Our Image Is Bad
The recent election underscores a huge image problem that the church has in this culture. In this case image is like a huge picture and it is more powerful than a thousand words of explanation.
Christianity, especially Protestant evangelical Christianity, is associated (wrongly it should be noted) with white, middle-class, right-wing beliefs and politics. I say this image is false because there are large numbers of Hispanic, Black and Asian evangelicals in the United States and the majority of them do not see the recent election the way most white Christians do.
While large number of white evangelicals have been fighting “culture wars” for several decades other Christians are not remotely interested. These wars have sapped our missional energy, taken millions of our dollars and have very often led us to follow a “road to nowhere.” If anything was made profoundly clear in November of 2012 I think this had to be it. The “culture way” is over!
The way to change our bad image is to learn from the millennials. They are deeply interested in compassion for the poor, for widows, orphans and the most vulnerable. They are even more pro-life than the boomer generation! From this generation new ministers and movements that seek to redress the imbalance of the last forty years are rising from networks of people informally joined in mission. ACT3 seeks to work with these networks to empower leaders and churches for unity in Christ’s mission. Meeting real human needs is a great place to begin finding unity in Christ’s mission. This is also where Catholics are increasingly joining with us in kingdom work.
Our image can be changed but it will not happen overnight. My guess is that it will take several decades but those who are serious about our role in public should pay more careful attention to how others perceive us and our work for Christ in this world.
A growing number of Christians in America are ethnic minorities. By around 2040 these minorities will surpass the white majority in America. What will this mean? It will surely shape our political reality in increasingly dramatic ways. Will we have a Hispanic president before long? A woman? An Asian? It is not only possible but increasingly likely, at least in my view.
What will our churches look like in 2040? Less white for sure. And less like the megachurches of the last twenty-five years, at least in my view. They are more likely to reflect the cultural and political shifts of America simply because a large number of Asians and Hispanics are Christians. One of the questions that these Christians will face is how their original culture will intersect with mainstream American culture, whatever that is in 2040 and beyond.
Churches and missions need to focus their church planting efforts on urban areas, on various ethnic groups and on millennials. This is the “new” reality and mission compels us to adjust to the actual context in which we do mission.
As a child I heard a lot about sending American missionaries overseas to reached the unreached. Today the unreached have moved to America, particularly to our major cities. If we can nurture a new vision of mission, one that sees mission as the very DNA of the whole congregation (thus the term “missional”), then the future could be very good for Christianity in America if God grants us a new outpouring of his Spirit. I am sure of one thing–this outpouring will be a Christ awakening as my friend David Bryant calls it. The supremacy of Christ has been lost in American churches to the supremacy of almost everything else. A new awakening is needed. I may not live to see it but I feel, in my spirit, that it will come. I want to spend the rest of my life praying and empowering new leaders to embrace this vision. It is our only hope, both here in America and everywhere else for that matter.