Read an Excerpt
From the Introduction (pre-publication version):
"I don't know how to minister anymore," the senior pastor of a flagging mainline church lamented. "There was a time when faithfully preaching and teaching God's word was enough. But no matter how much time I spend preparing and working to communicate the gospel, it just doesn't seem to make any difference. And I know that I'm not alone, either. Most of my colleagues are just biding their time until they can retire."
He looked down for a moment and then wearily continued, "It's not that we don't believe anymore, not even that we don't care. It's that we simply don't know what to do and we're tired-I'm tired-of beating my head against a brick wall."
There is no denying it: ministry in the Protestant church at the beginning of the twenty-first century is difficult. A spirit of frustration and despair afflicts many of the church's finest leaders. What once worked no longer appears effective, and many who are charged with the leadership of God's people are at a loss as to what to do. Like a ship without a rudder, the church flounders in dangerous waters.
There is a vacuum of vision, of ideas and strategies with which to respond to the growing disparity between the life and ministry of the congregation and the real lives of people in our society. The connection between the faith of the church and the life of the people is strained to the breaking point, and harried pastors and lay leaders burn out at an alarming rate as they struggle to keep the church from losing all relevance in our postmodern world.
Christian leaders are looking for new, dynamic, and effective ways of being the church, waysthat are faithful to the call of God and that will energize them and their ministries. Pastors and lay leaders are longing for a spiritual spark to ignite the passions of God's people once again. This deep longing on the part of Christian leaders is accompanied by a growing sense of urgency, a growing sense that the time may be running out on American Protestantism.
Pastor and sociologist Bill Easum, noted lecturer and student of the Protestant church internationally, has said, "Most mainline and established churches are dying because they only try to take care of their members. Three out of four will close over the next 25-30 years. . . . Most mainline churches are already irrelevant to the needs of postmodern people."
Others have suggested that one-third of the more than 325,000 Protestant congregations in the United States will close their doors within the next decade. And that is a conservative estimate!
Consider the following sobering statistics:
• 91 percent of all households in the United States own at least one Bible
• 80 percent of adults name the Bible as the most influential book in human history
• Yet only 38 percent of adults read the Bible in any given week
• Only 25 percent of adults volunteer to help a church during a typical week
• 96 percent of adults believe in God
• 93 percent believe in the virgin birth
• Yet 39 percent say Jesus did not have a physical resurrection
• 61 percent say that the Holy Spirit is not real
• 56 percent say a good person can earn his or her way into heaven
• And still 72 percent of those polled say that they are church members
What is going on here? How has it happened? And what can we do about it? Why is biblical illiteracy rampant among those who call themselves Christian? Why does the Christian message, the good news of the gospel, not seem to get through? Why are all the mainline Protestant churches losing more and more of their members? Is Christian faith no longer relevant? Is the church no longer effective in meeting the real needs of real people? These are questions that trouble the hearts and minds of all who love and serve the Lord of the church. They are questions I shall address in this book.
Models of Church Affiliation
The world has changed faster than the church, and now it is time for the church to catch up and learn to speak and act in ways that the world can understand. The Christian message remains as true and relevant today as it has ever been. The gospel of Jesus Christ still answers to the deep hopes and fears, the realities and dreams of men, women, and children in each and every walk of life. In a pick-and-choose, mix-and-match spiritual marketplace, staggering in its diversity and complexity, Christian faith, Christian spirituality is not reducible to just one among many religious commodities. Christian faith is not an accessory to life. Rather it is a coherent way of life, a way of being in the world. It is the task of the church to teach and support this way of life, this life of the spirit, for the sake of individuals and communities.
The methods and strategies that effectively served to teach and support the life of faith in the past now seem outworn and unable to address the critical issues of our time. The church seems increasingly powerless, and we who serve the church in this challenging time wrestle like Jacob with the angel, seeking a blessing, trying desperately to be and remain relevant, wondering where the needed power surge will come from.