I am extremely thankful for these past several weeks. Already in my new position I have gathered much data and feedback from recent bible college graduates who are beginning a life in ministry or who have been in ministry now for several years. Sadly, some are struggling. Really struggling. Why? I’ve not dug deep into answers, but as we catch up, chat, and begin to discuss what we see God doing in the world around us, I’ve noticed something. The path they thought they would follow and discover is not what they found. Some have switched from several jobs. Some are out of ministry. Some cannot believe the dysfunction that exists within the churches they work in. Some are in great situations. Some are really seeing God move. Some are even experiencing what they had hoped for.
Wherever they are, or are not, it seems there is one constant. Ministry is changing. It looks different. It’s not as it once was. People are no longer showing up to the church. As it relates to my current position, churches are not seeing students to bible colleges any more. Honestly, this is confusing and a shocking to many who work in church and university leadership. They cannot fathom the disconnect. Often, blame is placed on the local churches for not sending. Or, churches blame the universities for not putting out ministers and preachers and abandoning the historic traditions. Sometimes churches blame culture or youth sports. The buck is always passed and blame is always shifted. History details that technology always improves and there is advancement. Progress is progress because it moves forward, not backward.
Here’s the reality: we live in a digital society. New media values are already ingrained into this new generation. It takes a minute for a three year old to figure out when they touch a tv why it won’t respond to their touch. Everything is a tap away on a computer, smartphone, or voice command. No one needs to show up to church to listen to a sermon anymore. It’s available via podcast. No one needs to attend bible college to get practical ministry tools and training. It’s available for free via YouTube. Available via the internet allows for innovation, experimentation, and participation. But, there is still need for churches and bible colleges even with all the present accessibility. However, because their is so much information, churches must transform and universities must transform. People want a church and university where they are participating members of a flexible community that has a deep abiding cause. In reality, isn’t that the hope and prayer of every human’s heart? Isn’t that why the church is so vitally important? It was originally designed as a flexible adapting loving transformative community with a deep cause and purpose.
Frank Underwood in House of Cards on Netflix is a captivating character. I find the show so riveting because he understands people; therefore, he knows how to manipulate them. Challenge them. Rule them. I don’t advocate for the methods or his reasoning. But, one thing I think his character understands more than anything is the culture, or at least he did. The new season specifically shows the tension between what was effective and what will be effective and how a digital age can either strengthen someone or cripple them. I suppose that’s what successful and effective politicians know how to do–take advantage of the cultural changes. They adapt. Look at today’s real life politicians. Trump is playing on people’s emotions. Sanders is playing on people’s dreams. Cruz is playing on people’s fears. Still, they are capturing the social winds and using them to their advantage. I have always found its easier to use sails to capture the power of the wind and harness the direction it blows, rather than row against it. Some politicians understand adapt and survive. Let’s hope the our churches and bible colleges start getting it too. Not for the sake of personal gain or as a result of fear. Instead, driven by a mission to effectively send transformed kingdom disciples into the world who can adapt to the winds of social and technological change for the sake of the gospel.
Practically speaking, missionaries adapt to their culture and context. They do not sacrifice the gospel. They simply indigenize, not compromise. They become one with their surrounding to communicate the most valuable truth to all–that the God of the universe is on a mission to rescue and renew all of creation, specifically mankind, through the person and work of Jesus. That’s the good news. Salvation. Restoration. Redemption. For individual people. For families. For communities. For this world.
“Good missionaries understand the culture they’re called to serve. If you’re reading this [blog post], you are called to serve a digital culture. This culture operates differently than the one you might have grown up in. It’s different from the one of just a few short years ago. This culture thinks, believes, buys, behaves, and speaks differently than any other culture you may be familiar with. This cannot be overstated. We need to rethink the way we interact with this digital culture. Sharing is a new way of life. There are no more one way streets. Everything is participatory. A new media culture is not content to sit idly by.” – Justin Wise, The Social Church
My hope and prayer is that the church no longer be reactionary, rather get ahead of the social change, or at least in stride. With no compromise of the gospel, but for its sake. Too much is at stake.