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Change, Complexity, Simplicity and the Church

Taken from my 2016 Annual Report for Callander Bay Church

“But I am afraid that…your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:3

On April 4th, 2017, I will be celebrating 25 years of ministry in North Bay/Callander.  As I reflect on that time, I see that it is a totally different world.  I think if I would have slipped into coma back in the 90’s and was to wake up today, I would be in shock!  But, because I was awake for the journey, it is harder to see the subtle changes that have taken place.  It’s only as we slow down and reflect that we can see the drastic changes that have taken place.  Here are some of the significant trends that I have seen take place in the church and society.

“But I am afraid that…your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:3

The Rise of Technology

When I started at Lakeshore, we had one computer for the whole church.  Most of the time I did my sermons or lessons by hand because I had to book the computer if I wanted to use it.  We didn’t have a fax machine (which is almost obsolete now).  We didn’t have email.  We didn’t have a webpage.  We didn’t even have the internet (I think it was called the web or information super highway).  We didn’t have social media.  We didn’t have cell phones.  We never read or wrote a blog post. We didn’t have video projectors.  But now technology is common place in the church.  A large part of ministry is now managing and using technology effectively.  The computer has become one of my most important ministry tools. The increase in communication methods has made it harder to talk to people. (which is strangely ironic) You will need to know if they text, use Hangouts, messenger, email, Instagram, snapchat, Facebook, linked in or do they still use a phone. Technology has been helpful in some regards, but it has also made ministry more complicated.

A Move Away from Biblical Values

The moral and spiritual climate in our country has taken a definite negative turn.  Recently I read an article that showed even in the church our moral values are shifting and changing.  There is less consensus on what is a biblical world view.  Pastor Carey Nieuwhof, says this in his ministry blog,

“Ever feel like the world you stepped into when you began in ministry no longer exists? You’re not alone. The culture around us is changing. You can debate when the collapse of Christendom in the West began, but there is little doubt we are witnessing a massive shift away from the cultural consensus that existed even a few generations ago.”1

The world no longer shares the same moral value system and now considers our belief system to be irrelevant and archaic or even worse hateful and bigoted.  It has made ministry more difficult and complex as we have lost our voice and, it seems, no one Is listening any way.

Mass Exodus of Youth from the church.

This trend is alarming to say the least.  It has caught the attention of many organizations and leaders.  In 2012, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada released their findings in a report called, “Hemorrhaging Faith: Why & When Canadian Young Adults Are Leaving, Staying and Returning to the Church”

According to the report, only 1 in 10 young adults in the Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant churches who attended church at least weekly as a child still do so today.  On the Evangelical side, we too are seeing more people leaving then staying.  4 in 10 young adults who attended church at least weekly as a child still do so today.  All in all, about 2 out of every 3 young adults are leaving the church. 2

The Influence of Consumerism on the church

John F. Kennedy made famous the quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  Even in the 1960’s Kennedy noticed an alarming trend, that people were wanting to be served, rather than to serve.  Our underlying way of thinking is to ask, “What’s in it for me?” Consumer thinking makes the church into a purveyor of spiritual goods.  If those goods, meet the needs of your household, you will consume those products.  If there is a better option, than we will chooseupgradechangesign the one that helps us the most.  We have become a world of options.  Churches are offering a wider variety of programming to meet the myriad of needs of people.  In doing so we have made church life busier and more complicated.  Which contributes to the last trend in society that I want to mention.

Busyness and Complexity of Life

People seem to be busy.  We are always running from one activity to another.  The question is, are we busy or do we just seem to be busier?  In a recent BBC 4-part radio series called “Oliver Burkeman is Busy.” Burkeman came to some interesting conclusions.

“Few facts about modern life seem more indisputable than how busy everyone seems to be. Across the industrialised world, large numbers of survey respondents tell researchers they’re overburdened with work, at the expense of time with family and friends. And it’s possible that the most overwhelmed people weren’t even asked how they felt: according to one ingenious 2014 study, one major reason people decline to take part in surveys is… that they feel too busy.

You might assume the explanation was straightforward: we feel so much busier these days because we’ve got so much more to do. But you’d be wrong. The total time people are working – whether paid or otherwise – has not increased in Europe or North America in recent decades. Modern parents who worry they’re spending insufficient time with their children spend significantly more of it than those in generations past.

He goes on to say,

But in the era of what management consultant Peter Drucker called “knowledge work”, that’s changed. We live in an “infinite world”, says Tony Crabbe, author of the book Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much. There are always more incoming emails, more meetings, more things to read, more ideas to follow up – and digital mobile technology means you can easily crank through a few more to-do list items at home, or on holiday, or at the gym. The result, inevitably, is feeling overwhelmed: we’re each finite human beings, with finite energy and abilities, attempting to get through an infinite amount. We feel a social pressure to “do it all”, at work and at home, but that’s not just really difficult; it’s a mathematical impossibility. 3

I think I can also add to these conclusions, that there are far more options and demands in regards to activities. This has made life more busy and complicated.  But, I do agree, that life has changed and we are profoundly stressed and overwhelmed because of it.  We are feeling a lack of boundaries and a sense of “undoneness.” (my computer tells me that is not a real word, but I declare it to be so).  At the end of the day we are never able to check off all the boxes on our “To Do List”. There is always seems to be more to do, there is always some pressure, whether internally or externally to do more. Lose more weight, work out more, read more, do more community based activities, get more projects done, clean more, drive the kids to more activities, more, more and then some more.

All these trends together, lead me to believe, that ministry is more complicated and complex than ever before.  At the beginning of the summer I began a series of messages called “Keep it Simple’ (Which Shannon called the longest and most complicated series he’s heard.  In the fall, I did a series called “Thrive: Moving from Surviving to Thriving.”  Both these series revealed my desire to move faith to it’s most basic components.  As the New Year has begun, I have continued to wrestle with these issues. I have been reading Rainer and Geiger’s book: Simple Church.  I am endeavouring to find answers to some questions that are rattling around in my brain.  Questions like:

  • How do we become a church that prays?
  • How do we set up a process that helps people become disciples who make disciples?
  • Can that process be expressed in a simple way that is easily communicated and transferable?
  • How do we focus on people and not simply go through the motions of programming?
  • How can we daily live our lives in a way that helps us move in that direction?
  • How do we accomplish simple ministry in a society that is consumer driven, technologically based, with seemingly busy people, where young people are leaving faith in droves, and the church is losing its voice?

That last question gave me a headache even writing it.  I need to pause for a moment and breathe.

(Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out)

Okay, breathing again!  If I stop there it could all seem very overwhelming and discouraging and I must admit that at different times it has been.  The writers of the American Constitution began the document with some strong statements after they had written these words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

As a believer in Christ I hold these truths to be self evident:

  • And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I (Christ) will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)
  • You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
  • Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-22)
  • I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
  • But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
  • ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6)

I could keep going, but I hope you get the point: God is able!   For us to thrive as a church we must be:

  1. Dependant – It’s God’s work and we to be wholly and completely dependent on Him to accomplish His purpose and plans.
  2. Diligent – Although we are leaning on God and His strength, it does not give us an excuse for inactivity or passive behaviour. We will as the Apostle Paul states, “Make every effort” and “Run with perseverance”.
  3. Daring – We must daringly engage the people of our community and our culture with love and creativity and offer a positive, spiritual alternative. There’s much about today’s culture we may not like, but that’s no excuse to stop loving people within our society. The church is uniquely positioned to offer a radically beautiful alternative to the culture in so many key issues. The most effective strategy we can follow is to adapt the climate in our church so it becomes a bridge to our culture and not be a barrier.

pj

The conclusion of my annual report for 2106 is found here: http://callanderbaychurch.ca/2017/02/21/817/

End Notes

  1. http://careynieuwhof.com/5-ways-christians-can-approach-the-rapidly-changing-moral-culture/
  2. https://www.apologeticscanada.com/2012/11/16/hemorrhaging-faith-helpful-notes/
  3. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160909-why-you-feel-busy-all-the-time-when-youre-actually-not
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