Drive down almost any street in any town in American and what do you see? A convenient store of some kind; certainly a fast-food chain or two; and in nearly every case, a small main-line church building.
Having grown up in the Conservative Evangelical church of the 90’s and 2000’s, I trained my eyes to look past these monuments to what I considered to be a by-gone plateau on the American church landscape, but secretly I wondered: What was behind the fading red brick and sometimes dingy stained glass of these forgotten congregations? What were the people like inside? Were they really Christians? Why didn’t they go to my church with all of its newness and flash?
We were right, after all. It was conservative evangelicalism with its contemporary, relevant, modern, conservative, youthful approach that was saving the day. We were reinventing, moving, driving, programing, & marketing. We didn’t call ourselves Christians anymore; no, we were Christ-followers. We weren’t a church; no, we were a community.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I loved the church I grew up in, and I loved the churches I have worked for in the past. I spent six years as a contemporary worship director in various evangelical churches and church plants. I studied evangelism at Wheaton College for crying out loud! I am an Evangelical and my peers will tell you that my theology is still quite conservative, so this isn’t a criticism of that genre of the church, but I began to have serious doubts about whether or not I fit in. These doubts lead me to begin asking questions that this genre didn’t seem to have an answer for:
What is the church really? Where did it come from? What do we believe at our core? What makes us like those Christians who choose to worship in main-line congregations? Do we have anything that ties us to the rich history of Christianity, or are we content to speak only of the present and the future? Have we lost something in the translation of a 2,000 year old fellowship that God has used to change the world through our ongoing effort to make it “relevant”? If we were “fixing it” why is it still declining in our context? Could this work differently? Could we all, instead of averting our eyes from various denominations as we drive past them on our way to our church, think of ways to work together for the expansion of God’s kingdom in our towns in spite of our minor ideological differences?
All of that and more has led me here: one year ago I was asked by a small ELCA Lutheran church to come on staff to radically transform their approach to evangelism and outreach. I agreed, and I have been finding answers to some of these questions ever since. Each week I’ll be sharing insights, frustrations, questions, and experiences from this journey with the same hope and prayer that Jesus prayed to His Father in John 17, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one.”