A friend has been nominated for Teacher of the Year in our state.
In discussing this with him over a meal, my wife reflected on how the profession of teaching has evolved. Long ago, men were the primary and secondary school teachers in our culture, while it is now largely done by women.
Men are not teaching at these levels because it’s culturally reinforced. They do so because they love to teach, demonstrating high commitment and engagement with their profession (or calling, as it is for our friend).
A similar passion is essential for churches who find themselves in a postmodern context.
Those who really want to remain in existence will flourish. Those without a laser-like sense of purpose and spiritual invigoration will diminish and eventually disappear.
There is a process, a pilgrimage if you will, which the Christian church must travel to find its place in this new land.
Our present context includes a cultural demotion for the Christian church, as North America is rapidly becoming a post-Christian culture.
So what does this pilgrimage from Christian culture to post-Christian culture look like? Letting go and taking hold describes it well.
Letting go means losses. The North American Christian church is losing its cultural majority status and privilege, along with its influence in the public square.
The majority culture is coming to see the church as peripheral, archaic and irrelevant at best.
At worst, the church is seen as ignorant, cultish and destructive to the progress of humankind. This means that all those cultural reinforcements that the church enjoyed for years are disappearing.
There was a time when being part of a church helped one’s professional aspirations, raising respect levels and providing opportunities to network in one’s community.
People in churches were given opportunities because they were seen as responsible citizens who were committed to the common good. There was much cultural encouragement and reinforcement for being involved in a church.
In a post-Christian culture, the opposite is true. Those who are Christ-followers are seen as unconventional, radical and even suspect. This can be shocking and disturbing, and our task is to let go of these expectations and privilege.
If we want to be Christ-followers now, we have to want to be there, like male teachers in primary and secondary schools. This requires letting go of the past, which frees us to embrace the present and future.
There is great opportunity in every crisis, so I’m very excited about the form of Christianity and church that is rising in this post-modern era.
It’s too soon for church models to be identified, but it’s not too soon to identify our calling for what’s ahead.
This era calls for a highly invigorated expression of our faith. The following are perspectives and actions of churches who are taking hold of faith and life in this 21st century context.
1. They believe the gospel can transform the world.
These people are not into a watered-down, tepid faith. They actually believe the power of the gospel can liberate the oppressed and basically set things right in a world gone wrong. Transformation at every level of society is what this church is about.
These Christ-followers not only pray the Lord’s Prayer; they believe that God will develop the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
They don’t want to miss out on this movement, enthusiastically involving themselves in God’s transformation of this planet.
2. They embrace its alternative nature.
Like the early Christ-followers who were definitely countercultural, the postmodern church is not intimidated by being a minority group in the larger culture.
This church recognizes its history, understanding that the church itself will wax and wane when it comes to cultural popularity or acceptance. Being alternative, peripheral or unconventional does not intimidate.
3. They remove each impediment in its practice that distracts from its purpose.
When the church was mainstream, it enjoyed the luxury of doing many things that were peripheral to its purpose. Some of these practices became traditions or even sacred cows.
Present-day churches do not have this luxury. The numbers, budget, facilities and overall capacity to do less purposeful activities are not available.
This drives the church to on-task, purposeful activity. When the church robustly embraces its purpose and is a cultural minority, the chaff is burned away quickly.
Some churches are expertly denying the changes around them. Others are awake to change, but cringing in the corner.
Still others have moved through the letting-go process, finding themselves awakening to a bright future.
This future is not bright because it will return the church to its previous glory. It is bright because we follow the one who knows how to lead spiritual pilgrims through the wilderness into a new promised land.
May we be like our spiritual ancestors, seeking to be the church in the world in which we find ourselves.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this column first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission. Tidsworth’s writings can also be found on his blog.