was driven by member preferences rather than mission; (6) Pastoral tenure decreased; (7) The church rarely prayed together; (8) The church had no clear purpose; (9) The church obsessed over the facilities.

As I drove through Europe and saw the number of closed church buildings (unless they were a museum of religious artifacts and history), I wondered which spiritual disease those churches had.

For all of our churches, let’s not become museums of the past but mission centers for the present and movements for the future. We serve a God who is bigger than time, whose nature engulfs time—past, present, and future. But this God beyond our human limitations calls Himself the “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). He has chosen to enter our time and space most fully through the Incarnation, Jesus Christ. He can exonerate our past, He empowers us in our present, and He enlightens us for our future.

If we keep our eyes on Him through humble, Christ-like obedience, and if we are willing to proclaim and live out the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15) through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we will see the advancement of the church—perhaps like no other time in history—and the gates of Hell will not prevail against us (Matthew 16:18)!

From...Through...To (A Life Action Pattern)

While Pastor Rick is on study leave, our guest blogger this week is Fred Meadows, Worship & Production Team Leader at East 91st Street Christian Church.

In my world these days, there seems to be a huge amount of change. As a leader, I find myself being a “change agent” for that is partly what leaders do; and yet, I really appreciate the feeling of landing on two feet in a comfortable environment. So much of my life is lived in the crux between leading change and longing for stability. I have learned that change is inevitable in our society. It is now part of our cultural experience. How to grow with change, then, becomes something we probably need to take more seriously. Perhaps, seeking growth in change may be part of the answer we need in order to actually endure the change that is happening all around us.

I would like to introduce to you a little life action pattern that I have picked up along my studies. It helps me to be able to identify how I can find personal growth in the midst of change. It also helps me to find purpose in change and allows me to articulate what I feel is happening around me. The life action pattern is this: from…through…to. Simple, yes. But what does it mean?

We often say that we are on a journey. Obviously, if we are indeed on a journey, we are moving from one place to another, and between point A and point B is usually where the hurdles, challenges, and road-blocks seem to await us. Well, begin to consider the idea that this is what the journey looks like: from…through…to.  This little life action pattern is something we experience every single day; furthermore, we probably have layers of these life action patterns going on simultaneously. We move from something, through something, to something else.

The from part of this pattern is a way of life that we are used to. It’s a place or something from which we need to move … something that needs to change or needs to move toward something of a greater place, position, or purpose. The through is where our challenges are often experienced. And we really do not like the through because it is often uncharted territory. It’s unfamiliar, frightening, and often not what we would choose. We may not even know how to talk about the through times of our journey. We probably do not understand where the through originates. Sometimes the through can be a loss of a job, an illness, a valley, or any type of interruption in your life that seems to set you back on your heels. Yet, and here’s the good part, the through can be something that will be of service to you in taking you to a desired place that God has designed for you. It may be the toughest place to be, but many times, it is the deepening moment in life that brings the greatest growth. Often, the through part of this life action pattern is the part that moves us from “me being the center of my life” to “God being the center of my life.”

Finally, the to part of this pattern is the desired place that God is leading us, and ultimately, it is the place we long to be. It is the place the journey was taking us all along and there we often find “rest.”

When I think about this life action pattern, I think about the Israelites who were on a journey from being held in captivity in Egypt, through the wandering years in the wilderness with all the challenges that had accompanied them, to finally the Promised Land. Once they had taken the land—the final part of their through phase, Joshua 14:15b says that there was finally “rest in the land.” The ultimate illustration of our life action pattern is Jesus Christ, who came from his Father’s throne in heaven, through a life on earth that lasted 33 years and culminated in his death on a cross, to a resurrected life and ascending back to his Father’s throne where he is continually worshipped by all of Creation.

Are you going through something that is really difficult right now? Are you experiencing a problematic change in your life? Perhaps it is for a greater redemptive purpose. Perhaps the Lord is moving you to a place of rest. You’re going through the through. But remember, there is a to.  It is the place that God is leading us and where we long to be.

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