Around this time last year Allison, Keith and Debbi Gary, and I all went to the one day Orange Tour event in Indianapolis. For those that don't know, this is a ministry conference they put on every year to help churches reach students and children. The entire concept of Orange is all about equipping and resourcing the church to reach families for Jesus. We've gone to this for the last two years. It is always a wealth of knowledge and at times overwhelming.
Last year one of the speakers pointed out 5 revolutionary truths about families and church that have since birthed the idea for our next series called the New Normal. I'll share the ideas he had and then give a couple thoughts of my own.
Here are my notes from the talk our speaker shared this with us: He said...
1. Understand that things have changed... a lot.
A common myth we believe in the church is that families will come back when they have kids. The truth is that only 5% of unchurch parents said that having children made them want to come back to church.
2. Families fell less guilty about missing church than you think.
3. Even when families attend, they attend less often.
4. People struggle with every social issue you are hoping to avoid.
5. Their kids matter to them... maybe even more than they should.
This whole talk was frustrating, sad, and left me feeling heavy and helpless to reach people outside of our church. It breaks my heart to know that less and less people value the church, that church attendance is dropping rapidly all over the U.S., the church is viewed as judgmental and afraid to deal with real life issues, and that the church is considered irrelevant to so many people. How can we fix this problem? WHAT CAN WE DO?
Well I believe over the last year or so, God has been building within my heart this idea that we are living in a NEW NORMAL. What we once considered as the norm for church, for our culture, and for the family is no longer the norm.
We can fight it.
We can hate it.
We can get mad and say well THOSE people need to change and they NEED JESUS. (You're right they do need Jesus.)
We can even shake our fist and say that they are WRONG.
Unfortunately, that isn't going to reach anyone. So, do we just succumb to the worlds way of thinking, behaving, and living? Do we the Church, throw off restraint and let people say, do, and think whatever they want?
Let me say the answer is not as simple as a yes or no answer. I think it begins with the Church recognizing that things have changed... A LOT! The family dynamic and the church dynamic have changed a lot. We need to realize that a lot of the families we are trying to minister to will be families with a divorced mom and dad, remarried parents, potentially a family with two dads or two moms, or it could be a single mom or dad. These parents struggle to pay bills, to find time for their kids between work and sports, and deal with many of the same pressures that we deal with every single day.
Sadly, we have to understand that people don't come to church every time the doors are open anymore. We have people dealing with depression, addictions, social issues, gender issues, self-harming, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and so many other issues that are foreign to a lot of people in the church. Satan is crafty and he is in full attack mode. 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
He wants to destroy us, our families, our churches, and our world. He wants nothing good to come from your life. In fact, he wants to fill you with fear, anger, bitterness, resistance to change, and resistance to love others. I think that for a long time the church has been like a fish out of water or a fish swimming in the wrong pond. We don't know what to do, what to think, or how to react to all this change in our world. So much has hit us all at once, that we curl up in a ball just hoping it all goes away.
I believe, we need to find a way to exist and be effective in this new normal. I don't have all the answers but I do think I know a good starting point. Jesus told his disciples that the world would know them as a disciple by the way they LOVE. The way that we love is what connects us to Jesus as a disciple. It is how those outside of the church and within the church should be able to recognize us a follower of Jesus.
Peter said in 1 Peter 4:8-11, (entire text below 1-11) that we should above all, LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY. He goes on to say that "love covers over a multitude of sins." I know that this doesn't answer all our questions. It doesn't fix the problems we face as Christians, in the Church, or in our culture. But... I do believe that love is the best place to start. We've never changed anyone's mind or won anyone over by hating them, judging them, or telling them they are wrong. We've never convinced anyone that they should have a relationship with Jesus by pointing how wrong they are and how much Jesus can fix them.
As a church, we wont fill the empty seats in our sanctuary by telling people how messed up they are, how much they need to get life figured out, and how if they would just be like us than it would be all better. If every week people go home feeling worse than what they did than when they came, what good have we done? What kind of HOPE is that? That's not helpful at all. We must bring them HOPE, FAITH, and LOVE. Hope that there is something better in this world. FAITH to believe that that something better is JESUS and that He wants a relationship with them. He loves them and has chosen them no mater who they are, what they've done, or how they have lived. We must show them LOVE and be the LOVE of Jesus to them always no matter who they are, what they look like, how they talk, what they believe, how they live, or how they vote. It is our job to LOVE.
May we all strive daily to LOVE God and LOVE PEOPLE. May we bring HOPE wherever we go and may we live in and live out FAITH despite our circumstances.
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. 2 As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4 They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. 5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.