Looking Ahead and Steering a Course
Recently someone suggested that rather than write “a year in review,” I write “a year in anticipation.” So, I’d like to start the New Year by thinking about future. What lies before us? What are the challenges? And, what kind of people is God calling us to be?
First, the religious landscape before us continues to change at a mind-boggling pace. There has been more change in the last 30 years than in the previous 300. Thirty years ago the music in most protestant churches consisted of familiar hymns accompanied by a single instrument—the organ. Today, even the most traditional churches face the challenge of offering multiple services with optional styles of worship. How do we make disciples of Jesus in a church culture that is largely consumer oriented, and in which people shop for churches in much the same way they shop for almost every other kind of service?
The broader culture also continues to change at an ever increasing pace—and in ways that the experts rarely anticipate. American culture continues to be an anomaly: the broader culture becoming increasingly secular (like Europe), while the American people remain stubbornly religious (the percentage of Americans who attend church weekly has barely changed since such surveys began in the 1930’s). G. K. Chesterton wrote at the beginning of the 20th century that secular people and cultures don’t cease to believe in nothing, they begin to believe in any and everything–they embrace any and all options as equally valid–even if they are contradictory or silly. In such a culture the Gospel of Jesus seems increasingly implausible and irrelevant. How do we live and share the Gospel in a broader culture that vacillates between apathy and hostility?
These trends and a host of others touch and affect us in ways that we can’t begin to imagine. So, how are we to keep our bearings and steer a course? Let me suggest that we don’t have to have the answers–and no one else does either—they aren’t ours to know. But we do know one thing: Jesus Christ is still Lord of all and Head of the church. He is never surprised or taken aback. He is never caught at a loss. He is equal to any time or situation and he can certainly lead us through ours. Our primary task is simply to look to him, trust, him, and follow him. It is no easy thing to do amidst some much confusion and anxiety, but it is the wisest thing to do. Recently I came across something I think captures who we’re called to be:
When I think of the people I know who model for me the depths of the spiritual life, I am struck by their gentleness. Their eyes communicate the residue of solitary battles with angels, the costs of caring for others, the deaths of ambition and ego, and peace that comes from having very little left to lose in this life. They are gentle because they have honestly faced the struggles given to them and learned the hard way that personal survival is not the point….Their vulnerability has been stretched to clear-eyed sensitivity to others….
Deep….gentle….compassionate….sensitive….wise….I think those are the qualities that define Jesus’ people. Those qualities never go out of style and are always attractive. Those are the qualities of character that we ought to strive for in our personal lives and in our life together as a congregation. I don’t pretend to know what the future holds for any of us or for all of us as a congregation. But I do know that we can face it without fear and with great confidence. We know whose we are and who we are called to be, and that makes all the difference.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Rev. Don Muncie