Upcoming Book reviews- ‘Doing’ Church in the 21st Century. What’s right and what’s wrong?

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Within the next few weeks, God willing, I will be posting a series of reviews on the above books. As you can see all of the books deal with contemporary issues pertaining to the church. I’m sure I am not going to agree with everything that is said in some of them but I’m confident that they will provide me with some food for thought. I have been wrestling with the whole idea of church for the past month or so because I see so many people sitting back and not really seeming to care much about the church’s failure to reach the lost, the young or to adequately pass on the faith to the next generation. I see young people leaving the church in their droves and it concerns me (this trend may be unique to N.Ireland). We may say it is the parent’s fault for not passing on the faith, and yes there is a certain element of truth in that, however as a church we still need to examine ourselves and see where we have fallen short. There are often leaders in churches who dictate everything that goes on and seldom listen to the voice of the younger generation. How will the church ever move forward into the 21st century if we are continually afraid to try different methods of doing church.

Let me make myself clear though. When I say different methods I don’t mean the abandonment of expository preaching, biblical worship music/hymns, corporate prayer etc. We should always be seeking to do things biblically and in a way that glorifies God, but what we must always be looking at is what we can do to create a greater sense of community within the body of believers, how we can feed the sheep in areas that are needed outside of the Sunday services, how can we effectively disciple the church members and how can we effectively mentor and raise up a new generation to be faithful followers of the Lord Jesus Christ who are biblically literate and well informed, who have a passion for the lost, and who pursue godly lives rather than being polluted by the negative things of the world.

For example some people are totally against the playing of musical instruments in church. That’s just ridiculous. Others are against holding evangelistic youth events or holding mid-week sessions for further teaching/ Q+A sessions. Again others are against age-specific groups for fear that it will produce cliques and an ageist environment.

I’m seeking to establish an understanding in 4 areas;

1) Why are so many (not all) of the older generation seemingly afraid of change? Is their motive one of selfishness in that they don’t want change in church because then they wouldn’t like it? How can we deal with the middle-class comfort issue that seems to shrink the vision and passion of a vast number of church-goers in the west? How can we deal with the seemingly top-heavy numbers of church-goers who seem to be aged 55+ (Tearfund survey) and try and make it a more even demopgrahic by reaching out to the mosaics (those born in or after 1982)?

2) Why are my generation seemingly disillusioned with church and walking away from it? Is it the church leadership who is to blame or is it the individuals themselves? Why does there seem to be few who are humble and willing enough to listen to what we have to say? What is this generation hoping church will become? What are we doing to answer people’s doubts and are we truly showing love and grace to both outsiders and those within the church?

3)How can church be done differently in a way that doesn’t shift the focus from Christ to entertainment and the self, or stray from Biblical guidelines for church (e.g. Preaching+Teaching, Prayer and Sacraments). What can we do throughout the week to provide discipleship for the 21st century and help Christians with the issues that they face today apart from expository preaching on a Sunday? Do we need to set up specific groups for people stuggling with specific issues (ie Pornography addiction, Relationship Help, How to raise your children in the faith) or are we too bashful and cowardly to face up to such issues that are at times uncomfortable, yet currently are epidemics within the church?

4) How can we create a genuine sense of community and belonging in church and why do we not seriously try and break down the walls of superficialness that exist in many churches? Does any one feel the burden of our failure by-in-large, to reach out to our local communities, to do good deeds in our towns and to be genuine salt and light in our communities instead of people who simply come to church once a week, give some money as if it gains us favour with God and people and then go away and not really care about trying to get people to come to church and hear the gospel? And if they don’t come to us, why are we not going OUT to them? Are our doors honestly opened to and genuinely welcoming for prostitutes, homeless people, addicts and broken-hearted people? Or are we nothing more than a social club?

As I’m sure you can see I’m going through a period of serious wrestling with such issues. Coming from Northern Ireland I have spent plenty of time listening to non-Christians who refuse to go to church because they say “most of them are hypocrites, unloving and are more concerned with spending their money on big cars and houses than on telling people about Jesus”. I’ve also heard it said how mindnumbingly boring church services are- that is ministers who are not in the least bit engaging, who show little personality in their preaching and who ‘conduct services as if it were the reading of the mass by the Pope himself’ (that is a direct quote from a guy i spoke to last night). What I found intriguing was that this guy wanted meaty sermons. He didn’t want superficial nothingness. He wanted to hear the word of God preached and explained. He also didn’t want happy clappy worship. He just wanted a little more upbeat, meaningful’ worship rather than, quote, ‘hymns that would put you to sleep-why can’t they keep the hymns’ words but update the music to something more contemporary’. I agree with him. Do we forget that when those hymns were written they were composed to the tastes of music at that time. For instance Charles Wesley or John Newton’s hymns are classics that span the chasm between the ages, but there are other hymns where the lyrics are Christ-centered and biblical yet the music is just plain…….well…… boring! I often wish people would show more emotion in worship as well. I come from a Presbyterian church and we have been given the nickname “the frozen chosen”. However, there is one lady in my church who sings at the front every other week and the passion and emotion behind her worship is such a breath of fresh air to me. She is in her 60’s but every hymn or worship song she sings, she does so with tear-filled eyes of sheer joy and thanksgiving. If only more of us could be like her…..the fruit of the Holy Spirit is clear in her life, as she and her husband are both fantastically godly Christians who are ‘prayer warriors’ in my church.

I’m really hoping to learn something with this task and I hope to share what I read and discover in due course. The first review will be Gary Gilley’s “This Little Church went to the Market”. I’ll hopefully have this one posted by the end of the week. I desperately want to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ and i’m not really worried if I lose my etiquette or Prebyterian formalism as I seek to do so. I know i’m not alone in this and that there is a younger generation who are growing increasingly impatient with the unwillingness to try something new to reach the lost and those who have wandered from the faith. I’m confident this can be done without abandoning sound doctrine (Emergent church) or appealing to people’s ‘felt’ needs (Willow Creekesque or Warrenesque). Hopefully I’ll have found out how by the end of the month. I’m not looking for growth techniques. Numbers isn’t my concern. I’m looking for ways to communicate, teach and worship more effectively, faithfully and passionately. In other words, my concern is for the health of the church and it’s seemingly pessimistic future- especially in Northern Ireland as me move out of the troubles into a period of peace. The church was once a refuge during the troubles for many and NI was protected, for a period of time, from the secularization that took place in the rest of Europe and Great Britain. Now they are over people aren’t as concerned about going to church and society is becoming increasingly secular. Hopefully God will move to do something about this because without Him there is little, if any, hope of reaching the masses.

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