World-Mission

Global Church Trends: A Response

In Christian RealTalk by Antwuan Malone4 Comments

I recently read an article written by Bob Roberts Jr. named Global Church Trends which means to offer a pulse on the movement of the church worldwide. My (former) pastor initially passed along the article, so I read it. As I went, I found myself agreeing and disagreeing, but figured… who am I to disagree with Bob Roberts, international man of missionary ministry!

But what the heck. If I can go at N.T. Wright and John MacArthur, surely Bob won’t mind a few alternative perspectives to some of his thoughts.

I’ve began, very recently, to really contemplate the future of the American church. America, as a country, grows more ethnically (and thus religiously) diverse by the day and so I can see the value of researching the trends of the Christians around us in other countries. But we must also remember that America presents a few extra challenges that the typical unreached, even persecuted, people in other countries don’t face.

Simplifying is Not the Answer

In his blog, Bob observes four trends happening on the worldwide scale. Decomplication, Decentralization, Detribalization, and Dewesternization. Of these, Decomplication presents the biggest problem for me.

Bob and I agree that the state of the American Church is generally unhealthy. Frustratingly so. However, he purports that “Our best hope, is to connect with what the global church is doing. What are the trends for the global church and what can we learn from them?  How do we get over our current destabilization?” I feel less convinced this is the case. As mentioned, the world “markets” (if you will) which generally use the tactics and trends which he points out, are largely unreached, unchurched markets. They say very little about how to handle the de-churched, which is by far the largest growing segment of the American mission field. The world church movement has not performed particularly well in Post-Christian societies. And that is precisely what America is fast becoming.

It is the difference between what you teach a child in Sunday School, and how you arm a recent graduate on his way to college. The world missions are responding well to the simplified, Sunday School approach because their audiences do not carry the same sort of sensibilities and bias for explanation as Americans tend to carry. And that’s not a compliment to Americans. Logic and explanations are often driven by ego, and I’ll be the first to admit that “I” is becoming more and more a deity in the land of the free and home of the brave. But we, as a church, must recognize the differences in the challenges our audiences face when presented with the Gospel.

So, when Bob talks about Decomplication I can’t help but squirm in my seat a bit. “Simplifying” is one of the many reasons atheism, secularism, and relativism have gained so much ground among the next generation of Americans. Because, when someone starts asking the hard, complicated questions… Christians have not been armed to answer them. More than armed, they have not learned to examine the harder sides of following Jesus, and thus are vulnerable when challenged by those seeking to discredit their beliefs. We no longer live in a country which loosely promotes Christian morals. The church no longer enjoys the respect of “because I said so” in this country. The Bible does not have the authority it once had, and religion in general is increasing being cast as not only shallow, but even detrimental to society.

In today’s America, when Christians say something, we have to be ready to say what, why, and how. The world church trend of simplifying may not be able to help us do this.

Look, simplifying is great. But in the scriptures, I see Jesus speaking both simply and with complication. On one hand he’s giving parables, on the other, he’s telling Nicodemus about being “born again.” On one hand, he is talking about “abundant life,” on the other, he’s talking about “taking up our cross.” It is no wonder the disciples, who lived with Jesus for three years, did not fully grasp what was happening right in front of their faces. Christianity certainly has it’s complicated matters. Until recently, those matters did not affect our mission field very much. But today, America is becoming a dechurched society, and people are asking tough questions and looking for solid answers. They don’t often find them. Instead, they are met with trite, canned, slick, propaganda-sounding answers that reflect little in the way of understanding. As a result, the church grows increasingly irrelevant every time it opens is simplistic mouth. Simplifying is not an aim if the American church is meant to thrive in this country.

(Not So) Simply Jesus.

Understanding this is very important. While it sounds great to read Bob write “Jesus is the focus along with his very presence within and near them.  Jesus really is the answer – to everything…” we must recognize that Jesus is not new to Americans, and that there are so many ideas of what Jesus truly represents that simply saying “follow him” would send people down several separate paths that lead to nowhere. It’s not simple. The quicker we realize this, the better we posit ourselves to respond effectively.

Once we do this, our efforts to Decentralize (empower leaders in smaller cells) and Detribalize (release individual giftedness), and even to Dewesternize (increase awareness of the sliding scale of  “normal” for those around us) will have all the more power. There are many lessons we can learn from the world church movement around us. But let us please resist the urge to assume one-size-fits-all, or to, as they say, “throw the baby out with the bath water.” I’ve learned that, when the trend seems to flow in one direction, I might need to stop and check my own bearings — and even go the opposite direction.

But hey, what do I know. I’m just a young writer, trying to break into a ministry that will properly empower the next generation of young adults. I could totally be off-base here.

What are you thoughts on simplification of the Gospel, and how effective it will serve the American mission field?

 

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dark sig Global Church Trends: A Response

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 Global Church Trends: A Response
Antwuan Malone is a freelance writer and blogger about Christian topics that challenge church status quo. He is passionate about the Christian community regaining its voice and authority in society. He believes the first step to achieving this is real, candid conversations among and between believers and non-believers.
4 comments
tkbeyond1
tkbeyond1

A couple thoughts... A valuable read on the Global Church (church in the Majority World) can be found in Western Christians in Global Mission by Paul Borthwick. Well worth the read and addresses the issues at hand.

Simple does not equal shallow. Truth can be expressed in a simple way without sacrificing depth. This should be the responsibility of any teacher/preacher/pastor/leader.

Blessings...

bob roberts
bob roberts

I loved your article - go trekking just 6 months globally, stop by and visit with churches in Asia & Africa - then write - you may still disagree, but given your age - you my friend will see even far more than me. . . . . . then write, use your pen - after you've engaged your hand, your heart - then your head.  I like your writing

jamespyles
jamespyles

If the question is "why is the church 'dying' in America?" then the answer (from my humble perspective) is that the church has lost its focus. Most churches feel they've had to simplify and to entertain rather than educate their attendees just to keep them coming. And yet, from what I can tell (and my perspective is limited), people are leaving the church because it is too "light." Christians want to dig deeper, to know God better, to feel that being a Christian is something integrated into their existence rather than just what they do for a couple of hours on Sunday.


I currently attend a small Baptist church in southwestern Idaho, but the Pastor is extraordinary. He's educated, approachable, and lived in Israel for 15 years. He knows Biblical Hebrew and Greek, and strongly encourages everyone at church to read the Bible an just to read to stay educated and engaged. The church also has a strong missionary component, and we support numerous missionaries in many nations. 


If people feel like they're a part of something bigger than themselves and that they are actively contributing to building the Kingdom, they will eat it up with a spoon and come back for more.

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@jamespyles My sentiments exactly. It's always interesting to me that the alternatives to Christianity are often worldviews with doctrines that are rather complex. And people seem quite content to follow those. but you're right, the focus is off and we don't seem to be able to adapt to the shifting mindset of our mission field.