Six GROWTH practices: Go, Read, Obey, Witness, Trust, Humble Yourself
Witness Through Servant Behavior
We are all buried under an avalanche of words every day. We have all learned to fend off the advertisements we daily encounter by the dozens and hundreds. Ads themselves are now getting simplified to images because words mean so little.
We in mainline churches are at an even greater disadvantage because we have a specialized vocabulary developed and even fought over through the centuries. But who cares about specialized church language, beyond seminary professors and students?
How do we break through the maze of words that surround everybody? It certainly isn’t going to be by adding more words—at least not at the outset. The best witness today is the quality of life we Christians live day by day. Actions do speak louder than words. Observers of early Christians were struck by how they loved one another.
At your personal level, do neighbors and co-workers even know you are a Christian? Are your relationships supportive of others and their concerns? At Christmas, do you display decorations that feature the Christ child? When a neighbor has had a life-threatening event, do you show up with an expression of support? When I was a starting-level administrator, I kept a sign on the wall behind my desk that declared: “Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.” This personal identifier sparked several good conversations.
Is your church just a building that others drive by without noticing? Do they see you as just another social organization, like Masons, American Legion, or Rotary–clubs that are for somebody else, not me? I am impressed by a new trend for members to put out a yard sign identifying their church. At least that congregation cares enough about community recognition to organize the making and distribution of those signs.
When I did my church plant, I left “Lutheran” out of the public name, figuring that observers would identify us as a church for somebody else, like Germans or Scandinavians. How many new residents would think of checking out a Greek Orthodox congregation? My successor put Lutheran back into the public name because to his targeted audience it represented stability among community churches that come and go.
One of the newest descriptions of what Christians face in our Post-Modern times is by theologian Tara Isabell Burton in her book Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World. Notice that she focuses not on beliefs but on rites, the action part of classical worship. She offers the phrase of Religiously Remixed. Fully 40% of young adults say they not religiously affiliated. But that does not mean they are atheists (only 7%). About a third are people whose “spiritual lives, sense of meaning, community, and rituals are a blend of traditional religious practices and personal, intuitive spirituality, privileging feelings and experiences over institutions and creeds. They operate with intuition rather than by institution.
“We do not live in a godless world. Rather, we live in a profoundly anti-institutional one, where the proliferation of Internet creative culture and consumer capitalism has rendered us all simultaneously parishioner, high priest, and deity. America is not secular but simply spiritually self-focused. Anti-institutional, intuitional self-divinization is, at heart, the natural spiritually of Internet and smartphone culture.”
Sociologists are having a field day tracking and explaining the crumbling of our traditional culture around us, driven especially by ever new digital advancements. George Barna thirty years ago was the earliest church-related pollster identifying religious trends, known especially for his book The Frog in the Kettle, which used the analogy of a frog that cannot feel the rising heat until it is cooked to death. After several books, he gave up because pastors and church leaders were not using the data.
That’s because we in traditional church bodies have few options if we want to stay faithful to our institutional churches. Wise church officials are making room for pastor-entrepreneurs who are exploring the options that are that exist for them.