Friday, February 20, 2015

Why I am Obsessed with Change

I recently posted a quote on my Facebook page that called for a need for visionary leadership that "drives beyond our headlights" and looks to the future rather than the present or the past to model how we do church and how we express the gospel. This sparked a dialogue in the comments in which the phrase "obsessed with change" was used. I greatly appreciated this comment because it helped me to realize that, in fact, I am obsessed with change. It even kept me awake and so here I am writing this blog post at 3:00 a.m. when I have to get up early to play a hockey game in the morning. But it's true. I am obsessed with change. I own up to it. I confess it. I admit it. And I stand by it. Here are my reasons why.

First, the changes that I believe need to be made in our churches are not merely about a response to changes in culture. Yes, they are somewhat about culture, and culture has been the spark to a call for change. As our culture dramatically changes, the church is called to change in order to stay contextual and "relevant." Dare I use that dirty word “relevant”? Let's just say, in order to stay meaningful. The gospel first came to us in a very culturally meaningful, contextual package or medium. Jesus, for example, came and lived among us as a fellow human being, incarnating (enfleshing) the message within the culture of humanity—making the message relevant to us (Jn 1.14-18). The gospel was first lived, then spoken, then later written down—but in the common, ordinary language of the day, the koine (common) Greek, which was the rough, spoken language of the common people of that culture so that it could be understood. And when the gospel, as it was being lived out, crossed the boundaries of Jewish culture into the foreign Greek or Gentile culture, it adapted it's styles and forms to the culture, as we see with Paul's practice (1 Cor 9.19-23). The gospel was in every sense contextualized into culture. It adapted to culture.

And so today as we witness and experience perhaps the most dramatic cultural change in Western history, a shift from modern to postmodern, from Christian to post-Christian, and even from post-modern to post-postmodern, the church needs to adapt its expression of the timeless and unchangeable message so that it will be understandable and meaningful to new generations—generations that find our way of "doing church" so foreign that it is not only unattractive, but almost unintelligible. We can’t get the message across if we speak a foreign language.

But it’s not simply about forms and culture and models of doing things. It’s about function. It’s about meaning. For example, millenials or postmoderns or new generations or whatever you want to call them desire a less institutionalized, more relational, organic way of living out the gospel in our communities. They call for a less hierarchal and more participatory form of leadership and ministry. They call for a less consumeristic and more active form of faith. These are not mere forms. These have to do with function, with meaning, with the purpose of the gospel and the church. So here’s the irony. The changes that need to be made in order for us to stay “relevant” in a changing world are changes that will actually make us more Biblical. Postmodernism is actually doing a great service to the church by calling us back to a more Biblical form of the gospel itself.

In fact, here is the real issue, and here is the second reason I am obsessed with change. It really is not just about changing the form or the medium of the message. It is about the message itself. It is not merely our forms that need to change to become more Biblical—it is our message. The church has reduced the message of the gospel down to individual salvation, leaving us unconcerned about the issues of the day that impact our communities. We have seen the gospel as simply getting our personal ticket to heaven punched while we sit in our secluded communities (“church”) isolated from and unconcerned about the culture and community around us. We have lost sight of the full mission and message of the gospel. Younger generations recognize that and they want no part of it. They want to hear a message that is not just about ideas and beliefs and doctrine (as important as these are), but one that is lived out in our neighborhoods and cities and in our world. That is, a message that is as relevant to this life as to the next. And this is the very essence of the incarnation, the gospel lived out in the flesh by each one of us. And they are right. And that is why I am obsessed with change. It is because I am obsessed with the gospel. If we don’t present the gospel in a way that is understandable to a changing culture, they won’t understand it. But more importantly, it won’t even be the gospel.