The church is dying. We have a terminal disease, and as a ministry professional, I think our best course of action is to provide incredible hospice care as this generation of Christians and the churches we have built die a slow death.
How is that for a dramatic opening statement. :)
In case you are missing it, there is a gigantic tectonic shift occurring. In fact, it is more than a simple shift, it is a world-altering shift where half of California drops into the ocean sort of shift. Humanism has won the world view war, technology in general, social media and AI, in particular, are disrupting long-held assumptions, and everyone in church leadership has chosen deconstruction as the place to put their best thoughts and efforts.
The result is that all the young and idealistic Christians have been taught not to trust the institutional church, and to expand their theology in ways that have moved them way outside of orthodoxy. Those still working in or connected to a functioning institutional church are having to change their ministry model to stay relevant in a fully consumeristic and shallow society. And without even knowing it, we have traded orthodox faith rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ for Moral Therapeutic Deism.
As I have reflected on these shifts, I can’t escape the reality that the church is dying. (Not THE CHURCH, but the American Civic Religion Church with its beautiful music, fog machines, and self-help style sermons is dying.)
It is easy to think that this isn’t happening. The mega churches and mega pastors are getting more and more mega. But while their churches are growing, every small and midsize church is dying. And everyone’s perspective is ruled by consumerism. And in our culture, there is no taste for orthodoxy, for discipleship. Once a church tries to lean heavily into either of these two things, they rapidly find themselves out of the Christian mainstream.
I think of my own church and the ministry that I lead. I think of how we are trying to walk the line of being orthodox and missional, and I have this uneasy feeling that we are missing it. We are dangerously close to Religious Syncretism. “Syncretism exhibits a blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions. It is contrasted by the idea of multiple religious belonging and polytheism, respectively.” Our missional approach has put us dangerously close to syncretism, and this blending forms a new religion and that new religion is not orthodox Christianity. (This has been the danger in the American Church and American civil religion for a long, long time.)
It is this rise in syncretism that is assuring our death.
It is the fundamentalists, the hyper-orthodox, the sects that have separated off that have survived the centuries. I think of the Jewish communities that I am connected to. The liberal and reformed versions of Judaism are so attractive and offer a nice balance of deep religious connection and history and yet is palatable for the liberal urban dweller. The problem is that this version dies out within a generation. It is the more conservative sects and for sure the orthodox sects that have managed to pass on their religion and values for thousands of years.
The same story is true for Christians. The more liberal and open the sect of Christianity, the quicker it falls into syncretism and disappears, and the more fundamentalist, the more it can survive the cultural chaos. Think of the Amish, Quakers, and some of the most conservative churches. They have a much better chance surviving this cultural moment than the more progressive and “missional” church that I long to be a part of and lead.
So, what does that all mean? I am not sure. But today, this morning, I think that means that I am called to be a hospice nurse to a brand of Christianity that won’t survive this cultural shift. I can help it die with honor. That is my pessimism. :)
My hope is that in this death, we can hone on the core of the gospel, and protect that precious seed, so that in a generation or two, when the cultural chaos settles, and there is a new cultural order, this precious seed that we are stewarding will be planted, grow, and expand the Kingdom of God into this new and uncharted world.
May God have mercy on us all! :)