Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit


As I prepared to write a post for this week, I decided that I would publish the article that I wrote for our monthly newsletter. Here is the February article for the monthly newsletter at First Baptist Church Muncie:

When I was engaged in my doctoral work at Northern Seminary, I read extensively about the ways in which culture and the church are shifting. You don’t have to be a seminary student to see that both society and the church are changing. Sociologists will tell you that younger generations are less active in the life of the church. The numbers vary, yet the decline is anything but minimal. Some reports indicate that church attendance has moved from 65% in the Builder generation to only 4% in the current generation of twenty-somethings. How is the church going to respond?

One of the books in my studies was written by Eddie Gibbs,; it is entitled ChurchNext: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry. The book was written in 2000 (it is almost 13 years old); yet his predictions have proved to be accurate. Gibbs describes,

The purpose of the following chapters is to attempt to identify some of the major storm centers through which churches have to navigate. (Gibbs, 11)

While it would be impossible to detail the entire book in this article, Gibbs describes the need to experiment with different models of ministry. He explains essential skill-sets for pastors that include deciphering the complex changes in our world.

Pastors must be equally skilled in exegeting both Scripture and culture, bringing the understanding derived from this interplay to the task of applying biblically grounded insights to the issues of postmodernity. They are challenged not just to be able to think clearly but to have the nerve and faith to act decisively in navigating through stormy and uncharted waters. (Gibbs, 32)

Indeed, the waters of our world are stormy. We will not be able to continue business as usual. We will need to discern God’s Spirit as we respond to our changing culture. Gibbs describes the posture of the congregation as willing to take risks.

In a culture of chaos, experimentation and risk taking are the order of the day. (Gibbs, 34)

Could Gibbs be right? Could it be that we will need to take more risks than our fathers and grandfathers? Could it be that we need to discard the old adage, “we’ve always done it that way before,” if we want to survive? This year, we may be faced with difficult decisions as a congregation. Budgetary constraints may force us to reconsider how we utilize our resources. We may need to discontinue or reform ministries that have existed for years. I ask each attendee and member to prayerfully consider a new posture of flexibility and risk. It may be the only way to chart the treacherous waters of today’s world.