02
Aug
10

Response to Stetzer’s Future Trends in Evangelicalism

I wanted to write a response to Ed Stetzer’s article Future Trends in Evangelicalism, however his comment space on the webpage he posted was too small for significant interaction.  I hope to see about addressing these trends even if it is not related to this blog.

I have experienced the tension of 3 out of the 4 of these trends in the past week (the one on the definition of evangelicalism isn’t so much an issue for most church members in my experience). I believe this is an incredibly helpful article as we seek to reach those who are far from Jesus.  The difficulty, however, is not so much in identifying these trends, it is addressing them.

Summary:

I believe it all hinges on our understanding, application, and love for the Gospel. When we understand how it is vital for all of our life, it will allow us to address #1 in a manner that is biblical and Spirit led. # 4 is directly related to a failure to properly apply the Gospel in our lives and a failure to teach others to do the same

Addressing #1 – “Evangelicals must learn to navigate what I call a “post-seeker context.”

We are seeking to connect unchurched people to our church and as my wife and I talk to our acquaintances about our church, there is a general ambivalence to it. It’s nice for us, but others perceive it as having no real value for them.  So I have been trying to work through some of this issue when I see it addressed in the first point of the article. So, I wanted to interact with this point of the article and look at what I believe may be valuable for addressing this issue. First, is the importance of what I know as “relationship evangelism” because I can’t think of a better term unfortunately. As people around you see the value of the Gospel in your life, you will have opportunities to point them to Christ.  I think Ed Stetzer’s book Lost and Found is helpful in conveying the Gospel to people who have little cultural recollection of Christianity and will help us to shape our ministry to reach people between the ages of 18 and 40.  Unfortunately, most churches see little value in reaching these age brackets which relegates college ministry to para-church organizations who often fail to emphasize the role of the local church. And without the support of local churches, who can blame them.  Likewise, the role of the church seeking to meet significant community needs will play a role in the community’s perception of it. A church that has no contact with the addicts, the homeless, and the generally “jacked up” people will not be seen as a church that has any real community value. However a church that can serve its community, through partnering with schools, police and fire departments, and other government organizations, will be seen as a community organization that is essential. This element of being “essential” is addressed in Rainer’s book, Essential Church which addresses roughly the same demographic as Lost and Found and is also quite valuable in shaping a ministry that is relevant to the “post-seeker”, as Stetzer puts it in his article. Unfortunately, many Christians and churches are establishing more boundaries between the church and the post-seeker (per Dan Kimball) and many of us may have to stop this as a precursor to actually making significant strides in the proper direction of reaching the post seeker. So, how do we address navigating the post-seeker context?

  • Intentional, relentless, relational evangelism.
  • Connect local churches with collegiate ministries.
  • Move the local church to significantly impact its community.
  • Develop a culture within the church that displays the essential nature of the Gospel in life.

Addressing #2 – “Evangelicals need to regain a confidence in the gospel.”

Over the last several years I believe that God has been teaching me how the Gospel is relevant, important, vital, etc. for every aspect of my life. I need to rely on the Holy Spirit to teach me how to apply it in every situation. But, my confidence for making the most out of my life is losing my life to Jesus.  Recently, I feel like my eyes have been opened to multiple resources for this. I am an avid reader of the Resurgence stuff, I just got Greg Gilbert’s book What is the Gospel? for free download, I picked up Platt’s Radical, and I bought Keller’s new small group material Gospel in Life (which is excellent!) to preview with my wife before we try to teach it in a small group setting. What all of these have in common is a tenacious focus on the Gospel. This is how we regain confidence in it, we must love it. I can think of no other way to have confidence in the Gospel than to know it, live it, love it through pouring ourselves out before God and asking the Holy Spirit to teach us how the Gospel is to work in our lives.

Addressing #3 – “Thirdly, in the next decade, we will need to address the definition of evangelicalism.”

Whenever I read anything, I immediately begin to think about how it is significant for my context.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this should concern me. I’m sure there are a myriad of persons much smarter than I that could convince me and I welcome the enlightenment they might bring me.

Addressing #4 – “Evangelicals must address our shallow definition of discipleship.”

Yesterday, after church, a 23 year old man sat down with me after the sermon and asked me “How do we now develop and build community”. We talked about how transformation is a vital component to this. I believe that discipleship is done in community, not individually.  This is what small groups try to do: discipleship in community.  Waggoner’s book causes all of us to now think in terms of quantifying personal spiritual growth rather than merely giving it lip service. What is demonstrated in my life, in my church that shows that there has been spiritual growth?  I believe this is inherently related to #2. If we realize all that Christ is for us in every aspect of life, then we will see significant growth in our souls and in our congregations. This will then allow us to address #1 in a Spirit led manner. If discipleship means applying the Gospel, then over time, we should apply in more often and more appropriately to more circumstances in our lives.

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