This evening we begin our annual three-day board meeting for the trustees of ACT 3. We will convene in our home with nine of us present beside me. The agenda will include the usual reports about the past year as well as updates on our financial situation and stewardship of our budget and resources. There is much to rejoice about in this business.
What excites me about this particular meeting, and thus what I ask you to pray about if you read this blog regularly, is the time we will spend tomorrow and Wednesday discussing our ten-year vision for impacting churches and leaders to become missional in their orientation and self-awareness. This is what drives me at the end of the day. I believe in reformation, revival, commitment to orthodoxy, sound preaching, prayer and healthy pastoral ministry. But the driving purpose of this ministry is to help the church, through its leaders and people, to become missional.
I am convinced that at the beginning of the twenty-first century we have witnessed tectonic shifts in Western culture. The marginalization of Christianity in the public square, the growth of religious pluralism, and the pervasive effects of individualism, narcissism, and consumerism have left many churches and pastors uncertain about their place and purpose in emerging culture.
This, by the way, is one major reason why I do not think the endless exposure of the newest danger spots within evangelicalism is the type of strategy needed for such a time as this. I once bought into this approach, thus I edited books with titles like The Coming Evangelical Crisis (Moody, 1996) and The Compromised Church (Crossway, 1998). Those books had a place but they do not reflect the missional vision called for in our secular age. The enemy is not my fellow Christian. The enemy is not even secular people. The enemy is the one who blinds peoples minds to the truth. As a result our strategy is to assist in opening the minds of people, by the Spirit, to the truth. The truth is found in Jesus alone, not in our notions and systems. Our task, as servants who stand humbly under the one who is the Truth is to speak truth to power, in real love, and to be an agent for removing this incredible blindness by means of the Word and the Spirit. The continual polemics of the "crisis" response to evangelicalism is not my own calling and thus I consciously gave up on this approach in 1999.
If someone asks me if I have changed since I edited those two books the answer is yes, but that answer should be properly qualified. This proper qualification is quite often not noted by those who see conspiracy in the evangelical camp. I have not altered my Reformed theology in any significant way. I have altered my epistemology, by adopting a way of knowing truth that is less rooted in certitude. (I am joined by many of my Reformed friends, and other friends as well, in this same shift.) I have, if anything, become more orthodox, in the historic sense, and less interested in the evangelical party wars and food-fights of our time. I find these wars extremely fruitless. I also find that they fog the church regarding the real issues and thus keep people from facing the missional questions that are so important for a healthy church in our day.
Ironically, since I wrote about a "coming crisis" in 1996 I believe that there is an ever increasing crisis looming on the horizon for the American church but few realize it yet. I am not alone in seeing this developing crisis but far too few of those in my generation are willing to talk about it openly and honestly, thus the church goes on unchanged in most contexts. It is as if what is now will remain for another complete generation and it will automatically remain vibrant and healthy. Some bright younger Christians see this need much better than those who are older but they do not always understand certain important dynamics about new movements and how radical orthodoxy and classical Christianity must truly sustain such a movement. My question has been well presented by another who has a similar concern: "Can Christianity in America thrive outside of the shrinking enclaves of conservative and traditional people and culture?" I am convinced that it can and remain committed to working toward the end that it might.
All of this is why ACT 3 is committed to being missionally responsive to these the new challenges. I believe that we have not created the type of new ministries with communication and church models that will flourish and grow in the coming post-Christian, secular West.
What is needed is real vision. Vision for God, a vision for vibrant orthodoxy and for Christ’s mission. Our vision should be to develop new campus ministries, new churches (not just new church plants but new missional model churches of all sorts), and new Christian education and discipleship systems that are effective in the increasingly secular mission field of North America. This is, frankly, what will occupy our time as a board over the next three days.
I am 58 years old. I must guard my time and health to be effective in the years that I may have left to serve Christ and his kingdom. Pray that our board will hear God and know how to proceed in planning the way forward for ACT 3. I am reminded that "In their heart human beings plan their course. but the Lord establishes their steps" (Proverbs 16:9). This gives me real comfort as we plan our course over these days and seek God as ten Christians who have a common vision for one ministry.