Driving in Chicago…
No one can deny that the world has completely changed in the last 50 years. There was a day when all you had to do was ring the church bell and people came. People wanted to hear God’s Word, they wanted baptism, they wanted communion. Those days are over and we as the church need to acknowledge that. We would never imagine driving around San Francisco without using a map of San Francisco. According to Rev. Robert Newton, District President of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District of the LCMS, the church has spend the last few decades wandering around lost in Chicago because we still think we’re in San Francisco and won’t put away the wrong map!
The world has changed. We can’t assume the same things about our neighborhoods as we used to. People simply don’t have the church on their radar screens. How many people who live in this neighborhood can actually tell you where Bethel is, much less what we’re all about? Rev. Newton contends that we have shifted from a churched culture to a post-church culture. In a churched culture, the church determines what the culture does. Babies are baptized, people come to church, people talk about God, liturgies are complex, deep and beautiful. That churched culture is long gone, but the church isn’t convinced of it yet. In a post-church culture the unbelievers determine the broader culture while the church wants to hang on to all our churched assumptions because we like what we do and hope the good old days will return!
A New Map
The challenge is that the church no longer sets the agenda for the culture and that’s not going to change. The church can say that God calls one thing immoral, another thing God-pleasing, or even try to say that Jesus loves them and the culture can say, “So what.” We need to use a new map. This isn’t a map that we draw, but it’s the one the culture has already drawn. And while we navigate these unfamiliar Chicago streets we need to realize that God wants to show up. God wants His Word to be there. God calls us to take His Word, His love, His Gospel into a world that could care less about Him… even though He died for them. It all starts by opening our eyes to the world we live in and reading the new map.
I invite you to join me in rethinking church. Not that we change what we believe; that is God’s unchangeable truth. How much of what we do depends upon a culture that intrinsically understands what we’re doing? How much of what we do is simply indecipherable to the broader culture? How much of what we do in our church building will never impact the person down the block? Do we even give people a reason to notice? These are hard questions, but they have to be asked so that we can be effective evangelists in a new age, the post-church age. God willing, we will learn to read the new map and many will hear, believe and be saved.