"The local Adventist church is in danger of becoming irrelevant even outdated."
Those are some of the most shocking words in Kayle B De Waal's recent book, "Mission Shift: Multiplying Disciples in Your Community." But as shocking as his words may be, most of us know he is right. While there are Adventist churches out there that are doing a phenomenal job, most of us are aware that the vast majority of them are failing. Youth are leaving. Congregations are aging. Teens are embarrassed to invite their friends. And the emerging generations growing within 10 kilometers of the church, don't even know that church exists.
The challenge before us is huge and as an Adventist pastor, I am passionate and committed to the local church because it is the place where the beauty of God and the ugliness of man collide. In other words, the local church is the place where broken people can encounter the glory of God. This encounter doesn't take place in book stores, conference offices, schools or hospitals in the same way and to same degree with which it takes place in the local church. We are the front line. Or, to borrow the oft cited phrase, "The church is plan A. There is no plan B."
The solution, however, can't be unearthed in a simple blog post. Nevertheless, this week I want to offer three simple traits every Adventist church must have if they wish to inoculate themselves from the danger Kayle warns us about. Now as usual, don't forget that acquiring these traits is meaningless without a gospel-focus, prayer and dependence on the Holy Spirit. So here they are:
Elasticity is defined as the "ability to change and adapt." When I was in the Army, elasticity was our best friend. We faced an enemy that studied us, identified our weaknesses and exploited them repeatedly. When we changed tactics to counteract their advances, the enemy would patiently sit back and study us some more. Identify our new weaknesses and exploit them again. This process repeated over and over and it worked. Highly trained soldiers found themselves being repeatedly outclassed by an enemy that did not have their resources or expertise. Tacticians eventually realized that the only way to diminish the number of casualties and get an edge over the enemy was to change the way we fought all together. The army had to not simply adapt. It had to become adaptable. It had to develop elasticity.
The church needs to do the same. Satan invents all kinds of distractions and temptations to draw people away from the truth and instead of adapting and overcoming, we sit on our traditions and pretend God is pleased with us. It's time we grow up. Without elasticity, we will become irrelevant and outdated. But with it, we can stay a step ahead of the enemy.
I can't stand friendly churches. What I look for are intimate churches. Anybody can be friendly. What this lonely and anxious generation desperately needs is intimacy. God hasn't called us to be a friendly church. He's called us to love one another as he has loved us. And his love for us is the greatest expression of intimacy you will ever find.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word used for "knowing" God is the same word used when describing the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. It is the height of intimacy. Knowing and being known by God is not a "friendly" experience. It's an intimate one. And our churches should aim to reflect that in everything they do.
And here is the alarming reality: Our culture is losing its sense of intimacy more and more. Consumerism and materialism rob us of togetherness. We are too busy working hard to buy things so we no longer have time for each other. Diversion and objectification are the plagues that dominate our youth. They are addicted to the next excitement and through the influence of pornography, they are seeing one another as objects of lust rather than people. Social media has made us the most connected generation to have ever existed. But we are also the loneliest because true intimacy cannot happen on a screen. What if the church became the last place on earth where people could go to find true intimacy? A community of people like that would never become irrelevant or outdated.
I have witnessed a danger in Christian culture. Over time we become so used to the way things are that we lose touch with how everyone else thinks. Then, when it comes to outreach we are not capable of sensing their needs and frustrations. We become insensitive and we expect that everyone will think and feel like we do.
What was the last time you sat in an old church with an uncomfortable pew listening to substandard music and yet, you thought it was normal? We Christians have the ability to put up with stuff no one outside of our culture would ever put up with. And then we put on an evangelistic program with those same uncomfortable pews and substandard music. Seriously?
We need sensitivity - the ability to appreciate how others feel - and plan accordingly so as to avoid creating unnecessary stumbling blocks. The invitation of Jesus is confronting, challenging and at times offensive. We don't need to add to that by slapping our insensitivity on it. Paint your church bathroom. Get a new carpet. Put some cushions on those pews (or replace them entirely with some nice chairs if possible). Stop using words and acronyms only Adventists understand. Take those bizarre posters off the church foyer. I could go on and on. Be creative. You can do it.
So there you have it. Three simple traits every Adventist church must have. I believe that if we aim to develop and nurture these traits, we will never become irrelevant or outdated.
Do you have any others you feel are important? Share them below!