Recently Thom Rainer posted some thoughts on "Ten Areas Where Pastors Need to Be Trained for the 21st Century." There are a lot of good things to think about in the list, but two stuck out to me as being of particular value for the American pastor to figure out right now:
2. A non-Christian culture. Our nation is fast becoming a non-Christian nation. While we lament the relative decline in the numbers who follow Christ, we must also accept the reality that those in our community cannot be assumed to be like us, or to hold our values.
3. The decline of cultural Christians in churches. The Pew Research project confirmed the dramatic increase in the numbers of people who have no religious affiliation. For our churches, this development means that most people do not feel cultural pressure to attend churches. More and more, those who are there are convicted Christians and not Christians in name only.
A quick moment's reflection on these two items should lead us to a sobering conclusion - if they are true we must relearn how to engage the culture around us. And I believe they are true.
American Christians and pastors need to become more comfortable in a culture that is less and less comfortable with them. I believe we still have a mandate from God - we might associate it with the Cultural Mandate (Gen 1:26) - to impact the world around us for the good and glory of God. But we just can't rely on the 'same-old' way of doing and seeing things. More and more, Christianity is foreign, misunderstood, and disliked in our culture. So now we strive to make it native to new generations and powerfully true.
Secondly, we can no longer rely on our simple presence in a community to be a draw to those who don't attend. Rainer is right that fewer people feel any kind of compunction to attend church (they need to come back for their kids' sake, they need to at least be Creasters, the Church can help them through a serious crisis, etc.). So, the church needs to learn how to earn its place in the community. I believe a church can be the health and heartbeat of a community and city, so now we need to be proactive about becoming exactly that instead of expecting people will assume we already are.
Can I put it in these terms? The entrepreneurial church, not in doctrine but in vision, will survive and eventually learn how to thrive.