Changes In The Church

November 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Pastor's Corner

Print This Post Print This Post

Download: 500 Year Changes

We all know that the church today is not the same as it used to be. For many centuries, the church had prominence in our culture. The church was at the center of our families and communities. It kept us grounded in relationships and commitments to each other. But times have changed.

Over recent decades, the church’s value hasn’t held up in comparison to other expanding sectors of our culture, namely society and the economy. Whereas religion and family are communal, these sectors are based on individual competition. Today more than ever, people are striving to keep up and get ahead in our culture. We feel this tension when, for example, jobs and sports pull us from worship and family time. Parents are trying their best to help their kids excel in what our culture is teaching them to value first.

It’s not that our culture is the enemy of the church. Our culture is just no longer supportive like it used to be. For instance, the Bible and its stories were used for centuries in Western culture to teach children to read and write. English primer books taught that “A” is for “apple,” the fruit Adam ate (Genesis 3). Not so today; we don’t have any dominant story in our culture because we have so many. We don’t all read the same novels, watch the same shows, listen to the same news, or open our Bibles as our predecessors did.  We are overwhelmed with choices.

Along with these cultural changes, Christianity in America has declined. (Side note: Christianity is growing rapidly today in the global south.) A record high 23% of Americans now claim to be atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular. My seminary advisor recently told me that the church he was trained to lead doesn’t exist anymore. For people who love Jesus, it’s natural to lament the days gone by for the church. What’s the future of the church?

A brief history lesson might help us to understand what’s happening in the church today and give us some hope. Phyllis Tickle, a church historian and visionary, literally wrote the book (in 2012) on how Christianity is changing and why. Tickle observed that massive transitions in the church happen about every 500 years, for whatever reason. She called it a major rummage sale! Everything is up for grabs at these times. Old forms of Christianity are cleaned out and replaced with new ones.

  • 1000 BC – King David ruled over a golden era (Judaism)
  • 587 BC – The Babylonian exile (Judaism)
  • 30 AD – Jesus Christ died and rose (Christian Church formed)
  • 476 – The Fall of Roman Empire and beginning of Dark Ages
  • 1054 – The Great Schism of Eastern and Western Christianity
  • 1517 – The beginning of the Protestant Reformation
  • 2000+ – “The Great Emergence” of new forms of the church

The church of the last 500 years is fading away. Though it’s sad to wonder if the things we cherish most about the church will go away, change is also exciting. All living things change; we only stop changing when we die. When we think about all the people in our lives who are not interested in the church today, we realize that the church needs to change. Are we willing to change for the sake of the people who are not currently part of the church and do not know the love of Jesus?

Something new is emerging, and we don’t yet know what it will be. We know that our relationships with fellow Christians are strengthening, even between Lutherans and Catholics. Dialogue with other religions is promoting our mutual respect. Plus, technology offers us new ways to be the church. This “great emergence” might be the shift we need from merely going to church to being the church in the world. As we become more intentional followers of Jesus, our faith will mean more to us.

In the meantime, as we participate in this emergence, we take our faith seriously. We help each other make Jesus a priority in our lives. We practice the basics of our faith – prayer, worship, Bible study, and Christian fellowship. We experiment. We let some things go and color outside the lines. St. John’s is already doing some of this, with new experiences, retreats, milestones, and community events. How can we step out of our staleness and into newness? St. John’s is thriving today; our willingness to try new things will keep us healthy for the future.

Through all this change, we remember that this is not our church. This is Christ’s church. We can trust Jesus with its future.

In Christ,

Pastor Matthew Poock

Thus says the Lord, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”   -Isaiah 43:19

  • Brooke Fraser

Comments are closed.