Flourishing Churches In This Post-Modern 21st Century World

We were sitting at table, talking about the Teacher of the Year Awards in our state. A friend was nominated, with us hoping he would be selected. Melanie noticed how the profession of teaching has evolved over time. Long ago, men were the teachers in our culture. Then the teaching profession morphed to where it’s mostly women. The men in the public schools are there, not because it’s a popular position for men, nor because it’s culturally reinforced. They are there because they love to teach, demonstrating high commitment and engagement with their profession (or calling, as it is for our friend).

This is what it is like for churches who find themselves in a Post-Modern context. Those who really want to be there (in existence) will flourish. Those without a laser-like sense of purpose and spiritual invigoration will go the way of all things.

There is a process, a pilgrimage if you will, which the Christian Church must travel to find its place in this new land. The Post-Modern world rising around us includes a demotion for the Christian Church, culturally speaking. North America is rapidly becoming a Post-Christian culture. Whatever level of Christian the culture around us was, it is less so every day.

So what does this pilgrimage from Christian Culture to Post-Christian Culture look like? Letting go and taking hold describe it well (like many other pilgrimages in life). Letting go means losses. The North American Christian Church is losing its cultural majority status and privilege. It is losing its influence in the public square. The majority culture is coming to see the Church as peripheral, archaic, and irrelevant at best. At worst, the Church is seen as ignorant, cultish, and destructive to the progress of humankind.

This means that all those cultural reinforcements which the Church enjoyed for years are going away. There was a time when being part of a church helped one’s professional aspirations. Being a part of a church raised respect levels, along with opportunities to network in one’s community. People in churches were given opportunities because they were seen as responsible citizens who were committed to the common good. There was much cultural encouragement and reinforcement for being involved in a church. In a Post-Christian culture, the opposite is true. Those who are Christ-followers are seen as unconventional, radical, and even suspect. For those Christ-followers immersed in the Modern Period cultural experience of church, this can be shocking and disturbing. Their (our) task is to let go of Modern Era expectations and privilege. If we want to be Christ-followers now, we are like male teachers in public schools…we have to want to be there. Letting go of the past frees us to embrace the present and future.

There is great opportunity in every crisis. I’m very excited about the form of Christianity and Church which is rising in this Post-Modern Era. It’s too soon for church models to be identified, but it’s not too soon to identify our calling for what’s ahead. The Post-Modern Era calls for a highly invigorated expression of our faith. I (and we at Pinnacle) are thrilled to connect with those churches who are taking hold of this new reality, discovering a new, robust form of faith and faith community. The following are perspectives and actions of these churches who are taking hold of faith and life in this 21st century context.

The Post-Modern Church believes the gospel can transform the world.
These people are not into a watered-down, tepid faith. They actually believe the power of the gospel can liberate the oppressed and basically set things right in a world gone wrong. Transformation at every level of society is what this church is about. These Christ-follower not only pray the Lord’s Prayer, but actually believe that God will develop the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. They don’t want to miss out on this movement, enthusiastically involving themselves in God’s transformation of this planet.

The Post-Modern Church embraces its alternative nature.
Those who are afraid of appearing unconventional or different probably won’t make it in the Post-Modern Church. Like the early Christ-followers who were definitely counter-cultural, the Post-Modern Church is unintimidated by being a minority group in the larger culture. This Church recognizes its history, understanding that the Church itself will wax and wane when it comes to cultural popularity or acceptance. These lesser things are not the primary drivers for the Post-Modern Church. Being alternative, peripheral, or unconventional does not intimidate.

The Post-Modern Church removes each impediment in its practice which distracts from its purpose.
The Modern Era Church, wherein the Church was mainstream, enjoyed the luxury of doing many things which were peripheral to its purpose. In fact, some of these practices became traditions or even sacred cows. The Post-Modern Era Church does not have this luxury. The numbers, budget, facilities, and overall capacity to do less purposeful activities are not available. This drives the Church to on-task, purposeful activity. When the church robustly embraces its purpose and is a cultural minority, the chaff is burned away quickly.

So where is your church on the continuum of letting go and taking hold? Some churches are expertly denying the changes around them. Others are awake to change, but cringing in the corner. Others have moved through the letting go process, finding themselves awakening to a bright future. This future is not bright because it will return the Church to its previous glory. This future is bright because we follow the one who knows how to lead spiritual pilgrims through the wilderness into a new promised land. There is no way I want to miss out on that movement. Many of us hunger for this next evolution of God’s church. May we be like our spiritual ancestors, joining with invigorated Christ-followers to be the Church in the world wherein we find ourselves.

Mark Tidsworth
Pinnacle Leadership Associates