I don’t think I’m revealing any secrets when I say the church as we know it is in trouble. For the most part, today’s church is not much different than it was in the days of Martin Luther. We had a Protestant Reformation, and that was that.
It’s almost as though we entered into some sort of denominational dispensation and immediately adopted the new status quo. Certainly we’ve had a history of schisms, mergers, and controversies since then; but by and large, we’ve not changed all that much since the sixteenth century…until now.
When I say we’re in trouble, I’m not decrying that fact. Trouble might just be exactly what we need. Trouble is what caused the church to gather in an upper room to pray on the day of Pentecost. Trouble is what caused the early church to leave Jerusalem and ultimately spread the Gospel throughout the world. Trouble is what causes Chinese Christianity to form house churches that fan the flames of revival all over a nation that has attempted to eradicate them.
“I doubt most of us will recognize the church in fifty years.”
I’ve heard in recent days that there are as many people now living active Christian lives outside the walls of the institutional church as there are within. This is the current trend, and it’s been gathering momentum for quite a while. In other words, the day of what we call the Christian denominations is waning.
The way things are changing, added to the rapidity of that change, will undoubtedly bring a new era—dare I say, a revival. I doubt most of us will recognize the church in fifty years. She will be unrecognizable because she is being transformed into something we’ve never seen before (or at least something we didn’t anticipate seeing).
If all this is true (and I believe it is), a new question arises. What will be our reaction to the change? I’ve been a pastor in an institutionalized denomination for over thirty-five years. As such, I have a pretty good idea of what our initial reaction will be. In fact, I think we’re already seeing that response take root.
“It’s not about us!”
Our first response will be to bail out the church. We will do everything we can to maintain the status quo as we know it. We will seek to bolster our programming, inject new life, and find new members to keep what we hold near and dear. The problem (probably to our chagrin) will be that new life and new members will be different than what we expected and hoped they would be. When that happens, change will roll over us like a tsunami.
What we will probably discover is what we often hear these days. Namely, “It’s not about us!” The sooner we learn that, the sooner we’ll realize our need to get on board with what the Lord is doing. We’d rather try to get him to bless our own plans.
Could the best course of action be to see what the Spirit is doing and join in?
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]