Monday, October 26, 2009

Must We Reinvent?

I've been back in the Chicago area for the past few days. I say back because this is where I spent nearly 30 years doing ministry at various churches. Got the chance yesterday to return to the church where I served for over 12 years. It was so wonderful to see all the people again. It was great to enjoy a familiar worship service. It was shocking to see how old people are getting while I'm sure I'm not aging a bit!

The sad part of the visit was having the sense that the church is now in decline. The attendance is down and the energy seems to be dwindling. Sadder still is that I'm not surprised. Churches seem to have an arc. They rise as a new church with lots of energy and excitement. They do things that are edgy and reach a whole new population of people that had come to expect the same old thing from church. Then, slowly, over time they become entrenched in what they're doing. They get comfortable and the people who come week in and week out get comfortable. The energy fades, the edginess becomes threatening and goes away.

Two things happen to churches like this. They slowly die while holding annual events to remember how awesome they once were or they get an infusion of leadership that reinvents the church for a new era. The third thing that happens is new, edgy, energetic churches pop-up in the area drawing people who are still interested in ministry that takes them places and gives them an opportunity to make a difference. But that's not happening to the existing church so I'll stick with my theory that there are only two things that can happen. Death or reinvention. Both are painful. So my question is this...if your church is going to go through a protracted period of pain ending in it being dead or different and you could choose which it would be, which would you choose?

It's okay to choose dead, by the way. It gives definition to how you move forward. As with any dying thing you do things to provide comfort...anesthetic, some pillows, gentle music, soothing words and maybe a hospice nurse to empty the bedpan. In other words, keep doing things that won't upset the patient. Things they're familiar with. Things that don't cause any exercise or raise in blood pressure. No sudden moves and maybe Jeopardy playing quietly in the background.

Should you choose reinvention that sets a whole different course. It will probably necessitate a complete change in leadership. It will require a full review of everything that's currently being done and a ruthless elimination of things that aren't creating energy, enthusiasm and attraction to those who've yet to know Jesus Christ. It demands a willingness to see most of the people in the seats right now get upset and go elsewhere. That's okay because there are a lot of churches providing comfy pillows, an IV drip of morphine and the aforementioned Jeopardy playing softly in the background. Those who stay are the seedbed of edgy, relevant, powerful ministry.

There's the answer to the question posed in the title. We must reinvent or we die. Those are the only two options. And, as always, the choice belongs to those leading the church.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Why My Idea Won't Work

The call to action I shared earlier this week is based on a very optimistic view of the Christian church. As critical as I often am on this blog, I'm a hopeless optimist when it comes to the church. I really believe that Christians can get their act together, cooperate with each other, share the love of Jesus with the world in ways that are winsome and bring about real change. My idea about every church starting a school is predicated on the idea that churches would be willing to allow full and open discussions from all different viewpoints knowing that some may never choose to become Christ followers. I envision the establishment of an educational opportunity where free thinking and vigorous debate might take place.

The public schools are no longer such a place. Certain topics are completely off limits. Free thinking and reasoned debate that honors and respects all opinions has been banished from our schools and has set-up an adversarial environment for those who hold conservative Christian and political views. I'd love it if the church could establish safe havens where real learning could take place.

The reason my idea won't work is because most churches still see themselves as obligated to convince people that they must become Christian. So most churches will never consent to starting a school that doesn't have evangelizing children and their families as it's main purpose. I, on the other hand, believe that if Christians follow Christ's lead, serving everyone, loving everyone, praying for everyone, that many will be eager to know more about this Jesus they follow. And if they're not eager and never become eager, that's okay. We still love them and serve them and pray for them...because Jesus loves them and calls us to follow his lead.

So, as much as I'm thoroughly frustrated with the public school system believing it has become it's own secular religious institution, to have churches establish schools that will be just as hard-headed in the other direction would be fruitless. I'm left to wonder if there's any way to restore sanity and balance to the way we educate our children. And I hope we can figure it out before it's too late.

It may already be...

Monday, October 05, 2009

Let Me Clarify

My last post was a call to action driven by frustration with the collapse of public education and the viciously anti-Christian agenda among the educational elites of this country. Please don't see it as an attack against teachers. My daughter is completing her student teaching semester right now and will be, Lord willing, an elementary school teacher next year.

My call to action was for churches to start schools in their communities. Schools that find a way to offer a free education to children in the community, in part to drive the public schools out of business...or change their ways. Here's where the clarification comes in. I'm not urging Christian churches to start Christian schools. I'm not inviting Christians to flee the culture and hide in a cocoon of all-Christian security. Far from it!

I believe the Christian church has retreated from the culture far too often for far too long. What I'm calling the church to do is launch real, regular, effective schools that return to the roots of what public education was meant to be...and was in this country...less than 100 years ago. Schools that invite but don't force children to pray. Schools that engage in open honest discussion about the different ideas about how the world was created. Schools that embrace the traditional core studies of science, math, reading, social studies, languages, etc. Schools that are open to anyone who wants to come to school...Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, atheist...for a quality education. Quality that's driven by the love of Jesus Christ in a way that is winsome, loving and accepting.

This kind of movement to offer effective schools built on a solid foundation of Christian morals and standards would stir a revolution in this country. Last night our Pastor preached about the early church and the accusation leveled against Paul, Silas and Timothy that they were "turning the world upside down." He asked if that charge was still being leveled against Christians today. Sadly, we have to admit that, in this country, it's not.

So what if we launched an alternative school movement that directly confronted the corrupt culture of public education? What if we re-engaged the culture right at the heart of it by reclaiming the education of our children? What if we did it in a way that was open to all and was genuinely effective? Would that turn the world upside down? Would that meet stiff, angry, violent opposition?

I can guess...but let's just do it and find out. Who's with me?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Call To Action - NOW!

The rapid descent into abject depravity in this country is truly beginning to alarm me. The current administration in Washington is embracing people and policies that are in stark opposition to traditional Christian values. I'm particularly concerned about our schools.

I saw first hand the negative influence public schools have on the morality of our children when I was in youth ministry working with kids who were primarily public school students. I'm not going to recount the stories here, but I hope you trust that I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that there is an organized effort to indoctrinate our children into a culture of tolerance of anything and everything with no filter as to whether or not those things conform to any historic moral standard.

Many well-meaning, but horribly uninformed Christian parents have argued in favor of the public school system through the years. But I'm here to tell you that public schools are the lynch pin in the moral collapse of our society. And it's the result of a decades long intentional effort by people determined to strip any identifiable Judeo-Christian moral foundation out of the educational system. If you doubt this, wake up and start doing some homework. The institutionalized corruption of our children's minds is an ongoing campaign that is gathering steam.

Read this article first, then tell me that at the federal level they aren't committed to destroying the moral fiber of our society as historically understood by a Christian culture.

It is time for the Christian Church in America to take action. Every single Christian Church should open a school. Regardless of cost and whether you can accommodate 10 students or 1000 students it's time to reclaim the founders original intention for public education. We need to offer FREE alternatives to the corrupt public school system. Whatever it takes...volunteer moms and dads as teachers, creating our own curriculum and resources, supporting homeschoolers by opening our buildings for them to use for special events.

I'm dead serious about this. We can no longer send our precious children to spend the largest part of their days in places that sing praises and chants to the President, applaud homosexuality as one of several acceptable lifestyles, promote other religions as equal to or superior to Christianity, denigrate or outright deny the fact that God created the universe in favor of a flawed theory of evolution as absolute truth and all but ignore the basic skills they should be teaching.

It occurs to me this morning that if the church really wants to reclaim it's place in this culture and become relevant again, it's time to take back our children. Not for an hour a week in Sunday School. But 30 hours a week providing a classical education rooted in truth and founded on historic Christian morality. It should be our goal to put public schools out of business.