We’re living in an off-the-map world … there’s an uncertainty I can’t shake, and am frankly not sure I ever will, or that my generation ever will. The world is just too weird now.
I read these words in an article a friend of mine recently shared on Facebook and I couldn’t help but relate, especially as it pertains to our church planting journey.
These are the words of a fellow “millennial”, an emerging adult in her mid-thirty’s who has yet to arrive into what we once defined as “adulthood” for a typical middle-class American — a stable job, a steadily increasing income, a home, a growing family, and a little extra cash for vacations and entertainment. Economic and lifestyle expectations aside, she is not alone in her sentiments on the world around her.
The world is never going to be the same
One of the great privileges I have as a local missionary and church planter is the ability to be a student of our community, culture, and society at large. I work out of local coffee shops and in public spaces nearly every day of the week, having conversations with people and observing their interactions with others. Here’s what I have come to discover over the last 12 months: the world we live in has drastically changed and it’s never going to be the same again.
We truly live in uncertain and strange times where the patterns, expectations, methods, and rationalizations of the past no longer seem to be the gold standards and sure pathways to stability and success. Donald Trump’s campaign promise to “make America great again” is nothing short of a false ideal and vision of the future that imposes the values and systems of the past on a world that no longer exists. There is not one political party, president, institution, or generation to blame. It’s a storm that has been brewing for quite some time.
Today, you can look at universities across America, both private and public. They struggle to curb decreasing enrollment numbers while they continue to pump out more ‘qualified graduates’ into job markets that can’t support annual salaries able to sustain paying off college loans, the rental or purchase of a home, and the ever-increasing costs of basic living expenses, especially in growing urban areas where their job is likely located. Mix in an intolerable, hostile, and polarized political climate, the erosion of shared fundamental societal values, and a steady boil of fear that feels more like a nagging headache that won’t go away — suddenly we’re not in Kansas anymore.
A growing weariness of the church
So how does this relate to the church and our suburban church planting journey? When “we’re living in an off-the-map world”, everything is put into question. Trust and authority in institutions we once believed in and supported are now met with skepticism and weariness. When stability and safety are no longer marks of our governing bodies and leaders, and when our financial economy is exposed as a fragile system that teeters on the decisions of a few over many, naturally, these seemingly “existential”, “transcendent”, and “larger than life” institutions that we once based our everyday decisions on are no longer trusted and hoped in. They have gone from being part of the solution to being part of the problem. Likewise, the church, founded as a transcendent institution that withstands the test of time (to which I believe scripture testifies is and will), is riddled with scandal, abuse, and misguided agendas. It too, is now considered part of the problem.
For example, I’ve gotten pretty good at shutting a conversation down — fast. I simply have to tell a stranger, “I’m a pastor.” I immediately get an uneasy look followed by a kind, “Well, it’s nice meeting you.” Just like that, the conversation is over. To be fair, this is not the only response, but it’s a common one.
Our world has changed and so has the culture. Where the pastor once held a respectable position in his community, he is now seen as a movement leader of some medieval cult that is seeking to undermine our society’s way of life. It should be acknowledged there is some truth to this statement, but we must also recognize the greater cultural temperament to which the faithful operate in. We can no longer simply say about those antagonistic towards the church, “They will eventually come back.” That day has passed for most.
I’ve been interacting regularly with people connected and disconnected with the church. They each share something strangely in common: a growing weariness and mistrust of this great institution that was intended to transform the world in the likeness and power of its founder, Jesus Christ. Don’t believe me? Just ask a few friends, neighbors, coworkers, or family members.
A hopeful future without a road map
Do you remember the last line in the movie Back to the Future? Doc Brown optimistically flips down his futuristic sunglasses and says to a perplexed Marty McFly, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Then, in spectacular 1980’s movie-magic fashion, Doc’s modified Delorean time-machine transforms into a flying car that lifts into the air and blasts off at 88 miles per hour into the future.
This has become my burden, and I hope it becomes yours too: What will it take to share Jesus with the world through His Church? It was Jesus who initiated the formation of a gathering of people set-apart for a worldwide rescue and restoration movement. As his followers, it becomes our life-work to optimistically continue the movement and carry his message to every corner of our neighborhoods, communities, societies, and world, often apart from well-worn roads let alone a trusted road map.
Our church planting team and myself are prayerfully re-imagining and innovating how we lead and shape Restoration Church in our suburban community context of Lake Zurich. We’re on a journey, caught between the explosive peak and the pending implosion of ‘the church growth movement’. I don’t believe Evangelicalism is coming to an end as many have claimed, but it will not — it cannot — be the same. We’ll need new (and ancient) ways of relating, communicating, evangelizing, and pioneering that is unafraid of stepping off well-worn roads in order to fulfill our Kingdom mandate and mission to share Jesus with the world.
By the Cross; for the Kingdom,
 Catherine Baab-Muguira, “Failure to launch: Why so many American millennials feel adulthood is a lie”. https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/failure-launch-why-so-many-millennials-feel-adulthood-lie-ncna889466.