The twenty-first century arrives with the laugh of a prankster. Subjectivity, individualism, and relativism deconstruct the objective reasoning and foundational principles of an “enlightened world”. The Western church, which so closely aligned with the principles and values of a modern scientific world to maintain status in society, finds itself increasingly marginalized by the new post-modern society. Ironically, this postmodern society is hungry for spiritual things but finds the church in its midst lacking. As John Drane writes, “Quite simply, we seem to have ended up with a secular Church is a spiritual society” (Drane 2001:61).
The Southern United States, the last bastion of church culture is quickly succumbing to a new polytheistic society. While many see this as a terrible loss, I cannot help but see the parallel to the early church before the time of Constantine. That was a time of Spirit-led mission rather than Church-led society. Such a marginalized position for the church requires a new plan for the engagement of our communities. This plan needs to be missional, meaning it needs to have its foundation in the person of Christ, for it is in Christ we find our purpose as the people of God. Through Christ, we are reconciled to God and commissioned as agents of reconciliation in the world.
Challenges that congregations face arise from the communities they are in as well as the people that make them up. Congregations, and the communities congregations finds themselves surrounded by are heavily influenced by modernity and now post-modernity. Many people in these communities consider the church not relevant and often see it as a place of close-mindedness in a world of relativism. Congregations often find themselves bound by their Christian traditions rather than informed by their tradition in a away that empowers them to engage their current reality and context. The challenge for congregations is the challenge of translatability. Can these congregations commission their members to translate the gospel within the circle of relationships each person encounters everyday? If they can, then the gospel will spread outside the walls of the church buildings and encounter each community as a relative transforming voice.
The internal challenges that congregations face lie directly at the heart of ecclesiology. How do you measure success? What is growth? Does the gospel draw individuals into the institution of church or into new life through the body of Christ? What is community? As Christians, how do we understand individuality, community, and the communal aspect of reconciliation, healing, and wholeness in Christ? These are the questions that congregations must continuously ask and answer. Congregations must determine if they will be the presence of Christ in their community whether or not any one joins their congregation. The answers that congregations give to these questions will determine how they will relate internally, to their community, and the world.
Drane, John, 2001. The McDonaldization of the Church: Consumer Culture and the Church’s Future. Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys Publishing.