Evangelicalism is in crisis.
It is encouraging to see that many evangelical churches are involved in a huge range of community and worldwide activities to alleviate social and moral problems. Then there is the increasing number of church plants of differing types. Corporate prayer has increased in many areas. All good things.
But are we really making an impact on society? The answer is no.
I think the reasons are as follows:
- Our understanding of the Gospel.
We have limited our theology of the Gospel to a narrow focus on salvation, when in fact it is the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. This means that God wants to ‘save’, not just our souls, but every part of our lives, and not only our personal, private areas, but also our connections with work, leisure and the world. We also make it too easy to become a Christian, because we do not explain the consequences of becoming a follower of Jesus – He wants us to accept Him , not only as our Saviour, but also our Lord, and that means commitment, even during the lows of life! For God is a God of love and justice for He is holy.
- Our understanding of vocation and ministry
We seem to have separated our lives into that which happens in church from outside it. When we become a Christian, we are called to re-focus every part of our lives to that of God’s will. That takes time, but we need to re-align our work (including the home) and our time so as to focus on transformation of society and doing that as part of a small group community of fellow believers in which we are discipled to become Christ-like in all areas of life. I call this vocation ministry. Our lives are about relationships, with God, our fellow believers and those outside the Kingdom. Therefore we need to balance our time with all three, not forgetting our family.
- Our understanding of the world
Most Christians do not have a biblical worldview on the issues of the day, so often they are simply following what the world says and have no concern about redeeming it for God. Part of that problem is not only that we are not taught it from the Bible, but also we seem to have problems in translating the original scriptures, interpreting them properly and knowing how to apply those truths from the Scriptures in the most appropriate biblical loving way. Hence work is needed to re-visit the originals that we do have and make sure we have understood the true meanings of words, especially as they change from culture to culture and from one period of history to another. With regard to interpretation, theologians with different viewpoints then need to come together to find more common ground so as to stop confusing the ‘ordinary’ Christian! When it comes to applying the truths from the Bible, we all need help to not only take action but how to articulate it when explaining these truths to non-Christians. Hence the importance of discipling, ideally in small groups, with one on one training for small group facilitators by the leadership. And I mean training, not just teaching!
- Our understanding of the uniqueness of Jesus
Another area as Christians we are weak in is in the area of Apologetics. We are told by Paul to be able to give a reason for the hope we have, and that, in particular, means being able to articulate the uniqueness of Jesus, and to understand the differences between Christianity and other belief systems. Part of the solution is knowing how to read, study, meditate and apply the Bible. Hence the importance of spending time in the Word not only on one’s own but also being taught how to do it as part of the discipling process within a small group.
To achieve a resolution of the above issues means three things:
- A re-evaluation of our theological training for leaders – seeing it as a discipling process within small groups as the main vessel, with specialist lectures only part of it. The key is to train leaders to become reproducible disciplers in their churches;
- And secondly, to make corporate prayer a key to seeing transformation within the church and in the world around it. God, throughout the Scriptures, very rarely talked about personal prayer, but called us together to seek God and His face;
- And finally, to always seek to see the church grow healthily and numerically, and that often means planting communities relevant to the many different people groups around the world. Jesus will only come when this happens. The sooner, the better, I say! And these communities are to also seek to transform society, and creation. This should be part of every believer’s DNA, embedded during the intentional discipling process.
Other concerns that often blunt our effectiveness include:
- The proliferation of Christian charities, often doing the same thing, and thus a lot of resources are wasted and not strategically used. This does not help with encouraging individual Christians and churches to give sacrificially, especially when one knows that a very small percentage of giving goes to planting churches among unreached people groups, most of whom are in the 10/40 window.
- There are too many publications, often saying the same thing. Maybe authors should get together to write collaboratively. This would lead to fewer books, but better writing and more impact. People also need encouragement to read, so new ways of producing books need to be found, in terms of layout and cost. This would mean that Christian bookshops may need to re-invent themselves as resource centres which include things like healing rooms etc.
Even though there is a crisis, I believe it can be overcome. Part of it is for everyone to realise we are in a battle of spiritual warfare. The other part is for groups like the Evangelical Alliance and Affinity to take the lead and encourage their member churches to address the above issues and to provide appropriate resources and guidance in achieving them, and persuade theological colleges and courses to do the same. (Maybe some colleges are struggling because they are not really addressing the discipling process and helping leaders to get their churches to seek to transform the world?)
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