File: Barker June 22
Graphic: Barker June 22.jpg
Leading Into the Future
Nostalgia can be a lot of fun, but it can also be paralyzing. When we worship the past and how things use to be, it causes us to miss out on the opportunities before us right now. The future is always moving toward us and while it is quite uncertain, we must be preparing and planning how to connect with it. How will we engage our culture in the future with Christianity no longer the default identity? Maybe we have gotten a little spoiled by having had home-field advantage for so long. It is probably going to be more costly to be a Christian and stand for Christian values in the future.
God’s churches will always have a future when they look to Him, trust Him, obey Him and follow Him. In Rings of Fire, Leonard Sweet states, “The divine seems to enjoy working through a faithful remnant, the critical mass of two or three…” No matter how bad culture gets, will He find us faithful when He returns? We should not be shocked knowing the depravity of man. None of us probably imagined our society would be where it is today, but we are here “for such a time as this.” God has placed us right here, right now, let’s not miss this opportunity.
Following Jesus requires studying the future. The apostle Paul spoke of pressing toward “the mark of the prize of the high calling.” The writer of Hebrews said he was “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” You are called to finish well, no matter the circumstances, the environment, nor the level of persecution that may occur. The challenge of the future will be showing compassion without compromising convictions and standing for our convictions without compromising compassion. It is not easy, but we are called to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.
Leonard Sweet challenges us here: “The church spends more time slandering its moment than in savoring and saving its moment. If we loved the world as God so loved the world, we would love it well and love it to life.” This is not a call to water down the Word or cower from the truth. As a matter of fact, Sweet exhorts us to “not be afraid of antifragile preaching.” Preaching repentance calls for a change of heart, behavior and being; but if that does not occur, we are called to continue. Ezekiel was told by the Lord that they would not listen to him anymore than they listened to Him.
Jesus commanded us to occupy until He comes. He did not call us to a life of isolation nor to compromise. He called us to live in the world but not be of the world. It is not easy but, once again, Sweet sheds some light on what that might look like when he says, “Whoever your author is will be your authority.” We need to allow God to author our story and the Holy Spirit to be our editor. He continues, “We have no interest in ‘keeping up with the times’ but rather keeping up with Jesus and opening up to God’s presence in the times we’re in.” Are we in step with living out God’s mission?
How do we lead into the future? First, we stay in step with Christ, allowing Him to direct our paths. We make sure that every initiative we pursue is God-initiated. We listen to the Holy Spirit and obey His direction. Are you quenching the Holy Spirit’s power in your life and in your church by focusing on what you want and desire more than His command to make disciples? Have you so focused on the sins of commission that the sins of omission go unnoticed? Are you willing to go through the doors He opens? Are you looking to escape or are you actively engaging those who are far from Him?
We lead into the future by showing love and compassion. You cannot escape the culture God has placed you in nor should you. Seek and search for ways to demonstrate the love of God in practical ways. Leonard Sweet reminds us, “Having culture as a bosom buddy can lead to collusion (or syncretism). Having culture as an enemy can lead to condemnation. Having culture as a companion on your journey can lead to its own problems.” Loving the people in your culture means you declare the unknown God as Paul did in Athens in Acts 17. You must figure out more ways to build relationships in order to have gospel conversations.
Leading into the future will require figuring out how to once again reproduce and multiply. With most churches struggling, not growing and not multiplying, what are we going to do about it? We have a reproductive crisis. Whenever a species cannot reproduce itself, we classify it as endangered. Are you making disciples, reproducing leaders and multiplying small groups and/or churches? The two greatest dangers of any church are an unwillingness to evaluate and an unwillingness to do anything about that evaluation. The only thing worse than having a problem is the failure to be aware of the problem you have.
Churches are entering some of the most difficult times to navigate culturally. Western culture is focused on self-determination and the personal freedom of the individual. Only you can determine who you are, what you do, and how you live. This is being celebrated but ignores the truth of God’s authority versus our authority. Evaluate your church’s present state, then compare it to its potential fate. Without Him, you do not stand a chance, but He does some of His best work in some of the hardest places and times. Let’s lead into the future by not missing this opportunity to make much of Jesus.