Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What Is the Church to Do in Rapidly Changing Times?

by Dr. Roger Gilbert

I think we all are keenly aware of the fact that our world is rapidly changing and that the changes impact all of life, including the church. Many of us grew up with the church being the center of the community and our family life. There was no question about what we did on Sunday morning. Likewise, the community around us was careful not to plan events that would conflict with church schedules. All of that has radically changed. So has church attendance and involvement.

What is the church to do? It is not likely that the culture is going to revert back to the way it was in the 1950’s, or even the 1990’s. There are a lot of different ideas about what should be done. One approach is to use the marketing techniques of the business world and remold the church so as to be attractive. There is validity in seeking to better understand our world and better relate to the people so we can share the gospel with them. There are also dangers in that approach. One danger is that the church may lose its distinctive as the church and simply become a reflection of the culture. That is already a reality to some degree. A second danger is that in an attempt to attract people we may use gimmicks with nothing more than shallow, short term results.

One of the difficulties within the church is that we are products of our culture and tend to measure “success” by numbers: membership, attendance, budgets, etc. While those factors are important, the calling of the church is to be the Body of Christ. We are to follow the example and teaching of Christ in loving and serving. We are to be faithful in using our gifts of time, talents, and resources in ministering to people and bearing witness to the gospel. Our attention is not to be directed toward tangible measurements of success but toward faithfulness to Christ.

Nearly a year ago nine of us pastors from across the state were on a retreat. While talking about similar issues, one of my good friends made reference to a saying that was popularized by Henry Blackby. He said, “discover what God is doing and join Him.” Since that time I have been intentionally asking questions and listening to what people are saying about both the needs in our community and the potential in our church. There are some exciting possibilities. I believe God is at work in a variety of ways in our community and may be inviting us to join Him in some of them.

I have shared some of this with our Church Council and asked for their input in how to involve the larger congregation in this conversation. In the months ahead we expect there will be some small group as well as large group participation as we seek to perceive where God is working in our community and how First Baptist Church can join Him. We are asking our members to think about the both needs and resources that God has given to our congregation. If one new ministry is the result of this process, it will be well worth the effort!

Roger Gilbert is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Mount Airy, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, "The Announcer."

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