Sunday, July 31, 2011

Priorities and Challenges for the 21st Century Church

3)  What do you think are the highest priorities and challenges for the church in the 21st century? 

Answers: Jesus.  Why?

Here, the question is twofold.  Priorities are pressing concerns.  Challenges are those things that materially or conceptually countervail against the norms that govern a person or organization.  For the church in the 21st century, just as the church in the 20th, 13th, 3rd, and First centuries, the teachings and person of Jesus of Nazareth represent both the ultimate goal of the church as a movement and the primary challenge to the church as a human organization or institution.

Teaching the essence of Christ's message needs to be front and center for any gathering of bipedal hominids that claims itself as a church.   Insuring that we're conveying the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and embodying the grace, justice, and mercy of Jesus is the central priority for both the Church with a Capital C and that particular place you go on Sunday.

Yeah, the world has a whole bunch of other things wrong with it.  We're mangling our ecosystem, our society is bleating and baa-ing its way to a globalized oligarchy, and for some reason people keep watching Jersey Shore.   Our culture has become a seething, directionless mess of commodified sexuality and political polarization.  Churches have a prophetic voice about those things, and shouldn't be silent in the face of injustice, but those things themselves are not the gravitic center of our purpose and identity.  

Jesus is.  

And that is where the challenge comes in.  As we attempt to be relevant and engaged within our culture, it becomes really easy for the church to become consumed by the ethos of our environment.   It can become just another reason to justify ancient bigotries and hatreds.  It can become so "relevant" that it stops being the Gospel.  It can become co-opted by political persuasion, to the point at which being a Jesus follower can be just a front for a particular ideological position.  It can become just a light gloss over almost any social interest or group.

A straight-up reading the core teachings of Jesus challenges all of those highly seductive ways of being church-that-is-not-church.  No matter where we are in the arc of human history, no matter what the sociological, cultural, or technological context might be, our assumptions tested, tried, and transformed by our relationship with Him.