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Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Challenges of Being Church in the 21st century

This post is part of a series on questions for candidates for moderator for the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA). I am standing for moderator of this assembly. 

What are some of the exciting possibilities facing the 21st
Century church? 
What are the challenges that face the church in this century?

Following Jesus offers exciting possibilities and monumental
challenges in any age. In our time, we probably will not succeed in inventing new ways to be Christian, or brand new ways to be church. We will make the same mistakes and discover in doing so the extraordinary grace of God. We are likely to lead and serve and hope and change and retrench with the same vigor that the church in any era has done. We will meet with fluctuating amounts of acceptance and hostility from culture, family and neighbor. 

Therefore, our first call is to humility, and a frequent backward glance. We are not looking back to the “good ol’ days,” but to the threads of courageous living, exuberant worship, and deep love for God’s world that can be found in the past and present of the church’s life. 
I will name 3 of many challenges the church has always and still does face, and suggest the possibilities that could emerge from facing them with hope and energy. 

Challenge 1: 
Our relationship as Christians with political structures. In other words, to whom are we loyal as followers of Jesus? 
To face this challenge:  
Deepen our spiritual practices and our commitment to being one body so the character of our life as a church surprises and intrigues those around us. But this is not enough. We also have to demonstrate in word AND deed that we are willing to stand with people who are being harmed by the way things are arranged. In other words, change ourselves, then change the world. 

Challenge 2: 
Is that person my brother/sister in Christ? Throughout history the question of who is my sister or brother in Christ has shaped theology, brought about new movements, and fueled warfare...”  The center of Christianity is now the global south, not western Europe. 
To face this challenge: 
Become students of the life and faith of our sisters and brothers in the two-thirds world. Learn their stories, share their struggles, explore their example, seek honest dialogue. Be willing to feel awkward and confused. Seek out “the other” in our own neighborhoods and trust the Spirit’s work to bring connection and new life. 

Challenge 3: Is the world for our use or are we for God’s use?  This challenge has gotten to a crisis point. We have grossly and shamefully abused the earth. 
To face this challenge:  
Make this question central to the church’s life. Our relationship with the earth is not a “special interest group” concern. Let scientists teach us in our churches, and public policy makers debate in our Sunday School rooms, and the gifts of creation always fill our worship. Our relationship with God’s creation defines us.


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