by Terry MacCabe
Today’s church must understand the times we live in and know how to prepare for upcoming challenges. Weíre told in 1 Chronicles 12:32 that the men of the tribe of Issachar had such insight. Itís difficult enough to understand the present, but as we begin a new decade the church not only needs to understand the current times, but also forecast the trends to come.
Recently I contacted three church leaders on behalf of the Lookout to talk about the church and the future. Bob Russell is a sought-after speaker and is focused on mentoring and developing church leaders. Jim Tune is executive director of Impact Canada, a church-planting ministry based outside Toronto, Canada. Dusty Rubeck is the president of Dallas (TX) Christian College.
The Lookout: What changes will this next decade (or several decades) bring for the church?
Bob Russell: TV personality Glen Beck is predicting that we will see a Third Awakening in the next decade—he senses a coming spiritual revival. I hope he’s right. But I anticipate more opposition to conservative Christians and churches. The churches that stand for biblical truth will increasingly be labeled dangerous, hatemongers, homophobes, Islamophobes, and intolerant bigots by people of influence. The church may see more and more people wilt under the heat of persecution and drop out altogether.
The temptation even for Bible-believing churches will be to “say what itching ears want to hear” and soften the message so as to not alienate the world we’re trying to win. For example a number of evangelical churches in California did not take a stand on the recent gay marriage issue because they feared criticism from the press and didn’t want to have a bad image in the community.
Dusty Rubeck: I believe this is the decade when we will begin to see the results of a lack of commitment to raising up laborers for the harvest. Churches need to get serious right now about the importance of challenging their young men and women (as well as their mature men and women) to answer God’s call for a multitude of opportunities in his kingdom.
Jim Tune: I think the next several decades will be a mix of challenge and opportunity for the church. The challenges arise in part from the growing social fascination with spirituality and universalism as opposed to Christ and Christianity being the exclusive way. Even where there is admiration for Jesus there are reservations about church and church attendance. In an age of postmodern tolerance, biblical truth can appear harsh, judgmental, and insensitive. This may influence churches to substitute therapy for theology, works for the Word, and technique for truth.
The Lookout: What do you suggest we do now in anticipation of such changes?
Jim Tune: First, we must resist the temptation to push doctrine to the margins. On a recent visit to a U.S. megachurch I spoke with a nice lady who leads a Bible study there. She told me that she avoids doctrine because doctrine divides! Charles Spurgeon said, “I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine.” And yet I observe this happening everywhere. As a church planter I’ve learned that you just can’t build a prevailing church without consistently teaching Christian doctrine. Although this seems to fly in the face of what we are told about the postmodern worldview, growing numbers of young adults are coming to our church in search of a clear and certain word of truth. Second, because the drift of our culture away from church shows no sign of slowing, discipleship takes on greater and greater importance. We must intentionally train and disciple new leaders with great vigor and parents must teach and disciple their children with greater intensity because in our society today the only places where Christian values will be heard and transmitted are the local church and the home.
Dusty Rubeck: I am curious to see what happens to the church if the most dire of economic predictions come true. I don’t necessarily agree with the doomsayers, but if we were to enter into a long period of economic stagnation or even deflation, how will the church respond? We have seen ever increasing budgets, larger and larger capital campaigns, and an abundance of middle class families coming into our churches. Can we handle a significant downturn in the financial standing of our churches? Will this strengthen us, or will it reveal the true effects of materialism on the spirits of our people? I don’t have a solid prediction, just a nagging question in my mind.
Bob Russell: From day one the church has been opposed and ridiculed by the world. When the world opposed the first-century church the believers simply prayed, “Lord, give us boldness.” They didn’t soften the message; they became more courageous. The church will always be counter-cultural. Rather than focusing on what adjustments we need to make to respond to a changing culture, we must: (1) equip our children to defend their faith and stand against the moral decay they encounter at every turn; (2) equip our preachers to share the gospel straight from Scripture and trust the Holy Spirit to transform lives one by one rather than trying to impress the world that we’re culturally hip; and (3) equip our elders and leaders to anticipate opposition and stand united for truth regardless of increasing or declining attendance figures.
The Lookout: As those changes come, how can the church seize opportunities for the gospel in the midst of change?
Dusty Rubeck: I believe the house church movement will gain great momentum. While this will be significant in meeting the needs of many who are not plugging into larger churches, it will greatly exacerbate the shortage of trained leaders in the church. It will also provide an opportunity for false doctrine to spread like wildfire across the country. The church needs to become more focused on basic biblical literacy and training among her members.
Jim Tune: As these challenges continue I believe the church must embrace a “both/and” approach. We must love and serve our communities, meet needs, and care for the poor. In other words we must show we are Christians by our love and we must continue to tell the timeless message of Christ through bold proclamation.
Bob Russell: The temptation will be to focus on improving our image so we can influence the culture when I think the focus should be on proclaiming the truth with love and boldness regardless of the culture. Jesus promised the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church and that the world and its pleasures would pass away. So I suggest we should have confidence in the Lord’s church and not be overly concerned about the transient culture around us.
Solomon declared, “Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7). We would be wise to heed the cumulative advice presented by these three followers of Christ and leaders of the church. We must continue to preach the Word accurately and boldly, we must care for the downtrodden, and we must train leaders to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Terry MacCabe is a freelance writer in Moncton, Brunswick, Canada.
What Do You Think?
• Do you agree with these predictions for the future of the church? What else do you imagine will happen for Christians in the decades to come?
• What can you do, as part of Christ’s church, to continue to live out his gospel when changes come?
• What opportunities to share God’s love do you have now that you didn’t have just a few years ago?