Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Formation, and Evangelism Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
You can follow Chip on twitter (@chiphardwick) or find him on Facebook (Chip Hardwick).
Earlier this month I visited St. Andrews Presbyterian Church (whose sanctuary is pictured below) in Raleigh, North Carolina, to lead an officers retreat, preach, and teach Sunday School. On the first night of the retreat, I helped the officers and staff come to grips with the changes in our culture over the last couple of decades. We discussed the postmodern, post-Christendom, post-Christian, post-denominational nature of our current culture, and the challenges and benefits of these changes to the church.
The presentation and conversation talked about how much harder it is for a church to thrive (at least in a sociological sense, that is, in terms of attendance and financial support) in our new context. People no longer simply accept the Gospel (or any other universal truth, for that matter) as true. Society no longer props up the church with blue laws and an avoidance of youth activities on Sundays and Wednesdays. People are less and less familiar with the Biblical story. Denominational differences are blurred, and non-denominational churches grow while mainline churches often shrink. All of these things make it hard for churches to thrive numerically.
A retired teacher in our midst, however, talked about how these changes can help us to be more faithful Christians who are a part of more faithful churches. She remarked that when she started teaching, there were all factors that worked in teachers’ favor. Parents encouraged their children to do their homework. Children were well-behaved in class. Worries about violence and Attention Deficit Disorder and cell phones and bullying via social networking had not yet arrived on the scene.
As these things changed, however, teaching became harder. Rather than reacting passively, however, teachers changed as well. Their pedagogical techniques transformed—they worked creatively and harder to connect in ways they hadn’t needed to before. Most notably, she said, they taught better. With these societal changes, teaching was harder, but better.
Moving from the classroom to the congregation, it is hard for churches to thrive in our new context. Christians need to live out their faith more explicitly. Members cannot afford to be the “recipients” of the church, but instead must be “producers” of church, knowing that are best thought of missionaries to the people around them. Families cannot offload Christian formation to the church, because a couple of hours a week are not enough to counter the varieties of messages bombarding their children most every hour of every day. All of these things are much harder than simply settling into a pew one hour a week, and watch the visitors flow in on their own.
Harder, but better. As we live out our faith in these ways, we are better following Christ’s call. We are better witnessing to the world. We are better engaging those in our communities and around the world with the Gospel.
It’s harder, but better.