As a church leader, I realize the popularity and seemed importance of what I do has declined in recent years. Culture no longer values the voice of a pastor as the history of our nation would record that it once did. Even this week, the news of Louie Giglio’s exit as the pastor to pray at the inauguration of President Obama served as a sobering reminder…things have changed.
This is an interview with John S. Dickerson. Dickerson’s new book The Great Evangelical Recession identifies six factors of decline in the American Church and offers six solutions for leaders. Dickerson is a nationally awarded journalist and Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Prescott, AZ. His work has appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Q: How would you summarize your book, The Great Evangelical Recession?
A: Culture is changing faster and faster. The conflicts around Louie Giglio, Chic-fil-A and Hobby Lobby demonstrate this. Rapid change in American culture is already shaking evangelicalism, but it’s going to worsen because the rate of change is accelerating.
As shepherds we must identify where the Church is struggling to adapt. Then we must look to God’s Word to find solutions for our day. The Great Evangelical Recession does this by documenting factors of decline—and then by building Scripture-based solutions for each area of decline.
Q: Is the homosexual-evangelical conflict an example of this cultural change? And if so, what sort of solutions does your book suggest?
A: Yes, the conflict between the evangelical and LGBTQ communities is case in point. The book documents that in the last 15 years Americans have entirely reversed their views on homosexuality. Furthermore, each younger generation is radically more pro-homosexual, so this trend will accelerate as older Americans pass away.
My solution chapter argues that we need to start treating non-evangelical “tribes” in America the same way our missionaries treat foreign tribes in Africa or New Guinea, by suspending judgment, serving and modeling unconditional love–so Christ can reach their hearts.
The chapter grows from a word study of the Greek word “good” in the New Testament. “Good” is about deeds. It’s more nuanced than this, but here’s the gist of that solution:
1. Take God’s good deeds directly to the homosexual tribe in your life and community. Don’t wait for them to come to you.
2. Refuse to classify the homosexual tribe as some worse class of people. This is unbiblical and showcases poor theology.
3. As with any tribe, don’t focus on changing behavior. Focus on changing relationship to God through Christ.
4. Don’t be surprised when you are hated and misunderstood about this issue. You will be.
5. When you are hated or misunderstood, don’t defend yourself or other evangelicals with words. Instead, let your quiet good actions eclipse any accusations (1 Peter 2:12).
6. Keep on demonstrating God’s good-ness and unconditional love—to the homosexuals closest to you.
The book includes Scripture and examples, but that overview gives you a taste.
Q: Your book identifies six trends of decline in the American Church. Is every ministry declining in these ways?
A: Typical ministries will find many trends of decline apply to them, while some don’t. Take the funding crisis for example. On average, 76 percent of evangelical gifts come from the oldest two generations. Many ministries are unprepared for the decline of donations in the next 15 years. That trend won’t apply to young-demographic ministries—like Reality LA, but other trends will.
This book is really a tool for ministry leaders. It helps leaders identify which negative trends are at play in their specific ministry. The book then gives practical Biblical solutions to adjust course in any areas of weakness.
What do you think? How have your seen the culture and church change in your lifetime?
Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until He comes and showers righteousness upon you. (Hosea 10:12)
As I read the Scriptures, here are 3 things I know about God:
God wants people to seek Him – From the beginning of time, God has been calling His creation into fellowship with Him. Before a person ever seeks God, God has first sought after that person. (John 6:44, Acts 17:26)
God is easily found – Remember the story of the boy Jesus where His parents misplaced Him for a short time. Mary and Joseph found Him in the temple, learning from the temple leaders. When questioned, Jesus responded, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” God desires that same attitude in our hearts today. I have never known anyone who genuinely searched for God who didn’t find Him, because God is always waiting that we may call on Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you. He will never hide from you. (Jeremiah 29:13, Acts 17:27)
God desires to change our lives – God’s design for us is to be righteous. He wants us to have the mind of Christ so that we might receive the full blessings of fellowship with Him. Being perfectly Holy, God cannot accept sin; any sin. He wants to clean us up and mold us into the image of His Son. He wants to turn over the “unplowed ground” and make it fertile enough to bear good fruit. He wants to change us so we may better experience Him and all of His glory. (Romans 8:29, Ephesians 2:10)
What thoughts does this post trigger about what you know about God?
NOTE: If you’re seeking God today, don’t be surprised if you find He’s already been seeking you!
The volume or tempo of the music determines whether you think it’s a worship song.
A slight change in the order of the service makes you think they’ve harmed “worship”.
You think raising hands or not raising hands determines the depth of a person’s worship.
You believe the “proper” length of a “worship” service is dictated by your lunch schedule.
You think worship has to be in a service or part of a programmed event.
Certain instruments keep you from thinking worship is possible.
You think worship is confined to a certain place or a certain time.
The clothes you wear determines the quality of worship…for you AND others.
You think worship always involves music.
Your attempt to worship has more to do with a personal preference than the subject of worship.
1. Honoring and obeying God with my life.
2. Attempting to realize my full potential.
3. Truly being who I claim to be.
4. Being loved most by the people who know me best.
5. Getting up every time I fall.
6. Making life better for the people around me.
7. Ending at peace with God, my family, and friends.
What are yours?
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.” Luke 6:43 NIV
We once had this tree.
Over the time we owned the house, every year I thought it was one year closer before we would have to cut it down. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the tree. The tree really wasn’t in the way. I could easily mow around it. The tree just didn’t seem to be making it. It barely had any leaves on it and whenever the wind barely blew I had to pick up all kinds of broken branches. The tree was going “bad”. The only reason I didn’t cut it down yet was because I had sentimental attachment to it. Plus, it used to be such a beautiful tree.
We’ve since moved from the house, but, honestly, I know believers who are like that tree.
They used to have excitement in their faith. There was a time when they got motivated at just the thoughts of going to church. They were eager to hang out with other believers. Something happened to them and now the enthusiasm is gone. I’m not saying they no longer believe, but they certainly aren’t producing much “fruit”.
Are you one of “those” believers?
One of the saddest things for me in ministry is witnessing people who once were vibrant, blooming, growing church members. Now, I never see them. That breaks my heart.
Has your motivation for church, for God and your fellow believer waned in recent years? Ask God to “prune” you back to vibrancy in the Kingdom of God! Ask God to give you back your fervor for His glory.
If you are a part of the body, we miss you when you aren’t with us.
See you Sunday?
I sure hope so.
And while you are praying…say one for the tree! As far as I know, it’s still standing. There is still life in that tree. Hopefully there is for you too!